Manteca’s lucky number is 55.
That’s what the thermometer read the day 16 winters ago that Phil Waterford called home to Chicago.
Ford Motor Co. had sent Waterford - who grew up in inner-city Chicago - to California to look at some dealerships. He has just completed a program with Ford where they trained potential dealership owners. The gig required him to work six months first as a general manager and then things would be reassessed at that point.
Ford had Waterford look at some dealerships in Southern California. Nothing clicked for him. Then, before heading back to Illinois, Ford asked him if he’d take a look at one more dealership in the Central Valley. Ford flew him to the Bay Area.
It was driving to Manteca from the airport that Waterford came across a view that took his breath away. Much like the Spanish explorers from 236 years ago, Waterford was stunned by the view that lay before him as he crested the Altamont Pass.
Waterford liked what he found in Manteca: A good wholesome family atmosphere and good demographics.
He made a short call to his family in Chicago, asking what the temperature was. It was 10 degrees in the Windy City. It was 55 degrees in Manteca. He was sold.
In 1997, the partnership was struck. Phil Waterford’s Manteca Ford Mercury was open for business at 555 North Main Street. The turnaround was so strong that instead of buying out Ford’s interest in the dealership in 14 years, Waterford was able to do it in 39 months.
Waterford has reached a pinnacle of success that would have made his parents proud. Waterford credits them with a childhood that may have lacked many material things but it didn’t lack good memories of a family being together and experiencing life.
Fast forward to today.
Waterford is opening the doors of his dealership this Christmas Eve morn to feed well over 1,000 people - if not more. He’s also playing Sant distributing 500 toys to kids.
These are people who can’t afford one of his high end gently used Maybachs for $289,998 or one of arguably the best production sedan on the road, the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid. Many probably couldn’t even afford one of his quality used cars.
But that doesn’t matter to Waterford.
Not to Manteca’s answer to mythical Bedford Falls’ George Bailey.
Waterford opens his heart - and his wallet - year round to help those who are struggling.
The gestures range from grand to small.
• Providing a disabled Vietnam War veteran that has devoted his life to spreading the gospel with a new Fusion to replace his unreliable junker
• Paying the mortgage for a number of months for a law enfacement officer with a young family who was laid off due to budget cuts.
• Raising money for countless people struggling with medical expenses and hardships.
• Pulling up alongside a motorist and telling her to go to his dealership to have a broken tail light changed on his dime
• Declining to press charges against a homeless man who damaged vehicles on his lot and instead helping him on his way.
The list is endless because every day Waterford choses to live the life of the iconic American business man who is the heart, soul and backbone of his community.
Wall Street may be filled with soul mates of Mr. Potter but Main Street is where you will find the George Baileys of this world.
If you doubt that, drop by 555 North Main Street this morning.
What Waterford is doing today - and indeed every day - is exactly what Frank Capra immortalized on film in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.