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'Giving back' a way of life for Gallo generations

Physics students at Central Catholic High School use up-to-date equipment thanks to the generosity of Ernest Gallo, the Modesto winemaking patriarch who died last week.

"He had a real love for the sciences," said Central Catholic President Jim Pecchenino. "He was instrumental in helping us with our chemistry and physics lab.

"Another thing we have is portable laptop computers. We can fill a classroom on demand with laptops; if a teacher has a special lesson, we can roll them out to the classroom. He and his foundation were really supportive of those kind of programs."

The legacy of giving to faith-based schools, churches and other organizations extends to the entire Gallo family.

"That would be echoed by the family throughout the years, enabling us to offer programs or do site improvements," Pecchenino said. "It's always about the kids — what can we do to meet their needs? That love of youth echoed in their family."

And the giving reflects the family's personal faith.

"It wasn't unusual to see family members at a student Mass," Pecchenino said. "They were a witness to their faith, and we saw that. When you see them give, not just financial, but their presence, they understand about giving back, and I think that's deeply rooted in their faith."

The family has given to many causes over the years — everything from the arts to politics to individual needs. Usually, the gifts are given without fanfare. The same is true of the Gallos' gifts to faith-based groups, including Central Catholic, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Sisters of the Cross, The Salvation Army and Modesto Gospel Mission.

Their giving reflects the biblical mandate in Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

And it does come down to faith.

"It's wonderful to have the resources to help these groups," said Marie Gallo. "It comes back to God having blessed us, and we are glad to pass it on.

"Faith is the basis of our lives, for both Bob and I. It's knowing God is in charge of my life. Faith is a wonderful thing. It helps you believe that miracles do happen. I would say it's the foundation of my life."

Sisters of the Cross

Marie Gallo was responsible for bringing the cloistered order Sisters of the Cross to Modesto in 1988. The family has helped remodel and enlarge the building and chapel at the complex, which was built to house nuns who taught at the neighboring parish school.

Sister Regina Alonzo was one of the first Sisters of the Cross nuns to arrive from the order's mother house in Mexico.

"They've always been a great support, economically and morally," she said of the Gallo family. "They're good friends and benefactors in every sense of the word.

"Whenever we have a special need financially, they help us. But more than that, morally when we need something, we know we can count on them. They're very good Catholics and very close to us. I really admire their integrity; they live out their faith."

Salvation Army

The Gallos go beyond their Catholic faith to help other faith-based organizations. The Salvation Army is one of those.

The family has a history of helping the nonprofit Christian organization. In 1991, for example, Julio Gallo donated $100,000 to pay for a new roof and floor in The Salvation Army Red Shield Center's gym and replastering of the facility's pool.

"The Gallo family has always been great supporters of The Salvation Army," Maj. Mike Dickinson said. "They've always been responsive to our needs and continue to be. How grateful we are to be able to serve our community with their generosity."

Modesto Gospel Mission

Barbara Deatherage, co-administrator of Modesto Gospel Mission, remembers her first interaction with the Gallos about 20 years ago.

"I came out of the financial community and went into a world that was so nontech, it was impossible," she said. "My desk was the dining-room table for the first year. I said, 'I don't know how to do things without a computer.' I had heard that when the Gallos replaced their computers (at E.&J. Gallo Winery), they'd give their old ones away. I wrote a letter, asking if they had (an old one) available.

"They sent their computer guy down to assess our needs and installed a new computer with all the software. That was huge. That was going from the Neanderthal age to the computer age. They see a need and fill it; that's their attitude."

About 10 years ago, the organization decided to expand its facilities.

"It was Julio who came with the family lawyer," Deatherage said. "He was so unassuming. He came in a white shirt and khaki pants. Of course, Ernest was the more formal type. I never saw him in other than a suit and tie. What a team! They made a great team."

The family put up a matching grant and ended up contributing $1 million to the project. They also have given "about $2,000 to $10,000 a year" for other specific projects, including donating computers and funding programs for youth at the center.

"One year, they delivered a whole truckload of oranges in time to put in Christmas stockings," Deatherage said. "When Julio died, Ernest gave a large memorial donation ($100,000) to the mission in his brother's name. That says something about faith."

Is she surprised that the Catholic family has been so supportive of the Protestant mission?

"Marie told me that although they were raised Catholic, every Sunday night when she was growing up, her family used to listen to Billy Graham on the radio.

"They make no demands on us. They're a huge donor, but they didn't say, 'You need to change who you are or how you do it.'

"They're a wonderful family, very giving, very concerned about the less fortunate. They're good neighbors. And so humble about it; I don't think that's said enough. They've always done things low-key.

"Our community has been blessed by the family having such a philanthropic heart."

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church

Of course, the family also has supported its local church, from donating the land for its new building to paying for specific needs over the years to helping individuals.

"We like to help our church because it's helped us during good times and bad times," Marie Gallo said.

"Their generosity is motivated not only by their faith but by their active awareness of our needs," said Tom Byrne, chairman of the church's building fund. "It's much more than a foundation giving grants at a distance. They're actively involved in the parish and a part of developing our vision."

He said family members, now in the third and fourth generations, also are active at St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

And the family has helped other faith-based groups, such as Interfaith Ministries and Catholic Charities. After Amelia Gallo died in 1993, her husband, Ernest Gallo, said her favorite pastime was shopping for food staples and delivering them to Interfaith Ministries.

An upcoming event in mid-April, Elegant Attic Sale for Charity, is headed by Marie Gallo and will benefit two causes: Sisters of the Cross and the Catholic Social Service Guild, which hopes to build a retirement facility for Catholic priests and lay workers.

But as many people have remarked, the family is humble about its contributions and doesn't like to be singled out for praise.

"There are so many wonderful people in this community who make these worthy and necessary groups succeed," said Marie Gallo. "It's a community of faithful people who make them happen. I'm just a small part of it.

"Many, many people give their time and financial and moral support. It says a lot about this community that these organizations are really flourishing."

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