From launching a theater company with national reach, to advocating for legislation and programs for those facing end-of-life choices, to preserving tens of thousands of acres of Peninsula hills, baylands and coastside as open space, the people honored with this year's Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award have engaged in meaningful and creative efforts to create change in their local communities and beyond.
The recipients of the annual award are Gloria Hom, Robert Kelley, Ginny Lear, Ward and Mary Paine and Mike and Ellen Turbow.
The honorees were announced at an evening reception on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Palo Alto. They will be formally celebrated at an afternoon garden party on May 19, the main annual fundraiser for Avenidas, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that offers tools for positive aging to seniors and their families on the Midpeninsula.
"Avenidas believes it is critical to tell the stories of those who have gone before us and paved the way," Avenidas President and CEO Amy Andonian stated in a press release. "Our area is so rich with intelligent and innovative people who go out of their way to give back, and it is truly heartwarming."
Hom has worn many hats throughout her life — including those of an economist, professor, businesswoman and civic leader — as she's promoted quality of life in her community. As an educator, the Palo Alto native taught generations of students over a 35-year span. She was named "Outstanding Educator of America" and trustee emeritus for the California State University system and received the Seal of California in recognition of her years as a member of the California state Board of Education. Outside the classroom, she attended every Republican National Convention from 1980 through 2008. President Ronald Reagan appointed her to serve on the Advisory Council of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services, and President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the Sallie Mae Board of Directors.
Kelley, a Menlo Park resident, forever changed local theater after founding TheatreWorks in 1970. The theater company's first show, "Popcorn," was an overnight sensation that convinced the city of Palo Alto to provide ongoing support and established the values that define the company today: innovation, diversity, education and a celebration of the human spirit, according to the Avenidas press release. Over the past 49 years, TheatreWorks has grown into one of the 50 largest regional theater groups in the country. The company has produced 430 shows, more than 100 new play readings and 70 world premieres, including "Memphis," which won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. Kelley, whose life remains tightly interwoven with the company, has been a guest director around the country, lectured at local colleges and won many directing awards from Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Theatre Bay Area and Backstage West.
Lear has spent most of her life volunteering for organizations, including the Rotary Clubs of Los Altos and Palo Alto, the Foothill College Foundation Commission and the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary. The longtime Los Altos resident co-founded the Los Altos Community Foundation's "LEAD" program to encourage residents to become better involved in their town. While on the Foothill College Foundation Commission, she helped raise more than $100,000 in one night to support innovation projects. And as fundraising co-chair for the new Los Altos History Museum, she helped raise nearly half of the initial the $3.5 million needed to get the project off the ground. Lear said that from an early age, her parents instilled the values of hard work, simple values and modesty — always with a sense of humor included.
Portola Valley duo Ward and Mary Paine have been key players in preserving large swaths of Peninsula hills, baylands and coastside as permanent open space for public health and enjoyment.
Ward, one of the area's earliest venture capitalists, helped launch the Peninsula Conservation Center and then formed the nonprofit Peninsula Open Space Trust in 1977 to protect and care for land in and around Silicon Valley. The Trust has been responsible for preserving more than 76,000 acres of open space in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
Mary started her environmental endeavors while on the board of the nonprofit Peninsula Conservation Center. She later co-founded the spin-off organization Environmental Volunteers, a nonprofit aimed at introducing natural history and environmental science to children. She played a key role in securing funding for the restoration of the former Sea Scouts building in the Palo Alto Baylands that became the educational EcoCenter and the headquarters for Environmental Volunteers.
Palo Alto couple Ellen and Mike Turbow have worked to improve conditions for those making end-of-life decisions and those with disabilities.
Mike, an early pioneer in the hospice movement during the 1970s, helped establish Mid-Peninsula Hospice — which has since expanded and is now known as Pathways Hospice — and volunteered there as a medical director for nearly 20 years. He also testified multiple times before the California Legislature, playing an important role in the passage of the End of Life Option Act, which allows medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients.
Ellen turned her attention toward children with special needs after the couple's son died in 2012. She joined the Children's Health Council board of directors for two terms and later the board of directors of Abilities United, where she also participated on the capital campaign committee. As a member of the Jewish Family and Children's Services' public issues committee, Ellen advocated for better coordination of services for families with disabled children, and in coordination with Abilities United, helped convene a two-county conference on the issue.
Tickets for the May 19 Garden Party are $75 and available online at avenidas.org or by calling 650-289-5445.