You might know Joe Garzanelli as one of East County’s most successful broker-owners. The long-time PSAR supporter, with more than 44 years of real estate experience, has a track record for growing real estate offices. His current office, Keller Williams Realty in El Cajon, with more than 200 agents, has ranked as East County’s top producing office over the past two years.
But did you know that Joe wrestled a bear in the U.S. Army. He was an 18-year-old private in advanced training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks. He had just arrived after completing basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He volunteered for the U.S. Army in October 1966 because he was expecting to be drafted due to the Vietnam War.
There in Missouri, his captain had a pet 250-pound black bear and every platoon member was ordered to take a turn entering the bear’s cage.
“The enclosure was huge, probably 150 feet across with a tree in the middle, as big as you’d find in a zoo,” said Joe. “Normally, the bear normally sat in a corner while two of us went inside to clean the cage and give fresh water and food. About 50 or 60 guys would be watching us because it was the featured entertainment of the day.
“When it was my turn to go inside the cage, I decided to walk up to the bear. I had grown up around farm animals my whole life, so the bear seemed friendly to me. But, then that bear took a look at me and swiped my shoulder with his paw, and I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“Then, the bear jumped over me and headed for my buddy, who was scared and screaming and climbing the tree. I got up off the ground and followed the bear who was climbing the tree and I grabbed the bear’s leg. The bear looked down at me, as if to say, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you know what I could do to you again?’”
Somehow, someway, Joe grabbed the descending bear and had him in a headlock. The brief wrestling match appeared to Joe’s Army buddies like Joe was dancing with the bear all around the cage.
“Everyone was laughing, I guess it looked pretty funny,” said Joe. “After a few minutes, I let go, and the bear went in one direction, and I ran in the opposite direction. I have no clue why our captain decided to care for a bear as a mascot. In today’s military, I don’t think it would happen.”
Joe was raised in Oglesby, Ill. in a family with two older brothers and three sisters. The boys did chores on their sister’s farm, including milking about 40 Holstein cows, bailing hay and work in the corn, soybean and wheat fields. An uncle operated a restaurant called the Garzanelli Supper Club featuring homemade Italian food with recipes from his grandmother who once worked as a cook at the Vatican.
After the Army, Joe attended Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, where he met his wife Jonelle. They were married in April 1970. They have four grown daughters and four granddaughters.
Later, Joe and Jonelle moved to San Diego where Joe’s two brothers operated a real estate office with Hilmer Severin, whose family developed part of East County, including the area along Severin Drive in La Mesa. “The job with my brothers was going to be temporary until I could get a job as an electrical engineer,” said Joe. “My temporary job has lasted 44 years. Real estate is my calling.”
Joe managed and owned several independent offices before becoming a partner in an El Cajon Century 21 office that became one of the top-producing offices in the nation. He then became part-owner with Lloyd Klowden and Jack Forness of another Century 21 office that also became one of the top-producing offices in the nation. He opened his Keller Williams office in March 2011. “I’ve been fortunate with the help of my wonderful management team of Lisa Lozoya and Cheri Farrell to have success launching start-up real estate offices from zero to becoming a top producer,” said Joe.
Joe is also known for his cash giveaways at first-Friday breakfast meetings held by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce. If a chamber member’s name is called, and if they are there at the breakfast, then they win the cash. The amount grows by $50 each month if the selected chamber member is absent.
Joe acknowledges the efficiency of the PSAR operation. “I know what it takes to run a successful company, and PSAR is a well-run organization,” said Joe. “I love it when a live person answers the phone. It indicates PSAR’s business-friendly environment.”
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Don’t forget to read next week’s story. Hint: He was a “skate rat”
in high school who is now a devoted deep-sea fisherman.