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Lodi’s Thom Sanchez goes from picking crops to the Mexican-American Hall of Fame

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 8:07 pm | Updated: 10:29 am, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

Thom Sanchez grew up picking grapes, walnuts and all sorts of other crops, but he didn’t make it a career.

The Acampo resident played football at Lodi High, San Joaquin Delta College and San Francisco State University. Later he became a partner at Waste Management in Lodi with Dave Vacarezza.

And in October, Sanchez was inducted into San Joaquin County’s Mexican-American Hall of Fame.

“I’m very proud to be of Mexican-American descent,” Sanchez said. “I assimilated into being an American.”

Sanchez, 62, learned about his nomination to the Hall of Fame from Dan Floyd of Lodi and Tony Martinez of Stockton. One reason they wanted to nominate Sanchez to the Hall of Fame is that many inductees are from Stockton, and they wanted someone from the Lodi area, Sanchez said.

A second-generation Mexican-American, Sanchez was the sixth of seven children born to David and Elvira Sanchez. Although his parents only had formal education through third grade, son Thom said they instilled the value of education, discipline, a hard work ethic, importance of family and belief in God.

“We learned about setting goals,” Sanchez said. “Mom would say if you collect 10 sacks of walnuts or tomatoes, then we could go play.”

However, his parents didn’t encourage the Sanchez children to remain farm workers or not try hard in school. Thom Sanchez got a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration at San Francisco State and attended graduate school at San Jose State University and University of the Pacific, where he received a business certificate.

Sanchez was executive director at the Boys City Boys Club of Santa Clara County when Dave Vacarezza offered him a position at Waste Management in Lodi. Sanchez wanted to return home to Lodi, so he accepted the job.

It was an ironic setting at Waste Management since Sanchez was an volunteer assistant coach at Tokay High School when Vacarezza played football there. Sanchez was Vacarezza’s boss at the time, but then the roles reversed when Sanchez was hired at Waste Management. They later became partners in the firm before Vacarezza sold his Central Valley Waste business to Waste Management about 14 years ago.

“He’s really got a lot of character,” Vacarezza said of Sanchez. “He’s just a down-to-earth guy who came from a really hard-working family. It was a pleasure to see him really develop as a key player in Waste Management.”

Sanchez works in the business sector for the garbage and recycling collection company. In fact, it was Sanchez who brokered the deal with the city of Lodi, which resulted in Waste Management contributing $1 million toward Grape Bowl improvements, Vacarezza said.

Sanchez said his heart remains in Lodi and his old high school.

“I’m a loyal Lodi Flame.”

Sanchez said that there’s no excuse for Latinos to become gang members, which has become commonplace in Lodi.

“Parents have to push their kids to be good kids,” he said. “You can’t condone (gang violence). There are no excuses — be a good citizen. Just do it.”

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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