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Dianne Gini: Strength in Family Roots

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It’s often said that mothers keep families grounded, and in the case of the Gini family, matriarch Dianne Gini has been the hardwire that upholds the family current. As senior vice president of Collins Electrical Company, Inc., Dianne’s life has been a model that hardwiring comes not through electricity but through strength, adversity, love and humility, as well as giving back to the community. As a business owner, philanthropist, devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Dianne credits her success to her faith and to those who paved the way before her.

From the beginning, Dianne’s life has been centered around family, strength and service. Raised with parents who endured the Depression era and losing her father at a young age, she developed tenacity and fortitude that would help her face other hardships down the road. Growing up on the south side of Stockton in the early 1940s and 1950s, she attended Jackson Elementary and continued to St. Agnes school. She would graduate high school from St. Mary’s high school in 1957. Shortly after high school, Dianne met Eugene (Gene) Gini, who stole her heart. On August 27, 1960, they were married just a week after Dianne’s 21st birthday. She playfully jokes that she waited a week to get married so she could be old enough to go to a bar.

But it was that same tenacity that would help her as a new wife and eventually a mother. In the early years of their marriage, Gene worked at Collins Electrical, sweeping floors and doing odd jobs in the Stockton warehouses to keep their family afloat. Their beginnings were humble, but just like Dianne, Gene’s hard-working spirit would eventually move him into a management position. With Dianne’s support, he would run the Modesto branch for many years while she stayed home to raise their children, Lisa, Kevin, Brian and Craig. And she took her parenting very seriously. Modeling both her mother, Ruby Salvetti, and mother-in-law, Mary Gini, she wanted her children to maintain the family model of a strong work ethic.

Dianne attributed her values and bond with her children to her role as a stay-at-home mom. “Being able to be present in my children’s life was important to me.” Gene would refer to Dianne as having “an iron fist with a velvet glove,” meaning she was a firm mother but also caring and nurturing at the same time. “When she rolled in, she ruled the roost,” he added. Her son, Kevin, reminisces on his mom’s firm yet loving example. “I appreciate how she scolded us and taught me to be a better parent,” he said, thinking of his own family. “It showed me she cared about me and she wanted me to travel down the correct path in life.”

A Bigger Role at Collins Electrical
Yet as her children grew and began to forge their own paths, Dianne’s role in the company would develop. One year when staffing was short and a secretary had to leave for family responsibilities, Dianne stepped in to help temporarily. She quickly discovered her temporary position would remain indefinitely.

Together, Dianne and Gene worked hard at Collins Electrical, simultaneously saving their money and wisely reinvesting their wages into shares in the business. Brian recalled how much diligence and dedication his parents showed. “They pulled their bootstraps up and worked in the office together.” He remembers nights they would stay till the late hours, sometimes even until midnight. But the hard work would eventually pay off. As the company and business grew, Gene would move further up the ladder and in 1990, he was named CEO of Collins Electrical. “Mom was the glue that allowed this company to grow. She did a lot of things to take care of the family; she did a lot of things in the business in Modesto,” said Craig. “She allowed my father to grow the business as well. She was the part that kept it all together.” Kevin and Brian later joined on as co-CEOs and Craig as the senior vice president and chief transformation officer at Collins Electrical, and they applied their parents’ examples in every aspect of their careers and in their own families.

Tragedy Brings Healing and Love
While Dianne’s protective nature and sure efforts centered both her family and business, it wouldn’t prepare her and Gene for one of the greatest heartbreaks of their lives. Tragedy would strike the Gini family, a few years before Gene’s rise to chief executive officer. In 1987, their daughter, Lisa, was coming home from her nursing job when she was killed by a drunk driver. The loss was unbearable for the family along with having to deal with the drawn-out aftermath of court hearings. It was here that the MADD organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stepped in to help the family with court appearances and to navigate the difficult time.

The pain of losing her daughter never fully went away but years later Dianne wanted to give back to MADD for all they had done for her. “Lisa is missed daily,” said Dianne. Wanting to do her part, she volunteered every way imaginable, from speaking at local events to visiting prisons. Dianne continued with the organization and served as the president of the San Joaquin chapter for three years until its merger with the Sacramento region. Dianne recognized that helping and serving the community was her way of giving back while honoring Lisa. “It’s a rewarding feeling to be involved thinking you are helping in some way,” she affirmed. “Lisa taught us how to say, ‘I love you.’” Through her service and her work ethic, her sons watched their mother carry on and, the loss brought her family closer together. Craig expressed admiration for his mother’s strength. “Losing a child was not easy to deal with and she did it her way regardless of what anyone else thought.”
After working with MADD, Dianne continued to help other local organizations such as Hospice of San Joaquin’s Butterfly Auxiliary and the American Cancer Society. She also served on the board of the Mary Graham Children’s Hall and Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. “She gives of her time, talent and treasure,” said Kevin. “She feels very deeply for others.” Craig also commented that Dianne’s actions showed him how to treat others. “I’ve learned to be compassionate for others through her example.”

Love and Life
Unfortunately, in November 2014, Dianne suffered a stroke and much of her volunteer work and time at Collins Electrical were put on hold; even Gene stepped away from the business to care for her. Despite the change, her family believes this time has been great for both of them to slow down and spend time together. “I love and adore how they interact right now,” noted Craig. “It’s like a second honeymoon. It brings such joy to see how they respond to each other.” Her sons believe having this time, despite the stroke, has made their mother a more open and sharing person. Her years of service, honesty, loyalty and devotion have given so much to her family and community and now it’s time for her to be celebrated. “That’s the epitome of who she is.” said Gene.

Dianne has also shown her family that love is about celebrating and bringing people together. In 2018, Collins Electrical celebrated the 90th anniversary of the business with a full-blown Las Vegas-themed party. Simultaneously, two other celebrations were included, Gene’s birthday and the birthday of his mother, Mary. Dianne surprised Gene and their guests with a serenade of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in a Marilyn Monroe-style get-up. It was a night full of love, laughter and celebration of the hard work and growth of their business and family.

While looking through past records, the Ginis discovered that Collins Electrical Company’s, founding year was, in fact, 1924, making their 100th anniversary next year. Gene says they aren’t sure what plans they will put in place for a 100-year celebration, but one thing’s for sure—the history they’ve made so far in the company and the memories created in their family remain to keep their drive and motivation strong, and it could not have been done without their matriarch. As Brian affirmed, “We are fortunate to have that deep root of tradition that we ourselves are trying to
carry forward.”