By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
EXETER – Terri Guzman has made a career out of helping others see the world and a pastime of traveling the globe with her family. But in all of the seasoned travel agents trips, she has yet to find a place quite like her hometown.
“People matter to me and I love to walk down the street in a place and see people saying hello,” Terri said. “There’s only a few places I’ve seen like that in the world. And even coming from Exeter, I’m always amazed when I find it.”
It’s hard to compare anywhere with a place that you’ve called home for all but 15 months of your life. Born and raised in Exeter, Terri briefly left in 1975 to join her husband George who was stationed in Colorado with the U.S. Army. Just two weeks after giving birth to their first child Michael, the new family packed up and headed back to Exeter. They had two more children, Sara and Tim, and settled into town.
Terri started her travel business while George became part of the family trucking business, Jim Austin’s Trucking in Lindsay. Terri was always involved in town activities but it wasn’t until 1996 that she found her community service niche. When a friend’s son was diagnosed with leukemia, she began walking with her sister Tricia in the Relay for Life in Visalia. Relay For Life is fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society held in more than 500 cities nationwide. The all-day, and often all-night event, has teams raise money leading up to and during the event by playing games, selling food, and competing for spirit points. Terri was happy to play her small part in raising money to find a cure for cancer but the event took on greater significance for her as the year’s passed. Their sister, Cheryl Austin, died from cancer in 2002 and their father Jim Austin died from a brain tumor in 2004.
“I believe that one day we are going to find a cure,” Terri said. “Probably not in my lifetime but in my granddaughter’s lifetime. I will do this until I can’t physically do it anymore.”
Four years later she was approached by Patty Spott to help get a Relay For Life in Exeter off the ground. Terri immediately started a team and joined the executive committee. She has co-chaired the event several times and was the sole chair in 2011 and 2012. Terri, along with her sister, fellow Woman of the Year and two-time Business of the Year award winner, Tricia Kirksey, as well as Stefanie Woods, and a core of Exeter friends surpassed the $1 million raised milestone in 2016 and last year was ranked No. 7 in fundraising in the entire state of California.
“Exeter’s Relay is unique because it is a true community event,” Terri said. “We raise more money per capita than most places because the whole town is working toward a single goal.”
Guzman is now turning her attention to another event that is important to her family, National Night Out. Her son Tim is an officer with the Exeter Police Department, which reached out to her to help put on its event for National Night Out. Held on the first Tuesday of each August, the event is a time for police officers to mingle with the public and introduce themselves to the community in a picnic-like setting.
“When you see people out on the street, you stop and interact with them,” Terri said. “It’s something we all do in Exeter and this is one of those events to bring the community out together.”
In all of her travels, the closest thing Terri has come to Exeter was the Irish outpost of Kilarney. World renowned for its picturesque emerald shorelines, Kilarney boasts world class hospitality with its own brand of small town charm. Guzman doesn’t put Kilarney quite par with her hometown, so she’ll just have to keep traveling to find the next Exeter and then pleasantly come back knowing there’s no place like home.
“It’s hard to match the heart of Exeter,” Terri said. “That’s the best part of this town. It’s part of who we are, and I love that.”