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It truly is a family affair

Mom and Dad, two kids, a dairy and a mixer.

Maybe it’s more than just chance that Duport TMR Equipment Co., Inc. would begin in 1994 under the huge limbs of one of California’s Giant Valley Oak Trees. It doesn’t take long to begin to apply some comparisons and to note the symbolic connections between trees and family, once you begin to learn the past and current history of the Tony and Mary Nunes Family.
I caught Tony and Mary during their recent visit to Sao Jorge Island in the Azores. It was at the beginning of their last week before returning home from what their daughter Liz calls, “a well deserved bit of rest”. Listening to Tony talk of their love for the islands was like no other travel-show you have ever seen, and remember, I was only hearing the words. He had just come from the port and shared what he had seen as the fisherman came in with the day’s catch. His vivid description mixed with his accent,would make even the most ardent homebody yearn to be in the Azores. The only thing missing was the background music. But as much as he talked about that beautiful far off place, the conversation always came back to his family, the dairy and Duport.
Starting in the dairy industry as a milker, son of immigrant parents who brought the whole family to the US from the Azores in 1960. In 1972 Tony and Mary started a small dairy with a partner in Waukena, a tiny community, south west of Tulare California. “It was a small dairy,” Tony said, “only 140 cows, but it was a start.” In 1976 they were moving to a larger dairy on Blackstone Avenue in Tulare and milking 250 cows. By 1986 they moved for what would likely be the last time, to property and a dairy north of Visalia, California. At that time they were milking nearly 300 cows and farming 100 acres.
Today the number of cows and calves and the farmed acreage has grown. Milking 1,100 cows; feeding nearly 2,000 head and farming nearly 600 acres, the operation has changed dramatically over the past few decades. “Far cry from those early days,” Tony said, “I was milking cows for Tony Barcellos on Excelsior Avenue. That is where I was working when I first met Mary. We have a nice life because we have great kids”, he quickly added. It is because of them that we are able to do what we do, even to be here today in the Azores. Tony and Mary were blessed with two children; their oldest a son, Leno and their daughter Liz. They are both grown now, married to great companions and raising families of their own. Today each of them shoulder the major responsibilities of running two separate and different business operations started by Tony and Mary; the dairy/farming operation and a company called Duport. It is Leno and his wife Rosie who now have the day-to-day responsibility for the dairy and the farming operations. Employing 18 people on the dairy and 3 on the farm where there is always more than enough to do. Speaking about his employees, Leno said, “It takes a good team to get everything done and to get it done well. Everyone has different traits; no one person is good at everything. It’s great to have great people around us to help get it all done. Leno and Rosie have three sons and twin daughters.
Leno began his working career as an electrician. Although growing up working on the dairy with his dad, he said he grew tired of feeding cows. “Early on I had an interest in things electrical, and started bugging Dan Freitas who owns Dan Freitas Electric until he would give me a job. When he finally hired me, it was to the end of a shovel that I was assigned. Digging trenches was where I started, but eventually became a licensed electrician, specializing in automation and controls. “I worked with Dan for nearly 10 years until rejoining my dad on the dairy in 1997.”
Duport started with the single purchase and subsequent use of a Supreme Mixer. “I loved it!” Tony said. In fact I liked it so much, I wanted to be able to share it with other dairyman. When I checked into dealership opportunities I found out there was already a local dealer. The only thing available was a dealership up north. I knew lots of dairyman; we even had family up north so we decided to go ahead. The company’s name was selected because Tony’s original partner was a Dutchman, Tony is Portuguese. Thus the name Duport; which does sound better, Liz says, than Portdu.
Tony recalled, “When I first bought my Supreme Mixer, I was able to save more in feed costs than the cost of the mixer. It helped us provide the same feed to every cow, morning, noon and night. There was no waste. The cows ate all the feed, it wasn’t picked over, with part of the ration left uneaten. What we used before was nothing like the Supreme. It made all the difference in the world for us. Now 15 years later the one thing I can say for sure is that we have a lot of happy customers. True we can’t please everyone all the time, but we have a lot of happy customers.
“I hadn’t even become an official dealer when I sold my first wagon. I had ordered 3 new ones and didn’t even know where I was going to have them delivered. A good friend Pedro Avila who owned Avila-Fegundes Dairy in Chowchilla just happened to visit my dairy and saw the wagon. He immediately wanted one and said the first one had to be delivered to his place in Chowchilla. We ended up unloading all three of the new ones there.

Pedro let me use his yard when we first got started. We sold 14 mixers in our first 4 months in business. We later began to cover and service all the territory from Ave. 152 in the North to the Grapevine south of Bakersfield.”
“It helped that I knew the dairy business”, Tony shared. I knew that when a customer has a broken machine; He’s got cows to feed; and there is nothing worse than a dairyman who needs to feed cows and has a broken machine. It bothers me to no end. My heart was in it from the start and I have tried to teach that to everyone in our company. Get the cows fed day and night. Fix it day or night if it’s broken. That’s just the way it has to be done. For me, it’s a matter of personal pride”.
When Tony’s partner retired in 2000, Tony asked Liz to join the company to help him with the Duport operations. She was busy raising her daughter Toni, was not working outside of the home at the time, but was up to the challenge. In October of 2004 Liz was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Liz and Tony realized that with the growth plans they had in mind and with Liz’s condition they were going to need some help. It was Liz’s husband Tate who would come to the rescue and leave his chosen career as a schoolteacher at Hanford High School to help run Duport.
Tate Altenstader grew up in Los Angeles. He earned a degree in Industrial Technology at CSU Fresno. While he majored in teaching his course of study included a long list of business and business management courses, which he feels have and will continue to help him with his new responsibilities.

So how does a guy born and raised in Los Angeles end up at Fresno State, married to a Dairy girl from Visalia, helping to run a company providing goods and services to Dairymen. The answer came with relative ease. I came to Fresno to visit my grandparents; Tate said, My grandfather was a scientist who had moved to Fresno after retiring from NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Lab, (JPL) in Pasadena, California. I came to visit that one time, loved the valley and literally never left. He and Liz met at a party through mutual friends and have been together ever since.
Liz is doing much better now. She says, I can’t be there everyday like I would like, but with Tate there now, it has made all the difference in the world. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate Tate, knowing what a great sacrifice it was for him to give up a career he dearly loves. He still gets calls from the school wondering if I’m better and wanting to know if he’ll be coming back to the High School.
When Liz’s comment about his career change was shared with Tate, he simply said, “She is definitely worth it”. Tate recognizes the challenges especially with the expansion plans for the next several years at Duport. Plans call for more than doubling the shop size, and adding more service trucks. Tate shared; I came on board to make a difference. There’s a lot to learn, parts, hydraulics and just the lay of the land in this industry, but I have been welcomed by all of our staff. They have been very helpful in all aspects of the transition. We’ve got good people and they are willing to help me and I appreciate that. Our focus will be on providing better and better service. That’s what Tony teaches and that’s what we’re going to deliver.”
So what makes this all work so well, family working with family, family living close to family? Here are family members who genuinely enjoy and cherish their relationships when so many families in America can’t agree on where to eat for dinner or won’t even sit at the same table to share a meal. Liz says, “it’s because we were taught that family comes first. Our parents have always treated us with respect. They are great examples for us to follow. They appreciated us for who we are, not just as someone who could help with the work. Do we always agree? No. But they respect our opinion, and we respect them and what they have accomplished and provided for us.”
They taught us the importance of hard work and of expressing our thoughts. It may not be the majority opinion, but they taught us to speak up. I feel very fortunate to have been born into this family; to these parents; that we are who we are, doing what we are doing. We have been very blessed.
I am very proud of my parents, Leno said, they have been able to accomplish a great deal, after starting with almost nothing. My dad and I are both a little hard headed. He likes to do things his way and I like to do things my way, but we respect each other, and sometimes a little distance is good, but we were taught to work. We appreciate what they built and from where it allows us to build. My parents have built it to this point; my job is to add to it. To leave an even greater legacy for those that come after us.
Tony and Mary: great job and congratulations. But I’d be watching for low fares back to Sao Jorge. That Oak Tree is doing just fine in Visalia, California.

12750 Avenue 336
Visalia, CA, 93291
Phone: 559.741.0404
Fax: 559.741.0477

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