Sitting in his office surrounded by a lifetime of mementos and awards, Rico Cinquini sips a cup of tea and reminisces. Relaxed and focused, Cinquini is sentimental and charming, passionate and articulate; a man who has earned a reputation as a forceful advocate for the city in which he has spent over 60 years of his life, and a place he says he will never leave.
A spry 81, Cinquini is one of the area's last original modern-day settlers. "I'm losing all my old-timers," he says, and yet despite the passage of time and the inevitable partings he has experienced, the former Marine, who served under the legendary Chesty Puller, remains a staunch supporter of his beloved town - a place where he has raised a family, grown a career and watched the one-time unincorporated community take its place among the area's thriving Delta cities.
But ask Cinquini to identify Oakley's real accomplishment, and he'll tell you with unabashed pride: it is its residents.
"I'll tell you what," said Cinquini, "The people who have worked to make Oakley what it is today are the unsung heroes. They are everything."
Just 21 when he caught his first glimpse of the tiny Delta community ("it was a hummin' little place"), Cinquini was an accounting student at USF, with a girlfriend living in the faraway town of Oakley. Rose Delbarba, a member of one of the area's founding families, was Cinquini's catalyst for coming to Oakley, but one look at the town of barely 1,000 residents, and the future real estate magnate was hooked.
As the story goes, he married Rose, took up permanent residence in l947, and together with his cousin, bought the Rexall Pharmacy from his new father-in-law. "Neither one of us were pharmacists," Cinquini admitted, "but it was a good investment." He set about raising his family in "a little house on Rose Avenue," and in l955 he built his home on O'Hara Avenue, where he and Rose remain today.
The names of Oakley's founders roll off his tongue like a Who's Who of East County notables: Dal Porto ("they had the farm equipment place"), the Borrough Brothers ("they owned Cloverleaf Farms") and Emerson ("he had the dairy") - all friends and supporters of the burgeoning town that would one day take its place among the incorporated Delta communities. But it would be a long-fought and sometimes bitter battle for legitimacy, a journey Cinquini will be the first to say was nothing short of Herculean.
In the l950s, many of the town's lush almond orchards were razed to make way for the anticipated housing boom, affected with the arrival of Dupont. "That was good for us," said Cinquini. "They bought about 500 acres." Around that time, Oakley's first subdivision went in at Norcross and Acme Avenues, and marked the beginning of the area's growth. The three-bedroom, one-bath flattops went for just under $8,000. Sensing a change in the wind, and anticipating an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Oakley's inevitable growth, Cinquini got organized and got busy.
"The town was really starting to grow," he said. "We started with the formation of the Businessman's Association, and that was the stepping stone to having a voice in the community." From there it was the formation of EDPAC (East Diablo Advisory Council) and the eventual development of OMAC (Oakley Municipal Advisory Council) in l983. Cinquini believes it was then-supervisor Tom Torlakson's interest in letting Oakley have a voice by forming the council that led to the beginning of cityhood for Oakley. "That was really what gave us our push," he said, "and then we started taking a look at our borders."
As neighboring Antioch and Brentwood jockeyed for position in the Delta hierarchy, "Antioch was relentless, and Brentwood was, too," Cinquini said. "Brentwood took everything on the north side of Delta Road, and so we said, 'OK, then we are taking everything from Neroly up to Delta Road.' In the end, we had something that Brentwood didn't have: the interchange, and that was something that provided tremendous access."
In l999 Oakley became an incorporated city. For Cinquini, who was a constant and guiding presence for years at city meetings and events, building a city was the greatest professional coup of all.
"The highest accomplishment someone can do is help put a city together," said Cinquini. "I'm so proud to have been a part of this, and you know how it was done? We had no money. This city was built with a lot of flea markets and spaghetti feeds and potlucks."
And it is in honor of those modern-day pioneers with names like Smith, Thomas, Posin, Zych and Rios that Cinquini lobbies future developers to name incoming streets after those who stayed the course - a permanent reminder and marker of how far Oakley has come.
And what about a Cinquini Court? "Hah! What I'm really looking for is an Italian subdivision," laughed Cinquini. "Then we'll talk about naming a street after me."
While Cinquini concedes that the times they are a'changin' for the community of nearly 30,000 residents, he remains optimistic about the future of "the little town that could."
"A handshake isn't what it used to be, that's for sure," he said. "But the new generation is coming in, and they'll do a good job. There is a spirit about Oakley that will never change, and people know that."
A spirit that touches more than the dirt and dust that was once the main street of this tiny town. For Cinquini, it's really about coming home.
"If you stand on Main Street and look north, that area was all fields when I first came here," he said. "Oakley is full of potential; it's a great, great town. When I cross the borders into Oakley, I know I am home. I have a tremendous feeling for Oakley, and that is something no one can ever take away."