When the editor of Taft's newspaper needs to confirm a historical fact, he doesn't have to go online or rummage through reference books. He just calls Pete.
Lifelong resident Pete Gianopulos is Taft's unofficial historian, a treasure trove of information about this rugged western Kern County oil town, about 35 miles west of Bakersfield. At 87, he is nearly as old as the 102-year-old city and remembers just about everything that has happened in and around the westside.
"Pete's knowledge is encyclopedic," said Doug Keeler, editor of the Taft Midway Driller. "Whenever I need background information for a story, Pete's the first guy I call. Pete
knows everybody (in Taft) by name and he'll tell you stories about them. ... Why go to Wikipedia when you can call Pete, because he'll know it first."
Chat with Gianopulos, and when he starts by saying, "I remember ..." you know you're in for a treat. He seems to remember it all. The businesses that came and went. The characters who shaped and visited the town, some famous, some infamous. Tales from Taft's once rough-and-tumble early days. The movies. The politics. The Taft vs. Bakersfield football rivalry.
But the gushers, oil-well blowouts and fires are what he considers among the most significant events in Taft's long history. And who can argue with a guy who knows as much as he does?
Gianopulos calls his love for sharing Taft's history "just a hobby that I enjoy," and apparently he has some company. He produces an email newsletter, "The Taft Newsletter," for more than 450 subscribers, and since 1994 has written his "Remember When" weekly column for the Driller.
His own life is as rich in history as the tales he loves to recount. An Army veteran of World War II, Gianopulos was involved in five amphibious landings in the Asiatic-Pacific theater, and earned 13 awards and citations, including the Bronze Star for "meritorious achievement in ground combat against the armed enemy." Back home, he served two terms as Taft's mayor in the 1960s, raised two daughters, and worked for 35 years as a teacher, counselor and director of guidance at Taft High School.
His involvement in civic and community volunteerism efforts are too numerous to list. But a recent source of pride for him is the role he played in the building of the new Taft Oil Worker Monument, a stunning display of bronze sculptures depicting the rich oil history that has been this community's lifeblood for more than a century. A passage called "History of Taft" written by Gianopulos is etched in bronze and welcomes visitors to the monument.
"This is my favorite place in Taft," he said. "I like to just come here and sit."
With full independence and good health, Gianopulos said he plans to continue writing his columns and remaining active in the city he loves for years to come.
"I just do my thing every day and I keep very busy with my Taft newsletter and the article that I send to the Driller every week. Those are just hobbies, and they keep me very busy."