JOE - FIREFIGHTER, HANDYMAN EXTRAORDINAIRE
JACKIE - SEAMSTRESS, OFFICE CLERK, CAFETERIA MANAGER
WRITTEN BY JACKIE CERCHI
A Special Man and the Woman Who Loved Him
Jackie Cerchi is full-blooded Italian. Her maiden name is Oldani. Her grandparents on both sides originated in the Milan region of Italy. Jackie’s mother, Mary (Re) Oldani, was born in Angels Camp, California, in 1910. Jackie’s grandfather was a coal miner. Jackie’s father, George Oldani, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and when he was three, the family returned to Italy. At age 25 George decided to head back to the United States, leaving his family behind forever. He would never see them again.
Jackie’s father settled once again in St. Louis and started a small grocery store in a community called “The Hill,” where he made Italian sausage and salami.
His salami became so popular that George soon was able to expand his business to a factory in downtown near where Busch Stadium now stands. He decided to hang up his apron when the stadium was being rebuilt and the city offered to buy the property where the factory stood to make way for the new parking structure.
Jackie was born September 21, 1931, in a small town called Herrin, Illinois, where her mother’s parents lived. Jackie recently celebrated her 90th birthday with a party attended by over 70 friends and relatives from all over the country!
Joe was also full-blooded Italian. He was born in Stockton, California, in June of 1924. He, however, never knew a lot about his parents, because many people of that generation never talked about their past. All Jackie remembers is that Joe’s dad, Vittorio, who went by Vic, was from the Genoa region of Italy and his mother, Magdalena, who went by Lena, had parents who emigrated from the Milan region. Joe’s mother was also born in Angels Camp. You might be saying to yourself “Hmm…Joe AND Jackie’s mothers both had families from the Milan region of Italy AND both Joe and Jackie’s mothers were born in Angels Camp. Did they possibly know each other?” Not only did they know each other, they were distant cousins.
In 1954 Joe’s parents, who moved the family to Monterey after the war, invited Jackie’s parents to come out for a visit. The following year Jackie made the trip to visit them, and that’s when she met the tall and handsome Joe. Joe and Jackie fell in love so fast it would make your head spin. They were engaged ONE WEEK LATER and were married at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, the following April. “They said it would never last,” Jackie says, but they were happily married for one month shy of 55 years before Joe passed away in March 2009. Their honeymoon was a trip to Monterey.
Soon after they married, Jackie moved to Monterey where Joe was already working at the Monterey Fire Department. He had done many jobs--carpentry, painting, mechanics, truck driver--and was quite adept at working with machinery. He was not a commercial fisherman by trade, but one of his off-duty jobs was at the canneries in Monterey. When boats came in to offload their catch of the day, Joe was called in to maintain or repair the equipment. “That man could do everything,” Jackie says proudly.
After living in Monterey for a short while, Joe and Jackie decided to move back to St. Louis, but, as it turned out, it was much like the O. Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” You know the one: The wife sells her beautiful long hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch, but the husband had sold his watch to buy his wife hair combs. Joe thought he was making Jackie happy by moving to be close to her family, and Jackie thought Joe wanted a fresh start. Once they talked about it and realized they both wanted to stay in Monterey, they hightailed it back!
May 18,1966, Monterey Fire Department handmade brush-truck at fire behind Dory Way, Monterey. The truck was nicknamed Honey Bucket as it was painted yellow. Captain Joe Cerchi constructed the 1000-gallon tanker from an Army 2/1/2-ton 4X4 truck. He did all the prefabrication and welding.
Joe and Jackie settled down after that. Joe continued to work at the fire department, and they bought a home--the home in which Jackie still lives to this day! They had three children--Marie, Joe and Tricia. Joe attained the rank of captain and retired from the fire department in 1979. Jackie also worked. A seamstress by trade, she made seat covers at a local upholstery shop and did office work for Sparloni’s Beer. She also worked in food service for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and was the cafeteria manager at Monterey High School until she retired in 1993.
Joe was very dedicated to the community and local service organizations. Besides being a fireman and handyman, he was a member of the Sons of Italy Monterey Lodge, serving as president from 1986 to 1994. He also served as the deputy for the Watsonville Lodge. He gave his time to the Knights of Columbus and reached Fourth Degree status while raising money for physically challenged youth. He was a member of the Italian Catholic Federation, and one of his favorite activities was preparing meals for the Lenten dinners at San Carlos Cathedral Parish Hall. He was honored by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, host of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, for his 48 years of volunteer service as a courtesy-car driver during the annual golf tournaments. Joe was also an avid bocce fan and played most of his life. It was a proud moment for him in May of 1997, when he and his son, Joe, won the Sons of Italy United Lodge Bocce Tournament. His son Joe is an excellent bocce ball player and volunteers as a coach for the Special Olympics of Bocce. After he retired from the fire department, and in addition to the worthy causes already mentioned, Joe added Alliance on Aging to his volunteering list, offering his services to anyone needing the help of a skilled handyman.
When Jackie was asked how she would describe Joe, she readily replied, “He loved his family, he loved fishing, traveling, helping others and most of all, he loved life. He was a special man.”