Ernest H. Renzel , FORMER S.J. MAYOR WAS 100, died 2007-09-15
- 'Father' of San Jose airport Renzel dies
FORMER S.J. MAYOR WAS 100; HIS IMPACT WAS 'ENORMOUS'
By Julie Patel and Mack Lundstrom
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:09/17/2007 01:35:31 AM PDT
Ernest H. Renzel was a worldly man who dabbled in politics, sports,
economics and even classical Greek philosophy. But San Jose was where
his heart was.
"Dad loved to talk about the Ode of Athenian Youth and the idea that
we should leave the city better than we found it," said daughter
Jenifer Renzel, of Aptos. "He believed it and lived his life that
It was that spirit that helped Renzel land an airport for San Jose
and earn himself the title, "Father of the San Jose International
Renzel died Saturday morning in his home in San Jose. He was 100
The third-generation San Josean expressed a lifetime of love for his
city by serving as mayor, helping local non-profits and serving on
boards such as the Santa Clara County Housing Board, San Jose
Hospital board and the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.
"Ernie's contributions were enormous," San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said
Sunday. "He set a really high standard for mayors. His loss is a
great loss for the city."
Jenifer Renzel said her family learned more about Ernie Renzel and
the impact he made at a 100th birthday celebration they threw for him
last month. It was there that people, some of whom he met decades
ago, came to thank him.
"So many people said, 'Ernie really helped get my career or business
started,' " Jenifer Renzel said. "He never talked about it so I don't
know the details, but he helped a lot of people on an individual
basis, not just collectively."
Some of Renzel's last words of advice to the community were sought
out by the San Jose Planning Commission. Renzel encouraged San Jose
leaders to manage growth in a way that's sustainable and to push for
a transparent, open government.
During World War II, an unwitting Ernie Renzel had participated in a
housecleaning at San Jose City Hall.
At the time, taxi-service operator Charlie Bigley was viewed as a
political boss who could always get a majority elected to the city
council, until two councilmen went to war and left six of the seven
council seats open in the 1944 election.
Bigley foes formed the Progress Committee, and its campaign manager,
lawyer Harvey Miller, cajoled Renzel, Al Ruffo and four others into
forming a slate.
Their victory resulted in Renzel's selection as president of the
council in 1945. Before he turned the unofficial mayor's job over to
Ruffo in 1946, Renzel had gotten mayor accepted as the title.
Renzel was a one-term councilman and spent the rest of his career as
a low-profile man of influence in the community. "Sometimes you can
do more from the outside than the inside," he said in a 1980
In the 1960s, when the San Jose Historical Landmarks Commission was
trying to find a place for its historical museum, Renzel used that
outside influence to obtain the property.
"My mother and father loaned the city the money to buy it," said
His roots in the city were deep. His grandfather, Conrad Renzel, was
a San Jose baker who expanded his South First Street shop to
groceries in the 1860s.
By the 1880s, Ernie's father, E.H. Renzel Sr., had moved on to
wholesale grocery distribution and was vice president and manager of
the Keystone Co., the area's pioneer wholesale grocery firm, at the
turn of the 20th century.
An athlete who excelled in tennis, swimming and basketball, Ernie
Renzel also enjoyed leadership and civic activities. He first joined
the Rotary Club as student body president of San Jose High School and
for years had perfect attendance, said Jenifer Renzel.
Ernie Renzel studied economics at Stanford University and later fell
in love with Emily Hillebrand. They were married for 63 years. She
died in 1999.
He followed his father into the grocery business but also made time
for his passion - bringing an airport to San Jose.
In the late 1930s, he found the land for the airport, negotiated a
price with the ranch land's owners and spearheaded a ballot measure
to pay for it.
His involvement with the airport continued years later. He served as
an airport commissioner from 1969 to 1977, and a bust of his likeness
was placed in Terminal C in 1994. A decade later, the airfield - the
runways and taxiways - was named after him.
"I'm glad we were able to name it for him and he could know that
before he died," Reed said.