The Dean of Docents
“I’m a product of people,” Jim would always say, referring directly to the many influential individuals that contributed to his upbringing in San Diego’s Italian community during the 1940s and 1950s. Jim remained steadfast in his efforts to convey the crucial components of that upbringing and in preserving his family’s history. In an interview with me from several years ago, he recounted an episode that helped to shape the direction his life would eventually take. As Jim explained:
“One day my grandson, Brandon, walks up, and he's in the fifth grade. He said, ‘Grandpa, I'm gonna do an overnight stay on the Star of India.’ I said, ‘Brandon, your great-great-grandfather sailed on the Star of India. I'm gonna write you a two-page essay about your grandfather and the Star of India. I want you to share it with your teacher and your school kids before you go down there.’ So I went down to the Maritime Museum and to their library, did some research, had some pictures taken, and that kind of got me with a local connection to the Maritime Museum. So I put this essay together, gave it to Brandon to take to his school teacher, and she really appreciated it. And I guess the kids got quite a bit out of it. My grandson loved his overnight stay, and I meet a lot of kids, a lot of parents, a lot of grandparents who say their kids just really loved that experience down there. So in 2006, I went down and signed up with the Maritime Museum to start going through docent training, the first week in January of 2006, and that took about 13, 14 weeks. And when one of the directors found out that I grew up on the waterfront and Little Italy, he said, ‘Oh, I'm gonna turn you over to the guy in charge of our programs.’ And this gentleman said, ‘How about putting a PowerPoint presentation together on what it was like growing up in your Little Italy and on the waterfront?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I'd be delighted to.’”
As a result of this meeting, Jim would go on to create and narrate a multimedia presentation about growing up on San Diego’s waterfront and in Little Italy that he would ultimately deliver to a multitude of community organizations around the county. Through the years, Jim spoke to nearly 11,000 people and presented close to 300 times. In 2012, Jim compiled his collections of essays into a print volume: Generations of Memories…on never to be forgotten India Street. He knew firsthand that people have a continued interest in this subject of the history of the Italian neighborhood and its environs. He continued in the interview by stating, “So today, speaking about our neighborhood has been a real blessing to share what our neighborhood was like. People love to hear that, because the people I speak to sometimes will come up to me and say, ‘Jim, I did everything you did, except I did it in Brooklyn,’ or ‘I did it in Philadelphia,’” emphasizing the common ground we share even through our diverse upbringings.
For us at Convivio, Jim served as a fixture for the many guests who would visit, conveying his passion for Little Italy and telling stories of times past and how those connected with times present. Jim spent myriad hours volunteering for Convivio, captivating guests with his recollections and bits of history. Jim would often end his stories or anecdotes with his signature line: “I was blessed to grow up where I did, when I did.” Amen to that. Thank you, Jim, for all your tales around the proverbial campfire, for the commitment to our shared heritage that highlights the threads that connect us all, and for your treasured friendship. We will miss you dearly, and we will help to carry on the rich heritage tradition of which you were and will remain a vital part.