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Its a wonderful life, Frank
More than 500 say thanks to Frank Guinta
Frank Guinta, right, shakes the hand of Antonio Anaya who was his original business partner in 19i46. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

All that Frank Guinta wanted were a few friends to come visit with him while he was still able.

And on Sunday he got his wish.

More people packed their way into Chez Shari than the restaurant and banquet hall had ever seen to pay tribute to a man that has served a coach, a mentor and a pillar of the Manteca business community for decades. They shared stories and showered him with accolades as he grinned and smiled from behind a black cap and matching sunglasses.

Guinta might be losing the battle to Stave IV esophageal cancer, but he’s won the hearts and minds of the Manteca community.

The stories came fast and they came heavy – some littered with jokes and others with tears as they thanked the man that some called “coach” and others called “Uncle Frank” for everything that he did for the community.

In a room full of former educators and high school football coaches, business associates and Pop Warner football players, everybody packed in to share a collective moment of thanks at the banquet space that Guinta has transformed into a Manteca staple.

“He’s always been a figure in Manteca in one way or another – whether it was coaching or inspiring kids to be better at whatever it is that they did,” said friend Ron Laffranchi. “He’s a well-liked person, and he’s always given back to the community whenever possible. He’s a standup guy and I love him a lot.”

Just over a decade ago Guinta discovered that lifelong Manteca resident Dave Macedo fit the bill for a long, lost brother that he never knew about. The two have built a strong relationship ever since. When Guinta rode in the Manteca Holiday Parade last year as the Grand Marshal, it was Macedo that drove him.

The community response, Macedo said, was overwhelming but not unexpected considering the number of people that Guinta has touched over the decades he’s spent in Manteca.

Even still, seeing every ticket for the event sell out before Sunday and even more people flooding in the day of was, he said, incredible to watch. Altogether more than  500 people stopped by throughout Sunday.

“What an amazing feeling to see so many different people showing up to say ‘thank you’ for all that he did,” Macedo said. “He was a teacher in the lives of so many kids and he touched so many people. It’s a humbling feeling.

“You have people here as young as 12 to see him and you people as old as 80 – I’m proud to say that he’s my brother.”

Guinta’s son John spent a good part of the afternoon ushering people through the packed house and shaking the hands of hundreds that filtered through the familiar hallway at the top of the stairs.

The response, he said, was evidence to the kind of life that his father lived.

“You look around and you can see how he’s impacted people’s lives,” John Guinta said. “Some of these people he coached 35 or 40 years ago and they’re still coming back to thank him for teaching them about life. This isn’t his funeral.

“He loved to help young people and he loved to stop and talk to people. I think that’s something that people remember.”

Some of the stories that were told included:

•East Union JROTC Instructor Karl Knutsen comically pulling out “a few notes” – a five-foot long scroll of paper – that listed all of the things that “Frank” was. He thanked him for being so generous to the program over the 15 years that they’ve been working together, and for giving his students a chance – the restaurant has employed numerous JROTC students throughout that time, and several who had worked there were in attendance to say thank you.

•Karen Ott, choking back tears, talked about how when her Alzheimer’s-stricken father and ailing mother were both nearing the point to where they would have to be sent to rest homes, she organized a party for 40 people at their house so that they could have one last family dinner. She told Guinta about what she was doing, and his first question was “What do you need? Pork? Chicken?” She told him that she was serving for 40 people and there was no way that she could ask him to do that during the Christmas season. He replied, “Do you want mash potatoes? Salad.” Ott said that it would be the last Christmas that her parents would spend in their house, and that Guinta’s unflinching generosity made the evening what it was.

•John Hulsey talked about how he worked at a service station for Guinta, and how those who washed the windows and checked the oil levels and tire pressure of every car that came in would get a bonus in their check. Hulsey said he was so scared of Guinta that he got that bonus every single week. Later, when he was older, he got his boss back on a trip to Jackson Rancheria when Guinta, on their way out of the casino, said he wanted to burn the last $3 he had that he came to gamble with. He put the money in the machine, and when he got down to $0.50, Hulsey thought that they were finally on their way home. Then Guinta hit a “jackpot.”

“I yelled for security – that we were going to need an escort to get out of here. Thirty people got up from their machines and started walking over to us. And he hit a jackpot alright – for $1.50.”