A man in a white lab coat sitting at a table with glasses.
Jose Minor. Photo by Colin Campbell.

Her name was Molly. 

Fifty years later, Jose Minor still remembers the name of the woman who changed his life.

She was a job counselor at the Richmond, California, Unemployment Office who asked the 20-year-old, “Well, have you thought about making glasses? We have paid training.”

Minor had just quit his job after a year working in the operations center at BART, which had opened in September, 1972. He hated it. “Noise and lights flashing all the time.” He frowns at the memory. 

Molly mentioned CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a federal law designed to train low-wage workers and provide them with jobs in public service. Better still, a suitor of hers was looking for someone to work in his optical office. “She told me to go down there, use her name, mention the On the Job paid training, and I would get hired.”

He grins widely. “He must have been sweet on her, ’cause he hired me immediately.”

Minor was paid $2.25 an hour to be trained in grinding lenses. It was an unexpected start to a lifelong career. Minor has been making eyeglasses for 50 years, the last nearly 20 at the Mission Street office of Bruce and David Stamper.

Video about the Stamper family business

Raised in the United States and sent to Mexico for some straightening out

Jose was 16 when, in 1969, his Mexican-born parents sent him from his hometown of Richmond to Mexico, where he had never been.

“They sent me to my grandfather, a retired general in the Mexican Army, who had fought with Pancho Villa. Later, he fought against Villa. He was tough!  My parents were worried I was getting into trouble at home, so they sent me and my younger brother to grandpa to get straightened out,” he chuckles, “and it worked.”

Minor’s father was a sheet-metal worker, and his mom was a cook at Gonzales Mexican Restaurant in San Pablo, California.

Minor has four siblings, and his parents didn’t have a lot of time to supervise teenagers in the tumultuous Bay Area late 1960s.

“I loved my grandpa. He taught me to play chess, told me stories of his adventures, and we stayed a year.” 

Back in the United States

His grandfather advised him to enlist in the U.S. military when he returned home, but Minor knew the Vietnam war was raging, and hell, no, he wasn’t enlisting. He was lucky; he got a good number in the draft lottery.

Minor is small in stature, slim, with a thick head of grey hair, and he carries himself with straight, almost military posture. His crisp white lab coat fits him like it’s tailor-made, and in his upper breast pocket, he carries a ruler or two, a polishing cloth, and a miniature screwdriver.

He rises at 4:30 a.m., drives from his Vallejo home to the El Cerrito Bart Station to get the 6:15 a.m. train, and gets into the office before 8 a.m. to prepare for the day.

His first job after training was at American Optical in San Leandro, where he made $7.75 an hour. 

He got married and started a family.  

And, it turned out he was really good at shaping eyeglasses, at the craft of grinding and curving glass into lenses.

 “I could always cut the lenses to fit the prescription. I knew instinctively when to stop grinding the glass, even to a plus-19 needing correction. I just knew how far to go!

“When you grind a lens, you have to have the right touch. You can’t go too far. All the doctors I’ve worked for say I have magic hands.”

He had a son, born in 1979, and a daughter, born in 1984, and was part of a large extended family as his brothers, who went into the carpet-laying trade, all began raising kids as well.

He divorced in the late ’80s and remarried in 2000. He and his second wife, Elvira, bought a home in Vallejo.

Violence at home

His ordered world blew apart when, a few days after 9-11, on Sept 16, 2001, his 27-year-old son, Jose Jr. (Joey) was shot and killed at a party at his own home in El Sobrante. He left a widow and three young children.

Minor doesn’t like to talk about this time, except to say he took a few months off from work to attend the trial of his son’s killer. Every day.

The killer was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years.

He didn’t feel justice was served by the verdict, but he found solace and oblivion as he practiced his craft.

“My work requires concentration, and that helped me. Temporarily.”   

He wanted a fresh start.  A friend in the optical business told him about the opening at the office of Dr. Bruce Stamper, a long-established private practice on Mission Street.

“It’s the best place I’ve worked, the Mission, because there are a lot of people who need my help, and I can understand them and they can understand me.” He uses his Spanish “ to explain what is going on, what is wrong, and how to fix that and what I can do for them.”

He makes the glasses there at the office, from prescriptions, and makes sure they’re adjusted to clients’ needs. 

“Jose has an enormous patient fan club spanning decades,” said Dr. David Stamper. “They trust no hands more with their glasses than the magical craftsman’s, Jose’s.” 

At 70, Jose thinks about retiring. Maybe.

Besides work, his passion is fishing, especially at Pt. Pinole, off San Pablo Bay.

He has eight grandkids and loves attending their baseball games.

“My hands are still steady, but I do get more tired by the second half of the day. “

He pauses and looks around his workbench,  “The customers are so appreciative, and it’s just a great place to work. It’s still worth getting up at 4:30 in the morning.”

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  1. I always bring my glasses to Jose so they get fixed correctly. Even if I have to drive from far away it is worth it to put them in his hands. I also like the clinic as its probably one of the few things left that I regularly use.

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  2. Great profile, Jose is the best. Really a craftsman of the highest caliber. Love Dr. David Stamper as well, the best optometrist I’ve ever been to. Great neighborhood business for those of us who are vision-challenged!

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  3. Wonderful article. I’ve been going to Dr. Stamper’s office for many years. When I pick up my new glasses, Jose makes sure they fit just right. He is warm and friendly always. Love the whole office.

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  4. I discovered Bruce Stamper’s service when it once provided services to low income patients. Dr. Stamper was the very best ophthalmologist I ever had– a credit to the medical profession. His employees were always superb.

    I still go there when I can afford it. It is the best place in San Francisco if one wants the most qualified and caring service related to one’s eyesight.

    I go there regularly to buy bottles of lens cleaner which is superb for cleaning camera lenses as well.

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  5. Love the profile on Jose Minor. I have been going to Stamper Optical for years. It wouldn’t be the same experience without Jose. He’s a mainstay of the Mission not only Stampers.

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