Board member has inside info on major center donors

The millions contributed by the biggest donors for the Gallo Center for the Arts are just the tip of the iceberg, said one of the most senior board members.

"All of those families have come up with more than what's been publicly stated," said Vice Chairman Ron Emerzian.

The retired E.&J. Gallo Winery executive is a good person to talk to if you want to know the ins and outs of the new downtown venue. He was one of the first people to join the arts center board and has served eight years.

He said he got involved with the center because he grew up in Modesto and wanted to enhance the community.

"We needed to strengthen the town to give positive things for youth to do," Emerzian said.

Emerzian graduated from Downey High School in 1955 and earned a bachelor's degree from Stanford University four years later. Before retiring last year, he worked 47 years for the winery, most recently as vice president of corporate organizational development and training and vice president of corporate community affairs.

Over the years, he has supported a number of charities, including the Educational Foundation of Stanislaus County, United Samaritans and Juline's Foundation for the Children. He also is co-chairman of this year's local United Way campaign.

Emerzian said he thinks the Gallo families, who contributed $10 million, and the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation, which contributed $5 million, have been unfairly criticized by people who think they should pay the entire $40 million center tab.

"They have nothing financially to gain from it," he said. "This was built for the citizens of the region. They want to have an improved quality of life."

Although more than 3,400 residents and businesses have already contributed $27 million, he would like to see that number increase, and like other supporters of the center, he thinks there still are untapped donors.

"My motto has been, 'You know you're going to come. Help fund it.' "

The Gallo Center for the Arts, at 10th and I streets in Modesto, holds its grand-opening gala Sept. 27. The center has two theaters: the 1,252-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Family Theater. www.galloarts.org, 338-2100. To donate, click on "Support Us" and then "Make a Donation."