This year’s edition of this social function, which is known as the Old-timers Holiday Luncheon, drew about 60 people, who either were or continue to be connected to some part of the food industry such as employment with a national company or a grocery chain, or working as food brokers.
The Friday, Nov. 8 event began with a mingling hour, in which former food industry professionals, some of whom were once competitors, shared memories about their careers.
One such person was 86-year-old Roseville resident Jim Williamson, who was one of the founders of the luncheon. The other founders were Dave Butters, who worked for the Zellerbach Paper Co.; Gene McGee, the head buyer for United Grocers; Don Cronin, a self-employed food broker, Vince Calaci, a food broker for the Mel-Williams Co.; and Al Wong, one of the owners of Bel Air Markets.
In speaking about the establishment of the event, Williamson said, “There was a group of guys called the Wednesday Club (which was founded by Butters, McGee, Cronin and Calaci in the 1980s) and they used to take all the buyers in the valley to lunch every year. (The club) was organized and they met every Wednesday. When I retired (in March 1993), the Bel Air (grocery chain) people had just sold out to Raley’s. So, these guys (of the club) wanted to put on a joint retirement party for the Bel Air people and me. They invited about 300 or 400 people, old guys that were either working or retired in the industry to come to this joint retirement of me and the Bel Air guys, and we had 200 people show up. I looked around and I saw what was happening. There was so much camaraderie and reunion type things going on. To the guys, I said, ‘Why don’t we do this for a Christmas party every year – a holiday party?’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s fine.’ So, I volunteered myself, and Al Wong became part of the committee and we called it the Old-Timers’ Club. It turned out so successful we did it for 19 years. I then got too tired. I was carrying a lot of the load, so I just decided it was too much for us.”
Louise Menzer, secretary and past president of Sacramento Quality Travelers, a service organization for the grocery industry, said that SQT has since sponsored the event.
“Jim Williamson of the original committee sent out a letter to all the old-timers inviting some other group to assume the task of planning the event,” said Menzer, who spent 20 years working for the California Independent Grocers Association. “I went to one of our club meetings and presented a motion that we should take over the sponsoring of the event. This (year) was our third time sponsoring the event.”
Menzer, 82, added that the event was originally an all-male function, but about five years ago the group voted to invite women to their annual luncheon. Among the current female members of the organization is its outgoing president, Annette Arnall. She will be replaced in that position by Larry Wright, a former Maxwell House coffee worker, on Dec. 13.
In addition to SQT’s sponsorship of the old-timers luncheon, the organization hosts a crab feed at the Dante Club in February or March, an Easter egg hunt on the Saturday before Easter, free lunches for members on the first Friday in May, a trip to a River Cats game in June, weekly golf get-togethers, an annual golf tournament and a Christmas installation luncheon, which benefits the Crisis Nursery Program of the Sacramento Children’s Home.
Guest speakers have been a part of the annual program since after its 15th year. Other speakers have included the first Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Eddie LeBaron, an All-Star San Francisco 49ers player, Save Mart CEO and majority owner Bob Piccinini, and Chico State University President Paul J. Zingg, who spoke about sports, mainly baseball.
This year’s edition of the event featured a speech about Raley’s and the challenges that and other stores face due to an evolving industry and culture, by Alhambra, Calif. resident Kevin Curry, who has spent more than 35 years working in the retail food business.
Curry, who has held positions with Alpha Beta, Lucky’s, Albertson’s and Safeway, is presently Raley’s senior vice president of sales, marketing, advertising and merchandising.
Also speaking at the event was the luncheon’s emcee Marlin Larson, who formerly worked for Mayfair Markets in Northern and Southern California and handled the total grocery operations for Albertson’s in Northern California.
Larson, who moved to the area from Southern California in the 1970s, recalled the 1950s as a time when a customer went to a local grocery store, not for price, but for various other reasons ranging from convenience to a desire to visit with a favorite butcher.
“The pricing was pretty much the same,” said Larson, who attended the event with his wife, Gloria, who he married 58 years ago. “It didn’t matter too much where you shopped. In about 1963, in Southern California, a chain called Lucky’s started the discount operation, and then eventually it moved in 1971 up here into Northern California. All of a sudden pricing became important.”
Larson also brought humor to the event. For instance, when referring to Calaci, he said, “Vince really goes back. I was talking to Vince the other day, and I said, ‘When did you start the industry?’ He said, ‘Well, at the time, I called on the Indians at Sutter’s Fort.’”
Menzer also spoke at the event, as she paid tribute to former industry workers who had passed away since the last luncheon. These members were: Jerry Arthur (Safeway), Chuck Collings (Raley’s), Dan Delise (Bradshaw, Inc. North), Henry Fong, Don Ingoglia (Tony’s Fine Foods), Tony Kunis, Rich LaBryer (Bromor North), Irene Lunardi, Joe Mar, Clarkson “Bud” Mogford (Hills Bros. Coffee), Owen O’Donell (Raddar Dallas Co.) and Earl Wainscott (Safeway).
While observing the attendees of last Friday’s gathering as they socialized with one another, Williamson, an Arkansas native who moved to California in February 1947, said, “This is what it’s all about.”
Among those who were enjoying the company of other guests of the event was Calaci.
In reminiscing about his career, Calaci said, “It was a fun business. Typically a broker was as good as his word.”
And in lamenting the changes that have occurred since his retirement, Calaci said, “It’s all computers now. I know how to turn one off, because I’ve got a 3-pound sledgehammer.”
Don Luttrell, who worked for Minute Maid, a division of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., from 1964 to 1989, described the annual luncheon as “wonderful.”
“It’s nice to get everybody together,” Luttrell said. “I’ve been here (at the luncheon) almost every time.”
Lee Glaves, 84, had a long career in the industry that included working for a food broker and Mezzetta brand foods. He said that although it is nice to see so many people attend the event, “it is a little bit hard to remember everybody.”
Ninety-two-year-old Floyd L. Levick, a Bayard, Neb. native who began residing in California following World War II, also shared details about his career.
“I got out of the service on the first of August (1945) and on the second of August, I went to work for Tom Raley,” Levick said. “I was there at (the Raley’s store at 4408 Freeport Blvd.). I was the manager (of the store). I was with Raley’s until 1963.”
And while motioning to a man named Steve Homentowski, who was sitting to the left of him, Levick said, “He worked for me.”
Homentowski responded by saying, “There was a little subdivision called Tallac Village and there was a shopping center there (which still exists today), and Mr. Levick (was managing Raley’s) Store (No. 12) there (at 6000 14th Ave. in about 1955). There used to be a Stop-N-Shop (Market) across the street (at 6001 14th Ave.) years and years ago. I worked for (Levick) and I became assistant manager and I worked at several stores and I became manager (in about 1959). I worked (in Store No. 16 at 940 Sacramento Ave.) in Elkhorn Village (in today’s West Sacramento) and I had (Store) No. 10, which was (at 525 W. El Camino Ave.) in North Sacramento. I wound up in (Store) No. 5 (at 4408 Freeport Blvd.) after (Raley’s) built a new store. That was the last store that I managed before I left the company (in about 1965).”
Beyond those who attended the event, there were those who were unable to attend the event due to various reasons.
Williamson, whose work history includes his employment at small grocery stores in the late 1940s and working for Raley’s from 1958 to 1993, said that among those who he missed seeing at the event was Steve Nettleton, who unfortunately suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Nettleton, who was the luncheon’s emcee from 1993 to 2007, is also recognized for contributing more than $2 million to improvements to Chico State University’s former Roy Bohler (baseball) Field – now Nettleton Stadium.
In commenting about this year’s luncheon, in general, Arnall said, “It was a wonderful get-together for everybody and hopefully we can get more people interested and more people to come next year.”