gmhTODAY 17 gmhToday Nov Dec 2017 - Page 73

N ovember ushered in a season of gratitude and giving, and what better time to honor the living legacy of George A. Chiala Sr. George passed away in January and he is missed by many, but his legacy of commitment to agriculture, education, and healthcare lives on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. Our community will benefit for years to come because of the man he was and the way he lived his life. Agricultural Entrepreneur Champion of Education George lent his full support to the development of the St. John XXIII Preparatory high school. The project continues to move forward despite difficult challenges posed by LAFCO decisions in recent years. According to software executive and Morgan Hill resident Mark Sochan, “I met George after moving my young family here from Vancouver. We were just coming out of a church service at St. Catherine’s Parish. George said hello and, noticing my young sons, invited them to come with baskets and pick strawberries at Chiala Farms. They had a great time. As we got to know each other, he talked about wanting to build a Catholic high school in Morgan Hill. Seeing my enthusiasm, he asked me to join the board.” “He was gentle and kind yet had just as much impact as some of the most aggressive people I’ve worked with in my business career. George brought out the best in people. Everyone felt he was interested and their input mattered. At his funeral service, I was surrounded by a hundred others who shared similar impressions of George. During the service, More than 30 years ago he co-founded George Chiala Farms with his wife Alice. Over time they expanded from farming into food processing. The family business continues to thrive today under the leadership of Alice, George Jr. and Tim Chiala. George’s daughters Christi and Nicole serve on the company’s board of directors. According to George Jr., “Dad was always trying to help local farmers. His outlook on business gave me a different perspective. I learned that it’s not always about dollars and cents. I am happy to have followed in his footsteps. He had great love and respect for my mom, who had a huge role in the success of our business.” “Farming is always evolving; the growing, the financing, the marketing and regulatory issues, all of it. Whenever some- one came to my dad with an idea, he’d encourage them to try it. Afterward, he would ask, ‘How did people benefit?’” “If someone had a problem or needed advice, his door was always open. He had the respect and loyalty of his employees. Many have been with us thirty years or more.” For all growers, dealing with food waste is a costly challenge. Mike Cox, scientist and owner of Anaerobe Systems in Morgan Hill, had a process for converting food waste into hydrogen, water and a fertilizer byproduct. He was keen to test his process, so he reached out to George. “George invited me to visit his plant. When I began describing my process, he got excited and called his managers in. We spent hours talking about it. Then George said, ‘If you do what you say you can, I’m gonna build an 18-foot bronze statue of you right out in front of those ponds.’” “We proved the process worked, but it wasn’t economical enough for fueling hydrogen-powered cars, which was my original goal. Then one of his staff came over to test the fertilizer and he said, ‘Mike, I’m paying five bucks a gallon for the stuff you’re throwing away!’” “George and I spoke about building a plant and implementing this process to tackle this problem. His support of this dream encouraged me to keep investing and working to make the dream a reality, and the work continues today.” “At George’s memorial service, his son Tim came up to me and said, ‘You know we have to finish this, because my dad’s up there watching.’ I laughed and said, ‘You mean, supervising, right?’” LEFT; George was awarded the 2014 Leadership Excellence Award by Leadership Morgan Hill. ABOVE: George at a meeting to plan the Saint John XXIII Preparatory High School. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 73