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Museum hosts ‘Meet and Greet’ for Escalon Packers personnel
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Gathering at the Escalon Historical Museum for a special program highlighting Escalon Packers on Feb. 14 were, from left, Historian Wendy Fenton; Christina Colombo, the daughter of founder Christopher Colombo; former Escalon councilman and mayor Jeff Laugero; and Curator Dorothy Miller. Marg Jackson/The Times

There were some special invited guests at the Escalon Historical Society’s Main Street Museum on Wednesday, Feb. 14, including the daughter of Escalon Packers founder Christopher Colombo.

Noting that the cannery along McHenry Avenue will be marking its 80th anniversary this year and has long been a staple in the community, Society Historian Wendy Fenton said Christina Colombo was one of those in attendance. The day also included a visit to the museum by several members of the Escalon Packers management team, many of whom had never toured it before.

Among them was plant manager Javier Lora. He is a third-generation employee at the plant, which has gone through several name changes and is now owned by Kraft-Heinz. It is also known as Escalon Premier Brands; Colombo began Escalon Packers in 1944.

Colombo was born in Italy but later came to the U.S. and became an American citizen. The fresh-pack tomato processing company he founded has an extensive line of tomato-based products.

“At Christmas time, I decided to do something funky for a Christmas tree and I thought tin cans would be a great idea, so I went over to the cannery and got tin cans and pulled all kinds of stuff and we decorated a tin can Christmas tree,” Fenton explained of the roundabout way in which the cannery-focused open house event came to fruition.

The tin cans at Christmas turned in to a tin can display for Valentine’s Day in the front window of the museum on Main Street, swapping out the tree for a large heart and adding some other touches.

“Dorothy (Society member Dorothy Miller) thought it would be a great idea to get Christina (Colombo) out and celebrate with the cannery while we were putting all the effort in for the front window,” added Fenton.

She added that while Escalon Packers marks its 80th anniversary this year, the museum will mark its 35th and D’Boni’s Pizza, which also provided some items for the front window display, celebrated their 40th anniversary in business this past year.

Christina Colombo grew up in Modesto and said she worked one summer at her father’s cannery. She has lived in San Francisco for 60 years and said she was appreciative of the efforts to get her to Escalon for the museum gathering, since she doesn’t like driving on freeways anymore.

Transportation was arranged and she was able to tour the cannery prior to visiting the museum with the various plant personnel. Also on hand for the event was former Escalon councilman and mayor Jeff Laugero, grandson of longtime cannery employee Minnie Laugero, who worked there until retirement at 90 years of age.

There were several historical articles and photos available to review during the festive open house, along with refreshments and plenty of time to reminisce, with some of those that worked at the cannery sharing stories of their experiences there.

The cannery has provided jobs for countless local residents through the years, Historical Society officials said, and continues to contribute to the area’s economy.

“He was a man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps,” Colombo remembered of her father and his drive to succeed in business at the cannery.

And she praised the employees and management personnel on the job there now.

“They’re doing a beautiful job,” she said.

The Escalon Historical Museum is at 1630 Main; museum hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.; other hours by request at 209-838-8070.

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A large heart for Valentine’s Day was front and center in the display window of the Escalon Historical Museum on Main Street, with tomato products and pizza also figuring in to the display. Marg Jackson/The Times