The Story of a Native Son
My mother, Toni Pierce, was born in Santa Barbara, California, and raised in Morro Bay. Although she was diagnosed with polio at a very young age, she never let hardships hold her back either professionally or personally. She was a member of the first class at Morro Bay High School that went through all grades and graduated in 1963. She later became a very successful professional contractor and architectural designer.
My father, Bill Woody, was born in the small mid-western town of Dyess, Arkansas, and raised in Dyess until the age of 11. His family came out to California for work and settled in Selma where he attended Selma High School. After a car accident that nearly cost him his life at 16, he returned to Dyess to live with his uncle to recover from his injuries, and graduated from Dyess High School in 1960.
My parents were married in Selma in 1965 and had two sons. My older brother, Bill, who was born in San Luis Obispo, and I was born in our state capital of Sacramento.
Because of my father’s work for the Santa Fe Railway, our family had to move around quite a bit along the west coast. After living in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, we were finally relocated to Fresno. It was an adventure, but we always stayed close as a family.
Our parents always instilled the importance of education into my brother and me. My brother graduated from Caltech in Pasadena with a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics and has worked as a highly successful software developer for over 25 years.
Education, Harvard University, and Public Service
As for myself, I first attended California State University, Fresno, where I received my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering.
A few years after graduating from college I served as an elected official in the heartland of agriculture for the Fresno City Council. I was first elected when I was 26 and served with a proud record of fighting for the needs of small businesses, agriculture, environmental protection, and the needs of a community of just under 500,000 constituents with a budget of approximately $800 million. This experience of working with local, state and federal agencies, has given me a tremendous insight into the challenges of pulling together groups of diverse interests to serve the greater good of a region.
During this time, I also successfully served as Vice-Chair of the Fresno County Transportation Authority, was a member of the Fresno Redevelopment Agency, and served on both the Public Employee and the Police & Fire Retirement Systems, where we had a yearly actuarial valuation of well over 100%, and significantly reduced both the city and employee contribution rates.
I also became the first person in my family to attend post graduate school and completed my Masters in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My areas of study included federal, local and state governmental finance mechanisms, economic development, housing assistance, immigration, and business/government relations.
After graduating from Harvard University, I was given the chance to work on Lamar Alexander’s successful campaign for the United States Senate in Tennessee. My desire to do this was driven by not only the ability to do volunteer work on his campaign, but would allow me to experience an incredible region of the country that my father was from.
Business and Professional
I have also been a licensed professional civil engineer in California for 20 years. Being a small business owner on the central coast has taught me about the struggles that are required for owning a small business. The long hours, the late nights, and the constant work reminds me every day what a struggle that so many of us go through.
But my story is not this simple.
My story is the story of a local Indian tribe that helped in the shaping of my values of culture and environmental preservation, the story of the original families that founded this region, and a family that came from the heartland of America that understood the importance of hard work, and personal responsibility.
The Salinan Indian Tribe
I am a proud member of the Salinan Indian Tribe. The Salinan Indian Tribe along the central coast goes back thousands of years. They spoke a language from the Hokan roots that dates back almost 8,000 years.
During the mission era, they were responsible for the construction of Mission San Miguel. The mission was founded by Father Francisco de Lasuen in 1797.
After its completion, there were over a 1,000 Salinans that were working at, and living around, the mission.
The Pierce Family, Abalone, and the Pierce Brothers Fisheries on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara
In the 1920’s, the Pierce family, the direct descendants of the Salinan Indians, began harvesting abalone every day off the coast of Morro Bay all the way down to the coast of Santa Barbara. The Pierce brothers, which included my grandfather Edward Pierce, were harvesting large amounts of abalone and processing them at a shed at what would eventually become Monterey Street in Morro Bay.
The Pierce family also founded the Pierce Brothers Fisheries in Santa Barbara in 1952 at the end of Stearns Wharf. To preserve freshness, they limited their daily abalone catch to 80 dozen per day. But the abalone diving was a very dangerous industry. Bill Pierce, one of Edward’s brothers, died in a diving accident in the southern Big Sur region off the California coast.
As Les Pierce was quoted from a story that appeared in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, “We dived for abalone all the way from the Santa Barbara Islands to Point Arena and north into that country. I’ve lived a cat’s life of nine or more lives. I was killed a lot of times, but I got out of each one with a close call. I guess that’s called using your head.” (San Luis Obispo Tribune, “Les Pierce: Gold, Abalone then Turkeys”, November 8, 1979)
Original abalone mound in Morro Bay. Edward Pierce (grandfather): front row in the middle with the flat brim hat.
My Ancestors: The Boronda, Higuera, and Deleissegues Families
My 5x great-grandparents were Jose Manuel Boronda (1750-1826) and Maria Gertrudis Higuera (1776-1851). They were married at the Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara, California.
Jose Manual Boronda, the Boronda family patriarch, was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco and accompanied Saint Junipero Serra on the second expedition of Alta California. The oldest of their children was Jose Canuto Boronda.
Jose Canuto Boronda was a soldier at Missions San Antonio, San Miguel, and San Juan Batista. He married Francisca Castro. They received the original land grant for Rancho Potrero de San Luis Obispo in the early 1840’s. Their daughter, Maria Concepcion Boronda, married Captain Oliver Deleissegues on September 4, 1837. They are my great-great-great-grandparents.
After the cession of California to the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 required that all the land grants would be honored. As later required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for the original land grant for Rancho Potrero de San Luis Obispo was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1853, and the final grant was deeded to Maria Concepcion Boronda.
This approximate 3,500 acres of land would eventually be traded to Estevan Quintana for the land known as the La Loma de la Nopalera, which had two adobe buildings, including the La Loma Adobe. The Rancho Potrero de San Luis Obispo property would eventually become part of, what is known today, as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Captain Deleissegues’ and Maria’s first son was Alexander Deleissegues, my great-great grandfather. Alexander was born August 4, 1838 and was baptized at Mission San Juan Bautista. He Later married Eugenia Durazo who gave birth to my great-grandfather, Alexander J Deleissegues.
Alexander J Deleissegues and his wife Hilda, had a daughter, Virginia Deleissegues. Virginia was born November 6, 1914 and died October 25, 1965. But before she died, she met and married Edward Pierce, and they gave birth to three daughters.
One of their daughters, the youngest of the three, would end up being my mother, Toni Jean Pierce.
My Heritage, My Home
The Central Coast of California, CD24CA, is more than just a home to me. It is my heritage and the very essence of who I am. From the rugged farmlands and vineyards, to the beautiful oceans and beaches, the unique environmental and wildlife surroundings, world class education and culture, and arguably the best climate in the world, it is where I call home.