History San Jose honoring Rod Diridon Sr. at October fundraiser

Rod Diridon Sr. has worn plenty of hats in his 83 years: he served two combat tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy, worked as a junior executive with Lockheed, started his own research polling firm and spent 20 years on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors before his retirement in 1994.

But the hat he’s probably most associated with is a train engineer’s cap, as he’s known as both the “father of modern transit” in Silicon Valley and a huge historic railroad buff. For both these reasons — as well as the rest — History San Jose is honoring Diridon at its Valley of Heart’s Delight: Down by the Station fundraiser on Oct. 6 at History Park.

History San Jose CEO Bill Schroh Jr. says that trains and trolleys are an important part of the valley’s story and Diridon has helped History Park showcase these rolling memories. The event’s “fund a need” donation campaign will help restore the park’s newest historic building acquisition, the 1869 Coyote Train Depot — one of the oldest in the Santa Clara Valley. It’ll be part of History Park’s Transportation Corner, which includes a locomotive, an Orchard Supply Hardware boxcar and a caboose.

Diridon’s history with trains go back before he was even born. His maternal grandmother took the train to attend San Jose High School in the late 1800s, and Diridon’s father, Claudius Diridoni, changed the family name in part because of bigotry in the railroad industry. Rod Diridon worked as a railroad brakeman and fireman to pay for Shasta Junior College and Chico State before he transferred to San Jose State.

While on the Board of Supervisors, he pushed for the first half-cent transit sales tax, spearheaded the creation of VTA’s light-rail system and chaired the study that led to the Caltrain commuter service. At the same time he was charting Santa Clara County’s transit future, he was helping to found the California Trolley and Railroad Corporation, which built the trolley barn at History Park and rebuilt nine vintage trolleys. He also argued to preserve San Jose’s downtown station following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and when he retired from the Board of Supervisors in 1994, the station was named in his honor.

“There’s a love there for history while I know that we always need to look to the future,” said Diridon, who today is concentrating his efforts on climate change and sustainability and proudly looks forward to the day when Caltrain is fully electrified.

The 5:30 p.m. outdoor celebration will also serve as the opening of a new exhibit at the Trolley Barn, “Rod Diridon Sr.: A Lifetime of Public Service.” Tickets are available at historysanjose.org/get-involved/valley-of-hearts-delight-annual-fundraiser.

Diridon said he is very proud to be recognized by History San Jose and groups like it and the Preservation Action Council have missions that are “beyond value.” “Those two organizations working together are making sure we remember the best of the past as we move forward to a better future,” he said. “These folks are in there protecting the artifacts, the houses and individual documents that will remind us of that.”

FIVE-PAW REVIEW: How do therapy dogs get used to restaurant settings? It helps if you take ’em out to dinner now and then.

George Nobile, owner of Vito’s Trattoria on Skyport Drive in San Jose, opened his restaurant to a therapy meeting and dinner for the South Bay chapter of Canine Companions. Mori Mandis, president of the Silicon Valley Concierge Association, said it was a tail-wagging good time. “I will be taking them to several other places in the future,” she said, “to get their personal opinion and preference of the hospitality industry with SVCA!”

SUCCESSFUL CELEBRATION: The Doris Dillion School in Cambodia — founded by retired San Jose Unified School District teachers Jim and Denise DeLong — marked 5 years of educating children at a rural middle school in the Southeast Asian country. The first of their students are either in college or have graduated and moving into professional life. That’s a good reason for the celebration, held Sept. 17 at Almaden Golf and Country Club, which included a silent auction to continue to provide scholarship aid to 40 middle and high school girls.

The school is named after Doris Dillon, a beloved Almaden Valley teacher who died from ALS in 2001. Columbia University’s Teachers College named a professional development center after her before her death, and the children’s library at the Almaden Branch Library in San Jose also bears her name.

You can find out more about the Doris Dillon School’s work at www.dorisdillonschoolincambodia.org.

HAPPY RETURN FOR SANTA CLARA PARADE: Santa Clara’s 53rd Parade of Champions is set to return Oct. 1, with a full day of activities in the Franklin Square area. A farmers market and a “village” of community booths will be open a couple hours before the parade’s opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. The parade itself leaves the corner of Market and Monroe streets at 11 a.m. and finishes at Harrison and Washington.

The grand finale at 1 p.m. will feature the marching band from Sacramento State, followed by “Salsa on the Square” until 5 p.m. More details are available at www.scparadeofchampions.org.

I’ve heard that the parade could use a few more convertibles to carry community honorees in a more visible way. If you’ve got a car that would fit the bill, contact Mike Hennessy at coolcars55@sbcglobal.net or Ray Pulver at raypulver@upbeatparades.com.

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Author: Sal Pizarro