Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 5, 2010

2010 'Tall Tree' award honorees named

Victor and Mary Ojakian, Roxy Rapp, Downtown Streets Team and Stern Mortgage Company named outstanding community contributors

by Karla Kane

Palo Alto's 2010 Tall Tree awards will recognize suicide-prevention and mental health advocates Victor and Mary Ojakian; local developer and Junior Museum and Zoo board member Roxy Rapp; transitional-employment program Downtown Streets Team; and longtime Palo Alto business Stern Mortgage Company.

The awards, co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly, honor community service and exceptional civic contributions in four categories: citizen/volunteer, business person, nonprofit and business.

As outstanding volunteer/citizens, Victor and Mary Ojakian have addressed mental health issues and suicide prevention. Their work is "the essence of public service," according to Palo Alto City Council member Gail Price.

Following the suicide of their son Adam in 2004, the Ojakians have been involved with numerous health, education and community committees working to raise awareness of mental health issues in schools and throughout communities and reform mental health services. Those groups include the Palo Alto Unified School District, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and many others. Most recently, Vic a former Palo Alto mayor has teamed up with County Supervisor Liz Kniss to chair a countywide Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee.

"I have no doubt that hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from their activist mental health work," Price wrote in her letter of nomination.

Roxy Rapp, this year's business-professional honoree, has demonstrated "infinite love of Palo Alto," according to nominator Barbara Gross, general manager of the Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto.

Rapp began his career as a fashion retailer. Then, as a real-estate developer, he became "responsible for many of the outstanding buildings and businesses" of downtown Palo Alto, Gross wrote. His community involvement, however, has been his most significant contribution, according to his supporters.

Rapp has served on the board of the Junior Museum and Zoo, Menlo College, the Chamber of Commerce, Canopy and the Museum of American Heritage. He was also a leader in the recent renovation of Lytton Plaza.

Rapp "has the unusual capacity to be personally generous with his time as well as with his means," Gross wrote.

Outstanding nonprofit Downtown Streets Team, which employs homeless people to keep downtown streets clean, is "truly extraordinary," Councilman Sid Espinosa wrote.

The organization is "addressing a critical Palo Alto need in a smart and effective manner," he said.

Nominators said the program's participants, each of whom is assigned a certain area of downtown to help maintain, are empowered by their duties as well as taught valuable work habits. Meanwhile, the downtown community benefits from increased neighborhood cleanliness. Harvard University even named the organization one of the "Top 50 Government Innovations" in 2009.

"This is a very effective and innovative program that makes an enormous contribution to the community," Chamber of Commerce President Paula Sandas said.

Business honoree Stern Mortgage has been headquartered in Palo Alto for 30 years. Founder Rick Stern "exemplifies the community-minded business ethic that serves to enhance the richness of Palo Alto," Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie wrote in his nominating letter.

Stern, along with partners Todd Flesner and Julie Fukuhara, has contributed many hours of local volunteer work, including with the Kiwanis, Rotary Club, YMCA, Rebuilding Together, the Junior League and the Chamber of Commerce, and the company has been named as one of the best of its kind by industry experts.

"The model of truly serving the needs of their clients while giving back to the community has made it possible for Stern Mortgage Company to positively impact the lives of thousands of people in our town," nominator and former employee Tom Fehrenbach wrote.

The 2010 Tall Tree awards ceremony will be held April 29 at 6 p.m. at the Crowne Cabana Hotel.

Editorial Assistant Karla Kane can be e-mailed at kkane@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Debbie Ford-Scriba, a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2010 at 6:16 am

Great choices all. Kudos & congrats to the honorees.


Posted by Marlene Prendergast, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Great choices indeed! And timely.


Posted by Richard James, a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Given my long associations with Vic, Roxy and the Downtown Street Team staff the Chamber could not have done a better selection job.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I would like to thank Vic Ojakian for his solid efforts to establish the Mayfield playing fields. It was a great example of cooperation among various parties, including Stanford, Palo Alto and the playing field and housing communites. It is a joy to me to see all those kids and adults out there kicking the ball around. I also appreciate the new VMware site on Hillview (part of the deal)...providing new jobs and vitality to the SRP. The housing element, if and when it occurs, might be a pleasant surprise to some in my neighborhood who strongly opposed it...the traffic situation will be much reduced, compared to the current Facebook situation, and we will have new neighbors.

We need more such agreements between Palo Alto and Stanford, where particular interests can be dealt with in direct negotiations, with some give and take from the major parties involved.

I know it ain't easy.

Thank you, Vic.

Craig


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