Dr. John Volponi, who turned 89 last week, has been taking care of Livermore residents' eyes since 1952, when he first opened offices in Livermore and Pleasanton.
He is finally retiring and leaving the practice in the able hands of his son, James. Dr. James Volponi joined his father's practice in 1984, and the pair have worked side-by-side ever since. My eyesight started going bad around second grade, so I can remember eye appointments at Tri-Valley Optometry right near the Post Office on South Livermore for the last 25 years. The Volponis' roots go way back in Livermore. John Volponi was born in Livermore on March 10, 1925.
"My father moved here in 1906," said John Volponi. "He lived in San Francisco, in North Beach, but the fire burned it all down."
His parents met while working at Cresta Blanca winery, which is now called Wente.
"My dad learned how to make wine, and my mom worked in labeling," said Volponi.
Volponi said his dad put his winemaking skills to good use during Prohibition, even though he went on to work in carpentry.
"People came from all over to buy his wine," said Volponi.
After graduating from Livermore High in 1943, Volponi enlisted in the Air Force and was trained as a pilot. By the time he finished training, the war was about to end. Volponi served his enlistment and came back to the Bay Area with an opportunity to go to school with the G.I. Bill but no idea what to study.
"My uncle suggested optometry, and it sounded interesting," said Volponi. He visited the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, but it was during winter break. Luckily for him, the secretary was there, and set up an impromptu meeting with the dean of the school. After getting a tour from the dean, Volponi knew what he wanted to do with his life, and he enrolled.
"When I went to school, I was in the first class where they upped the requirement from two years to three years," said Volponi. "By the time Jim came along, they had increased it to four years."
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Volponi's dad bought an office for him near the current one.
"My dad was going to fix it up, but he passed away."
So Volponi and his uncle renovated the site and Volponi used it from 1952 to 1963, when he moved into the current office. For Volponi, there was never any question about where he wanted to set up shop in 1952.
"I knew the lab was just starting, and I guessed that Livermore had a lot of potential," said Volponi. "It turned out I was right."
He juggled the Pleasanton and Livermore offices for about 30 years before deciding it was too much.
"Many of our patients from Pleasanton decided to just come to Livermore anyways," said Volponi, who said he has seen the profession change dramatically over the last 60 years. For the last few years John has been working only one day per week.
"If it wasn't for Jim taking over, I would have had to stop a long time ago. He knows I love it, so he let me come and play."
Volponi said having his son practice with him was a pleasant surprise.
"He did it all on his own; I never pressured him," said John. "He's been a jewel. He's been very well received, and people enjoy him."
Volponi intends to continue staying busy gardening and "fixing things." He'll leave fixing eyesight to Jim.
Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@bayarea- newsgroup.com.