In celebration of her 100th birthday, longtime Los Altos resident Kathryn Gemello has been invited to throw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game this season.
Gemello is set to take the mound June 26 – her birthday – when the Giants take on the Oakland A’s at Oracle Park. It will make her one of the few centenarians to throw out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game.
According to grandson Kevin Ferguson, the idea for Gemello to throw the ceremonial pitch was hatched 10 years ago when she and her family were celebrating her 90th birthday at a Giants-Cleveland Indians game. Ferguson recalled that “15 or 20 of us were … in a Giant’s VIP suite,” and “we jokingly back then thought, ‘Oh, we should have her throw out (the) first pitch when she turns 100.’”
Gemello’s son, Mark, made it happen with a call to the Giants, who “he’s got a connection with,” nephew Ferguson said.
While many of the 99-year-old’s family members are excited about the event, she isn’t so sure the pitch will travel too far.
“You know, I can’t even … throw with my right arm too well,” Gemello said. “(Mark’s) going to get me up there, but I don’t know if I’m going to do it. He wants me to so badly, (but) I don’t know.”
Growing up during the Depression
This certainly won’t be the first challenge Gemello has faced in her long life. She was born in Utah before the Great Depression. Her family of seven moved to California when she was still an infant, settling in Mountain View. During her childhood, Gemello said she and her siblings played in the orchards and in a big barn owned by the family’s landlord. When the Depression hit in 1929, life got harder.
“My mother (Mandi Volarvich-Bess) was always reminding me that we had to eat well,” Gemello recalled. “So we did eat well, but we didn’t get to have a bicycle, steaks or (anything) like that because it cost too much money. Couldn’t afford it.”
Gemello’s entire family worked year-round to pay the rent, meaning there was little time for after-school activities.
“I couldn’t stay after school for sports,” said Gemello, who wanted to join the volleyball team. Instead, the family worked in their landlord’s orchards, tending to apricots, raspberries and other fruits.
“My mother found work for us. We got to cut the apricots and orchards,” Gemello said. “(We made) some money that way, and we would save it up for our rent.”
Love and marriage
Gemello met her future husband, Mario, in high school. They went on their first date when she was 16, accompanied by her older brother and his date. When Mario dropped her off at home afterward, she realized this could get serious.
“My brother went into the house, and then … my boyfriend … gave me a kiss good night, and I thought, ‘Oh, dear, he really likes me,’” Gemello said. “And I just had a crush on him.”
Mario apparently had other ideas, though. He played it cool – real cool.
“Well, I hadn’t heard from him after that (date), and I got really mad at him after that,” Gemello reminisced. “I wouldn’t talk to him for two years. I just wouldn’t have anything to do with him, really.”
That changed when Gemello turned 18. One day the telephone rang. She happened to answer, and it was Mario.
“And he was talking really nice to me, and he invited me out to a movie, and I accepted. And (then we went) steady,” she said.
The couple married a year later in Las Vegas at a small hotel owned by a family member. Gemello called it “a lovely, lovely wedding.”
Managing the winery
A decade after helping his father launch the Gemello Winery, the 28-year-old Mario took over the Mountain View-based business in 1944.
While her husband managed the vineyards, Gemello raised their children.
“The one thing that I wanted to be was a mother, and I loved my children,” she said of her daughter and two sons. “They brought a lot of joy to my life. They still do.”
The Gemellos first lived in a house on the winery grounds in Mountain View, then moved to Los Altos in 1974. Mario retired in 1982, handing over the operation to his niece, Sandy Obester, who with husband Paul owned a winery in Half Moon Bay.
The Gemello Winery is no longer there; the land, located west of El Camino Real in Mountain View in what is called the “Gemello neighborhood,” is now mostly homes, and features Gemello Park and the Gemello Village Apartments.
“I wasn’t with (Mario) when they tore down the winery (in 1990),” Gemello said, but she was present when they tore down the house they had lived in, which was built just before they were married, and Mario “had tears in his eyes.”
Mario died at 89 in 2005.
One day at a time
Looking beyond her 100th birthday, Gemello said she is taking life one day at a time. She does not obsess over the future.
“I don’t know, I’m not going to think that far really,” she said. “Listen, I go day by day.”