They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. For metalsmith and horticulturist John Caccia, that means taking after both his artist mother, Sara Joyce, and his Idaho State University football and baseball coach father, Babe Caccia.
John Caccia, 62, was born in Pocatello. He came to the Wood River Valley by way of Australia and Hawaii about 35 years ago. After running the Middle Fork and Main Salmon rivers for 20 years as a rafting guide, he now owns and operates the Golden Door Gallery in the alley behind the Ketchum Post Office.
Caccia won the Idaho State high school wrestling championship three times and was a two-time All-American in college. While working as a physical education instructor and math teacher in Australia during the 1970s, he also won that country’s national wrestling championship, twice.
Yet despite his competitive background, Caccia has a mellow demeanor. Today he follows artistic pursuits and a passion for growing garlic.
His signature jewelry designs include silver “medicine beads,” which he sells on braided leather bracelets at his Ketchum store and online.
Caccia sells a dozen sports-themed jewelry designs that include cycling, river running and snow sports. He said his latest design will be the “gardening angel bead.” Last summer, he grew 900 heads of garlic south of Ketchum, a strain of garlic that he has selected for two decades for easy peeling, large cloves and long storage life.
“Garlic is one of the earliest plants cultivated by humans, because it can grow in many different conditions,” he said.
Caccia’s passion for horticulture began when he made a stopover on the Big Island of Hawaii when returning from Australia in 1978. He had $90 in his pocket.
“I was going to stay one week and I ended up staying six months,” he said.
Caccia worked as night watchman for a Filipino cock-fighting operation, in exchange for room and board, and spent his free time exploring the island and living off the land. Caccia had invested in opals in Australia, which he traded for meat and fish, but most of his meals came from the trees.
“There was so much food on the island—breadfruit, bananas, citrus. Coconuts were to the native Hawaiians what the buffalo was for the Sioux Indians. It is both food and drink, and can be used to make rope, dishes and other things.”
“Coconuts were to the native Hawaiians what the buffalo was for the Sioux Indians.”
Caccia returned to Idaho to work alongside his brother Bill Caccia as
a river guide. For the next 20 years, he hosted thousands of peoples’ journeys through the Idaho wilderness.
“On the river, the body gets entrained to the vibrations of nature,” he said. “It takes two or three days to kick in, but then there is a heightened sense of being alive.”
In 1990, John married yoga teacher Cathie Caccia. Now divorced, they have two sons, Cody and Wyatt, who both live in the valley.
Cody, who Caccia calls a “natural athlete,” is training in mixed martial arts with local trainer Lee Anderson.
Wyatt, a junior at Wood River High School, has taken his father’s competitive streak to the debate team, winning second place at the state finals as a freshman. He has qualified for the national debate team on two occasions.
Caccia, a member of the Wood River Valley Men’s Group, founded the Young Men’s Journey mentoring program with Ketchum resident Cameron Cooper five years ago. It was designed to provide mentoring support for young men whose fathers were unavailable.
“We started the program to show that there are older men in this community that care about them, in times of need and in times of celebration.”
The mentoring program dissolved to make way for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters national mentoring programs, which came to the valley about three years ago but later folded due to a lack of funding.
Young men who participated in the Young Men’s Journey, who are now living on their own away from home, continue to drop by Caccia’s shop from time to time.