In the six years that I’ve lived in this county, I never had the pleasure of meeting or interviewing John DeVincenzo, the local orthodontist, farmer and businessman who died last weekend.
Had I met him, I would have thanked him for his contributions and for helping to make the county such a special place. Besides his work as an orthodontist for thousands of children, DeVincenzo, along with his family, established the gems that Central Coast residents and visitors enjoy year after year.
In 1971, he, along with his late wife, Bobbie, and their three children moved to See Canyon in Avila Valley, where they began to farm.
It was a simple life filled with long days of planting, pruning, watering and selling apples at Gopher Glen (named for the gophers the family battled on the farm), recalled his oldest daughter, Mary McDonald.
It started out as a roadside stand, but over time, the orchard matured, and with it, the family business.
A decade later, DeVincenzo purchased the property that is now home to Avila Valley Barn, the quaint open air market known for its sweet corn on the cob, autumn hayrides and ice cream/candy shop. It was one of the many businesses that he and his second wife, Sally DeVincenzo, owned and operated together.
My husband and I first discovered Gopher Glen and Avila Valley Barn shortly after moving to Avila in 2003, and it soon became part of our routine, a way to mark the changing of the seasons.
In the fall, we like to hop on our tandem bicycle and head down See Canyon Road, winding our way to the apple orchard. We look forward to tasting the different varieties and riding away with a sack full of fragrant fruit.
For a time, the barn was almost a weekly ritual, especially after our son, Garrett, was born. We would stroll out of our house and walk down the Bob Jones trail, reaching the market before it opened. We still take our little guy there quite often to see the goats and roosters, sometimes before the first customers arrive.
Before Halloween, we will stop in to sort through the mounds of gigantic pumpkins. And we’ll return around the holidays to choose just the right Christmas tree, the soft needles covering the ground like a blanket underneath our shoes.
I can imagine DeVincenzo, who grew up farming in the San Joaquin Valley, slipping on his coveralls at the crack of dawn in preparation for a day of hard work, inspecting every field and tree on his land. I imagine him stopping to wipe his brow and admire the beauty around him.
After his death, I interviewed family, friends and colleagues, and a portrait emerged of an intellectual and a doer, a man of great faith and fierce determination who never let a day go by without trying to make the world — whether it was through his ground-breaking orthodontic work, commitment to education or farming practices — better for the next generation.
He was an avid businessman, constantly searching for the next project, and he was not one to shy away from taking a strong position on an issue; fighting with all his heart for what he believed in. Yet, he was always there to listen to others and was humble about his achievements (he held many patents in orthodontics), never wanting to call attention to his accomplishments or those of his family.
That just wasn’t his way.
DeVincenzo was certain about what mattered most in life, said his friend and pediatric dentist Jac Pedersen. He told him so a week before his death.
“I asked him what joy meant to him,” Pedersen said. “And he asked me, ‘Well, what does joy mean to you?’ ” “I said my mental ability and my mental state of mind. And he said, ‘No, you’re wrong. It’s love that is the most important emotion.’ ”
In many ways large and small, I believe that DeVincenzo showed this love to his fellow SLO County citizens —through his example, actions and businesses that have brought joy to adults and children alike. As a community, we were fortunate to have him.