Has everybody here seen the great movie, "It's a Wonderful Life"? It's about a guy who gets an incredible gift: he gets to see how the world would have been different if he had never been born.
As George Bailey moves through the story he gets to learn about all the lives he has touched and all the contributions he made to his community. In the end he finds out that it really has been a wonderful life, after all.
The Rancho Cordovan of the Year award is a little bit like that. Tonight we get to tell Joe Gilbert
about all the lives he has touched and all the valuable contributions he has made to his community - Because that is the hallmark of a winner of this most prestigious award.
When you meet Joe Gilbert you will probably find a guy with a big smile on his face and an outstretched hand to shake. He's a guy's guy, the kind you know immediately would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Likely as not, his wife Heidi would be with him, because they have one of those great partnership marriages, and while Joe is a great guy, Heidi sure is a big part of that.
You might think they are just a nice couple of Rancho Cordovans, and you would be right, but that's only part of the story.
Somewhere along the line, Joe joined up with the Rancho Cordova Kiwanis Club and for a lot of us, that's where we first saw proof of Joe's giving nature.
When it is time to stuff Thanksgiving baskets for the needy, Joe is there. When it is time to flip pancakes for a needy cause, count on Joe. Need a Key Club advisor? You got it – Joe. In fact Joe is part of all the great Kiwanis efforts: Breakfast with Santa, Kids Day, you name it. For all of this he has been honored as Kiwanian of the Year three times and has been club president three times, as well.
But of all the Kiwanis Club projects, organizing the Fourth of July parade is the biggest task. And there is Joe, out in front.
When you show up for our Fourth of July Parade, you probably aren't thinking about what it took to pull it together. Somebody has to make all the arrangements to shut down a busy street, clear the streets, recruit participants, get them organized, staged and ready to go at the right moment. You have to do this in Rancho Cordova on a day that is likely to be 100 degrees with about 10,000 people watching. No wonder every year Joe says it is his last – even though he must know it has to do it all over a year later.
Joe is the guy lugging the signs, carting around traffic barriers, hauling cones and running up and down the parade route trying to keep the show moving while keeping everybody safe.
This gift to our community is enjoyed by people of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds and all income levels. It is the one time each year our community truly comes together to express our patriotism and Rancho Cordova spirit, and very few people give much thought about how it all comes together.
Here's how fellow Kiwanian Don Wenig put it in nominating Joe for this award:
"No one has worked harder, for longer, with great success, to make the 4th of July parade the kick off to Rancho's signature celebration."
True, and Joe, we thank you for it all.
But when it comes to Joe Gilbert, putting on a parade of more than 100 participants for 10,000 viewers is just the beginning.
Here are a few more things he has been up to:
- Joe is an active participant in the First Covenant Church ACTS program and in past years has spear-headed service projects benefiting non-profit organizations.
- He has helped hammer together houses for Habitat for Humanity.
- In an extraordinary show of love and compassion, Joe and Heidi travel to Calexico regularly to assist an individual there who is caring for that city's indigent elderly. Sharing their own resources, they replace roofing, build access ramps, storage cabinets for medication and more to ease the pain of the poor, disabled, forgotten. It is a monumental task.
- When the Gilberts heard about a family left homeless in Rancho Cordova, a young family with a newborn, they came to the rescue. When another baby was on the way, they helped with the birth. And on and on…
- Joe Gilbert is the best kind of neighbor a person could have. When there is a vacant home in his neighborhood he simply mows the grass and keeps up the property in a way that it does not look empty.
- He keeps a can of paint handy and on an almost daily basis can be seen somewhere in the area of his neighborhood covering graffiti.
- He helps with the Cordova Community Food Locker, and when the Food Locker's truck is on the blink, it is Joe who makes sure it is repaired and back on the road.
When Joe's neighbors heard Joe has been selected for this award, the phone rang off the hook. There are more than 35 people here tonight who just wanted to be part of Joe's big night.
He, however is not quite perfect. There is one blemish on Joe's record and it is this:
A couple of years ago, the news was full of the awful story that some thief was pulling down the signs that make up the "Welcome to Rancho Cordova"
signage on Sunrise Boulevard. According to the news, it was suspected that thieves had taken the signs down and recycled them for the scrap value of the aluminum. It was a scandalous thing, and Bob McGarvey himself was featured on the television news, frowning about it.
After the big story broke in The Grapevine, the editor reported a sheepish Joe Gilbert showed up at her door a few days later with a confession.
It appears that Joe had noticed some of the signs were loose and he has taken them home for safe-keeping and to conjure up a repair plan. There were no thieves on the loose – it was just Joe Gilbert trying to do a good turn and he just hadn't quite finished the job yet.
Heidi and Joe have no children. When asked about that, Heidi told us this:
"I just think God had a plan for us to serve."
Well, you certainly have.
Joe Gilbert, we are honored to count you among the other Rancho Cordovans of the Year, who like you, have gone extra miles to make our community and our world a better place to live.
Joe, your unselfish nature has earned you many friends who love and admire you. Your work on behalf of others is in the tradition of our greatest citizens whose contributions cannot be measured.
When you look around the room tonight, you are like George Bailey of It's a Wonderful Life.
You have not only enriched the community with your good works, and been a helping hand to many, you are among the most beloved. As they say in the movies, you are the richest man in town.