When he was a young man, Thom Sanchez never expected to be working as a leader in a corporation. A second-generation Mexican-American, Sanchez worked in the fields when he was young in order to pay for his education. He credits his parents for instilling him with a hard work ethic and discipline.
“I learned that at an early age. That’s how I live my life: very disciplined, and I set goals,” he said.
Since 1979, Sanchez has worked in the business world, where he has been instrumental in developing new programs. For his contributions to business, Sanchez was inducted into the Lodi Community Hall of Fame.
Dave Vaccarezza, a friend and former business partner, said Sanchez may not have had many resources when he was younger, but his work ethic has enabled him to be a role model to others.
“I think as a role model, he shows you can come from nothing and be something and have an impact on what goes on around you,” Vaccarezza said.
Sanchez began his career in the nonprofit sector, working with underprivileged youths. He was employed as a drug abuse counselor for the Mission Rebels in San Francisco, and was program director and executive director for the San Jose City Boys Club of Santa Clara.
In 1979, he moved over to the business side when he began working for Lodi Sanitary City Disposal Company. He started out doing jobs such as driving a garbage truck, sweeping floors, working the transfer trucks and making sales. Eventually, Sanchez worked his way up to vice president of operations.
In 1997, he began working for Waste Management, Inc., where he is currently the area director of business development.
In the early ’90s, Sanchez was instrumental in helping to develop Lodi’s three-cart garbage system. He was named Employee of Year by the California Refuse Removal Conference in 1995 for his efforts.
After researching the program, which originated in Germany, he began a step-by-step process in creating Lodi’s garbage system. Changes included having residents move garbage cans from their backyards to the curb, having them separate the trash from the recyclables, applying a rate increase and then expanding Waste Management’s site to be able to sort everything.
At first, residents were resistant to the change and there were many complaints, Sanchez said.
“I’m proud to say this recycling system was one of the first programs in California,” he said. “It was challenging, but it was a great achievement for us.”
Through his employment at Waste Management, Sanchez has been able to secure funds for several local charities, including the Tip Your Heart Foundation, the LOEL Center and Lodi House.
He was also able to organize a $1 million donation to the City of Lodi to help save the Grape Bowl. His own memories of playing games in the Grape Bowl drove him to do what he could to save it.
His friend Annette Murdaca says Sanchez’s charity work has been among his biggest contributions to Lodi.
“He’s kind of a ‘Silent Sam’ as far as getting monies donated to the community. He’s done it very humbly and discreetly. He’s always been a cheerleader for the community,” she said.
Over the years, Sanchez has served in several organizations, including as president of the Lodi Kiwanis Club, lieutenant governor of Kiwanis International and executive board member of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, as well as holding membership in the California Refuse Removal Council for Northern California, the Lodi Chamber Hispanic Business Committee and the Lodi Mexican American Lions Club.
In 2012, he was inducted into the San Joaquin County Mexican American Association’s Hall of Fame.
Sanchez graduated from Lodi High School in 1968 and San Francisco State University in 1972, with a Bachelor of Arts in recreation administration. He then received a certificate of business from University of the Pacific.
He lives in Morada with his wife, Dede. They have two daughters, Christy and Alexis, four grandchildren and two great-grandsons.
Other inductees this year include Richard Ling for his contributions to community service; Jeanie Biskup for her contributions to government; Don Womble for his contributions to education; and Linda Hammons for her contributions to community service.
The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. Inductees will be honored at a dinner and program scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Boys and Girls Club headquarters, 275 Poplar St. near the corner of Stockton Street. Tickets are $50 each. For more information or to make a reservation, call Eddie Cotton at 209-334-2697.