An expert in making downtowns come alive is back in Los Banos with new assignment

Sharon Silva has returned to Los Banos and will focus her energies on improving the downtown.
Sharon Silva has returned to Los Banos and will focus her energies on improving the downtown. The Enterprise

Driven and determined to help make a community better — that summarizes Sharon Silva’s life and explains why she’s now in Los Banos instead of relaxing in Las Vegas.

Silva moved from Arizona to Los Banos in her 20s, moved away, and then returned to Los Banos after she retired, with many adventures and accomplishments in between. She came back to Los Banos because of a call from an old friend, Gene Lieb, asking her to help with Los Banos’ downtown.

Lieb, publisher/ad director of the Enterprise and a board member of Los Banos’s Downtown Association, told Silva that his city’s downtown needed revitalization, and Sharon was just the person to do it. She had led a revitalization effort in Turlock 20 years earlier and had turned its downtown from a near-slum to a thriving area, in a make-over that has since served as model for other cities.

Silva retired from her position as CEO of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce five years ago and decided to relocate in retirement with her husband Manuel to Las Vegas.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

But in 2018 she received a call from Lieb, a friend of her’s when he lived in Turlock 20 years ago. “We need your help,” Gene said over the phone. “Can you come to Los Banos and work your magic here?”

This was not in Sharon’s life plan. She had worked long and hard in many jobs for nonprofit organizations, including helping the Cerebral Palsy Association in Modesto and the Merced Downtown Association as well as Turlock’s Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce. She had earned a retirement of relaxation.

“The call from Gene,” she said, “was truly a calling — to help the town in which I used to live. My mother worked as the chief X-ray technician for the Los Banos Hospital soon after it opened in the late 1960s. And over the years I’ve kept in touch with friends.”

It wasn’t easy for Lieb to find Silva. He hadn’t been in contact with her for many years but decided one day to do an internet search and eventually found her in Las Vegas. When she heard his voice on the phone, she was amazed.

At first Sharon was hesitant, but Gene said he wanted her only to come to Los Banos to give the Downtown Association a training session, a blueprint on how its members could renovate the center of the city. That was 18 months ago, and Silva is still in Los Banos.

Lieb remembered when he lived in Turlock and saw what Sharon did. She pulled together businesses and property owners to help create a downtown Property and Business Improvement District, in which property owners assessed themselves to improve the downtown.

Now that Silva has been in Los Banos a while, she has devoted herself as its Downtown Association’s executive director to improving the heart of the city with a similar plan.

She has both the optimism and confidence that good things will happen in Los Banos, qualities she has had through a life of ups and downs, including a divorce and widowhood, as well as a happy marriage to Manuel Silva for 31 years.

She was born and raised in Arizona but has spent 46 years in California. She has raised two children, who are now successful adults. She earned a bachelor’s degree from CSU Stanislaus when she was 40. But her greatest desire was to help the city of Turlock, where she lived most of her life.

After a divorce from her first husband, Sharon met a man named Jay Casey, who owned a successful moving and storage company in Turlock. Jay was smitten by Sharon, and even drove down to Phoenix, where she as living, to ask her to marry him and live in Turlock.

She accepted and invested her life in her marriage and her community. “Soon after I moved to Turlock,” Sharon said, “I felt my dream job was to be the executive director of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce. That’s one reason I went back to college to earn a degree in organizational communication.”

Along the way Sharon met many people in the Turlock area through her husband and her own outgoing personality. She became a volunteer for the Turlock chamber and then served on the local school board there for eight years.

Eventually Sharon was offered the position of Turlock’s Downtown Association CEO, and soon she was recruited to be that city’s Chamber of Commerce executive director.

By the time she retired, Turlock’s downtown was thriving, and she had won many awards from several of that city’s organizations, including Woman of the Year and Executive of the Year.

Silva had thought she had finished what she felt she was called to do, until she was called again — by Gene Lieb. “I feel I’ve returned home,” Sharon said, “and I’d like to do everything I can to make Los Banos’s downtown an attractive and thriving destination.”

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com