Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees
By pushing beyond what is to what could be, this year’s Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees have created long-term changes in their communities that are stretching beyond their tenures and into the next generations.
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, Gloria Hom, Robert Kelley, Ginny Lear, Ward and Mary Paine and Mike and Ellen Turbow have spent decades planting the roots of change through organizations and programs they helped create for the benefit of the community at large.
The following stories shine a spotlight on how these individuals with ordinary beginnings went on to lead extraordinary lives.
When he joined a Palo Alto Children’s Theatre production at age 9, Robert Kelley didn’t know he would dedicate his life to local theater or ultimately impact generations of local actors and audiences.
“I just walked by and went, ‘Ooh, that looks like fun,’” he said. “The thrill of theater stuck.”
As the artistic director of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Kelley has spent nearly 50 years creating art on the Midpeninsula and, although the company has evolved from humble origins into an award-winning professional venture, Kelley’s dedication to what he called TheatreWorks’ core values -- innovation, diversity and education -- remains unchanged. And as a fitting cap on his career, this year TheatreWorks will receive the Regional Theatre Tony Award from the American Theatre Wing, to be presented in New York City on June 9.
“TheatreWorks is a dream come true for me,” he said. “And a lot of people have shared that dream.”
Kelley moved to Palo Alto at age 5 and has lived in the area for most of his life (he currently resides in Menlo Park with longtime partner Ev Shiro). He graduated from Stanford University with an English degree. In 1970, the city of Palo Alto invited him to help create a summer youth theater project. He and his young team wrote, produced and performed an original musical, “Popcorn,” at the Lucie Stern Theater.
“It was based on conflict in the community between generations; in 1970 there was plenty of that, so the premise was finding a way to bring those worlds together,” he said. “We set it in ‘Scraggly Tree, California.’”
While the show included a depiction of a student protest-turned-riot, a real one occurred just days before “Popcorn” opened, inadvertently leading to more attention for the show’s premiere. “The show became a great big huge hit and that’s how we got started,” he said. “It was a show about us, about our values, the things that mattered, and of course it was an educational project as well. All the fundamental values of TheatreWorks were built into that original idea.”
(Any chance of a “Popcorn” revival? “I wouldn’t hold your breath,” he laughed.) Thus, what would become TheatreWorks was off and running. The name came in 1973, and the “Silicon Valley” was added in 2014.
The fledgling group produced plays all over town, from the Baylands Nature Interpretive Center -- where actors shared a dressing room with live snakes -- to churches, restaurants and the parking garage beneath City Hall. Fittingly for an Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honoree, Kelley revealed a “secret connection” to Avenidas: TheatreWorks’ 1974 production of “Cabaret” was performed in the then-vacant Avenidas building on Bryant Street, the city’s former police and fire station. In the decades that followed, TheatreWorks further dedicated itself to diversity and nontraditional casting and expanded to performance spaces including Foothill College and Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Over the years, the company became fully professional, hiring Actor’s Equity Association actors and joining the League of Resident Theatres. In 2001, the New Works Initiative, nurturing emerging work and artists, was launched. And TheatreWorks’ educational wing still offers students the thrill of theater that Kelley first experienced as a child. The company has seen many of its world premieres and alumni go on to succeed beyond the Bay Area (not to mention its imminent Tony Award). Kelley’s focus, though, has always been to produce work that is meaningful for local audiences.
“We haven’t been oriented toward Broadway. It’s really been about here: What is the right art for this community?
So, it’s kind of been a revelation to realize how many folks there really are out in the world that have been here,” he said. Some people have been surprised, he said, to learn the Midpeninsula can support world-class theater. But, he added, “You can’t possibly imagine another place in the world where creating new things is of more value.”
It’s difficult to separate the company from the man who’s nurtured it from the start, whose devoted-but-mellow style has helped mentor countless others in the theater community. Kelley, said director and playwright Ken Savage, “taught me that directing is like painting -- he molds his actors and design pieces into masterful works of visual art that give the audience insight to relationships and character. ... I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work alongside him to support his vast canvas.”
But an end of an era is coming. Kelley will step down as artistic director following TheatreWorks’ next season. A half-century is, after all, a pretty good run.
“It felt like an appropriate time. I want the company to continue to grow and move,” he said, adding with a laugh that he doesn’t expect TheatreWorks’ next leader to commit to 50 years. An admitted workaholic, Kelley said that in the rare instances when he’s not entrenched in theater projects he enjoys playing the piano and exploring nature. His cottage, he noted, is near San Francisquito Creek, just a few blocks from where he spent his childhood.
Despite his impending departure from TheatreWorks, Kelley has no plans to retire; he’s committed to continuing his directing career, as well as writing and teaching.
“This wonderful honor from Avenidas is definitely for people who’ve been at it for a long time,” he said. “But just because you become the oldest person employed in an organization doesn’t mean you’re the least active.”
HEALTH CARE & HUMAN SERVICES
“Why walk through life when you can dance?” Palo Alto doctor Mike Turbow recently asked during an interview with the Weekly.
“That’s right, and we do dance,” added his wife, Ellen.
Creating a more joyful path in life for all has been key to the Palo Alto couple’s work over the past five-plus decades. In their 55 years of marriage, the Turbows have dedicated much of their time to improving conditions for those making end-of-life decisions and those with disabilities.
Mike, who trained at Stanford Hospital in the early days of the oncology field, became an early pioneer in the local hospice movement and helped establish Mid-Peninsula Hospice -- which has since expanded and is now known as Pathways Hospice. Hospice was a natural fit, he said, because in the 1970s, treatment options for most of his terminally ill patients were few and it was one way he could help them.
Ellen, an estate-planning lawyer who said she “wanted to save the world,” veered toward organizations serving people with disabilities after their second son, Matthew, was born with special needs. For two terms, she served on the board of directors of the Children’s Health Council, where Matthew attended school, and later on 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, she helped convene a two-county conference on the issue.
Now retired, the two looked back on the busy times in an interview with the Weekly.
“Mike was gone a lot, on call, and it was not so easy. But I didn’t realize that until I didn’t have all that stress anymore,” Ellen said.
“When you’re young you have a lot of energy,” Mike added.
The Turbows met by chance in 1960 at the Stanford University campus in Germany, where Ellen was studying and Mike dropped in one day after months of travel to do his laundry and pick up his skis.
“He asked me if I had any bleach, and I said ‘yes,’” Ellen recalled. “He then said, ‘Would you help me with my laundry?’ and like an idiot I said ‘yes,’ and I’ve been doing his laundry ever since.”
The couple married in 1963, and after moving to Palo Alto for Mike’s oncology fellowship, Mary decided to finish her law degree at Santa Clara University. She took one of her final exams in the hospital after giving birth to Matthew, she said.
With two small children, Ellen sought part-time work and found it at the Palo Alto firm Blase, Valentine & Klein. Continuing as a part-time lawyer, Ellen became a partner and stayed at the firm for more than 20 years.
Mike got involved in establishing what is now Pathways Hospice, for which he volunteered as medical director for nearly 20 years. He testified multiple times before the California Legislature in connection with the End of Life Option Act. He was a founding member and past president of the Association of Northern California Oncologists, and for 25 years, he served on the clinical faculty of Stanford School of Medicine, where he still teaches first- and second-year students. He also has volunteered with Bay Area Cancer Connections, the Jewish Community Fund and Jewish Family and Children’s Services and as a board member of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City.
In addition to the Children’s Health Council and Abilities United, which also serves children with disabilities, Ellen volunteered on the board of directors of the Palo Alto Community Fund, including time as its chair.
Matthew Turbow died in 2012 at age 36. The Turbows’ older son, Jason, a writer, lives with his wife, a photographer, and two children in the East Bay. These days Ellen continues to teach science and nature to children through Environmental Volunteers, where she once chaired the board and helped lead a campaign to restore the former Sea Scout Building in the Palo Alto Baylands.
As dance enthusiasts, the Turbows over the years have been called upon to start off the dancing at weddings and bar mitzvahs, Ellen said. According to Mike, the key to good dancing is enjoying oneself. “She doesn’t like to be the only couple on the dance floor, but I don’t mind,” he said. “The reason people think we’re good dancers is because we have fun doing it. All it is is walking in rhythm to the music -- that’s it. You don’t have to know all the steps -- you just do it. It’s not stylized. I’m laughing, and she’s laughing.”
Midtown resident Gloria Hom has held many roles in her life: the economist; the wife, mother of three and grandmother; the educator, politician and civic leader. This month, she becomes a recipient of the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award, recognizing her decades of work in education and her service to the Palo Alto community.
Generations of students owe their understanding of economics and political science to the 79-year-old, who taught political science and economics for 35 years, first at Foothill College, then at De Anza College and later at the West Valley-Mission Community College District. She helped shape education policy by serving on the board of the California State University (CSU) system and as a member of the California State Board of Education. She’s received state and federal recognition for her work, having been named “Outstanding Educator of America” and trustee emeritus for CSU. She also received the Seal of California in recognition of her tenure on the California State Board of Education.
Hom was also active politically. 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.
Born in San Francisco, she is a fourth-generation Californian. Her mother was the daughter of the founder of Bayside Cannery in Alviso, once the third largest in the country after Del Monte and Libby’s, according to a Midtown Residents Association historical biography. (Bayside had a location in Palo Alto at the site of Fry’s Electronics.) Her father came to the U.S. as a graduate student at Stanford University and became a Chinese diplomat. After her parents wed, her father was posted in Malaya (known today as Malaysia) as a Nationalist Chinese government diplomat.
The outbreak of World War II created hardships for the family. Hom was little more than a toddler when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded. Her mother took two of her children, including Hom, and a single suitcase and evacuated to China, Hom said. Her father could not leave until he received diplomatic orders and remained behind with her younger sister. They would not be reunited until after the war ended. Those experiences helped forge her own character, she said. “From my father, I learned that problems are best solved with patience and respect,” she recalled. But her mother’s handling of their predicament as the enemy invaded made the deepest impression. “My mother picked me up in one arm and carried us to safety. Her strength and courage that day is what I remember most,” she recalled.
The war made China dangerous, and Hom’s mother took the two daughters by freighter to San Francisco, where they lived with Hom’s maternal grandmother in Chinatown. Hom’s father joined them in 1945 after the war; her younger sister later reunited with the family after being found in the Malayan jungle by the American Red Cross, she said. The family moved with her father to the Philippines after the war during the recovery and transitional period.
Hom grew up in Southeast Asia until the family returned to San Francisco when she was 17. She attended Dominican University in San Rafael and married Peter Hom, an attorney. They moved to Palo Alto, which has been her home for more than 50 years, she said. She studied at Stanford University under economist and Hoover Institution Fellow Rita Ricardo-Campbell, which got her a job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics as an economist.
In the 1960s, she worked as an Internal Revenue Service auditor. Hom later completed her master’s degree in political science and economics at San Jose State University and got her doctorate in education at the University of San Francisco. In education, Hom found her true calling. “The minute I walked onto the Foothill campus, I loved it. It was like a love affair to be on campus and meet students. I couldn’t have imagined getting paid for doing this. I thought, ‘This is the best job ever,’” she said.
Hom also ran for state Senate in the 12th congressional district in 1980, losing by 438 votes. She was relieved. She had more time to be with her children, she said. She retired from teaching 13 years ago, but that hasn’t slowed her. She takes writing classes and is working on a biography. She also gives tours of the back alleys of Chinatown to raise money for nonprofit organizations such as Avenidas, the Palo Alto Rotary and the Palo Alto Garden Club, she said. Hom volunteered on the Channing House board for nine years and was a board member of the YMCA. A lover of libraries, she was one of the first to donate to the rebuilt Mitchell Park Library and was one of the first women to join the Rotary Club of Palo Alto, she said. Getting the Palo Alto History Museum built is her latest project. Asked what advice she would give to younger people, she said: “Live every moment of your life. Have a passion. If you don’t love your job, you won’t be very successful at it,” she said.
Portola Valley duo Ward and Mary Paine have been key players in preserving tens of thousands of acres of Peninsula hills, baylands and coastside as permanent open space over more than five decades.
Their path to conservation began after they moved to the Bay Area in the early 1960s: Ward was working with KRS Electronics; Mary was volunteering for various health and welfare nonprofits, which eventually led her to the environmental group Peninsula Conservation Center, where she took a seat on the board.
“They were in a little tiny house in Menlo Park ... but they were inundated with requests for help from the schools about teaching environmental ed, which was sort of new terminology in the late 1960s,” Mary said.
Mary turned to Ward -- who by this time had launched a tech startup and was well on his way to becoming one of the valley’s earliest venture capitalists -- to assist with the organization’s finances. This was the start of their prolific work in preservation, first together at the Conservation Center and then separately through nonprofits that they helped co-found.
Mary’s fundraising efforts at the Conservation Center led to a spin-off organization, Environmental Volunteers, a nonprofit aimed at introducing natural history and environmental science to children. She co-founded the organization after chairing a Conservation Center auction to fund efforts to spur interest in conservation within the community. The auction raised $10,000 which was used to create a project that became the Environmental Volunteers.
Over the years, Mary raised funds for the nonprofit, including the eight-year effort to secure $3.8 million to restore the ship-shaped Sea Scout building in the Baylands that became the group’s headquarters in 2012. She also worked with the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club to restore hundreds of acres in the San Francisco Bay through planting and alleviating tidal surge and infill.
Around the same time Mary was launching Environmental Volunteers, Ward helped develop the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), an offshoot of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District that negotiates with local property owners to purchase parcels of land for open space and conservation. Once land is acquired, the Regional Open Space district manages the space.
Through easements and land purchases, POST has been responsible for preserving more than 76,000 acres of open space in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, including the 1,719 acres surrounding Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the coast, which the group secured for $39 million in 2000. The deal was reportedly the largest amount of money ever paid by a nonprofit for land in the western United States.
“It was Herb Grench’s idea to have a private company do what (POST) does, and I was sort of the implementer,” Ward said. “I recruited the board of directors, and I was the chairman for the first 10 years. We had a terrific group of seven or eight people, and we met at 7:45 in the morning because everybody had to go to work. We had an office at 3000 Sand Hill Road because (Director) Tom Ford owned the building.”
The group, which included conservationists and a real-estate developer, began in 1972. Ward said POST’s first major conservation success was the Windy Hill area of Portola Valley, which was originally slated for the development of more than 400 homes.
“We have a farm program now where we will buy a piece of property, and we’ll put limitations on it and find farmers to farm it. If they’re unsuccessful or if they need to sell it, we will buy it back along with the improvements, like tractors and irrigation ditches. The idea is to keep it green and agricultural and not make it look like Santa Monica.”
Ward believes the creation of POST is the most successful thing he’s been a part of, including all of the projects and businesses he financed as a venture capitalist.
“When Ward and I first moved here, the environmental movement didn’t exist, and yet, there were little enclaves like Hidden Villa out in Los Altos Hills and a little group called Green Foothills,” Mary said. “There were land trust discussions that were happening in San Francisco, and it was very avant-garde to go to these meetings. Of course, now it’s all such an ordinary part of our conversation. It’s a changed world. Now, everyone speaks conservation; everyone speaks environment. But it’s hard to believe that 40 years ago nobody knew what the word meant.”
When Ginny Lear decided to volunteer at her children’s schools as a young mother in 1960s Los Altos, she never imagined that it would lead to decades of volunteer work that would play a direct role in creating many city programs and community traditions still recognized today.
Working behind the scenes, Lear helped with the launch of the Rotary Club’s Fine Art Show and the founding of the Los Altos Fall Festival. She raised nearly $2 million (a historic amount of money at the time) for the opening of the Los Altos History Museum, co-founded the Los Altos Community Foundation’s LEAD program to encourage residents to become better involved in their town, and has held leadership roles in 17 community organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the Los Altos and Palo Alto Rotary clubs, the Los Altos Community Foundation, the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA, the City Parks & Recreation Commission and the Foothill College Foundation Commission, where she helped raise more than $100,000 in one night to support innovative projects.
“It’s just something I did. It was a way to be part of the community, and one thing kind of opened up the door to another,” said a modest Lear, who appeared to be more comfortable talking about the organizations for which she worked than describing her contributions. “I never had any set plans, and that’s sort of how life has gone for me. I don’t have plans. I just am available and things come up.”
Lear said she started as a “Pink Lady” with the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary, then moved to the PTA, which led to her 10-year role with the parks commission, which led to her involvement with the Community Health Awareness Council, which provides counseling programs to families in Mountain View and Los Altos. All of the organizations were linked to local schools and children’s issues, she explained. There was a natural connection.
After her younger son died, Lear said she shifted her focus. “I wasn’t needed at school anymore, and in that way it was important to change my venue a little bit. That led to me being executive director of the Chamber in Los Altos,” she said.
There, she brought her volunteer skills from the education sector to the business community. Lear said she never had formal training in art, fundraising, event planning or any of the roles she’s take on.
“I guess I’m organized. I just take on a job, and I do it, and I get other people to help,” Lear said.
Longtime friend Marge Bruno said she’s seen firsthand how Lear tackles projects.
“There’s not a job that’s beneath her. She gets right in there and works on the biggest things and the tiniest, most tedious things. There’s none of ‘That’s for somebody else to do.’ Oh no, she’s right in there.”
Bruno said Lear’s perseverance had a significant impact on the passage a Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District’s bond measure for capital improvements in the mid 1990s, which went to the ballot multiple times before passing.
“She headed (the campaign) three times,” Bruno said. “Most people would give up and say, ‘Get someone else,’ but she didn’t.”
Lear said she did think about quitting at one point.
“I didn’t want to do it again and said I had to think about it,” Lear recalled. “My husband said, ‘If you don’t do it, who should do it?’ He was my built-in helper and was very supportive.”
Bruno said her friendship with Lear grew from an unusual circumstance in 1986.
“Interestingly, we were both running for the city council,” Bruno said. “We had very different views on things, but a number of people were supporting both of us, and so we kept meeting at coffees that were given for both of us, and we just liked each other and agreed that after the election, no matter what, we were going to get together and get to know each other better.”
Bruno described Lear as a likable and relatable person who will go out of her way to finish a project. Even when she was sick with an pneumonia during the height of planning the high-profile 50th anniversary party for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District’s Celebrity Forum Speakers Series, she continued to work from home.
“That’s how she is, and that goes a long way in getting people on board,” Bruno said. “She’s had an enormous impact on the community. She’s the one people think of when they want to get something done. They pick up the phone and call her.”