Sitting in the office of Rosso’s Furniture, Evelia Morales Rosso is surrounded by photos of her family and friends, a poster from her famous ad campaign wear she dons boxing gloves promising to “beat out” competitors and a campaign sign for newly elected Assemblymember, Robert Rivas.
Rivas recently named Rosso the 30th district’s 2019 “Woman of the Year,” stating in a press release, “Evelia’s dedication to improving the lives of others is an inspiration to me and many other local leaders. Her commitment to putting our community first should serve as an example to us all.”
On March 4, Rosso, her husband Jaime, her sister and their 94-year-old mother traveled to the state capital to watch Rosso receive the award. Talking about the honor in her Gilroy office full of memorabilia, Rosso’s eyes well up with tears.
Her 30 years as an educator in South County and her work as a businesswoman and philanthropist may have been what got Rosso recognized, but her charitable passions date back decades. The Rossos own two furniture stores—one in Gilroy on Monterey Street and one in Morgan Hill on Tennant Avenue.
The daughter of immigrants from Miltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, Rosso came to the United States at seven years old. She says charity and giving back to her community were traits both her parents instilled in her. Despite her family’s financial status, Rosso says her parents and siblings always found a way to give “whatever amount we had.”
Jaime Rosso, who recently retired as a longtime member of the Gilroy Unified School DIstrict Board of Trustees, agrees that his wife’s charitable nature comes from her upbringing. He says, “In her family, they really do have a tradition of giving back to the community.”
After graduating from San Jose State in 1975, Rosso began her life in South County as a teacher at PA Walsh Elementary in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, at the same time she began work with the American Association of University Women.
As Rosso started to think she wanted to slow down and spend more time with her family, she and her husband opened their first Rosso’s store on First Street in Gilroy. They later moved to their current, larger location on Monterey, opening just days after the 1989 earthquake.
Rosso’s story has always been one about fighting: for her family, her community and her students. She advocated for Spanish-speaking students in the classroom during her time as a teacher and currently supports children struggling with learning disabilities through her work with Parents Helping Parents—a passion spurred by her own grandchildren.
And then there’s the Rosso’s furniture television commercial, where Evelia Rosso appeared in boxing gloves promising her family’s furniture store was “knocking out the competition.” The commercial, now recreated multiple times since she passed on the boxing gloves to her daughter, Sarah Rosso Bent, gained Evelia Rosso some local fame. The idea was inspired by Telenovela and also is a symbol of the business she and her husband had built.
“This thing about keep going and getting up there,” says Rosso. “It just went with the ongoing theme of the business.”
With that, Jaime Rosso says, “She was the face of our business.” His wife says the commercial gave her a connection with South County—she still sees customers on a daily basis when she’s out and about.
Rosso says she has loved getting to know the South County community through the business, her philanthropic work and her teaching, and despite the changes and growth over the years, she believes the region has maintained its integrity. In 2017, Rosso was named “Philanthropist of the Year,” by the Gilroy Latino Family Fund.
Jaime Rosso says it was his wife’s work in the community and with the schools that got him to run for Gilroy school board. “My involvement came as a result of her engagement,” says Rosso. “She helped engage me in what I did…we thrive on each other.”
After nearly 44 years of marriage and one successful family business, Evelia Rosso is now taking time to focus on her various philanthropic involvements, her aging in-laws, her mother, her nine grandchildren, and for the first time, herself.
Her advice for women: “All of us have the opportunity to give back to our community in any capacity,” says Rosso. “It’s all for our community.”