Sometimes the most meaningful success comes from passing along lessons learned that will benefit someone else — or in the instance of this year’s Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees, entire neighborhoods and communities.
From creating new gardens for nonprofit organizations, to implementing an anger-management program for at-risk youth, to delivering dozens of concerts a year to health centers and senior communities, John and Kristine Erving, James Gibbons, Christina Holloway, Nancy Mueller, and Richard and Ellie Mansfield have spent the better part of five decades paying their success forward to benefit organizations and groups in the local community and beyond.
To honor them, the senior-serving nonprofit Avenidas and the Palo Alto Weekly will host a special garden party at a local home on Sunday, May 20, from 3 to 5 p.m. Tickets for this public event are $75, with proceeds benefiting Avenidas’ programs for older adults throughout the area. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Avenidas at 650-289-5445 or online at avenidas.org.
Story by Sarah Klearman
Since moving to Palo Alto in 1972, there hasn’t been a time when John and Kristine Erving weren’t actively involved in donating their time to improve the community.
The couple has spent the better part of the past 46 years volunteering at various nonprofit organizations that have focused on everything from education to housing to health.
For them, giving back to the community has been a way of life that began at an early age.
“It’s just been in my upbringing and my mindset my entire life,” said Kristine, who is currently the chairwoman of the nonprofit Bring Me A Book Foundation, which aims to stimulate reading among young children.
For John, it’s all about connecting with the community.
“Volunteer work broadens one’s awareness of diversity in community,” he said. “It’s the stimulation and the satisfaction of making a difference with the people that you meet.”
He said their work has become particularly important to them in recent years.
“As you get on in years, time is very precious, and we want to spend it in a meaningful, satisfying way,” he added.
Since retiring from a career in real estate, John has worked building homes in the community through Habitat for Humanity and also raises money for various charities as a pro-bono landscape designer. Instead of working for profit, he asks clients to make a contribution to their favorite charities. He works in both Palo Alto and Oregon, where the couple spends four months of the year.
“I do this wherever I am, and I just find it satisfying to be involved in the process and with the people I meet,” he said. “I ask them to make a charitable contribution. I spend my time doing what I like, which is designing and interacting with people.”
The couple’s dedication to volunteer work began decades ago when Kristine gave up her teaching career to start a family. Not long after, she turned to volunteer work.
She credits the Junior League — which launched her volunteer career and for which she served as president — with providing her with the necessary skills for future volunteer endeavors.
“It’s a big organization with a big budget, and it taught me a lot,” she said.
Over the years, Kristine’s volunteerism has spanned multiple organizations, including The Peninsula Center for the Blind (now the Vista Center), the YMCA and the senior-serving nonprofit Avenidas. In 1989, she became community relations coordinator at Stanford Hospital, where she co-founded and co-directed the Stanford Health Library — a collection of medical resources intended to make research and advocacy more accessible to patients and their families during the pre-internet days when information was difficult to come by.
That same year, John left his job in real estate to “pursue other things,” he said, which led him to what he calls his “first significant volunteer commitment” with the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing.
“I did have some experience that was relevant to their mission, and it was a very satisfying, tangible thing,” he said. “We needed lots of people from lots of different backgrounds. It was a modern-day barn raising.”
While each of the Ervings has made significant individual contributions to the community, they have also pooled their efforts on occasion. Kristine and John co-chaired the first-ever Peninsula Habitat “blitz build” called “Raising the Roofs,” building six houses in six days in Redwood City.
“It was a wild ride but exciting and fun, and not only did we build houses, but it raised people’s awareness of the chapter here,” Kristine said. “John was chair of the board, so I was stepping in to support him.”
Likewise, when Kristine agreed to lead an effort to engage in a public-private partnership with the city of Palo Alto to build the Heritage Park Playground, John was with her every step of the way.
The Ervings said their motivation to continue volunteering comes from the desire to give.
“Volunteering is just really stimulating and uses all the best in you,” Kristine said. “It keeps us young, no doubt.”
Sarah Klearman is a former Weekly editorial intern.
Story by Christine Lee
James Gibbons was the dean of the School of Engineering at Stanford University when he walked into the Santa Clara Juvenile Hall in hopes of setting up a computer lab and teaching a computer literacy course.
He wanted to provide inmates with practical skills for when they left juvenile hall.
The response he received to his proposal from the director, however, was not what he expected: She challenged him to teach youth something far more essential than running computers, and as a result Gibbons has significantly impacted the social well-being of students across the United States.
Already in his career in the semiconductor industry, Gibbons was known internationally. In his younger years, he spent time in-and-out of William Shockley’s famed lab — where the semiconductor transistor was developed — while working to create the first-ever laboratory for doctoral students to build silicon devices during their research.
A self-proclaimed “video-guy,” he developed the forerunner to what has evolved into today’s internet courses: He provided education via television to thousands of engineers at local companies through Stanford Instructional Television Network and figured out a way to teach computer literacy to children of migrant farmers long before the first internet course was ever offered.
At Juvenile Hall, Gibbons had been focused on teaching tech skills when the director said to him, “Tell me how you’re going to solve the following problem: Here’s a kid sitting (at a computer) doing his homework. Another kid walks up and says, ‘It’s my turn.’ Now, the kid sitting there says, ‘Well you’re going to have to push me off.’ Anything that can lead to a fight, will.”
She told Gibbons that unless he could teach the kids not to fight, he couldn’t teach them anything, including basic computer lessons. A few months later, in response, he devised the Skills for Managing Anger course with his colleagues at SERA Learning.
The video-format course is a preventative program that helps minors identify areas where conflicts and anger begin before they escalate. The video shows various exemplary situations, and students identify “hot buttons” and “anger signals” and ways to resolve anger with their facilitators.
The results of the course at the Juvenile Hall were notable. Guards, who historically had a highly disciplinary relationship with the kids, became their tutors for managing emotions. Suicide rates went down.
“It’s not the theory of managing anger, it’s not the philosophy of managing anger, it’s skills for managing anger,” Gibbons said. “And skills, if you’re practicing correctly, the more practice you do, the better you get.”
When the course was implemented in the 49ers Academy, an East Palo Alto school for middle and high school students, “the culture of the school changed,” Gibbons said.
His course was subsequently used in middle schools after the Columbine shooting and in 13 school districts in New York City when students were devastated and tense after they returned to the classroom following 9/11.
Although he had become a master of creating videos for educational purposes, or what he called “tutored video instruction,” the anger management course was one of particular importance to him, and he believes it’s “not trivial” to get it into school systems.
“We still have lots of shootings; we still have a lot of suicides,” he said, mentioning the suicides of Palo Alto students. He said having guards at the Palo Alto rail crossings is one response to the situation, but what’s more important is getting to the root of the “troubling emotions” and building internal strength so that emotions don’t lead to violence or worse outcomes.
He said the most important thing for anyone is to have a goal that helps them make everyday decisions.
Gibbons — who has served on the boards of more than 13 organizations in Silicon Valley, including Cisco, Raychem, SRI, Lockheed Martin and PARC — has been at the forefront of modern semiconductor industries in Silicon Valley. But his passion for education, in addition to his advocacy for social equality, influenced his career trajectory as an engineer and motivated many of his endeavors.
Gibbons humbly said it was his wife’s devotion to teaching that truly changed his life and inspired him to serve those in need.
“I liked teaching. I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a career of it,” he said. “But my wife ... her devotion to teaching was the central thing.”
Editorial Assistant Christine Lee can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Committed to conservation
Story by Linda Taaffe
When Christina Holloway moved to Palo Alto in 1968, she noticed that her elementary-aged children and their classmates didn’t seem that interested in their school science classes.
“That struck me. Kids should be more interested in science,” Holloway said. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe they’d be more interested if the class was taught outdoors.’”
Soon after, Holloway helped launch an outdoor nature and science program that would mark the start of her five-decades-long commitment to environmental education and open-space conservation.
Holloway served as the first board chair of the hands-on educational nature program Environmental Volunteers, which evolved out of those outdoor science classes at her children’s school and now serves people of all ages throughout the Midpeninsula. She led the effort to take Hidden Villa, an organic farm and wilderness area in Los Altos Hills, from a private, family philanthropic effort to a nonprofit. As a board member of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), she helped secure and protect thousands of acres of open space, parks and farmland in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, and more recently, she helped merge the Yosemite Association with the Yosemite Fund, putting fundraising, park conservation and education for Yosemite National Park under a single nonprofit called the Yosemite Conservancy.
“Christy is a visionary and also very charismatic,” said Hal Cranston, former chairman of the Yosemite Fund, who worked with Holloway on the merger. Cranston credits her with establishing the consensus needed to complete — in less than one year — what he called a difficult process with many obstacles.
“When you see her and talk to her and work with her on a project, it’s not too long before you think to yourself, ‘I’ll follow her anywhere,’” he said.
Holloway was chairwoman of the Yosemite Association Board of Trustees when she approached Cranston with the vision of combining both groups — something that had never been broached. She had to convince more than 50,000 people associated with the groups of the benefits of merging the nonprofit operations.
“When she first proposed the idea to each board and the stake holders, a third said, ‘Absolutely not. This is the worst idea I’ve heard,” Cranston said.
Within the year, each side came around, and with a unanimous vote from each board, the merger was completed at the end of 2009. Cranston said the merger has since served as a model for other nonprofits looking to consolidate efforts.
“I give a lot of credit to Christy for showing compassion and empathy but at the same time keeping an eye on the vision of what we were trying to do and being tough when we needed to be tough. It’s hard to find someone with all of those qualities,” Cranston said. “She’s a force to be reckoned with but not a force to fear. She’s just a very pleasant but determined individual.“
Holloway described her volunteer work as an evolutionary process.
“I’ve learned on the job the whole way,” she said. “The courage to work on the (Yosemite) merger came as result of all the experience I had had up to that point.”
Holloway got her start in the nonprofit world as president of the Junior League of Palo Alto. While there, she looked to Hidden Villa to learn how to launch the Environmental Volunteers programs in local schools.
Through the process, Holloway became very familiar with the farm’s operations and programs, so when Hidden Villa was looking to turn the family trust into a nonprofit organization, Holloway stepped up to lead the effort.
While there, she worked with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District on using a conservation easement to restrict development on 1,560 acres of the Hidden Villa property. Using this type of method for land conservation was unheard of at the time, Holloway said.
“That whole process made me very aware that if we don’t save this landscape, there’s not going to be anyplace for people to commune with it or to teach these children in another generation, so I suddenly got very interested in land saving,” she said.
In 1985, she joined the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which negotiates with local property owners to purchase parcels of land for open space and conservation. The private land trust has made permanent more than 75,000 acres of open space since its founding in 1977.
“To be able to preserve this natural environment and be able to look up at the mountains and go over to the coast ... what that does psychologically for everyone is enormous,” she said.
Associate Editor Linda Taaffe can be emailed at email@example.com.
Story by Marley Arechiga
During their 59-year marriage, Richard and Ellie Mansfield have become a formidable duo in Palo Alto and beyond, using their expertise and creativity to create positive change in the community. They’ve been involved in everything from saving redwood trees and educating voters to arranging concerts for seniors and building displays at the Manzanar National Historic Site honoring Japanese-Americans who were interned there during World War II.
When you think of powerhouses in the local community, the Mansfields are among the first ones who come to mind, Avenidas President and CEO Amy Andonian stated in a press release.
“We’re overwhelmed,” said Ellie after learning they were named Lifetimes of Achievement honorees.
Richard said he was instantly happy for Ellie, for whom he thinks the award is long overdue.
“She glosses over a lot of what she’s done,” he said of Ellie, who’s served as a member of the American Association of University Women, the Palo Alto League of Women Voters and the Pacific Stroke Association. She also sang with the all-female Stanford Chorus, which performs 24 concerts a year at health centers and senior communities.
Ellie is just as quick to point out Richard’s contributions. The former judicial attorney currently is working to launch a nonprofit supporting senior health care and has volunteered at the Manzanar National Historic Site in Central California for more than 15 years. In 2016, he organized a neighborhood group to build 28 chairs and 10 tables for Manzanar’s classroom display, which pays tribute to the Japanese-Americans who established schools within the camps. Both return to Manzanar each year to serve as docents.
The Mansfields joined forces in spring 1958 after meeting during a Stanford Law School performance. Ellie, one of only three first-year female law students, sang and danced while Richard (who was a third-year student) played piano. The couple hit it off and tied the knot the following year.
Richard spent his early years as a lawyer in private practice before serving on the judicial staff of the California Court of Appeals for 19 years. He was a member of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, president of the Palo Alto Bar Association and chair of the Committee on the Administration of Justice for the California State Bar.
Ellie graduated from Stanford Law School in 1962. She passed the bar and “promptly retired,” she said. Rather than practice law as a career, she decided to turn her focus to volunteer work.
She taught introductory legal classes at local schools and served as a Girl Scout leader, an Avenidas board member and a PTA president when her three children were in school. She also became the first female member on the board of Comerica Bank, which was originally the County Bank of Santa Cruz.
Her work with the Sempervirens Fund to preserve redwood forests has been one of her proudest achievements, she said. During the more than 30 years she was there, the organization protected thousands of acres of redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains by buying property from willing sellers and then reselling that property to the state.
The duo also became well-known in the community for opening their home to any organization that needed a place to meet — or any Stanford University alumnae who needed a place to stay.
For eight years, the couple hosted graduation teas at their home for the Stanford women’s leadership organization, Cap and Gown. One year, Ellie and Richard agreed to host the tea but had to leave for a flight to France before the event concluded, Kathryn Kilner recalled in a 2014 alumnae blog.
“Ellie simply handed over her keys and told us to enjoy,” she said.
Marley Arechiga is a former editorial intern for the Palo Alto Weekly.
Sharing her recipe for success
Story by Chris Kenrick
Nancy Mueller achieved entrepreneurial celebrity in the early 1980s when her frozen appetizer business took off and Nancy’s Quiche established itself as an enduring grocery brand.
After selling the business in 1999, Mueller shifted her sights to another challenge and a longtime personal dream — overseeing the design and construction of a 140-foot yacht, hiring a crew and setting sail.
As she explains it, “I converted quiche into a yacht.” In 2003, Mueller christened her new vessel the Andiamo — or “let’s go” — and spent the next 10 years sailing, scuba diving and photographing the wonders of the world, under water and above. She covered more than 130,000 nautical miles.
One might think that with her exhaustive travel schedule — including more than six months a year on board her yacht for the better part of a decade — Mueller wouldn’t have time to make many contributions to Palo Alto, the place she raised her two children and considers her home base. Not so. Since 1966, Mueller has offered her business acumen and support to many local nonprofits, including Avenidas, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Bay Window Restaurant, which benefits the Family Service Association. She’s also expanded her volunteer reach, serving on a variety of regional and national boards, including San Francisco Opera, American Prairie Reserve, RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and the Waimea Ocean Film Festival in Hawaii.
“You can sleep when you’re dead,” Mueller said with a grin, while maintaining that she actually does squeeze in eight hours a night. Another “life principle” Mueller offers came from her father, Jackson L. Sothern, who taught her to “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today, and always do the hardest thing first.”
Mueller arrived in Palo Alto in 1965, fresh out of college and following her soon-to-be husband, Glenn, who was studying at Stanford Business School. She put her college chemistry degree to use with a job at Syntex pharmaceuticals.
“I also typed Glenn’s papers, so I got an inadvertent MBA,” she said.
Mueller’s food business originated from the countless tiny quiche appetizers she would make and freeze in preparation for the holiday parties the couple threw for their growing circle of friends and colleagues in Glenn’s venture-capital business. “I’m a good cook but more of a mass-production cook,” she said. “My interest was not in being a caterer — I wanted a business.”
Before Christmas in 1976, Mueller made 8,000 appetizer-size quiche, mushroom turnovers and cheese puffs, selling them at $3 a dozen to friends in the Junior League. People liked them, and she began searching for a commercial kitchen.
“You learn as you go,” she said of her early years in business. “In running a business like that you have to be so passionate that failure can’t be in the equation. You just continue to figure out a better way and a better way to make it work.”
A major break came two weeks before Christmas in 1983 when she showed her quiche appetizer to Price Club (now Costco).
“They took 25 cases each in four stores and by noon they were gone,” Mueller recalled. Nancy’s Specialty Foods grew into the world’s largest processer and marketer of frozen quiche products.
Mueller was tragically widowed at age 50, in 1994. Five years later she sold her business, which by then had 350 employees. Mueller decided to pursue her dream of owning a yacht and traveling the world, something she and Glenn had talked about.
“After Glenn passed away that dream (of a yacht) was still in my heart, so when I sold Nancy’s, I executed on the dream,” she said.
Over the next decade — and typically with friends and her current husband, Robert Fox (Mueller remarried in 2001), aboard — she visited the Mediterranean countries, Caribbean Islands, Galapagos, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi, Malaysian Borneo, East Timor, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and more. Some of her extraordinary underwater photographs now can be seen on the walls at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Reflecting on what might be her next stage, she said, “My strategy has been to pack in as much as I can. ... Now I’m going to work a bit more on savoring things. When you’re booked, booked, booked, time disappears before your eyes. “
Contributing Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.