George Chiala Sr., local apricot and prune grower, is pictured in this 2005 file photo.

Long-time farmer honored for many contributions
At first glance, George Chiala is a nice, soft-spoken guy. At second glance he is nice, soft-spoken guy and a power house volunteer, quiet but one of those men who changes the world around him.

Recognizing Chiala’s decades of dedication to local medical service and hospitals, his church, youth sports and the farming community, the Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year for 2005. Chamber staff announces the awards by appearing at the honoree’s workplace or home, bearing a large bouquet of flowers and a wreath of smiles.

Chiala was having a busy day, meetings all day long, but was lured out to the lobby to face the news.

“I was caught off guard,” Chiala said, ”but I’m pleased to be recognized.”

Chiala said that, while it is nice to be acknowledged, the honor should also go to others – especially his wife, Alice; his children, George, Jr., Tim, Christi and Nicole; his sisters, Fran and Rosemary and brothers Bill, Rick and Johnny.

The Man of the Year owns and operates George Chiala Farms, at Hill Road and Maple Avenue, but finds the time to give unselfishly in time and resources, working to improve his community.

“I’m committed to health care for Morgan Hill,” he said this week. “I’m hoping to bring a hospital (back) to serve the people, also myself and my family.”

Ted Fox, the hospital’s chief operating officer, nominated Chiala for the award.

“George is the most giving person I’ve ever met,” Fox said. “He’s always helping someone in some way. I’ve told him that every time I see him I should greet him with “Thank You” because I may not know what he’s done for SLRH or the community lately, but I know he’ll have done something.”

Others have called him “the nicest man in the community.”

Why does he spend so much time and effort on community projects?

“I like doing things for the community and for people,” Chiala said. “It’s not so much that I volunteer but that I take the opportunity to do something. It’s an obligation.”

Watching Chiala work on a fund-raising committee for the hospital or the Morgan Hill Community Health Foundation – founded by the City Council to bring medical services back to town – is a satisfying affair. He doesn’t sit back and wait for others to shoulder the hard parts; he speaks up and says “I’ll do that.” And he does it.

Besides running a successful family business that Chiala’s parents brought from Santa Clara – prunes and apricots then – when they moved to Morgan Hill in 1955, he sits up an takes notice when a chance at something new happens by.

Mike Cox, owner of Anaerobe Systems, a bioengineering company in Morgan Hill, is working with Chiala on a project using vegetable residue to make hydrogen energy.

“George really looks at things as how will they affect the community, not just how they will affect him,” Cox said. “George will light up if you are talking along those lines.”

Cox has been working to make energy using hydrogen, fed by sugar, but found it too expensive to be really viable. By hooking up with Chiala Farms, he found a ready-made source of sugar.

“They were throwing away 20,000 pounds of sugar (from residue) every day and now we can convert it to energy,” Cox said. “This fits him perfectly.”

The two men are setting up a partnership.

Chiala has also collaborated with the University of California at Davis, a star in the state’s agricultural firmament, on an infused oils project that involved using agricultural processing residue as soil building mulch. He found a way to recycle processing plant water for irrigation and he worked for adequate housing for migrant workers.

Chiala was born in San Francisco and grew up in Cupertino and Santa Clara, graduating from St. Francis High School and Santa Clara University, the first person in his family to do so.

“The day I graduated, I asked my father what I could do to repay him,” Chiala said. “’Make sure all your kids go to college.’”

And he did. Tim studied crop science at Cal Poly and brings his skills to the family business; George, Jr. went to St. Mary’s College, has a masters degree from Santa Clara and handles sales for Chiala Farms.

Christi went to San Jose State University – her mother’s alma mater – and Nicole studied graphic arts at the University of San Francisco.

Chiala is clearly proud of his family, and that his children and most of his brothers and sisters still live in the area; his two granddaughters, ages 2 and 4 are icing on the cake.

Chiala Farms is an “ingredient supplier”, providing garlic, peppers, onions and more to food companies, including Gilroy Foods.

The family lives on the Achilles estate, built in 1928 by Eastman Kodak heiress, Gertrude Achilles, near Tennant and Foothill avenues. Achilles found the property and built the house with the encouragement of the famous “Bird Singer,” Charles Kellogg who had a house nearby.

Chiala’s parents bought the estate, Fountain Oaks, when they moved to Morgan Hill.

“They fell in love with the old home on a visit,” he said.

Achilles put in a large garden and several orchards of nuts and fruits, appropriate for the orchardist family from Santa Clara.

While Chiala grew up in “the big house,” he and Alice live and brought up their family in one of the smaller houses on the property, one of several built for guests, the ranch foreman and ranch hands.

Now the big house is under continual restoration by the family.

“It’s as close to original as it has ever been but it will never be finished,” Chiala said.

True to form, the Chialas have hosted fund raising events for his special projects at Fountain Oaks, and weddings besides.

“I love this community,” he said. “It does change but let it change in a way that is special.”

The Showcase Awards dinner will be held Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Community Center, 17000 Monterey Road at East Dunne Avenue. The even is soldout.

Carol Holzgrafe covers City Hall for The Times. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or phoning (408) 779-4106 Ext. 201.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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