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By Jeb Bing

Lifetime achievement award goes to Ben Fernandez

Uploaded: Apr 25, 2009

Ben Fernandez won the Pleasanton Chamber's "Lifetime Achievement Award" earlier this year, and with good reason. At 78, he's still as active as ever, traveling the world with his wife Donna, 75. They've been married 52 years, have three daughters--Torri Savoff, Susan Beans and Julie Cooper, all graduates of Amador Valley High School--and seven grandchildren, including one starting college this fall.

Although still young at heart, Ben is regarded as one of Pleasanton's old-timers, moving here in the early 1970s when the city was still small, when Hopyard was a two-lane road leading to Hwy. 50, before the interstate was built. Ben and Donna moved into Birdland when the Morrison tract was new, and moved to a condominium in Jack London Square eight years ago when they decided to downsize their home.

Donna was born and raised in Oakland, Ben in Emeryville, so it was like going back home, although both spend much of their time with friends in Pleasanton. Even their doctors and dentists are here.
Ben was a long-time member of the Pleasanton Lions Club and served as its president for a time. He also was active with the Pleasanton Chamber and was its president in 1975. He also served on the Downtown Committee of the Chamber before there was a Pleasanton Downtown Association, and served on two general plan review committees in 1986 and 1993. BART to Dublin/Pleasanton had a champion in Ben in the 1970s before it came to the Tri-Valley. He also was a major force in the defeat of a referendum in 1980 against the development of Hacienda Business Park.

A friend of George A. Spiliotopoulos, owner of the Cheese Factory who was killed in a traffic accident on Main Street, Ben help establish GASIT, the George A. Spiliotopoulos Invitational Tournament, formed in memory of George, an organization that today is the largest contributor of scholarships to the Pleasanton Unified School District.

Growing up, Ben became a bleacher fan of the old Oakland Oaks baseball team and, over the years, has become a national expert on the sport. That and his uncanny interest in old movies have made him a trivia expert on both topics.

Former mayor and now ValleyCare Health System vice president Ken Mercer, one of Ben's close associates, recalls having lunch with Fernandez at the Pleasanton Hotel when a long-since retired Oakland player came in and Ben identified him on sight, even telling him the teams he had played for and his batting averages. His interest in trivia led him to assembling a team in Pleasanton to enter a national competition. The group went on to win the national championship. Another time, while visiting Cooperstown, he recognized another obscure player who had played only for the Oakland Oaks. Ben told him he was his favorite player and the two became friends. When the friend died, the Oaks player's widow asked Ben to deliver the eulogy. Sports Illustrated heard him speak and asked him to write about his recollections of baseball.

In Pleasanton, Fernandez campaigned for scores of political candidates he liked, but chose to stay out of politics himself. Instead, he devoted his days to selling insurance for the old firm of Cooper, McKenzie and Murphy. A devoted father and husband, Ben sometimes forgot household duties. A regular sports commentator on a Monday night talk and call-in show on KNBR radio in San Francisco, he fielded a call from one woman who asked what day garbage was picked up in his neighborhood. Puzzled, he answered Tuesday mornings. "Well, be sure to put the can out when you get home," said the caller, who was obviously Donna. It's great when you're highly regarded as Pleasanton's best funny man to have a partner who can occasionally beat you to the punch line.