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Ernest H. Renzel , FORMER S.J. MAYOR WAS 100, died 2007-09-15

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  • g_r_mallman
    Father of San Jose airport Renzel dies FORMER S.J. MAYOR WAS 100; HIS IMPACT WAS ENORMOUS By Julie Patel and Mack Lundstrom Mercury News San Jose Mercury
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 18, 2007
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      'Father' of San Jose airport Renzel dies
      By Julie Patel and Mack Lundstrom
      Mercury News
      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
      years old.

      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
      Jenifer Renzel.

      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.
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