When it comes to gentle giants, Carl Gehricke stands head and shoulders above the rest. Because of his many acts of altruism, this gentleman has been named Citizen of the Year for 2020 by the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and Tehachapi News.

Asked what his reaction was when he received the news that he would receive the honor, Gehricke said simply, "Why me? There are a lot of other people that deserve this. I'm just the guy in the background."

Gehricke and his wife, Frances, first arrived in Tehachapi 43 years ago. The couple transferred here from Tracy, where Carl was employed at the California Correctional Institution to work at the prison facility in Tehachapi. Carl said he remembers the exact moment he retired from his job as a sergeant at CCI Tehachapi: Dec. 31, 1996 at the end of his shift at 10 p.m.

"We lived in Tehachapi more than half our lives," said Carl.

Retirement, however, didn't slow Carl down. If anything, he is even busier.

"Let me put it this way. ... I'm 80 years old," Carl said. "A woman stays busy washing and ironing and all that. But if a guy retires, and sits on his couch with the puncher, guess what? Three years later, he will be laying. You got to stay active."

These days, Carl can be found behind the counter of his wife's business, Tehachapi Bible and Book Store, located at 212 S. Curry St. The store first opened in Old Towne in 1980, and moved to its current location in 1997. The store provides satellite internet, which Carl uses in case of emergencies or natural disasters.

Carl said that it was because of his hobby with ham radios that he became so involved with the community.

"Because of ham radio, I've helped out quite a bit," he said. "I set it up for fires, and for the Salvation Army and Red Cross. I have it available, so use it."

Carl volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol where he is a major, Tehachapi Search and Rescue, Tehachapi Police Foundation, as an ambassador for the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce, American Red Cross, Salvation Army Amateur Radio Club and the Tehachapi Ham Radio Club.

Pete Garcia writes in his nomination letter of Carl: "Carl has been a volunteer for the Tehachapi Mountain Festival since 1980 and has served as chairperson for over 25 years. He donates his time to provide WiFi for most events in Tehachapi. He also volunteers at the Fall Business Showcase and Tehachapi Christmas Parade."

In addition, Carl served as a director for the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce for nine years and is also on the Tourism Commission.

"I have known and worked with Carl for many years," said Ida Perkins, president of the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce. "He gives in numerous ways to our community and we are excited to honor him for his contributions."

When asked to volunteer or provide service, Carl's answer is always, "Yes, what do you need?"

Writes Garcia, "I see Carl helping in some capacity at every event I go to. I have seen him help at the Mountain Festival, Cheers to Charity, all the parades and the Apple Festival. Carl is very giving to the community of Tehachapi."

The reason for this is simple, said Carl.

"This is our home, and it's time to take care of your home," he said.

Does he ever really plan to retire?

Carl laughed, then said, "When I move 18 miles down the road… to the Bakersfield National Cemetery in Arvin."