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December 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Palo Alto couple wins national Jefferson Award Palo Alto couple wins national Jefferson Award (December 16, 2005)

Chippendales honored for decades of humanitarian work

by Sue Dremann

George and Ruth Chippendale, longtime Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood residents, recently received a prestigious Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service for their 48 years of community work.

The award honors "unsung heroes" for their community service. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and former Robert Kennedy staff associate Sam Beard created the honor in 1972.

The Chippendales, now in their 70s, aid parents of emotionally and mentally disabled children; offer emergency assistance through the St. Vincent de Paul Society; feed the homeless; distribute food; work for peace and justice; took in 20 foster children and adopted a developmentally delayed son (who died at the age of 21); collect and distribute toys and clothing; and prepare layettes for needy new mothers.

In 2004, the Vatican awarded the couple the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for their years of service.

The Weekly sat down with the Chippendales to talk about their work, their neighborhood, and the rewards of community volunteerism.


Q: What's your typical day like?

George: Just this morning I worked on the names for the (St. Vincent De Paul) Christmas give-away, in order to find the families in need.

I was (also) trying to find someone who needed rent help.

I went to the food closet to help clean up after the big food distribution.

I hunted down a family to give them a meal. They didn't have a working stove to cook on.

At 3 a.m. tomorrow, I'm heading up to the airport to take supplies for Interplast (which performs plastic surgery for the needy in Central America). Ruth: I sang with the Raging Grannies today at Toys R Us in Sunnyvale. We sang "No War Toys, No War Toys." They weren't too happy with us.


Q: How has community service changed your lives?

Ruth: It's kept me busy. It's kept me out of trouble (laughs). The people you meet doing volunteer work are really wonderful. George: It's a solid heart of your life. It's a very highly motivating kind of work.

One key motivator I met early on was Dr. Donald Laub. He was an innovator with Interplast. I went on many surgery trips with him, as a pilot flying in supplies. I saw the chemistry and life that came from that work. It was the best example of (community service).


Q: Appropriately, you live in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood; George works at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto. What lessons have you learned from St. Francis?

Ruth: Peace, peace. Peace and justice. George: St. Francis had the spirit. There's a human spirit that comes out when you do this work. We call it "miracles occurring from action." Ruth: He was also for helping the poor.


Q: Do you get your neighbors involved in volunteering?

George: Yes. We're just starting to get a young fella down the street, Pieter Arnaut, involved. He'll get going at the Food Closet. Ruth: One other neighbor always contributes money to St. Vincent de Paul every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Neighbors in St. Francis/Duveneck at the Catholic church get involved in packing toys. George: Alvaro and Eileen Freyre on Santa Catalina. They go out on Saturdays and take food to families with their children. They take the whole family.


Q: How has your neighborhood changed in 48 years?

George: There was a period of time when there were no kids and we were kind of isolated, but now there are a lot more kids. Ruth: Kids aren't running around the way they used to. Parents are out working and kids are in day care. Houses are more expensive. George: My friend down the street had a sign in front of his house in 1949 that said "I won't sell unless you offer me $100,000." The character of the houses have changed. They have gotten larger because people have added on.


Q: What are some significant issues in your neighborhood?
Ruth: People were very upset by the flood. We had a lot of flooding and some people had total destruction of their homes.

George: I have the sense there are some contentious issues. The Eichler covenant that says nothing can happen to the community unless the neighbors say so. (One issue would be) having a change in the Eichler shopping center (Edgewood Plaza).


Q: What should be done with Edgewood Plaza?

George: I like the idea to have a little housing on top and stores on the bottom, but the rents would probably go up (for the small retailers). Anytime you can fit a mix of housing and shops is good. Ruth: Until they have a good supermarket in East Palo Alto, they shouldn't tear it down.


Q: You do a lot of work in East Palo Alto through St. Vincent de Paul Society. How can Palo Altans be better neighbors to East Palo Altans?

George: First, I'll say it's not that dangerous over there. They (the volunteers) should feel welcome. Just dispel any ideas that it's going to be bad. We need programs and education for kids. That's where we see the failing over there. Ruth: Jobs. Any kind of mentoring. Just get over there. Join a group. The Rotary Club is over there, and the YMCA.


Q: First the Papal Award, now the Jefferson Award. Has life changed since you've been so lauded?

George: Everything's the same -- except that it's a good way to keep in touch with friends.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be reached at sdremann@paweekly.com.


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