VISTA — Danny Villasenor said his best memory as a young boy growing up in Vista is playing basketball for the Boys & Girls Club. He played every Saturday for years for the club, which was founded in 1963.
Was he good?
“Well, I tried really hard,” Villasenor said. “Let me just say that.”
More than 50 years later, Villasenor doesn’t just try — he gets the job done. Villasenor, who owns the beloved Pepper Tree Frosty on Santa Fe Avenue, is the chair of the board of directors for the nonprofit.
Villasenor, 63, is also Vista Mayor Judy Ritter’s Person of the Year. In fact, he was given the good news of the significant honor by Ritter herself.
“She just called me to tell me the good news,” Villasenor said. “I was just so honored to be even nominated.”
But the mayor isn’t the only person who recognized Villasenor recently. His business, Pepper Tree, was featured in the nationally syndicated comic “Marmaduke” on Jan. 25. The comic showed the main character, a great Dane, visiting the ice cream shop for a bacon sundae.
In reality, more than 100 customers pass through the ice cream shop, which first opened in 1953, every day. The popular joint has been a part of Villasenor’s family since his parents, Chuy and Velia Villasenor, purchased the business in 1960. Villasenor then inherited the business in 1984 after leaving his career as a plumber. He said the choice to take over the family business was an easy one.
“We all grew up in this business, my sisters and me,” Villasenor said. “I really liked the concept of the business and the customers — they are just so loyal. The locals have embraced the business and make it a point of bringing their friends and family here when they are in town. They are a part of the success.”
And just like Pepper Tree Frosty, Villasenor has played an integral role in the city of Vista. Villasenor is actively involved in the Boys & Girls Club, making him the obvious choice for Person of the Year.
“I have to say that Danny has a record of making significant contributions to our city over many years,” said Ritter, when she presented the award to Villasenor in late January. “His selfless service to the Boys & Girls Club, where he currently serves as president, has touched the lives of many. His investment in the future of our youth will benefit the community as a whole for years to come.”
Villasenor said it makes sense to contribute to the club that gave so much to him.
“I learned the concept of teamwork on that basketball team. I learned values,” Villasenor said. “Every chance I get, I try to go to the Boys & Girls Club. We just have so many kids who really need our support. We just want to create a safe, healthy environment for them.”
Villasenor said the Vista branch works with about 270 kids daily. All the kids are able to access programs like music and drama, or even learn how to write poetry.
His fondest memory of the Boys & Girls Club so far is playing Santa Claus last December. He said he was able to hear firsthand what each boy or girl’s wish was.
“They really enjoy coming to the club,” Villasenor said. “I know one little step can make all the difference in the world for them.”
Villasenor who starts each workday around 7 a.m. and works up to 60 hours a week, said he hopes to have his son, Daniel, take over the family business. He also hopes to one day step down from the board of the Boys & Girls Club with the community’s help.
“I hope to see our community take over when I step down,” Villasenor said. “Maybe one of the kids, like me, will want to give back to their club.”