When Ann Navarra started her career in the family business, Jerome’s Furniture, she dusted tables and chairs. When she ended it — with a five-year teaching career at Marshall Elementary in between — she was a vice president of finance. She says she’s retired now, “but not really.”Jerome’s was founded in 1954 by Ann’s parents, Jim and Esther, first-generation Italian-Americans from Sicily. And the business is still family-owned, with five members — including a third generation — overseeing its 15 furniture stores and four mattress shops across Southern California.Throughout her career, Navarra, who grew up in Mission Hills, has contributed time and money to worthy causes. She served three terms on the board of the San Diego County Office of Education, chaired the board of the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (her alma mater), served on the board of the San Diego History Center, is a trustee of the University of San Diego (USD) and established many scholarships at Our Lady of Peace and USD.On March 21, Navarra received a leadership award from Convivio, a San Diego nonprofit dedicated to promoting Italian culture and philanthropy, for her charity work. We interviewed her just before the ceremony, in the garden of her Tuscany-inspired home in La Jolla Shores, amid olive trees, beautiful landscape murals and the requisite statue of St. Anthony. (You can spot the house because it’s the only one flying a Sicilian flag under a U.S. flag.)
What fulfills you about charity work?Helping young people with scholarships is something that makes me smile. I’m very fortunate and thankful that I can do it. And we need to help young people today to have more education, because I think that education — especially for young women — is going to be a world-changer. I see that with the girls that I support at Our Lady of Peace. It’s amazing. That school has 95 to 100 percent matriculation. Times are changing. Women are into sciences. They’re into everything now, and I think it’s going to help the world at large.Last year, I also had a lot of charitable events here at the house. The last one was Promises2Kids. That was probably the best, because they brought a lot of the young adults who were part of the program. They had graduated from high school. Some were in college, working on advanced degrees. And they were here, and they were so appreciative. And these kids come from nothing. A lot of them were wards of the court when they were young. But they decided in their lives that they’re going to persevere and make their lives better. And it showed. They were wonderful people, and that’s who you want to push forward and help — the people who want to be a good part of society and teach from their actions.
When you dusted furniture as a kid, did your parents need you to do that or were they trying to teach you the value of work?Yes, the value of work. And all three of us — I have an older sister and younger brother — worked at the company. When I was 14, my father had me working in the office, completing the invoices, balancing the accounts. I worked all through college before I became a schoolteacher.And now, my niece and two nephews are the third generation working at Jerome’s and I’m really proud of them. They work hard and they work smart, and the company is just growing faster than it ever has before. We’re very lucky to have a third generation. Usually, the kids want to go on and do something else. But they’re all highly educated, they’re great and they’re happy.
Do you think that work ethic is something that came with your family from the Old Country?Oh sure. My maternal grandfather was a fisherman. They came at the turn of the last century. He had a family of eight girls all together, and I can remember all my aunts working hard. They were good citizens. And my grandfather Navarra was a businessman and everyone worked hard. I’m still working, too. I’ll never retire, really.
Do they still need the furniture dusted?That’s funny. No, I’m on the board and if they have special projects, I do that. I look at numbers daily, I’m on committees. I’m still very close to the heartbeat of my business.
How often do you visit Italy?At least once a year. I also live in a town close to Marseille, France. My business partner and I have a villa there that we stay in and also rent out, as a business, to up to 14 people at once. We have people coming from all over the world and we rent out whatever part they want. We have cooking classes and wine tastings on property.So every time I’m in France, my business partner and I cross the border into Ventamiglia. That’s the first Italian town we go to. They have great open markets, covered markets. Great restaurants, and it’s really fun. I’m also going to Sicily later this year.
What drew you to La Jolla?I remember as a kid, we’d come here to go shopping and have lunch and I was always impressed with overhearing people speak foreign languages. It was always a beautiful place. I was living in Mission Hills in 2001 when a friend of mine said they were building some new condos at 464 Prospect Ave., which was the original Scripps Hospital. I bought one of the units and had a great time there for 12 years. Then this house came up and I just wanted a garden again, like where I grew up. And I love it. I love working in my garden. It’s like therapy. And all the arts and the opportunities they have here in La Jolla are wonderful. I’ve gone to Athenaeum lectures on jazz. They have people who lecture on geographical places, Italian classes at the Riford Library. It’s easy to get around, I love walking on the beach with my dog, and I have great friends.