Merced Sun Star
February 20, 2007

Joseph Edward Gallo Jr., producer of Joseph Farms Cheese and brother of the Gallo wine founders, has died. He was 87.

Gallo died in his home in Livingston on Saturday afternoon after a long illness. He started out life as an immigrant's son and ended it as one of the most successful dairymen in the United States. Joseph Gallo Farms, based near Atwater, employs 500 full-time workers and has helped transform Merced County into one of California's dairy epicenters.

Born on Sept. 11, 1919, in Antioch, Gallo was the youngest of three boys and was named after his father. Joseph Sr. and Susie Gallo immigrated to California from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, owning and operating a wine business before prohibition.

The family later bought a vineyard, where Joseph Jr. worked in at an early age before and after school.

In 1933, when he was 13 years old, his father shot and killed his wife in what authorities ruled as a murder-suicide.

Joseph Jr. was placed under the guardianship of his brothers, Ernest and Julio. The two older brothers started E&J Gallo Winery that same year.

In 1937, Joseph Jr. graduated from Modesto High School. He later was inducted into that school's Hall of Fame.

He attended Modesto Junior College, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He served in the Philippine Islands and Korea before he received an honorary discharge in 1946.

A year before that discharge, he married Mary Ann Arata, with whom he had daughter Linda Ann and sons Peter Joseph and Michael David. Peter was killed in Vietnam in 1968.

After his World War II service, Gallo became the ranch manager of his brothers' grape-growing operation, E&J Gallo Vineyards in Livingston. Gallo also developed his own vineyard and a cattle business.

"He was a very hard worker and he had a lot of foresight," said Richard Witter, a longtime friend of Gallo's who worked for his brothers and later did consulting work for Joseph Gallo Farms.

He eventually accumulated 4,000 acres of his own vineyards, which his family said at one time made him one of California's largest wine grape growers.

He also had an interest in livestock. In 1979, Gallo built his first dairy with 4,000 milking cows. Four more dairies would follow, his family said, as well as the founding of the Joseph Gallo Dairy & Cheese Co. in 1982. A year later, Gallo began production on a line of cheeses he marketed with his full name.

This caused a rift between the Gallo brothers. In 1986, Ernest and Julio Gallo sued Joseph Jr. to stop him from using the Gallo name on cheese labels.

In response, Joseph Jr. claimed his brothers owed him a third of their winery because his brothers had used their parents' estate to launch the business.

A court eventually sided with Ernest and Julio and the cheese labels changed from "Joseph Gallo" to "Joseph Farms."

But that didn't stop Joseph Gallo Jr. and his son, Michael Gallo, from expanding their business. In 1995, Joseph Gallo Farms was named the nation's largest farm by Successful Farming Magazine.

Today, Joseph Farms' operations are made up of five dairies and one cheese plant near Atwater. Farming operations include around 34,000 head of livestock, of which 17,000 are milk cows.

Around 500 full-time and 50 seasonal employees work for Joseph Farms.

"He enjoyed working with the people here on the ranch, which is not all that common," said Michael Gallo, CEO of Joseph Gallo Farms.

Michael Gallo's stepmother Patricia, who Joseph Gallo married in 1956, remembers Joseph Gallo having a ball at company picnics.

"He would just go from table to table, all over the place," Patricia said. "He loved to entertain."

John Whiting, who had been friends with Gallo since 1960 and later became his lawyer, said he also remembered Gallo having a soft heart for his employees.

"He would fire someone and I say, 'man, I really feel bad for the guy' and three or four days later, I'd see (the fired employee) working again," Whiting said.

Along with the memories of being a respectful employer, Gallo and his farm also will be recalled as one of the pioneers in using methane from manure as a source of electricity. The environmental work was recognized last month by an industry forum in Orlando, Fla., which named the company Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year.

But Gallo has also been known to butt heads with environmentalists.

He went head-to-head with the Sierra Club and an American Indian group in 1980 over 1,800 acres he owned on San Luis Island west of Gustine pegged for a state park.

The State Department of Parks and Recreation eventually paid him $3 million for the land so it could become part of Grasslands State Park -- but not before the Sierra Club went to court to keep him from leveling the land.

Sixteen years later, he was presented with an environmental award by the Central Valley Joint Habitat for dedicating 1,500 acres of his land to grow "wildlife friendly" crops and restoring 102 acres to wetlands.

Gallo's interest in environmentally friendly farming had much to do with his love of the outdoors, especially hunting, Whiting said. His hobbies also included fishing, golfing, playing Bridge and traveling.

And laughing, said his wife Patricia.

"He had such a wonderful sense of humor, he didn't care if the joke was on him, he'd laugh anyway," she said.

Gallo is also known for his many contributions. He was involved with the Livingston Community Health Center, Mercy Medical Center Merced, St. Jude's Catholic School, the Emanuel Hospital Chairman's Club of Turlock and was a major contributor toward the Veteran's Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. in Memory of son Peter.

Gallo's son Michael and daughter Linda Jelacich, who is also involved in the Gallo business and farming enterprises, recently donated funds to UC Merced for its Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center, in honor of their father.

Survivors include wife Patricia, son Michael and his wife Lori; his daughter Linda and her husband Kenny Jelacich; his stepson Sam Gardali and his wife Kay. He has six grandchildren: Micah, Tiffanie and Peter Gallo; Anne Marie Jelacich; Gina and Brett Gardali. He was preceded in death by his son Peter and his brother Julio Gallo. He is also survived by his brother, Ernest Gallo.

A Rosary has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at St. Anthony's Catholic Church, 1779 Winton Way, Atwater. The Mass and Resurrection will follow at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Anthony's Catholic Church, 7890 Fox Road, Hughson. Lakewood Funeral Home in Hughson is in charge of arrangements.