Dick Caglia thought he was at the Rotary Club of Fresno meeting Monday for his company, Electric Motor Shop, to be recognized for a century of business in Fresno.
Instead, he was stunned to learn that the Fresno Chamber of Commerce had chosen him as the recipient of its top honor, the 2014 Leon S. Peters Award for service to the community.
Richard -- but everyone knows him as "Dick" -- Caglia, 71, follows in the footsteps of his father, the late Frank S. Caglia, who won the Peters award in 1988. Fresno Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Al Smith said this is the first time that the medallion will go to the son or daughter of a previous Peters honoree.
The award, established in 1984, is named for the former owner of Valley Foundry & Machine Works who was also a noted philanthropist in Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley. The award recognizes business success and leadership as well as public service, contributions and investments in the Fresno area. Caglia will formally receive the award at the Chamber's Valley Business Awards luncheon on March 6.
"It's a who's who of the foundation of the community," Smith said.
Electric Motor Shop was founded by Edmund Elzea in 1919. Caglia said his father, Italian immigrant Frank Caglia, started working for the company in 1929 and eventually bought the business. When the elder Caglia died in 2007 at the age of 95, Dick Caglia -- who began working for his dad as a youngster and took on more responsibility over the years -- became president of the company.
"All of us who had the privilege to know Frank Caglia understand that the fruit does not fall far from the tree," said Fresno Superior Court Judge Robert Oliver, himself a past Peters Award recipient. "All of us who had the opportunity to know Leon S. Peters ... understand the significance of what he did and understand what Dick has done and continues to do with his life."
Caglia struggled to collect his thoughts after the announcement. "I am almost speechless," he said. "Our family has been blessed in many, many ways. We have a company that provides a service to the community, we have wonderful employees who make it all happen, and the fruits of their labors allow us to give back to the community."
"That's the way my dad laid it out, and we're going to stick to it," he added.
The Caglia family emigrated from Italy and settled in Fresno in about 1920, when his father was a young boy "and couldn't speak a word of English," Dick Caglia said. "My dad was always just so very thankful that he was able to come to this country and accomplish what he did, and he just gave back to the community."
The company's three divisions -- electrical contracting, motor repair and wholesale parts -- employ about 90 people, Caglia said.
Caglia said the company has provided labor and materials to support the Nancy Hinds Hospice and Marjaree Mason Center, and has also provided contributions for causes as diverse as the Fresno Philharmonic, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. "You name the charity, and I'm sure we've probably done something for them," he said.
The family has also done considerable work to preserve Fresno's history. Frank Caglia bought the old Warnors Theatre in downtown Fresno in the 1970s and restored it; he rescued the historic 1920s-era "Entrance to Fresno, Van Ness Boulevard" arch from a scrap heap and secured permits to restore and reinstall it on Van Ness Avenue near Railroad Avenue. Frank Caglia also secured the cupola from Fresno County's old courthouse, built in 1875 and torn down in 1966, in hopes of restoring and displaying it.
Dick Caglia said his father used to take him and his older brother to the shop after school and on weekends starting in elementary school "not so much because he needed us to work but to get us out of our mother's hair, I think." He continued through high school and college, and joined Electric Motor Shop full-time after graduating from college in 1965. "I literally spent my entire life at the shop," he said.
In addition to Caglia's father, previous recipients of the Peters award include John E. Horstmann, Peter Mehas, Peter P. Peters, Joe Williams, Lou Herwaldt, Bill Jones, Sid Cox, Bud Richter, O. James Woodward III, Samuel Reeves, Octavia Diener, Robert Oliver, Fred Ruiz, Anne Speake, Larry A. Shehadey, Claude Laval III, Robert Carter, Richard Johanson, James Hallowell, Lou Gentile, Earl Smittcamp, Helen Smades, William Lyles, Martin Nelson, Joe Levy, B. Franklin Knapp, James B. Mayer, Robert Duncan and Lewis B. Eaton.
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