George Chiala—the patriarch of one of South County’s most influential farming families, a philanthropist who has been recognized repeatedly for his service to the community over the years and a longtime Morgan Hill resident who was loved and respected by those who knew him—died Jan. 2 at the age of 74.
Chiala grew up in Cupertino but came to Morgan Hill with his parents and siblings when he was 16. The family moved into the Eastman Kodak Estate, also known as the Fountain Oaks Ranch, which overlooks the family’s vast farmland in southeast Morgan Hill. The property remains in the Chiala family, and has been the site of numerous fundraisers for local causes over the years.
In 1972, Chiala founded George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill—a company that quickly became an entrenched part of the local community, and which remains a family business with sons Tim and George Jr. operating the farms as full partners. George’s wife Alice is the company CFO, and daughters Christi and Nicole serve as board members, according to a statement from the Chiala family.
But Chiala was equally known as a leader and a philanthropist who enthusiastically championed efforts to improve the community and rallied others behind him.
Mayor Steve Tate, who has been active in Morgan Hill since long before his first term as mayor a decade ago, described George Chiala as a “perfect gentleman,” and his philanthropy style as “hands on.”
“When he set his mind on something he wanted to make happen, he just never let go of it,” Tate said. “Everything he tried to accomplish, he accomplished.”
Former City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Temp Marilyn Librers recalled, “I’ve worked closely with George on several projects. He was always there for whatever the community needed. Morgan Hill has lost a beloved champion. I’m truly saddened by the passing of this great man.”
Daughter Christi Becerra described George Chiala as an “innovator” in the farming industry, having built his first vegetable processing plant with his wife in 1984. He also worked for more than a decade on a “revolutionary” green technology that will enable the company’s processing facilities to run of clean energy in the next five to eight years.
“His can-do attitude and relentless ability to dream big helped build an impressive agricultural domain,” reads the family’s statement about Chiala’s death.
By the time GC Farms became part of the fabric of Morgan Hill, George was equally known as a community leader and philanthropist. In 2005, he was named the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year. In 2014, Leadership Morgan Hill honored him with its annual Leadership Excellence Award, which recognizes those who “advance the spirit of the community.”
As a farmer, Chiala has donated thousands of pounds of food and used equipment to Second Harvest Food Bank, and in fact forged a lasting relationship with that nonprofit organization in 1999.
In recent years, Chiala’s leadership extended to the board of the Saint Louise Regional Hospital Foundation, which he chaired, and the upcoming development of St. John XXIII Preparatory High School, a Catholic school with its sights set on Morgan Hill.
As chair of the SLRH Foundation, Chiala led efforts to organize and host fundraisers for the foundation, and to bring together different interests from throughout South County to promote the hospital’s work, according to those who served with him.
He served on the foundation’s board for more than 25 years.
“We were greatly blessed to have him leading our foundation board all these years,” reads a statement from Mary Eileen “Dub” Drees, SLRH Foundation CEO. “From spearheading the wine tasting events at the Chiala Estate to leading the charge during our Capital Campaign, George was the heart and soul of our foundation. He gave tirelessly of his time and treasure to the hospital and community, and he will be greatly missed.”
Morgan Hill resident Bernie Mulligan, who served with Chiala on the foundation board as well, agreed that he will be missed. He described George Chiala as a “catalyst” for action on any cause he supported that required a group effort.
“There was not a finer man to be found as far as his ability to deal with people, and relate to them,” Mulligan said. “It was hard to say no to George Chiala. The man had an intuitiveness about him that brought people together.”
Also in his later days, Chiala worked steadfastly with the San Jose Diocese to raise funds and navigate local land use regulations to bring a Catholic high school to Morgan Hill. That effort remains underway.
George Chiala attended St. Francis High School and graduated from the University of Santa Clara with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was the son of Vito and Catherine Chiala.
He is survived by his wife Alice, four children, eight grandchildren, siblings Rosemarie, John, Bill and Fran, as well as nieces, nephews and their children.
In lieu of flowers, Chiala’s family is asking those who remember George to consider a gift to The George Chiala Memorial Fund to support Saint Louise Regional Hospital. Checks can be made out to the Saint Louise Regional Hospital Foundation and mailed to 9400 No Name Uno, Gilroy, CA 95020. To make a gift by credit card or for more information, contact Katie Robinson at (408) 947-2996.
Alternatively, gifts can be sent to St. John XXIII Preparatory High School. Send to and make checks payable to South County Catholic High School, 17190 Monterey Rd #202, Morgan Hill, CA 95037.
A rosary service in George Chiala’s memory will take place 6 p.m. Jan. 11 at St. Catherine’s Parish, 17400 Peak Ave. A funeral Mass will take place 11 a.m. Jan. 12 at St. Catherine’s Parish.