Tall Tree Award winners announced

Honorees have improved life for children, people with disabilities and the environment

Four individuals and organizations who have contributed to improving children's quality of life have been named as recipients of the 2016 Tall Tree Awards, one of Palo Alto's most prestigious honors, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and Palo Alto Weekly have announced.

This year's recipients built a playground for children with disabilities; donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in bike equipment to schools to make biking safer; funded a new high school athletics center that is expected to be a city jewel for generations; and dedicated thousands of hours to tree planting. Their efforts, from sweat equity to large donations, will be honored on May 4.

The Chamber and the Weekly sponsor the awards.

This year's honorees are marketing professional Olenka Villareal, real estate investor Richard Peery, small business Palo Alto Bicycles and nonprofit Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto.

Olenka Villareal, Outstanding Citizen Volunteer

When Olenka Villareal discovered that Palo Alto's parks were not accessible to her disabled daughter, Ava, she set out to create a playground where any child or adult would feel welcome. None of the city's 34 parks had equipment that Ava, who needs support in a swing, could use.

So Villareal doggedly pursued her Magical Bridge playground, so named because it would bridge both the able-bodied and disabled communities, she said.

She joined the board of Friends of the Palo Alto Parks in 2008 and galvanized the city, the community, businesses and nonprofits to raise $4 million. Villareal's organizational and marketing skills, as well as her cause, attracted many benefactors and volunteers, including the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund, which granted $25,000 to Magical Bridge. The playground opened to fanfare last April.

"At the heart of the mission has always been Olenka, who never once gave up the dream of building a breakthrough playground designed for children of all ages and all abilities," one nomination letter stated.

Magical Bridge provides wheelchair access on merry-go-rounds and slides, ramps to a two-story playhouse and wheelchair accessibility on other play equipment. And parents with disabilities are now able to push their children on the swings and assist them on the other equipment.

But only 10 percent of people with disabilities use wheelchairs, according to Villareal. Ninety percent have other types of disabilities. So the playground also has features that help children with autism and visual disabilities.

Richard Peery, Outstanding Professional/Business Person

If Olenka Villareal was the driver of the seven-year Magical Bridge campaign, Richard Peery provided the fuel for getting the engine going and keeping it running, donating $1 million through the Peery Foundation.

Arguably one of the largest real estate investors in northern California, Peery was raised in Palo Alto and attended Palo Alto High School. He has spent much of his life preserving and enhancing beloved nuggets of Palo Alto life. Stanford Theatre and 180 University Ave., both historic properties that would have faced the wrecking ball, were two of his many investments that have contributed to Palo Alto's quality of life.

Often described as a private man who eschews the limelight, he has a reputation as not only as a vastly successful businessman but one who is generous with his time and wise counsel, said a longtime acquaintance who nominated Peery. He recalled that Peery started with nothing in 1962.

"He has always had a unique talent for business starting when he was in junior high when he installed gumball machines in Stanford fraternity houses," the nomination letter stated.

Peery's quiet financial contributions are everywhere in Palo Alto. His major donations have included the Palo Alto High School athletic complex now under construction, rehabilitation of the Ross Road Family YMCA and the construction of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

"The core mission of the Peery Foundation is to support youth and families in poverty," son Dave Peery told the Weekly in 2013 when the foundation offered to donate $24 million for the new athletic center at Paly.

"Recognizing that Palo Alto is not exactly an impoverished community, my dad is at a point in his life where he's motivated to give back to his hometown in a meaningful way."

Palo Alto Bicycles, Outstanding Business

The power of initiative to effect change in the community is also exemplified by Jeff Selzer, general manager of Palo Alto Bicycles.

The store has contributed more than $300,000 to schools, nonprofit groups and special events in the past 15 years.

Barbara Gross, a founder of the Palo Alto Downtown Business & Professional Association, attributed much of the store's contributions to Selzer's dedication and energy.

"I am continually impressed by Jeff's integrity and standards for himself, his business and employees, his service and generosity to the community. His thoughtfulness is elegantly balanced with his great sense of humor and optimism. He is a great asset to our community," she told the Weekly.

Selzer assisted the city in choosing and installing bicycle parking around Palo Alto. The store was a major advocate in having the Bay Area Bike Share bike-rental program installed, and since 1998 it has operated the Bikestation at the Palo Alto Caltrain station.

The store's advocacy for bicycling is one of the key reasons for the success of the Palo Alto Safe Routes to School program, another nominating letter stated. Palo Alto Bicycles contributes locks, bells and helmets to students, and Selzer has contributed his personal time to maintenance check-ups on student bicycles.

Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto, Outstanding Nonprofit

When it comes to schools, the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto has had a hand in helping for 91 years. The organization's first project in 1925 provided milk to Palo Alto school children.

Today, the nonprofit Kiwanis sponsors Key Clubs at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools to help foster the next generation of service-oriented citizens. Kiwanis provides advisers and financial support to help students learn leadership skills, and it sponsors scholarships for students.

Members have worked with schools on diversity issues, contributing funding to Camp Everytown, a four-day overnight trip for students and staff through which they learn about racism, genderism and other stereotypes.

"The Kiwanis is not just a group that contributes money to these causes but actually educates and encourages its members to participate in activities that it sponsors," a nomination letter from school staff stated.

Kiwanis of Palo Alto has also helped beautify the city. For more than 15 years, it has contributed financial support to Canopy, the Palo Alto nonprofit that advocates for the urban forest. But Kiwanis members have also gone through training programs to plant trees and, as tree-care leaders, watered, fertilized and maintained the city's leafy canopy.

When Palo Alto's largest tree debacle took place, Kiwanis stepped in.

"Over 20 Kiwanians helped lead community members in replanting trees on California Avenue after the untimely removal of existing trees," a nominating letter stated.

The club also began planting trees with Canopy to leaf out East Palo Alto.

In keeping with its work related to children, the Kiwanis built the Heritage Park playground in Palo Alto. The organization "adopted" Palo Alto Community Child Care to enhance the agency's facilities and built playgrounds at four of its centers.

"They have painted classrooms, built fences, erected sheds and shoveled hundreds, if not thousands, of wheelbarrows filled with wood chips. They have built garden beds, sandboxes and seating around treasured trees," another letter stated.

"All of this work done with great enthusiasm, energy and compassion of each member."

The Tall Tree Awards will take place at the Crown Plaza Hotel, 4290 El Camino Real in Palo Alto, 5:30-9 p.m. and includes an informal dinner at food stations and champagne and dessert awards ceremony.

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27 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2016 at 10:31 am

Congratulations to all the winners. I've known Dick Peery for 40+ years, and he is a loving, giving man. He is also quite generous to charities in East Palo Alto, most recently with large donations to Ravenswood Schools through the Ravenswood Education Foundation. Thanks to the Peery Family!!

8 people like this
Posted by Jim Phillips
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 4, 2016 at 10:41 am

Wow! I am proud to be a Palo Alto Kiwanian and so happy that our club members and leadership are receiving this recognition. Thank you to the nominators and the Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly.

13 people like this
Posted by Gay Palo Altan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 4, 2016 at 10:52 am

Peery was also one of the [portion removed] funders of Prop 8 to deny gay people the right to marry. I don't agree with giving him a Tall Tree award when he spent his money on denying civil rights to a significant number of Palo Altans. The fact that this isn't mentioned in the story is really disappointing. This story is more of an advertisement for Peery than a news story.

1 person likes this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2016 at 2:26 pm

[Post removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Congratulations!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Congrats to all of the award winners!!

Concerned retiree - the contributions of Mr. Peery extend far beyond a single project. In fact, he is funding the construction of a gym at a high school in East Palo Alto among dozens of other projects. The Peery Foundation's annual report can be found at Web Link.

17 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Thank you Peery family for your generosity.

7 people like this
Posted by Stephanie M.
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 4, 2016 at 6:11 pm

So very happy for all the recipients. They have made huge positive impacts in our community.

3 people like this
Posted by Linda Lenoir
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Congratulations Palo Alto Bicycles!! This past Christmas PAB fixed 12 bicycles so they could be given to students whose names were given by our counselors who knew students who needed the bicycles to get to school, work and around town so they could attend other activities. The bicycles were donated by the PAPD, PAMF paid for helmets and Palo Alto Bicycles fixed the bicycles so they would be safe for our students to ride, replacing seats, tires, brakes! The students and parents were thrilled! Thank you Palo Alto Bicycles, so well deserved! Linda Lenoir, District Nurse PAUSD

19 people like this
Posted by aa
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2016 at 3:20 am

There are few people in my life who have made a bigger personal impact than Dick Peery. Sure, he's rich, but the size of his wealth pales in comparison to the size of his heart. He lives to make life better for people by simply loving and encouraging them, and once he decides to do that for someone, he never stops. I am a different - and far better - person today because Dick Peery is alive. I thank God for him. What a great choice.

13 people like this
Posted by JoshN
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2016 at 4:25 pm

DPeery is the man. Totally deserves this honors and recognition. Generous with his time and money. Pillar of the PA community.

11 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Dick Peery is definitely a man to look up to. He offers wise counsel and does not judge. He desires to help all people get back on their feet and inspires them to be their best selves. He truly rejoices in other's success. I don't think it's possible to count all the lives he has blessed for good. What a wonderful choice to honor this great man.

13 people like this
Posted by Dennis and Patricia
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

Dick Peery is an individual with a heart of gold. He has done wonderful things for many individuals and the communities around him. Most deserving of this award!

12 people like this
Posted by Ken Jenson
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Over thirty years ago, Dick Peery was generous enough to help me as a young man pay for my college education and start my career. Years later, when I lived overseas in New Zealand, I met many young people who greatly desired to come to America to study. After speaking with Dick, he offered to help me set up a scholarship fund which helped realize the dreams of many young 'Kiwis'. His generosity and kindness has inspired me throughout my life. I found out at one point that he had helped my sister-in-law in her graduate touch our family multiple times like that must mean that he has helped countless others.

Dick Peery is well deserving of this award. I wish we could elect him our next President :)

13 people like this
Posted by Heidi Frazier Robinson
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Dick Peery made a great difference in my life. His kindness, generosity and love has helped me and my family so many times over the years. I don't have words to express how much his love and support has meant to me, how many times he has listened to my concerns and problems and offered support, heard about my successes and rejoiced with me. I've met so many people who's lives he has touched in so many different ways and I am so happy to see him being honored.

8 people like this
Posted by African Queen
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Thank you Dick Peery for all the things you have done to improve our community and beyond!

1 person likes this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2016 at 4:22 pm

It is splendid to read that Dick Peery is getting this recognition. All the positive things written above are true and even more can be said about his selfless, generous, positive contributions to this community, all who are lucky enough to know him, and all whose lives have been made better by him anonymously. The Chamber could not have chosen better!

3 people like this
Posted by Raphael Rocha Coelho
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2016 at 10:41 am

I spent almost a year shaking hands and talking with this gentleman almost every week and thinking that he was just another poor and old man surviving on his 401k plan. While some would argue that I might be new in the area, which is true, this simple example just proves how humble Peery is.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Dick Peery's business success is secondary to his humanity and kindness towards others. He spends countless hours counseling, guiding, and encouraging people to be the best person they can be. Dick is a genuine person and a loyal friend. He loves his family and his church. Palo Alto is a better town thanks to he and his wife, Mimi. Congratulations!

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by BL
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 7, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Great selection for This guy and others have done many great things for the Palo Alto community and area without seeking recognition for it. I'm sure we may never know what and just how much. Hats off to you Mr. Peery. Our family salutes you and you lovely wife and family and offer our thanks and appreciation. God bless you all.

2 people like this
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2016 at 5:44 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive

on Sep 26, 2017 at 7:05 am

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

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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