Hundreds of Palo Altans paused Thursday night to recognize the power of individuals to better their community, as two organizations and two women received "Tall Tree" awards at the Crowne Plaza Cabana in Palo Alto.
Former Palo Alto school board member Carolyn Tucher was given the "outstanding citizen" award. Graphic designer/project organizer Carroll Harrington received the award for "outstanding professional." Fifty-three-year-old Chinese restaurant Ming's Villa and the nonprofit Abilities United (formerly CAR) were saluted for "outstanding business" and "outstanding nonprofit" respectively.
In honoring Ming's, resident Allan Chin noted that Ming's first owner, Dan Lee, was a strong supporter of the Stanford University varsity football team, hosting the team after each home game. That community spirit and practice of hosting local groups continued when current owner Vicky Ching took over in the mid-1980s. Ching herself has served as a board member for several local nonprofits, including the Palo Alto YMCA and the Palo Alto Historical Association.
Ching, born in Taiwan during the era of Chiang Kai-shek, said she embraces the community activism that to her best symbolizes American democracy.
"It's not the voting booth," she said. "It's that each citizen takes public affairs into their own hands."
Retired pediatrician Harry Hartzell presented the award to Abilities United Executive Director Lynda Steele, noting that his developmentally disabled son benefited from the nonprofit's services.
Among the 46-year-old nonprofit's newest programs: Milestones Preschool, which integrates children of varying abilities; a Betty Wright Aquatic Center program offering lessons for all children; and a clinic that provides assessments and therapy for children at risk of developmental delay.
Steele said that Abilities United has been part of a revolution in which developmentally delayed persons, who were formerly shut away, have claimed their right to live in community with family and friends.
"Tall trees do not grow overnight; they begin with a seed of an idea," Steele said, paying tribute to the thousands of community members who nurtured the idea and helped it grow.
"We are not a community of people with disabilities and a community of people without disabilities. We are a united community -- Abilities United," Steele said.
Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson recognized Carroll Harrington, whom he first met in 1971 after she penned an environmental booklet, "If you want to save your environment … start at home," which has sold 85,000 copies.
Thorwaldson and Harrington have since worked together in many capacities. Harrington was the first public-affairs director of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. She has lent her graphic design skills to numerous nonprofits in the area and is a passionate environmentalist.
"What I have personally learned from this journey is the power of the individual," Harrington said.
Ohlone Elementary School Principal Susan Charles honored Carolyn Tucher for her "quiet strength" and for living out her Christian faith in serving others.
She recalled how Tucher was a calming agent while on the Palo Alto school board when parents, who taught at Stanford University and were upset about the English curriculum being used in the local high schools, demanded a change. She asked them how they would feel if someone were to enter their university classrooms and tell them how to teach. Charles said that comment turned the conversation from combative to cooperative.
Tucher has been involved with Project LOOK!, a Bay Area art-education program, and co-founded Cultural Kaleidoscope, which brings together classrooms of students with diverse cultural backgrounds at the Palo Alto Art Center.
"I gain so much from these friendships. It's one of the richest parts of my life," Tucher said.
She also played a role when the Tinsley education program launched, allowing East Palo Alto children access to Palo Alto schools. Charles said she and Tucher visited with East Palo Alto parents.
"Parents talked. Carolyn listened," Charles said.
Tucher was modest in her speech.
"Tonight is not so much about Tall Trees as it is about a Tall Grove," she said, gesturing broadly to the packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Cabana.
She encouraged attendees to think about who their neighbors are, and how to help them.
Hal Michelson, the emcee for the event, was also given a Tall Tree award for being the "voice of the Tall Tree" year after year.
The event was presented by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly.
Leadership Circle sponsors included Borel Private Bank & Trust Company, Crowne Palza Cabana Hotel, Garden Court Hotel, HP, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Palo Alto Weekly, Roche Palo Alto LLC, The Sheraton Palo Alto, Silicon Valley Business Journal, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford University and The Westin Palo Alto.
Additional support was provided by Lockheed Martin, Otis Elevator Company, Fleurty floral designs, Jungle Digital Printing and Blue Chalk Cafe.