This is your life Joe Lopez, 86 and still going strong

On Saturday, May 19, 2018, at the Marron Ranch in Lakeside, Calif., family and friends were all smiles as they gathered around the popular Joe Lopez, their patriarch (red shirt, fashionable bow tie, and suspenders) for a classic photo to celebrate Joe’s 86th birthday.

After taking part in the food fest, it was time for guests to settle in for the talent competition.

With the lyrics having such sweet sentiments, you half expected Joe to start balling. Take note of the stubborn but devoted guard dog, a fearless black dachshund who positioned himself to prevent an overzealous fan from interrupting his master’s memorable performance.

Waiting in the wings to perform was her rival who gave a polite, but very low-key handclap.

Just like on “The Voice”, the second performer, Delia Serrano, came center stage. Following such a highly regarded competitor, she needed to pull out all the stops. There would be no missed notes, no awkward swaying, she needed their vote, their kudos for being “the best”.

You could see this look of astonishment on the organist’s face, after Serrano, the singer extraordinaire, had gone up several octaves. “You heard it, I heard it. She’s amazing.”

A believer in the value of friends and having a close-knit family, Joe Lopez is certainly blessed. With so many people of different age groups present on Saturday, they all seemed so homogeneous. In other words, they really got along well. No one overdid the beer or alcohol consumption and everyone was so kind and considerate, even the ladies in “The Voice” or was it “American Idol” competition. In case you missed it, the 16th season of American Idol came to a close on Monday night when Maddie Poppe was crowned the winner of the singing competition.

(photo top, left) From being a part of the paparazzi to his aspirations of being a stand up comic, Smokin’ Joe Stidman was the life of the party. (bottom left) Joe Lopez and his brother Henry Lopez (left) appear to be sandwiched in by Joe’s taller and more muscular sons.

For all to see, we even went looking for the camera-shy folks.

Coincidentally, our country was celebrating Armed Forces Day on Saturday. Way, way back in the early ’50s, to be exact, 67 years ago, a much younger Joseph Lopez was signing up to join the Military to serve his country during the dreaded Korean War. On a per-capita basis, that War was one of the deadliest wars in modern history, especially for the civilian population of North Korea.

Back to Saturday’s affair, where senior citizen Joe Lopez, now living in Escondido, was enjoying his day at the Marron Ranch and celebrating his 86th birthday with a ton of people. When you’re spending such quality time with people of a different generation, wouldn’t it be grand if you could set up these projectors to show the funniest clips from your period, so you could share your fond memories with the younger generation? For instance, all those Emmy Award-winning TV shows. The ones that had such an influence on you and your generation. Below is a sample of the classics from Joe Lopez’s era.

From Red Skelton to Abbott & Costello, on to the amazing adventures of Superman.

You would have to include the Ed Sullivan Show, Amos & Andy, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Dick Clark discussing the top 10 hits on Bandstand, Walt Disney Presents, the cute Little Rascals, and without a doubt the hilarious Three Stooges and the Tons of Fun.

Then there were the comedy stylings of George Burns & Gracie Allen, Jonathan Winters plus Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Father Knows Best, Our Miss Brooks, Ralph and Alice Kramden from The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Wally Cox and The Nelsons featuring Ricky and David.

Dragnet, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Cliffs, the Westerns featuring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the Lone Ranger & Tonto played by Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, the Rifleman, Pancho & Cisco, Cheyenne and the wild and crazy twists in the Alfred Hitchcock mysteries.

(top, left photo) shows Joe’s Father, Bernardino Lopez, getting hitched to Joe’s Mom Otilia. (top, right photo) is that rare photo of the entire family, circa 1933 Jose Johnny (Joe) was this chubby toddler being held by his father, Bernardino Lopez. The others in the photo are (l to r) front row, Consuelo (Connie) and Amelia; middle row, Otila Ortiz de Lopez, Hortencia (Tencha); top row, standing, Maria (Mimia) Guerrero de Ortiz (la Mama of Otilia and finally Henrique (Henry). After serving in the Military, you can imagine this young soldier, a Corporal, returning home and needing to regroup. Joe wasted little time and immediately began working in the construction trade. Later, at his home in Clairemont, Joe got that itch to build himself a backyard gym. After the gym was featured on the nightly news, he figured what the heck, I might as well go all the way. He then opened the “5th Avenue Gym” in San Diego’s Gas Lamp District where he remained for 22 years, from 1969 until 1991.

Oh, what a lucky man he was. Like that often heard expression: “What a Babe!” The girl of Joe Lopez’s dreams, “Babe” was oh so beautiful, inside and out, and their marriage lasted until her untimely death at the age of 58.

(l to r) Pro Boxing standouts Chris “The San Diego Kid” Martin and Antonio DeMarco join Joe Lopez and promoter Jorge Marron for a photo-op at a show at the Four Points By Sheraton here in San Diego. Photo: Jim Wyatt

The list of Pro boxers who worked out at his gym or frequented the 5th Avenue Gym is mind-boggling. Among them, he had Archie Moore, Ken Norton, Bumpy Parra, Horace “the Little Ghost” Greeley, David Gutierrez, Ruben Castillo, Jesse Island, Stuart “The Hawk” Darden, the Lujan brothers, John & Manuel, Efren Hinojosa, Jesus “the Hawaiian Punch” Salud and last but not least Nancy “Little Rock” Thompson. 

“Little Rock”, as she was called around the 5th Avenue Boxing Gym, stood 5’2″ tall and weighed just 112 pounds. If Nancy Thompson couldn’t find other women to box then she’d trade left hooks and overhand rights with the bigger, stronger, gentlemen folk.

By day, Thompson would work as a car detailer at Martin Chrysler-Plymouth and after work, she was right back in the gym. As her trainer and manager, Joe Lopez admits it took him a while to get used to the idea of a female putting on the gloves. Thompson ended up with six pro fights. The woman who defeated Thompson in her pro debut, Rosi Reed of Bakersfield, Calif., later became the World Female flyweight champ.

When you are as involved in a sport as he was, it seems every waking hour is dedicated to the development of the next champion or helping boxers reach their full potential. Over the years, the honors, plaques, memorabilia, lasting friendships accumulate like flowers in a garden. At one point Joe Cortez was the gardener giving those flowers nourishment to grow and succeed.

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