Whether it be expansive park space, beloved theater productions, cutting-edge health care or streets lined with locally owned businesses, each of this year's 10 Tall Tree Award recipients has played a role in creating or sustaining many of the things that have come to define life in Palo Alto.
By providing countless hours of service aimed at improving their communities, individuals Dr. Sara Cody, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Cammie Vail, Pastor Paul Bains, Hal Mickelson and Roger Smith, along with commercial real estate firm Premier Properties, hotelier Homewood Suites, nonprofit theater company Palo Alto Players and land-conservation group Peninsula Open Space Trust, have left their mark on Palo Alto and beyond.
To honor their civic contributions, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and Palo Alto Weekly will host an awards ceremony at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center at 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 21. (For more information about the event, go to paloaltochamber.com.)
The Tall Tree Awards have been given to community members since 1980, but the 2020 awards event was put on hold after the pandemic shutdown was announced that March, and the 2021 event was canceled.
This year's event will honor four recipients chosen in 2020 and four from 2022, in addition to Cody and Maldonado, who are the recipients of the Global Impact Award, a special award recognizing a community member whose work has had a long, significant influence beyond Palo Alto. Both are being recognized for their unparalleled frontline work during the coronavirus pandemic.
The following stories shine a spotlight on how these individuals and organizations have created positive and lasting change in the community.
Making the tough decisions
Dr. Sara Cody reflects on her front-and-center role during the pandemic
Dr. Sara Cody faced the biggest challenge of her public health career in January 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold. Emerging from her mostly behind-the-scenes roles as Santa Clara County health officer and director of public health, Cody — a self-described introvert — was suddenly thrust into an unwelcome spotlight that made her a recognized national leader for making bold and sometimes controversial decisions. Read the full story.
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado has been on the frontline of global health challenges. Nothing prepared her for COVID-19.
Dr. Yvonne "Bonnie" Maldonado was in a San Francisco hotel room preparing to go out for a New Year's Eve dinner with her husband, when she saw a television news story about an ongoing outbreak of severe pneumonia in China.
The infectious disease specialist had first heard about the pneumonia outbreak in November 2019. But at that moment, she said, it became clear to her that something more was happening.
The familiar worries she'd felt about the SARS outbreak in 2002 resurfaced. But SARS fizzled out, and this new outbreak was picking up speed. Read the full story.
In January 2020, Cammie Vail filed her six month's notice for retirement following 17 years as the Palo Alto Community Fund's executive director. Little did she know that her final months in the role would bring unprecedented challenges for the Midpeninsula as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.
By mid-March, Vail and the fund's board of directors established the COVID-19 Relief Fund, providing direct financial support to families and nonprofits assisting vulnerable residents. By the time she stepped down in June, the fund had given away $1.07 million in donations.
"We were really trying to uncover and spread our funds into targeted ways that would ... address the problems that people were facing because of COVID-19," she said.
Looking back, Vail said she is grateful for the support of the fund's leadership team during her 17 years. Read the full story.
For years, Pastor Paul Bains has advocated for the most vulnerable members of the community. His impact reaches far beyond the congregation of St. Samuel Church in East Palo Alto, where he's served as pastor since 1999.
Bains is the founder and CEO of Project WeHope, which supports unhoused and marginalized communities in a variety of ways, including providing emergency and transitional housing at its shelter; free healthy food to those experiencing food insecurity through Family Harvest; mobile showers and laundry machines through Dignity on Wheels; the first RV safe-parking program in San Mateo County; and more. Read the full story.
Thousands may have heard Hal Mickelson as the "voice" of Stanford University's marching band when he was the group's stadium announcer in the 1970s and '80s, but his involvement in the Palo Alto community has spanned more than six decades.
Mickelson, who graduated from Stanford in 1971, worked for more than three decades as an attorney at Hewlett-Packard Company, serves on the board of the Palo Alto Museum, is a former president of the Rotary Club of Palo Alto and has held leadership positions in the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. Read the full story.
During the half century that Roger Smith has lived in Palo Alto, he has served as founding president and CEO of a major bank, created multiple nonprofits, run for city council and volunteered to support numerous causes.
When he first moved to Palo Alto in 1964, Smith said that he only knew one person and decided to start participating in the community, knowing that he wanted to make a difference. He began with the Palo Alto Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees, and his involvement continued from there. Read the full story.
Many things in Silicon Valley are older than Silicon Valley itself, but a theater company with that claim is pretty unusual. Rarer still is a local theater company in its 91st season, and the Palo Alto Players have not only marked that milestone but have also just announced the lineup for the company's 92nd season.
"We're the longest running community theater in Silicon Valley. I always like to say that before Silicon Valley, there was Palo Alto Players," said Elizabeth Santana, the company's managing director. Read the full story.
Even those who haven't heard about the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) have certainly seen its footprint on the greater Peninsula. The organization is responsible for preserving more than 80,000 acres of baylands, skyline and coast in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
Every day, scores of residents take in views of the surrounding natural landscape, hike on nearby trails and enjoy the outdoors in spaces protected by the Palo Alto nonprofit. Read the full story.
Walk down any of Palo Alto's main commercial corridors, and one will likely pass by a building managed by Premier Properties. Since 1985, the Palo Alto commercial real estate brokerage firm has steadily expanded its footprint throughout the city and along the Midpeninsula, where it now manages about 100 properties.
Jon Goldman and Brad Ehikian, co-presidents who took over Premier Properties in 2011, say operating the company like a family business has been key to its success. Read the full story.
When Matt Dolan became general manager of the newly opened Homewood Suites by Hilton Palo Alto in 2015, he didn't anticipate that his role would become a conduit for community service.
At most, he thought the position would provide an opportunity to live in Palo Alto.
Seven years later, however, the extended-stay hotel at 4329 El Camino Real has become widely recognized for its community outreach, in large part because of the programs Dolan has spearheaded since its opening. Read the full story.