Gianni and Pina Toppino

When Alba’s first ambassador to Medford, Pino Dutto, made his pioneering visit to Medford in 1962, he frequently spoke of his cousin and how important he was to the establishment of the sister city ties between Alba and Medford. Medford was soon to get to know Pino’s cousin and the remarkable family that has contributed so much to the “gemellaggio” over more than five decades. Pino’s cousin is none other than Gian Giacomo “Gianni” Toppino.

Pages could be written about Gianni and his accomplishments but, for the people of Medford, it is not possible to speak of Gianni without including his wonderful wife Pina in the discussion. As individuals and as a couple and family they have been an institution within the institution of the Medford Alba sister city connection. Their dedication to the program has been remarkable and unwavering throughout the many years the two cities have been united in friendship.

Medford Mayor John Snider first met Gianni and Pina in 1963 when he visited Alba for the first time with his wife Elsie and daughter Mary Ann. It was the beginning of an enduring friendship that became one of the pillars of one the most successful sister city affiliations ever. That special friendship grew to encompass the entire Toppino and Snider families.

When Doug Snider was looking into the possibility of an architectural work experience in Italy, Gianni and Pina arranged for an internship with their good friend and prominent architect, Andrea Bruno in Torino. When Snider relocated to Alba for the second phase of his work experience, Gianni and Pina arranged for him to use a luxury apartment of one of their relatives. He was a frequent guest in the Toppino home and became well acquainted with the entire Toppino family.

In June of 1972, Gianni became the sixth mayor of Alba elected after World War II. He served in that office until October of 1977. As mayor, he wasted no time building on the sister city friendships he had helped establish. He traveled to Medford that same year and helped Medford dedicate Parco d’Alba. Doug Snider recalls Gianni, on the drive from San Francisco to Medford, practicing a speech he was to give on the steps of the Medford city hall. Even though he had prepared an excellent speech, he decided at the last moment to speak from his heart and gave a very moving address, off the cuff and in almost perfect English.

Before, during and after his term as mayor, Gianni has been very involved in the success that Alba has enjoyed as a commercial center, a travel destination and a wonderful place to live.  He has been president of the Alba Merchant’s Association and has been actively involved in the development of the soon to be complected new hospital in Verduno, between Alba and Bra. Gianni is the nephew of the late Sandro Toppino for whom Alba’s Via Toppino is named and a man many believed is destined for sainthood. Gianni was a good friend of Author Beppe Fenoglio and has done much to honor his memory, his literary works and the partisans who fought to liberate Alba.

Gianni and Pina made several more trips to Medford after their inaugural visit in 1972. Gianni and Pina returned in 1997, 2000 and 2002. Pina visited Medford in 1992 as part of her itinerary observing the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. In 2002 Gianni and Pina took part in Jacksonville’s “Festa Italiana” They manned an Alba theme booth designed and built for them by the Medford-Alba Sister City Committee. Although they were there to showcase the products of Alba, they really demonstrated the typical warmth and charm of the Albesi. Because of Pina’s health, Gianni was not expected to be able to participate in the July, 2012 Telstar fiftieth anniversary celebration. In a very emotional moment, Gianni joined the panel in Alba during the Skype call and spoke of the historic event with his usual eloquence. The audience on both sides was deeply moved by his participation. It is fitting indeed that in the same year that Alba and Medford celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Telstar call, Gianni and Pina celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of marriage, certainly a fortuitous event for Medford.

Pina Toppino was for more than thirty five years the president of the Alba-Medford sister city committee in Alba. Pina was responsible for many of the initiatives that have advanced the friendship between our two cities including the student exchanges, art exchanges and several adult exchanges. She almost single-handedly arranged student itineraries, arranged for host famoilies and dealt with the occasional emergency. In 1992, Pina accompanied her Medford counterparts, Liz Smith and Nancy Collins for the 500th Columbus anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C.

For her entire term as president of the committee in Alba, Pina went far beyond the official duties of her position to welcome visitors from Medford.  Very often visitors from Medford would arrive completely unannounced knowing only that Pina Toppino was the head of the sister city committee. She graciously welcomed total strangers into her home and to her family table.

Acclaim for all she did in the name of friendship is not limited to the recognition she received from the two cities. The government of the Republic of Italy recognized her many years of service and citizen diplomacy by naming her a Knight of the Republic. If the United Sates conferred knighthood, Pina would certainly be a deserving candidate.

When the delegation from Medford visited Alba in 2010 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the sister city connection, Pina and Gianni were at nearly every event to welcome old friends and greet new ones. Francesca Toppinio and her husband Vittorio represented the Toppino family as part of the Alba delegation to Medford that same year. Gianni and daughters Lucia and Francesca are active members of the Alba-Medford Sister City Committee and Pina is the lone emeritus member of the committee.

The success of a sister city program is far from automatic. It requires the right combination of many factors but most of all it has to have the commitment of people with the rare gift of being able to bring people together.  It is hard to imagine the success of the affiliation between Alba and Medford without the devotion of Gianni and Pina Toppino. It is reassuring to know that they have passed that devotion on to their children.