Six seniors to be celebrated for 'Lifetimes of Achievement'

Annual award honors seniors who go beyond the call of duty

There is only so much time in a day. For many people, the clock hands spin away while they're on the job, doing chores and putting food on the kitchen table, leaving only a moment or two to relax before bed.

Yet six local individuals -- the recipients of this year's Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honors -- have regularly found minutes, even hours, to think beyond themselves and use their knowledge and skills to make others' lives healthier, happier and more fulfilling.

Each year the Palo Alto nonprofit Avenidas selects a handful of adults age 65 and older who have remained deeply engaged in the community throughout their lives. This year's honorees are Jean Dawes, Greg Gallo, Isaac and Maddy Stein, Jay Thorwaldson and Carolyn Tucher. Collectively, their professional and volunteer work has provided key support to students, nonprofits, the environment and those in need in Palo Alto and surrounding communities. Read on for each of their stories and their inspiration to do more than the expected.

In their honor, a garden party at a local home will be held on May 18, sponsored by Avenidas, the Palo Alto Weekly and Tickets to this public event cost $75 each, with proceeds to benefit a number of programs offered by Avenidas for older adults throughout the area.

Tickets and information are available by calling Avenidas at 650-289-5445 or visiting its website,

Jean Dawes: An advocate for fair housing, access to college

It's hard to imagine high schools of today without college advisers.

But at one point, they didn't exist in that same capacity. And at Palo Alto High School, they didn't until Jean Dawes came along and in 1979 helped to jump-start the school's college-counseling program.

Dawes, a longtime presence in the Palo Alto education world as well as the city's fair- and affordable-housing spheres, came to Palo Alto with her husband, Dexter, in 1963. The couple lived in an apartment on Middlefield Road with their eldest son.

Though she had graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a teaching degree and spent a few post-college years teaching elementary school, she said her early years in Palo Alto were dedicated to raising her children (the couple eventually had two more sons).

"At that time, most women didn't really have careers," she said. "You either were teaching school or you were a secretary. Of course there were some who did (have careers), but for the most part, we were all pretty much stay-at-home moms and pretty bored as a result."

Searching for stimulation, Dawes joined the League of Women Voters and got involved with its fair-housing campaigns. She helped the league coordinate housing studies and also later served as president of the MidPeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing board.

"I just felt that it was unfair that people were being discriminated against in their ability to purchase housing in different neighborhoods, so I joined a cause," she said.

In 1985, she joined the board of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation and in 2013 was deeply involved in its Measure D campaign.

Dawes also followed her interest in education as her sons went through local schools. She worked as an aid for numerous years at Walter Hays Elementary School and in the English department at Jordan Middle School. She also served as president of the Jordan PTA.

Prior to joining Paly, she and another woman started College Admissions Advisors, a private college-counseling company. She said counseling local students privately for a profit was never as satisfying as working for the high school, which she did from 1979 to 1999.

"I just got into that hammer and tongs, working hard on that program and developing it," she said.

Though college admissions are a different, much more competitive beast today, she said she still believes the process is "inappropriate for someone who's 17 or 18 years old."

"The pressure being put on kids ... I absolutely hate it because it says to a kid at 16, 'You have to make a decision you're not ready to make,'" she told the Weekly in a 1996 article titled "College entrance game gets tougher."

Mitigating the increasing cost of college has been another one of her personal campaigns -- in 1995, she started working with Pursuit of Excellence, a scholarship program founded by two Palo Altans that supports local underprivileged students pursuing four-year college degrees.

She's currently mentoring 11 students, one of whom is graduating from Santa Clara University this June after seven years of schooling.

"It's just such a triumph," she said of the student's impending graduation.

Dawes and her husband are also avid travelers who seek out many parts of the world: Mali, Belize, Africa, China, Pakistan and more.

They're currently planning their seventh trip to Africa. In what seems to be Dawes' style, they're taking their children and grandchildren not on a typical African safari but on a visit to an orphanage in Tanzania.

-- Elena Kadvany

Greg Gallo: Attorney brings corporate savvy to the nonprofit world

As one of Silicon Valley's most acclaimed merger maestros, attorney Greg Gallo knows all about shepherding startups from their risky embryo days to corporate stardom.

But it's not his work with clients like Steve Jobs or 3Com that has garnered Gallo a Lifetime of Achievement award this year but his decades of commitment to the nonprofit community, including organizations that serve seniors, children and low-income families. The affable Wisconsin native, who is a partner at DLA Piper, gets routine recognition by national publications as one of the nation's top dealmakers. He helped organize Pixar in its early days, before it went public, and has lectured at Stanford and Berkeley business schools. But while dealing with startups and global corporations is his day job, Gallo is at least as proud of a merger he helped spearhead in 2006, a deal that created the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

It's fitting that mergers are Gallo's specialty. Even as Bay Area's income gap expands, sparking animosity between the growing swell of millionaires at the very top and the priced-out service workers at the bottom, Gallo seamlessly toggles between the worlds of corporate finance and nonprofits. From his perspective, the two worlds have much in common, each requiring understanding of a myriad of legal, personnel and financial issues.

"For me, the similarities are bigger than the differences," Gallo said. "What you're really doing, in both cases, is helping the managers make their organizations successful."

Gallo learned about these similarities in the early 1970s, when he arrived in Palo Alto with his wife, Penny, also an attorney, after a stint in Washington, D.C., to join the newly formed law firm of Ware & Freidenrich, where they became among the first 10 employees. Even then, he knew he wanted to apply his skills as an attorney to helping the community, not just his corporate clients. He also knew that he wanted to deal directly with decision makers, not general counsels on the low tiers of a giant bureaucracy.

"One of the reasons I really came to Palo Alto was because I didn't want to be just a lawyer, working on contracts," Gallo told the Weekly. "I wanted to help people running their enterprises be successful."

Shortly after he moved to Silicon Valley, someone suggested that he volunteer on the board of American Red Cross, Palo Alto Chapter. So he did.

"I found very quickly that the things I did every day for small companies had many similarities with nonprofits," Gallo said. "The work of senior executives, particularly the executive director, and how they manage budgets is very important."

American Red Cross was just the beginning. Since the late 1970s, he has volunteered with Planned Parenthood and later the Senior Services Center, which ultimately became Avenidas. He served on boards, advised top executives and met people who encouraged him to join other boards. All along the way, he took it upon himself to transfer knowledge from the corporate side of his life to the nonprofit world.

Gallo said he is particularly proud of the 2006 merger between the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, where he served on the board, and the Peninsula Community Foundation. With his assistance, the two mid-sized foundations joined forces to become the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has evolved into a philanthropic giant with nearly $3 billion in assets.

"It's really remarkable what has been achieved in the first seven or eight years," Gallo said. "We had raised a lot of money and have been very active in supporting the community and other nonprofits. I just think it's making a tremendous difference in the community."

Today, Gallo also continues to make a difference, though he now focuses more on organizations that serve low-income families. He is on the board of Ravenswood Family Health Center and was pleased to see the nonprofit raising enough money to build a new clinic, which will roughly double its capacity to serve individuals who would otherwise depend on emergency rooms for health care. He is also on the board of directors for Innovate Public Schools, an organization that focuses on improving public schools in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. This includes training teachers and assisting with new charter schools.

"Everybody has budget issues; everyone has people issues; everyone has leadership issues," Gallo said. "They're the same. The only differences are the goals."

-- Gennady Sheyner

Isaac and Maddy Stein: Volunteering, organizing, leading: 'Just do it'

Among the many theories of community service and philanthropy, Isaac and Maddy Stein subscribe to the simplest one: "Just do it."

"You learn so much by just jumping in and being part of something," Maddy Stein said.

In their 45 years of marriage and nearly as many years of living in the Palo Alto area, the couple's commitments have ranged from volunteering in their kids' elementary school to chairing the Stanford University Board of Trustees.

Rather than any grand plan, their winding path of civic and professional engagements has reflected their circumstances and acquaintances as they went along: When Maddy had to strip the children's bedrooms for the third time after they came home from school with lice, she thought, "There's got to be a better way," and helped to organize preventive, school-wide "lice checks" after vacations.

Later, a Stanford president's request for Isaac's help with a short-term project sparked his more than two decades of high-level involvement with the university, including chairing the Stanford Hospital board and two separate stints on the university's Board of Trustees.

"Stanford has made an enormous difference in my life and the lives of many others," said Isaac, whose own parents had to drop out of school and get jobs to make ends meet. "I had a happy childhood and a good education, but it made me realize the importance of places like Stanford."

Maddy Johnson and Isaac Stein were both 21 when they married on the East Coast immediately after college graduation and set out by car the same day for Stanford, where Isaac was to attend law and business school.

Her Catholic family and his Jewish family had been less than delighted about the match -- "they were products of their experience," said Isaac -- making the move to California even more attractive.

Maddy recalls the two-week, cross-country drive as eye opening.

"Isaac had grown up on Long Island and I in New Jersey, and we were very New York-centric," she said.

They found a $150-a-month rental in East Palo Alto. Maddy got work at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and Isaac supplemented their income with a job changing light bulbs in the Chemistry Department. Soon after, Isaac got a higher-paying job through a professor, allowing Maddy the freedom to enroll and earn a Stanford master's degree in education.

She taught kindergarten and first grade in East Palo Alto's Ravenswood school district for four years -- through her first pregnancy -- spending summers working in the Head Start preschool program.

Around that time, East Palo Altans were thinking of renaming their community Nairobi, and Maddy Stein got the idea of making dashikis as a class project.

"I've never been able to sew, but I sewed them up (out of sheets) and we tie-dyed them together," she said. "Somehow we got it all cleaned up. We wore them for the spring production -- it was wonderful."

Armed with degrees in law and business, Isaac joined a San Francisco law firm, embarking on a career that included senior positions in fields as varied as law, electronics, hotels, retail, life-sciences and investing.

At 32, he became chief financial officer and general counsel of Raychem, then a Menlo Park-based Fortune 500 company. A long association with biotech entrepreneur Alejandro Zaffaroni led him to board positions with the pharmaceutical company Alza and other life sciences firms. He was even CEO of the clothing company Esprit de Corp for a brief time in the early 1990s.

"What I always say is, if you have a business career like I've had and it works, you're called a Renaissance man, and if it doesn't work you're called a dilettante. And the line between the two is very thin," Isaac said.

Said his wife: "He's always been a great multi-tasker."

Both Steins served, sequentially, on the board of the Children's Health Council.

Maddy Stein chaired the site council of their son and daughter's elementary school and fundraised for the school. Around the same time she co-led two community fundraising drives to restore the house and gardens at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, which was then proposed as a site for senior housing.

"The debate was quite acrimonious," she recalled. "People then as now were very passionate about their beliefs." At night, after the kids were in bed, she would prepare her arguments about why the gardens should be saved.

"I'm very proud of that," she said. "I always had this idea that I'd like to walk through Gamble gardens with my grandchildren, and last fall we went to Community Day with all four grandchildren. They were digging for worms, and the fire truck was there. It was very joyful."

Isaac Stein, who had joined the Stanford Hospital board in the late 1980s, was tapped by newly named Stanford President Gerhard Casper in the early '90s to help analyze the governance structure of the medical center. He became president of the hospital board as well as a trustee of the university in 1994, continuing in both roles for many years.

His chairmanship of the brief, ill-fated merger of Stanford and UCSF health care centers in the late '90s means he still gets invited regularly to Stanford's Graduate School of Business to participate in "case study" discussions with students about what happened.

After a decade as Stanford trustee, Isaac Stein took a break in 2004 but rejoined the board again in 2006, providing decades worth of institutional memory.

Both Steins have served on a host of Stanford advisory and fundraising boards as well as on boards of community groups such as the Palo Alto Community Fund and the Community Breast Health Project.

"We've followed our passions and we tend to be quite loyal," Maddy Stein said. "We arrived in this wonderful community that had so many strong services and social support and we felt part of the community, and I like to think we've helped strengthen the legacy, the fabric of the community.

"I think we've been very lucky."

-- Chris Kenrick

Jay Thorwaldson: Journalist, volunteer motivated by a deep and lasting love of the area

In his youth, Jay Thorwaldson was once thrown to the ground by an unruly pony on the family property in Los Gatos. His mother rushed to him, but instead of the coos of consolation he expected, he remembers her chiding him: "When you get bucked off, get right back on."

That's just one of many anecdotes the gregarious Thorwaldson, now 74, drops into conversation. He has one story about a dinner in Milpitas with Black Panther activists, who suspected (rightfully, it turns out) they were being framed by the FBI; another about his first "newspaper war," which he fought from the sweaty office of the Mendota/Firebaugh News; and another still about his editorial attacking the strategy of local conservationists, which inspired the birth of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Mention one of these events and he'll launch into a tale full of vivid characters and comic detail -- and soon it will be an hour or two later.

It's difficult not to be captivated by Thorwaldson, the former Palo Alto Weekly editor who said he has literally "watched the valley fill up" with development since he was a child. His stories display his deep love and attachment to the area, feelings that have led him to a life of service to the community, both as a journalist and an active citizen. This body of work will be recognized at a garden party reception this month, where Thorwaldson will receive an Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement award.

In his Los Gatos childhood, Thorwaldson was not exactly the model student (he sometimes skipped class), but once introduced to journalism, he took it up with gusto and soon became editor of his high school newspaper. He addressed the suicide of a classmate in his very first editorial.

As a career journalist, he continued to find and write about burning issues in his community, whether it was through a San Jose State University editorial about a lack of support for foreign students or investigative reporting for the Palo Alto Times on a neo-Nazi terror group operating out of Palo Alto in the late '60s. During his 10-year stint as editor of the Palo Alto Weekly, the newspaper sued the City of Palo Alto twice for the release of public records, both times with success.

Thorwaldson, though, appreciated many aspects of journalism, not the least welcoming new blood into the field. During his 15 years at the Palo Alto Times (later the Peninsula Times Tribune), he remembers fondly how new interns and new reporters would shadow him for two weeks on his assignments.

"It's a wonderful profession," he said, adding that it certainly isn't lucrative. "But there's a lot of riches, experiences you'll never get anywhere else."

Starting in the early '70s, he taught newswriting and the history and trends of newspapers and journalism for about five years to communication students at Stanford University, where he encouraged them to create flawless, "stainless-steel writing." (To students' dismay, anything less would earn them a B or lower.) He has also lectured on a variety of subjects, including once for the Museum of American Heritage on the "history of the word," he said chuckling.

His service to the community extended beyond things journalistic. While working for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for more than 18 years as director of public affairs, Thorwaldson served on many organization boards, including ones for the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Senior Coordinating Council (now Avenidas), Peninsula Conservation Center (now Acterra) and Adolescent Counseling Services (on the advisory board). During his break from journalism, he also participated in a successful campaign in the early 1980s to save Redwood City's Bair Island from a development project. In 2001, he received a Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce Tall Tree award in recognition of his contributions to Palo Alto.

Now retired, he spends most of his time in Cool, California, where he perfects his lumberjack and carpentry skills in working on a house that he shares with his longtime partner, Patricia Spohn.

Yet he hasn't withdrawn entirely from Palo Alto. For the Weekly, he writes regular "Off Deadline" columns, and last month he saw his cover story "Overcoming Abuse" (March 28), about the lasting effects of childhood sexual abuse, in print -- one of just three cover stories he wrote while at the newspaper. He often travels the about 175 miles down from the Sierras, sometimes rumbling into town on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Thinking back on his "lifetime of achievement," he noted that he has faced quite the number of failures as well. Being bucked to the ground as a youngster might have served as a symbolic first.

"It's always been a race between achievements and failures," Thorwaldson said. "But you can't be afraid of failures if you're going to achieve anything."

-- Sam Sciolla

Carolyn Tucher: Building bridges through art, education

To Carolyn Tucher, a community "is just family writ large. And the best way to accomplish that sense of community is through active volunteerism."

Tucher has had a lifetime full of achievements, for which she will be honored on May 18. Many have focused on bringing people together through education and art and on building bridges across U.S. Highway 101.

To that end, she helped found Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and co-founded Cultural Kaleidoscope, a Palo Alto Art Center program that teams up children and teachers from East Palo Alto and Belle Haven with those from Palo Alto and with local artists.

She spent eight years on the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, including two terms as president, and served on many committees including the California School Boards Association State Legislative Committee, the State Advisory Commission on Special Education, and the State Superintendent's Advisory Committee on the Teaching of Writing. She has also served on the boards of Leadership Midpeninsula, Adolescent Counseling Services, and Palo Alto Art Center Foundation.

But she is quick to add that her achievements weren't hers alone.

"Nothing that I have done have I done myself. Maybe I got the credit, but it really wasn't my accomplishment. It was the team," she said.

A fourth-generation Coloradan, Tucher is the daughter of a hardware-store owner. Growing up, she sold radish seeds and bailing twine, she recalled. She studied political science and history and earned a teaching credential at the University of Colorado, where she met her husband of 55 years, Tony.

The couple moved to Boston after they married, where Tucher taught middle school for $4,000 a year, she said. Later, they lived in New York, where Tony worked at Bank of America. The couple moved to Palo Alto when he was transferred to the Bay Area.

The move suited Tucher just fine.

"I feel to the tip of my toes that I'm a westerner," she said.

While on the school board, Tucher developed a curiosity about her East Palo Alto neighbors. The district was working to accommodate the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, in which schools neighboring East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District began accepting the district's minority students following a 1986 desegregation-lawsuit settlement.

"I was stunned to realize that I didn't know a single person in East Palo Alto. We hadn't talked to anyone there to find out how our actions in the Palo Alto school board would affect them," she said.

She became good friends with Myrtle Walker, a Ravenswood school board member, and that relationship cemented an ongoing commitment to a broader sense of community and equal justice between the two communities.

She was asked to join the board of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, which offers legal help to low-income residents and immigrants, after helping to free Walker's son, Rick, who had been convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Tucher's daughter, Alison, an attorney who is now an Alameda County Superior Court judge, had taken on the case, identified the true killer and helped free Walker after 12 years in prison.

Tucher and Myrtle Walker also joined the Palo Alto Art Center board. They helped form the Cultural Kaleidoscope program to bring paid artists to schools in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, which fosters cross-cultural connections.

Tucher has embraced volunteering for a variety of reasons: "First, I'm a deeply religious person, The teachings of Christ are based on love of God and of others. There's probably a very selfish reason for giving. It's so joyful and satisfying."

Volunteering today is much more demanding than when she started, she said.

"Email had greatly changed things. People don't hesitate to fire off angry responses," she said.

And she has some advice for people who sit on boards: "If you can't accomplish what you came to accomplish in eight years, you may as well let somebody else try," she said.

-- Sue Dremann


Like this comment
Posted by Tony Carrasco
a resident of Green Acres
on May 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm

What a great group.
Congratulations you guys deserve this award.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I agree with Tony, our community is all the greater and more fun for their service. Thank you!

Like this comment
Posted by Russian Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm

We are greatful beneficiaries of your hard work. Respect.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Wonderful! Congratulations and thank you for your service!

Like this comment
Posted by William Byron Webster
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 2, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Any community to have such stellar individuals as the six seniors being honored on 18 May by Avenidas is blessed. I especially would like to single out Carolyn Tucher, whom I have known for many years, for her invaluable contributions to East Palo Alto. Without her willingness to serve on the board of directors of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Inc., (CLSEPA) between 2002 to the end of 2013, the organization would not have survived its uncertain infancy following the decision of the board of directors of the East Palo Alto Community Law Project to disband at a meeting on 13 May 2002. CLSEPA has not merely survived, but thrived and has over the past 12 years served more than 10,000 low-income clients from around the Bay Area, including San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties. This extraordinary organization has literally saved lives with respect to domestic violence cases thanks to the relentless determination of Carolyn Tucher to sometimes lead the board to make very painful, certainly stressful decisions, now financially very sound with a staff of currently 22 and the ability to aid the poor and disenfranchised in a growing climate inhospitable to the poor and powerless. Her legacy through this one organization promises to bless humanity hopefully for decades and possibly generations to come.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of JLS Middle School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 9:20 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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