People in Your Neighborhood: Meet 90-year-old Vons La Jolla clerk Jim Messer


Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series spotlights notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to or call us at (858) 875-5950.

Ninety-year-old war veteran, former business owner and Vons La Jolla employee Jim Messer has been working at the local grocery store for 26 years. He defines himself as a good worker who hasn’t been late to his job in a quarter-century. A Vons customer suggested the Light interview him after he helped her bring groceries to the car.

Where are you from?

“I was born in Altha, in the northwest of Florida, way back in the woods ... back in the day we didn’t have electricity, running water or stuff like that. But we got by.”

How did you end up in San Diego?

“I’ve been in San Diego since I got out of the service in 1947. I was in the Navy and the Marines, I served in both. I was deployed for 36 months, to the Philippines and China. I enlisted when I was 17 years old, and six months later, I was overseas. The war was going full blast then, in early 1944.”

What moved you to stay in San Diego?

“My last station was in Camp Pendleton, and after that they sent me down to San Diego before I was discharged. There were no jobs available after the war. There were military people getting out of the service by the thousands, and there were no jobs for us. But I got a job in a grocery store, and I stayed. I worked at that grocery store in Pacific Beach for quite a long time, but I wanted to do something else.”

What happened after that?

“I had a friend who was in the floor covering business, and he got me a job in the company he was with. I had to go to night school, and I worked with them for four years as an apprentice. I wanted to open my own store and have my own business, so I did, and I had my store for 35 years in Pacific Beach. It was called Garnet Carpet.”

How did that go?

“It was good. I bought a home in Pacific Beach, and paid for it in full. I still have it. We bought it brand new and never missed a payment.”

Do you like Pacific Beach?

“I don’t think I want to live anywhere else. We live about five blocks from the ocean on Tourmaline Street.”

Are you married, have kids?

“Yeah, I married my wife in 1951 and we’re still married. Her health is not good but it’s not too bad. I have four kids, two of them live in San Diego, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.”

What made you take this job at Vons?

“(After I closed my store) I got tired of not doing anything at home, so I came in here and asked them for a job to keep me busy, and they said, ‘Fill this out, come tomorrow in the morning,’ and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve only missed two days. In the first 25 years,I only missed one day. I’ve never been late.”

What do you like about working here?

“We get our medical insurance paid in full. I guess that’s the best thing. And I get a salary, of course. We have a lot of tourists here that don’t know where in the store to go for things, and I help them.”

Are you thinking of retiring?

“Yes, I’m going to retire in the next two or three months.”

How do you get to work every day if you don’t drive?

“My daughter brings me. I have two daughters in this area, and both of them have cars.”

How long have you been married?

“More than 65 years. I love my wife very much and she loves me, I’m sure. We never really ever get into any arguments. I think if we did, she ‘d always win.”

Do you go to church?

“We go to First Southern Baptist Church, we’ve been going there since 1951, that’s where we got married. We used to go every Sunday night when the kids were growing up.”

What’s the secret to reaching age 90 in good health?

“I eat good foods, I don’t drink or smoke, and I never have. I have two brothers who have died in the last four years and they were both chain smokers. Why smoke if you don’t need to?”

Do you have any hobbies?

“I don’t drive anymore, so that keeps me home. But back in the day, every time I got a chance, I went fishing — freshwater fishing, I didn’t do much saltwater fishing. I had my own boat and everything. In San Diego County, there’s about nine saltwater lakes that have good fish, and I went fishing there. I mostly caught freshwater bass, the biggest one I caught was seven pounds. A seven-pound freshwater fish is a nice fish, in the ocean it’s not.”

What kind of music do you like?

“I like bluegrass music best of all.”

How has the area changed?

“It’s not even close to what it used to be. But I think it’s better than it’s ever been. The streets have all been redone … It’s come a long way.”