With all the heated discourse in the world today, when the virtues of kindness and generosity seem to have taken a back seat, it’s more important than ever to recognize the unsung heroes in our community who continue to exhibit those qualities.
The Spice of Life Awards, presented by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, is an annual event that shines a spotlight on selfless individuals who find ways to give back to the community. Longtime Gilroy resident Joyce Duarte is one of those individuals. She will be presented with the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year award on Saturday, Feb. 3.
Duarte was taken by surprise last November at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast when it was announced that she had been selected.
“I go to all the chamber breakfasts,” Duarte says. “I sell raffle tickets for the chamber, so I’m always there. They just wanted to surprise me, and they sure did. It’s nice to know I’m appreciated for what I’ve done.”
Duarte was offered the role of “ambassador” when she became an entrepreneur in Gilroy in the early ‘90s.
“When I opened my business, Sue Thurman asked me if I’d like to be an ambassador, so that’s how I joined the chamber,” she says.
Duarte says the ambassadors have an established presence at community events, attending mixers for the chamber, mingling at the monthly breakfasts and helping out at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
“If they need me for it, I do it. Whatever they need, I enjoy doing it,” says Duarte.
Mark Turner, President and CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, quotes Aristotle when describing Duarte’s role in the community:”
‘What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good’”
“Joyce Duarte has been a shining example of serving others and doing good,” Turner says. “For more than 26 years she has quietly volunteered with the Chamber of Commerce in various capacities with the simple goal of serving others.”
Duarte, who spent the better part of her life in the South Bay, was born in Hayward and moved to San Jose when she was young. By the mid ‘80s, she met and married Joseph Duarte. Soon after, the couple and their three children moved to Gilroy.
“My husband’s family bought a house here,” Duarte says. “They bought it so we could be together as a family.”
Once they were settled in, Duarte, who worked in retail in San Jose, was offered a job opportunity closer to home by Gracie Garcia, of Gilroy Antiques. Duarte happily accepted.
For the next two years under the tutelage of Garcia, Duarte was introduced to the world of antiques.
“I hired Joyce and she ran the store very well for two years and I think that’s when she developed her addiction to antiques. It’s worse than being an alcoholic, because there’s never a cure for it, but it makes for a wonderful life,” says Garcia.
“When you take over the store you have this hands-on education, and you learn by what you see, that’s how you really learn the business. I was very happy with her. She is a good lady,” Garcia says, adding that Duarte is “well deserving” of the award.
In 1991, Duarte moved on from Gilroy Antiques when she and Joseph decided to pursue their own venture, Monterey Street Antiques.
Donna Morton, of Morton Septic Service, Inc., met Duarte when she visited her store and the two developed a friendship that has lasted decades.
“She’s so caring, so giving, so loyal. I mean, just an all-around sweet person,” says Morton, adding, “That’s what you think of when you think of Joyce.”
Morton wasn’t surprised to hear that her best friend had been selected as volunteer of the year. In fact, she felt the award was overdue.
“I think she’s really deserving of this award and I’m really, really happy that someone finally decided to acknowledge her achievements and her contributions to the city of Gilroy,” says Morton, adding that Duarte has a history of giving to others.
“She’s let several people stay at her house,” she says. “People that are just very in need of help. She just invited them in and helped them out. A lot of them haven’t done the right thing by her, but that hasn’t hampered her ability and her desire to help people. She still continues to do that.”
In 2005 Monterey Street Antiques closed and soon after Duarte immersed herself back in the world of antiques when she was hired to work at Collective Past, the antique store owned by Lynda Gram.
Even at the age of 72, Duarte feels compelled to continue working and volunteering, both of which give her life meaning.
Duarte’s philosophy regarding professional work extends to her volunteer commitments.
“You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing,” Duarte says. “If you enjoy what you’re doing then you don’t mind going to work.”
After 40 years of marriage, in 2012, Joseph Duarte passed away, but Duarte remained in the family home along with her daughter, Tina Garcia, and her grandson, James Riley, 25.
When Duarte shared this winter’s good news with her family and friends, each of them expressed how happy they were she had received recognition for her many years of service to the community.
“She’s been volunteering for so many years,” Duarte’s daughter, Tina, says. “And I’m just so proud of her and happy for her that she’s been recognized for her hard work.”
As for Duarte, she prefers to stay in the background and do what she can when she can. She doesn’t need an award to inspire her to do that.
“I’m nothing special, I’m just someone who likes to do for the community and the chamber. That’s just me.”