A landmark structure built more than 150 years ago stands at the corner of Monterey Street and Peebles Avenue in Morgan Hill. The business inside that structure is also a landmark—having served the community for more than six decades.
Ponzini Community Garage and Towing is owned by Gary Ponzini, 72, and was selected by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce as the Small Business of the Year. On March 3, Ponzini will be honored at the 60th annual, “Celebrate Morgan Hill” dinner at Britton Middle School gym.
“I thought that’s a pretty good achievement,” says Gary, adding, “I just don’t like getting dressed up. I thought about showing up in my coveralls.”
In 1951 Ponzini’s grandfather purchased the garage and service station located at 19190 Monterey Street. Soon after, Gary, his father Fred, mother Lucile, and his sister, Janis, relocated from San Jose to open and operate the family business.
“My dad worked the garage and my mom pumped the gas,” says Gary. “I was probably six years old, I’d sweep and clean the restrooms, stuff like that. We did it all through high school and college.”
Two years after graduating from Gavilan college Ponzini left the garage in pursuit of his passion, car racing.
“I just packed up and left,” he says. “For about 19 years I just went all over the Midwest. I went back to drive race cars. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I believe I have 13 national wins.”
In almost two decades of racing Ponzini was involved in only two major accidents, the second, and his last, took place in Winchester, Indiana—which caused him to lose use of his left arm.
“When I took the cast off, the left arm didn’t work,” says Gary. “It just didn’t work. So, my buddies drove back and moved me back.”
Gary’s passion for the world of racing overruled the risk.
“We didn’t have cages and we didn’t have all those protection devices,” he says. “You knew bad things were going to happen in those days.”
Despite his injury, Gary returned to his father’s garage, and he never left.
“I’d drive the tow truck, and pump the gas, and work on the cars with one arm,” Gary says. “And one day it started moving.”
Fred eventually handed over management of the garage to his son, while continuing to maintain a constant presence in the family business.
“He’d come in every day just to harass us—every day, like clockwork,” Gary says.
“Memories of my dad are the best. If you didn’t have any money to fix your car, he’d fix your car. Everybody loved my dad.”
Tony Salinas, the current manager of the garage, started working for Fred and Gary 25 years ago and has never regretted his decision to join the family business.
“It’s great to see both of them, (Fred and Gary), run it the way they did, and it’s been an honor for me to run it with them,” says Salinas.
“So, all these years only three people have run that garage. My father, me, and Tony Salinas,” Gary says. “Just us three in all those years. A small business deals with the person, we’ve always treated people like we want to be treated. It is the golden rule.”
Gary applies the golden rule in all aspects of his life. He and his wife, Cecelia, established the Edward Boss Prado Foundation in 2013, in dedication to Cecelia’s son Edward. The foundation honors the values of generosity, sensitivity, and good neighbors.
The couple themselves epitomize what it means to be good neighbors—giving back to the community through the foundation and numerous annual charitable events.
In 2017, Gary was selected as a Community Foundation Philanthropy Honoree for his work with the foundation.
The pairing of these two philanthropic minded individuals began 20 years ago with a job interview.
“I was just looking for a job,” Cecelia says. “I just applied and there’s this nice little man with these big glasses on. The interview went well, and I started working for him. He was nice and his father was nice.”
Cecelia and Gary reminisce that soon after she started, Fred declared her the boss of the garage.
“His dad told me, ‘OK you’re the boss,” Cecelia says. “You’re the Queen Bee, and the name stuck.”
Five years after joining the garage Cecelia and Gary were married.
“It worked out well—we balance,” Cecelia says.
“I’m very different than he is, he’s very serious and he’s real tight with money, and I’m not. Somehow, we balance out.”
Ponzini’s customers can be assured the garage will continue to be a staple in Morgan Hill.
Gary has no intention of retiring.
“In our industry, we have no retirement, so you just keep working.”