Our shining lights: John Blaettler and Lani Yoshimura

Lani Yoshimura won the Spice of Life "Woman of the Year" award

Books. Numbers. Cars. Animals. Gardens. Education. Volunteering.

While hailing from a patchwork of backgrounds, the 2011 “Spice of Life” award recipients are threaded together via one common trait: They’re all making a positive difference in Gilroy.

The “Spice of Life” awards, which are doled out annually by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, honors those individuals, businesses, and nonprofits that go above and beyond; demonstrating a high level of involvement and commitment to the communities they not only serve, but dually call home.

The Chamber has been hosting its Annual Citizen and Business Awards Dinner for more than 45 years, but changed the name to the “Spice of Life” awards a few years ago. The event is private and regularly draws around 300 people.

The seven honorees will be recognized during the Spice of Life Awards Ceremony Saturday at the San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister.

Here’s a glimpse at the Garlic Capital’s finest.

Man of the Year: John Blaettler

After sharing an office suite with John Blaettler for seven years and counting, Chartered Financial Consultant Jeff Orth knows the “Man of the Year” pretty well.

Orth summarizes Blaettler as a “formidable CPA” with a “servant’s heart.”

“I would trust John without reservation,” Orth said. “It’s uncommon in the age we live in to find somebody of such uncompromising integrity.”

The Chamber describes Blaettler, 60, a longtime Gilroy accountant “well known for his financial expertise as a local accountant and also for his steadfast commitment and contributions to our community;” a past Gilroy Garlic Festival president, Gilroy native and trusted financial guru of 32 years who serves in an advisory capacity to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and Gilroy Foundation board of directors.

“With John, you will see leadership. He personifies the utmost in integrity, ethical standards and the true definition of unselfish service to his community,” the Chamber wrote in a press statement. “He is committed as a citizen and business owner to Gilroy’s welfare and betterment.”

Orth said one of Blaettler’s upstanding qualities is his willingness to share accounting expertise at no charge to local nonprofits.

“He’s there specifically to make sure that they’re doing things right; things that will not jeopardize their tax status,” said Orth. “That their monies are being handled to a very high fiduciary standard.”

And “when things aren’t right,” Orth continued, Blaettler “will make the uncomfortable call” and do what is necessary to help correct the situation.

Blaettler did just that in 2010. His public allegations of “systematic embezzlement” were a precursor to the Nov. 9, 2011 resignation of Francisco Dominguez from the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees. During his time as volunteer treasurer for a local social services agency called the South County Collaborative, Blaettler believed Dominguez – an independent consultant – had allegedly overbilled the nonprofit more than $52,000.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is currently conducting a formal investigation into the allegations.

Blaettler, who was not in his office when Chamber President Susan Valenta called in mid-November to break the cheerful news, said he learned of the honor via message on his answering machine.

“Oh yeah,” he said, when asked if he was surprised. “It was out of the blue.”

As a primary source in a series of Dispatch stories chronicling the Dominguez incident, Blaettler chuckled “I was just hoping to get my name out of the paper.”

He’ll have to wait a little bit longer for that to happen – at least until the Spice of Life Awards Ceremony takes place Saturday at the San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister.

Blaettler was born in Gilroy in 1951, “when the population was probably about 4,000 to 5,000,” he said.

His roots dig deep into the community, beginning in 1917 – back when Gilroy was considered “the dairy and cheese capital of California,” according to the City of Gilroy’s historic resources inventory.

Blaettler’s grandparents established a dairy farm along Day Road, where Blaettler was born and resided until 1977. He is the middle child of seven siblings.

After graduating from Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Blaettler received his undergraduate degree in accounting at the University of California, Los Angeles, followed by his master’s in Business Administration from Santa Clara University.

He began working as a public accountant in 1979 in Gilroy, and has been working independently since 2000.

Blaettler is married to Lee Blaettler. The couple has two daughters – Genevieve, 26; who lives in Portland, Ore.; and Morgan, a first-grader attending St. Mary School on First Street in Gilroy.

Blaettler also had a son, Sean, who died at age 27.

The Chamber describes Blaettler as an avid volunteer who has lent his numbers know-how to several organizations including the Gilroy Arts Alliance, South County Symphony and the Gilroy Historical Society, where he helped to “sharpen and maintain sound accounting practices, develop procedures to reduce costs and increase revenues, and create a five-year budget plan. All of these nonprofit organizations benefit the community of Gilroy.”

When he isn’t crunching numbers or volunteering, Blaettler enjoys camping, playing racquetball, traveling and spending time with his family.

When asked what he loves about his hometown, the former 1984 Gilroy Garlic Festival President (who participated in every festival since it began in 1979) said he is “proud of the sense of community in Gilroy, and its commitment to supporting local nonprofits.”


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