Palo Alto's 2009 Tall Tree Awards, announced today (Friday), will honor community activist Carolyn Tucher, environmental consultant Carroll Harrington, nonprofit organization Abilities United and Ming's Villa restaurant.
The annual awards, which recognize "exceptional civic contributions and service to the community," will be presented April 16 at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto.
They are sponsored by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly.
"Grace, patience and competence" are the words that come to mind when describing Outstanding Citizen/Volunteer Carolyn Tucher, according to Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss.
Tucher created the Cultural Kaleidoscope program, which brings artists and art lessons to classrooms of the Palo Alto and Ravenswood school districts. She also served on the Palo Alto Board of Education in the mid-1980s, promoting the controversial Voluntary Transfer Program that allows children to transfer from Ravenswood into Palo Alto schools.
Thanks to Tucher's efforts, Kniss wrote, "hundreds of children have benefited by new and increased educational opportunities, previously unattainable to them."
Former Ravenswood School Board member Myrtle Walker also credits Tucher with helping save the life of her son, Rick Walker, who was arrested and convicted in 1991 of a crime he didn't commit.
Tucher, she wrote, "took it upon herself to right this terrible wrong," and was a catalyst in getting Walker freed.
A graphic designer by trade, Carroll Harrington, honored as Outstanding Professional/Business Person, has worked as an environmentalist in Palo Alto and beyond for nearly 40 years. Her 1970 booklet, "If You Want to Save Your Environment Start at Home," elevated her to local (and national) prominence, and she's been consulting, advising and volunteering on local issues ever since.
She served as the first public-information officer for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in its formative years in the early 1970s, worked with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in the 1980s on community health programs and conferences, and in recent times has promoted the "Palo Alto Business Goes Green" and "Downtown Streets Team" programs. She also works with the Palo Alto Adult School on its class catalogues.
"Her footprints, handiwork, goodwill and energy are scattered throughout the community and region like tiny seeds, many sprouting to create a virtual forest of community-building projects and traditions," friends Susan Rosenberg and Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson wrote in a nomination letter.
A winner of the Chamber of Commerce's Athena Award, Harrington has been called a goddess because of that award, Nancy Peterson wrote, but "she is selfless and is driven solely by her belief in people and her vision for the best Palo Alto that we can be."
Outstanding Nonprofit winner Abilities United (formerly Community Association for Rehabilation) has provided services to disabled people of all ages since 1963, offering children's development programs (including Milestones Preschool), family support, life-skills training and aquatic programs through the Betty Wright Swim Center.
In a letter of support, Sally Mickel said her granddaughter Amber, disabled by meningitis, attributes much of her self-confidence and progress in life to her swim lessons.
"We give thanks every day for the wonderful staff and volunteers at Betty Wright," she said.
Atherton resident Barbara Ruder said Abilities United deserves recognition for "contributing towards both individual and family growth and well-being within and beyond the Palo Alto borders," citing her daughter Laura's involvement with recreational programs from the late 1980s to the present.
Ming's Villa of Palo Alto, a Chinese restaurant located at Embarcadero and East Bayshore roads, was chosen as this year's Outstanding Business. The restaurant was founded on El Camino Real in 1956 and moved to its current location in 1967. Owner Vicky Ching took over in 1991.
The restaurant has long served as a gathering spot and sponsor of community events. Ming's has supported Little League teams and hosted the Stanford Varsity football team, sponsored the Black and White Ball and provides a meeting place for numerous other local organizations and clubs, donating to many others.
"Ming's has always reflected the spirit of community involvement, through contributions of food and money to countless local and area organizations," nominator Allan Chin wrote.