As a toddler, Cheryl Gibson would leap into the comfort of her dad’s arms when he got home from his construction job sites smelling of wood and concrete and fresh air.
In June, the 62-year-old Gibson will follow in her father’s footsteps as she is inducted into the California Homebuilding Foundation’s Hall of Fame. Her dad, Gordon Hanson, was inducted in 1991, along with his business partner C.A. Trifeletti.
“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in this business,” she told me. “On weekends, my mom would want to get rid of me, I’d go with my dad to his office, and I’d sit in this room with these long drafting tables, and he’d have a set of plans out, and he’d give me paper and a pencil.”
Hanson and Trifeletti founded Von-Jac Developments, naming it for their wives Yvonne Hanson and Jackie Trifeletti. The Bay Area company extended its reach into Sacramento when Gibson was a student at Sacramento State, and Hanson slowly coaxed his daughter into the construction business.
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“He started calling me up, saying, ‘Hey, can you go check this job? I don’t have anybody to meet an inspector,’ ” Gibson said. “Well, an hour here or there began to add up.”
Hanson knew that opportunities would open up for women, Gibson said, and he wanted to train his daughter: “He didn’t put me in an office. He put me out in the field. … I was one of the first women superintendents back in the late ’70s.”
Gibson was also the first woman to become president of the North State Building Industry Association. Von-Jac downsized as it met competition from the big national builders, and now Gibson, its sole employee, subcontracts for California Construction and Renovations in Roseville. Over her career, Von-Jac completed roughly 140 subdivisions, numerous custom homes and many other projects, she said, but more importantly, she continued her parents’ work helping people less fortunate than herself. Just last year, for instance, Gibson supervised the construction of 12 apartments for Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing in Auburn.
She teared up as she recalled the look of disbelief on one homeless man’s face when he walked into a new apartment on a blustery winter night: “He had been sleeping under a bridge, and all of a sudden, here he had this place.”
Upward mobility for Wijit
Back in 1995, Granite Bay resident Brian Watwood introduced a device that wowed the mobility market: a lever and braking system for manual wheelchairs that he called Wijit.
Out of 1,000 products that debuted that year, Watwood’s Wijit was named the most innovative product at a premier industry show. In 1999, the “Dateline” television news show ran a feature on the inventor, dubbed Superquad because he was the first in his rehab group to walk after being paralyzed in the 1980s when a car struck his bicycle. Also in 1999, Watwood was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities in Columbus, Ohio.
Yet Wijit sales have been stop-and-start for Watwood and a company that bought the business from him. Last July, Roseville’s Innovations Health, run by partners Dan Niccum and Ken McGuire, bought Wijit out of bankruptcy. They have introduced the Wijit in new colors, graphic designs and materials.
“We’re 10 months in, and I think we’ve sold 10 times more units than have been sold in the entire history of the product,” said CEO Niccum. The secret, he said, lies in both making and marketing the Wijit.
“You can’t have a product that is dumped off and have the price doubled by a durable medical equipment company,” he said. “We’re developing a whole new approach to distribution that will lower the cost.”
Watwood continues to receive royalties, and his invention continues to receive accolades. United Cerebral Palsy, or UCP, recently gave it the 2014 Universal Accessibility Design Award.
What’s cookin’ in Bend
Chef John Gurnee, praised by Bee dining critic Blair Anthony Robertson for his cooking skills and edgy menus, relocated a month ago to Bend, Ore., where he took the reins at a restaurant called Drake. And, he’s lured his friend of 10 years, Bob Safford, the sous chef at Taylor’s Kitchen, to join him.
Safford’s last day at Taylor’s Kitchen, at 2924 Freeport Blvd., will be May 10. He has worked with Gurnee before at Mason’s and Kupros in midtown Sacramento. Alas, Kupros didn’t work out for them.
“It was a great concept and a beautiful building,” Safford said. “The owners and the cooks couldn’t see eye-to-eye, and the owners are the ones with the money and who make the decisions.”
Gurnee left to lead the kitchen at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco and then LB Steak in Menlo Park. Then he took the job in Bend and contacted his old friend because Safford had expressed an interest in relocating there some day. Safford will start work at Drake, 801 N.W. Wall St., in Bend, on May 14. He and his wife Rhiannon will move their two children out after school ends.
At Taylor’s Kitchen, executive chef Richard Telford hired Jerrod Doss as his new sous chef: “He comes from Chez TJ in Los Gatos. It’s a Michelin star restaurant, and they do a lot of molecular gastronomy. So he’s got a little different take on food than we do, which is good.”