A boy's life in Portola Valley | September 4, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - September 4, 2013

A boy's life in Portola Valley

Ed Jelich visits his old home and recalls the times of his youth

Story by Dave Boyce

There was a time in Portola Valley when civility regularly took a holiday, when Sunday, a day of rest and worship, also meant fisticuffs.

It's an anecdotal tale, part of the community's history as recalled by Ed Jelich. Now 94 and residing in Walnut Creek, Mr. Jelich came to Portola Valley in late July with family members to revisit the community of his youth.

As one of four brothers, he worked on his father's orchard at 683 Portola Road, tending fruit trees, including apple, pear and apricot. As the youngest, he got the unpleasant jobs — picking up fallen fruit, pruning the trees and weeding the undergrowth — but on Sundays, Ed would head over to Mangini's Picnic Park on Alpine Road, where the Alpine Swim and Tennis Club now is.

Social clubs from San Francisco and the Bay Area would make the trip to the Picnic Park to flirt, eat, dance — and fight, Mr. Jelich told the Almanac. "You knew that every Sunday there would be a scrap," he says, adding that he did not participate. In any case, the injuries were minor, he says, of the class of black eyes and bloody noses.

It was entertainment, and entertainment was hard to come by. Once in a while, his dad would give him money for a movie, but growing up on Jelich Ranch generally meant work, he says.

The summer vacation is well-known as a holdover from when farming was small-scale and children were vital to getting crops in before the rain. Such was the situation that Mr. Jelich experienced first hand. "(Friends) used to ask me when am I going on vacation," he says. "I said going to school is my vacation."

School for him was a short walk north to what is now Town Center, where there were two elementary school buildings: the Historic Schoolhouse and a red schoolhouse, the two separated by a playground. These were his alma maters, along with Sequoia High in Redwood City.

His school day ended with another short walk, this time to the south, and his work day would begin. With a change into work clothes, it was out to the orchard for him, he says. During the summer, he was out there all day. "Summer meant a lot of work."

On Sundays, the family operated two fruit stands: at the intersection of Portola and Alpine roads, and out in front of the ranch, Mr. Jelich says. The Jeliches also owned orchards in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and La Honda, and they sold fruit to small grocery stores on the Peninsula and to the Safeway and Purity chains in San Francisco.

Such a distribution network necessitated hauling by truck on local roads. Portola and Alpine roads had coatings of asphalt, Mr. Jelich says, but not enough to make the roads smooth. Their truck, a Model T Ford with leaf springs, had a harsh bounce, so for the two-week peach season, they would deflate the tires to protect the peaches, Mr. Jelich says.

For a time, his father, Walter Jelich, was part owner of Rossotti's (now the Alpine Inn) and the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside. For a time. His wife requested that he terminate his interest in those properties. To maintain marital harmony, he did, his son says.

Asked to talk about the Great Depression, Mr. Jelich recalls a hail storm that ruined an entire crop of Pippin apples, leaving them pockmarked and unsaleable. On another occasion, the hard times led a cannery, overloaded with fruit that wasn't selling, to refuse a crop of Jelich Bartlett pears. The family overturned the boxes in the orchard and let nature have them.

Today, the ranch, owned by Cindie and Phil White, sells fruit to Bianchini's Market in Ladera and Roberts Market in Portola Valley and Woodside, Ms. White said. About 150 pounds of seconds — fruit imperfect in appearance — is sold at the Thursday afternoon Portola Valley farmers' market, ranch Manager Skip Parodi told the Almanac.

When Mr. Jelich left home, it was not to take up farming. His brother Walter Jr. had that responsibility. Ed graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in police administration. While there, he met his future wife Charlotte, a home economics major. The couple celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary in June.

Mr. Jelich's career began with the Carmel Police Department, followed by an enlistment in the U.S. Navy, and then on to the California Highway Patrol, where he started as a traffic officer and retired as an assistant chief in the Golden Gate region, he says.

In addition to Mr. Jelich and his wife Charlotte, the members of the extended family that visited the ranch were his son Ed of Walnut Creek; grandson Jason of Marysville, California; and his great-grandson Jason Jr., also of Marysville.


Posted by slavica skracic, a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

I enjoyed reading this article very much. It reminds me of stories my parents told me about their growing up in Croatia and the farm life with plenty of work to be had all the time. (I am assuming Mr. Jelich's heredity is also from the region given his name). School was indeed a fun thing and a big privilege. How times have changed!

Thank you for writing this article!

~ slavica skracic

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