I have an AMAZING web designer. She’s a dynamo. Gianna simply the best designer I’ve known. I ask her to do a change on my site, or add something, or for ideas, and she responds immediately, always with a positive attitude. Recently, she shared her grandfather’s story with me. This is a MUST READ. It shows what you can accomplish by determination, hard work and being a good person. I wish there were more Don Gragnani’s around today.
By Gianna Gragnani
My great grandparents came here from Lucca, Italy, through Ellis Island. As a boy, my grandfather grew up with his parents and four brothers in a very small town called Tranquility. They were so poor that all seven of them lived in a small one-room house out in the valley that would sometimes get to be over 114 degrees inside. They sewed their own clothes and grew their own food and livestock so they could live without government assistance. As they grew up and began working, the young brothers pulled together all their money to begin buying land to farm, starting with about 60 acres.
Despite the fact that for the majority of his life my grandfather couldn’t really read very well (he started paying me when I was 10 to read him his mail) and didn’t make it through high school, he was a business mastermind and became one of the largest crop farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. By the time he died last year, Don Gragnani Farms owned over 10,000 acres of land, and the largest portion of wetlands in the San Joaquin Valley (independently from the other Gragnani families, who by that point, also had great successes and farms of their own). The reason we never went bankrupt, like so many farmers in the valley, and were so successful is because my grandpa understood very early on that farming was gambling. For this reason he grew a wide variety of crops, unlike most farmers who only grew 1-2 things and could easily get wiped out by one bad season. So we currently grow 2 types of cotton, alfalfa seed, alfalfa hay, carrots, prunes, nectarines, barley, two types of tomatoes, 4 types of grapes, pomegranates, corn, olives, 2 types of onions, 3 types of melons, sugar beets, and a LOT of almonds (almond milk anyone?). You may have even driven by them before without knowing it. There are miles of them lining the 5 freeway in the San Joaquin Valley.
My grandpa also owned a fertilizer company and a chemical company, employed thousands of people over the course of his life, helped financially support many other families at different times during their struggles, as well as, gave free land to small farming towns to build schools upon. He made a large portion of his money in real estate by cleverly going around and buying all the surrounding land of small towns, far enough out from the cities that it was cheap, and then farming on them, and waiting for YEARS for the towns to expand until he owned prime real estate. Haha! He cracks me up. Such a simple idea, but so smart!! That’s how I bought my house. He graciously gave me one of these properties when I was young and I sold it when I was 26. It’s now the University of Merced.
When he died last year, between the viewing, the mass and the reception over 750 people came to my grandpa’s memorial services to pay their respects, including the Chief of Police. The stories people tell me of things he did for them are so incredible and beautiful and they say them with such love, admiration, sometimes tears of gratitude and always huge smiles, it’s hard to believe one man could touch so many people so profoundly, provide for so many families and still find time to travel the world and be my grandpa.
He was extraordinary and he did so many things I don’t even know about yet. I still hear stories I’ve never heard before that blow my mind. I’ll tell you one more:
My whole life there was a man they called Sunny* at all of our holiday gatherings. I never thought too much about it, he was a close friend of the family’s and we have lots of people around for the holidays. But when I was helping take care of my grandfather in the last few days before he died, I asked my father why Sunny was allowed to be there after we had very strictly stopped letting outsiders in to see my grandfather. My father gave one of his deep belly laughs and asked if I was joking. I assured him I wasn’t. If the rule is “immediate family members only” why was Sunny there? My father told me that Sunny’s mother was legitimately crazy. She beat him and would often lock him in a room because he was born with a unique birthmark and she believed they had switched him at birth and he wasn’t her son. So when Sunny was about 13 years old and my grandfather found out about this, he invited Sunny to come and live with them and raised him as his own son from then on, even paying for his college, his first car, and giving him his first 100 acres of land to start his own farm. My father said, as far as my grandfather was concerned, Sunny was his son. My JAW DROPPED. I couldn’t believe that I was just finding this out, at 31 years old. Sunny had been around my whole life and I had no clue why because my grandfather is so humble, no one ever talked about it and I never thought to ask. My grandfather never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think I can’t possibly be more proud of him or love him anymore than I already do, someone tells me something new like that.
I love my grandpa’s story because I think it’s the true American dream to do what he did and that’s so inspiring to me. I hope you enjoyed his story and found it inspiring too 😉
[* Some names have been changed to protect identity.]
DO YOU HAVE A GREAT IMMIGRANT STORY? I WANT TO HEAR IT!