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A most rewarding experience of my forty-year farming career has been associations with Thomas Jefferson’s “cultivators of the earth”, whom he esteemed as our country’s “most independent, most virtuous, most valuable citizens”. Amongst those, none are more precious than the handful of old-timers by whom I was mentored and befriended. I gaze on a photograph, occupying a prominent place in our home, of John and Hazel Sordi with Denesse and me at our 25th wedding anniversary celebration. That same year, 2005, our inseparable Sordi farming neighbors celebrated their 75th! John’s immigrant parents worked off New World passages, advanced by late-19th-century cattle barons Miller & Lux, by performing two years employment on ranches hereabouts, as did many fellow Italian expatriates. John was born on his family’s farm, several miles from our own, in 1912. Daily walks to Howard School were entrepreneurial – John leading a cow which he’d tether to any fence or post along the way where lush roadside grass beckoned. The schoolboy collected his “milk factory” after class, a boost to family finances and a kid’s pocket change. Warm-season afternoon chore time found John tediously dipping from a water barrel atop the horse-drawn cart he guided down vineyard rows, hand-irrigating each young vine. A head for numbers inspired his folks to ship the lad off to a Fresno academy after 8th grade to earn commerce law and business credentials. Around this time, former produce broker A.P. Giannini’s innovative Bank of Italy had just established San Joaquin Valley branches serving capital-starved small farmers. Young Sordi hired on at the Madera branch, recalling employees were required to qualify on the shooting range with pistols kept at the ready beneath tellers’ windows. During tough Great Depression times John served as branch manager, tooling around greater Madera as Giannini instructed him to foreclose on speculators while exercising forbearance with family farmers. By 1941, hankering for farm life, John abandoned the desk to lease, acquire and tend his own vineyards. By 1995, when I first met the Sordis, octogenarian John had relinquished their 400 acres’ management to son Doug. Everyone in our neighborhood knew John and Hazel served daily noon lunches from his oversized, prized vegetable garden, and all were welcomed. I miss brandy-soaked raisin digestivos that sent me into hiding for naps. We miss neighbors more, Hazel and John, who passed away at 95 and 97 years of age respectively after 77 years of married life. – Tom Willey