There's much to see here. Photos from the previous events, testimonials from our volunteers and community, and videos from our event facilitators.
In all her years as a volunteer for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, it only seems like Kim Beckley has worked every job there is at the festival.
She started at age 10 working the Coke booth while her brother worked in the parking lot. Then she picked up trash, was a volunteer in Gourmet Alley, worked the information booth, did data entry in Central, was both chair and assistant chair of the Queen Pageant Committee, and is currently the Volunteer Coordinator. Oh, and she was Queen in 1988 on the 10th anniversary of the festival.
“I only missed one year since I was 10, and that’s because I was having my daughter,” she says. And now that daughter, 21, and a son, 17, are also volunteers at the festival. And, in 2018, her daughter also gave birth…during the festival.
“My daughter’s son was born on the Saturday of the festival,” she says. “I got the call while I was working the festival, so I went to the hospital to be with her. After she gave birth, I went back to the festival to work. The show must go on!”
That type of commitment is a hallmark of the festival and all the volunteers, she says.
“That’s what the festival is all about,” says Kim. “I’m in awe at all the work that goes into the festival and how much it gives back to the community.”
Last year’s cancellation was tough on everyone, she says.
“Last year it was really hard not to have one,” says the longtime Gilroy resident. “I don’t know what to do without it, it’s in your blood, it’s what we do.”
But she is excited about the move to a new location this year, and the fact that there will be a festival.
“I’m so excited, I’m thrilled, a change is happening,” she says. “There’s more leeway in the new location, and we’ve got more time, so we’re thinking outside the box. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
You could say Lindsey Buessing was almost born into the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
“My dad was born and raised in Gilroy and I used to run around the festival when I was a kid,” says Buessing, who was named Volunteer of the Year in 2017. “I used to call it my favorite holiday! I had really developed a passion for the festival.”
Lindsey has been involved in the utility crew ever since she was in high school and continues to be involved, calling the work she and the utility crew did in 2019, “our best set-up yet,” and her favorite year.
She says she looking forward to the move to Gilroy Gardens, even if it won’t feel the same.
“It’s definitely going to be different, we’ve been at Christmas Hill Park for years,” she says. “But change is good. We’ll just have to see once we get there.”
She’s glad that the festival will go on in 2021 after it was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. For her, it’s all about family, and not just hers.
“To me, it’s not an association, it’s a family,” she says. “It’s hard for people to understand sometimes until you get out there and you work at the festival. I’ve met some of my best friends by working at the festival. And once you’re in, you’re in.’
Patrick Carr is only 21, but he’s already volunteered for the Gilroy Garlic Festival for two-thirds of his life.
Patrick recalls first going to the festival when he was only 7, then as he got older first as a volunteer for Utilities, then in Signs, which he’s been doing for the past six years.
“I love Signs, my three best friends do it with me too, which is the best part,” he says. “It’s amazing to get up that first Friday morning and go out to the festival and see all the work that goes into it and that thousands of people will show up.”
Currently studying sports management at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Patrick loves all the hard work and camaraderie that goes into putting on the festival.
“You really work your tail off, but it really feels like a community out there,” says the lifelong Gilroy resident. “Everyone’s at the festival, there’s a real sense of community.”
His parents also volunteer, in fact, his mother, Kirsten Carr, was president in 2009. He’s looking forward to volunteering at the new location in July, something that’s become almost a ritual every summer.
“It’s like a fresh start,” he says. “No one ever really leaves the festival. Once you’re there, you’re there.”
If Bob Filice wasn’t literally born into Gilroy Garlic Festival royalty, he’s at least royalty-adjacent.
Bob’s father, Val Filice, was one of the three co-founders of the festival in 1979 and Bob grew up immersed in the festival experience from a young age.
“That first year, dad and I did all the cooking, calamari, and scampi,” recalled Filice. “We had one frying pan that year, it was all we needed back then. I still have that pan in my garage. It’s hard to visualize with 15,000 people (in the first year), but we stayed busy cooking all day even though there were no lines.”
Over the years Filice kept cooking for the festival, at one point he was even put in charge of all the chefs in Gourmet Alley, but mainly because of his dad and the fact that he just loves cooking for people.
“I used to help my dad at a lot of gatherings, cookouts, and charity events and we had our own crew of 3-4 guys,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, I would rather cook for a crowd than two or three people. I just love cooking, I really do.”
When asked if he had any anecdotes about the festival, he brought up a doozy: “One year the head of Parks and Recreation told my dad, “Val, whatever you do, don’t catch any trees on fire. So what do you think happened? We did burn one tree. And my son had to dig out the tree and replace it with another one!”
And even though he’s turning 70 next year, he’s not thinking of curtailing his activities.
“I say, ‘One more year, then I’ll retire,’ and they tell me, ‘You said that last year!’” he laughed. “It’s been a great run and I’ve been very lucky. It’s hard to express, but as a chef, serving the public is very rewarding, gives you a great feeling inside. It really is amazing. And it’s a lot of fun. If you’re going to volunteer and work that hard, you’d better have fun!”
For Lauren Mantani, the Garlic Festival is literally a family affair, both her own family and the larger festival family.
“For me, it’s in my blood — my mom worked the early years of the festival,” says Mantani. “I volunteered when I was really young, middle school. I would go with my parents and grandparents. Being involved on the volunteer side, you really are part of a family. It’s what makes the festival so special and unique, it’s a very special part of our community, a special part of who we are.”
Mantani started working in one of the many soda booths as a middle-schooler and sold programs as a high-schooler, but quickly worked her way up, becoming volunteer coordinator for a time; she is currently the Volunteer Coordinator Co-Chair. She was the Garlic Festival Queen in 2010, was on the Queen Pageant Committee from 2014-2017 and served on the Board of Directors from 2018-2019.
Mantani, whose extended family, the Iwanagas and Obatas were involved in the festival from the beginning, eventually became a teacher and counselor at Gilroy High School, and, of course, continued her commitment to the festival every year.
“The Festival Association is just like a family, so it’s hard to step away, it was what you did, you volunteered for the festival,” she says. “Volunteering for the festival is one of the things I’m most passionate about, it’s a labor of love.”
Like everyone else involved in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Jennifer Speno volunteered when she was a teenager, but she didn’t really realize the impact it had on her until she became the Garlic Queen in 1987.
“The Garlic Festival has been a big part of my life since I was a teenager; in fact, I grew up just a block or two from Christmas Hill Park,” she says. “Being queen was a fun time in my life, it was a great time for a young girl. I had never been out of California at the time, and it gave me the experience to travel outside California.”
In addition to being queen, she was on the Queen Pageant chair from 1998 to 2000, was festival president in 2005, and served a term on the Board of Directors. As queen, she was the first one to visit the festival’s sister city Takko-machi in Japan. She visited Takko-machi five times as part of the festival as well as trips to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“I hope people realize the impact the festival has had on the community, and how proud we should be of what we have accomplished,” she says about the festival not as just a visitor destination, but a community asset. “I’m grateful for this festival, to bring a sense of community to this area. It’s important that we remember our roots.”
She says she plans to keep involved in the festival— in fact, her husband is the festival’s Vice President this year.
Giovanni Troini has been volunteering at the Gilroy Garlic Festival since he was 7 or 8 years old, and now, at age 25, is the assistant chairman of the festival’s Sign Committee.
Next year Troini will become chairman for a two-year term, taking over for his longtime friend and current chairman Drake Longaker.
“That’s what makes it so much fun to work at the festival,” he says. “I’m out there with my best friend and it’s a community thing, so you see a lot of people you know. And when we’re finished for the day, we get to hang out. I also like being out in the sun all day.”
Troini says the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment brings him back every year.
“This festival is very family-oriented and 90% of the festival is people from the community,” he says. “I like giving back to the community, it’s a nice feeling to give back.”
When asked how long he has volunteered for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Dylan Whitmer didn’t hesitate, “Basically all my life,” he says.
Dylan says he first started going to the festival at around age 10 with his parents, who both work in Water & Ice. Dylan himself assisted in Water & Ice but soon found himself working in Utilities, which he has now been doing for 15 years (he’s 31).
And he wouldn’t want to do anything else every July.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” says the Sacramento resident. “And you see the same people working every year. In fact, I told my friend we don’t need to have a high school reunion (he went to Gilroy High) every year because you see everyone you went to school with every year at the Garlic Festival!”
Dylan was named Volunteer of the Year in 2012, something he said was a big surprise, but “very cool.”
He was asked if he was looking forward to the 2021 festival after the 2020 event was postponed and the 2021 event was moved to a new location and spread out over three weekends.
“Absolutely! I look forward to it every year, I even tell my employer, every July I’m going to be gone,” he says laughing. “It’s a great time. Some people don’t understand, why work for two weeks for no pay? I do it because it’s fun. The whole experience is great.”
Childrens' Area Chair
Gilroy Garlic Festival IT Chair