ALAMO -- Visit the home of Louis and Neva Giorgi and the first thing you will notice are the exquisite, intricate grounds. Bonsai trees decorate a terrace; rock-lined miniature footpaths curve into tiny bridges; blooming native plants lead the eye to a sacred, central location, where an American flag billows in Mt. Diablo's breeze.
"You see my flag?" the 81-year-old, Italian-born patriarch asks. "Every immigrant should recognize that coming to America to stay is a privilege, not a right."
At the age of 17, although separated by an 11-year age difference, so not simultaneously, the Giorgis each immigrated without their parents to the U.S. from the tiny town of Lucca, Italy, 40 miles west of Florence. Louis spoke only three words of English ("I knew the essentials," he says, "chocolate, water, milk. It was four days on the train: I had to feed myself!") He lacked a high school diploma, but was told to bone up on English and enrolled at the University of San Francisco. Eventually, he completed medical school at Creighton University in Omaha, returning to San Francisco's Saint Mary's Medical Center for an internship in surgery and chief residency.
Neva, 10 years after Louis' arrival in the states, journeyed across sea and land to join her aunt and uncle in Tracy. Grateful to have escaped her family's poverty and to have passed the TB tests proving she wouldn't be a burden on the state of California, she attended private school in Stockton. She filed progress reports every three months, hoping to satisfy what she remembers as "President Eisenhower's law that achievers would be able to apply for citizenship."
And in a Hollywood tear jerker-worthy moment, the two Italian Americans -- having never crossed paths in Lucca -- found love at first sight 6,085 miles from their homeland on Jan. 27, 1961, over dinner at his aunt and uncle's house.
"What do I remember from that dinner?" Louis asks, gazing at his wife of 52 years and thinking back to a rushed meal between rounds at Saint Mary's. "I remember her, mostly."
Neva recalls how he helped wash and dry dishes.
"She liked my eyes," Louis boasts.
Ten months later, they married.
Living in Daly City, Neva suffered the cool climate while she and Louis built the private practice he began after five years at Saint Mary's. Back then, general practitioners could still perform surgery and Louis is proud, saying, "My patients were never sent to anybody without my being there. I was taught to look at the patient first, not at tests."
Meanwhile, Neva was the constant watchdog for her husband's thriving practice and ground zero for the family's five children. A friend induced them to move to Alamo; Neva supervised their home's construction and completed her long term educational goals.
"She was an engineer, designer, seamstress, teacher, chef -- and she's the one with a high school diploma," Louis boasts, finding humor in his own no-high-school-diploma-but-medical-degree status.
"I stayed current and grew with Louis," says Neva, now 70. "I set a high bar for the children; I was involved with the outside world and always made sure they knew to keep moving along."
Inside their home, Neva's magical, colorful touch is apparent everywhere. It's in the table's graceful basket of fruit, the hand-stitched art, the home's architecture -- and it's especially evident in the couple's children, three of whom sat along with their parents for an interview. Collectively, they represent a small but remarkable medical dynasty.
Louann Giorgi, 46, is a John Muir Medical Center critical care nurse recently honored with the center's Magnet Nurse of the Year award. And then there's Stephanie Julien, 41, a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse whose scientific mind thrives on the always-learning atmosphere. And Julie Ann Kluj, at age 49 the oldest, who decided as an eight-year old she wanted to become a pharmacist, lives in Pleasanton. San Ramon resident and Sutter Health Clinical Transformation Director Ann Marie Jiusto, 43, and Louis Jr., 45, a urologist in Carmichael, round out the medical quintet.
"My parents were driven; things needed a purpose," Louann says. "From poor backgrounds they made something of themselves. They were always a vessel of hope. They taught us things don't come to you. You fall down, you pick up and keep going."
Added Stephanie, "No matter what, the family is number one. We're not perfect; we're lucky to have each other."
And her parents have 16 grandchildren.
"It was a family affair," Louis says about his family's American empire.
And Neva adds, "He couldn't have done it alone and I couldn't have done it alone. We are a total package."