2017 Volunteer of the Year works enthusiastically to benefit MH community
Kathy Sullivan is a retired nurse who may return to work after relocating to Philadelphia this summer
Published in the February 1 – 14, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
A group of business people marched into a Community and Cultural Center meeting room Dec. 8 with a bouquet of flowers and a certificate. They were there to surprise one of the board members of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association at its monthly meeting.
“On behalf of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and the entire community, we want to let Kathy Sullivan know she is the 2017 Volunteer of the Year,” announced Robert Airoldi, chair of the Chamber board as he presented the certificate to the MHDA’s vice president.
Sullivan clasped her hands over her mouth and gasped as she heard her name and the honor. She received a hug from Chamber Ambassador Leonette Stafford who gave her the bouquet.
“I was thinking you were going to give our organization an award. But I’ll take this. That’s so wonderful, thank you,” Sullivan said.
She and five other honorees will be spotlighted at the 2017 Celebrate Morgan Hill gala, which will be held Feb. 25 at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center. Other honorees are Mary Lou Conragan as Woman of the Year, Ron Woolf as Man of the Year, Mission Bell as Business of the Year, Emmanuel Calivo, a senior at Sobrato High School, as Student of the Year, and Jim Hemeon, a science teacher at Live Oak High School, as Educator of the Year.
In addition to her work with the MHDA, Sullivan spends time with her son, Dan, once a week sorting and folding clothes at Cecelia’s Closet, a charity organization that’s part of the Edward Boss Prado Foundation.
“She comes every Tuesday, whispers a hello, signs in and gets to work,” said Cecelia Ponzini, the executive director of the foundation. “I think it comes from the heart. She’s not looking for any special glory out of it. And we’re honored to have her here.”
Sullivan is an example of someone who volunteers without need of recognition but because she cares about her community, Ponzini said. Recently, Sullivan had an operation after hurting her hip in an accident at the downtown Holiday of Lights Parade.
“When she had surgery, she came in three days later, and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she said, ‘No, I’m OK,’” Ponzini said. “She’s a wonderful lady.”
Sullivan said she was shocked when she heard she would be the 2017 Volunteer of the Year.
“So many people are volunteers in Morgan Hill, so for me to be picked, I consider it quite an honor,” she said. “She recalled that fellow MHDA board member Nancy Reynolds gave her a warning to wear nice attire and put on make-up and fix her head prior to the meeting’s surprise announcement.
“She said, ‘We’re going to take pictures for our brochure, so dress up when you come to the meeting,’” Sullivan said with a laugh. “Sometimes when you go to board meetings, you’re not dressed up, so it was nice to get the heads up.”
Sullivan joined the association two years ago as a resident because she does not own a business downtown. For more than a year, she has written the MHDA column for Morgan Hill Life newspaper to inform people about activities in the downtown district.
“The downtown association board asked me to get more involved and it was wonderful,” she said. “You get to learn more about the downtown projects and you really feel you’re part of the community.”
Sullivan also volunteers with the Personnel Commission for the Morgan Hill Unified School District as well as a board that determines borders for school districts throughout Santa Clara County. She is involved as a member of the Morgan Hill branch of the American Association of University Women. And she has stayed involved with the Morgan Hill Friends of the Library.
“I also work with the Chamber as an Ambassador, and that’s more for fun,” she said. “That’s just showing up for ribbon cuttings and breakfasts and mixers and selling raffle tickets. That’s not a lot of work and we have a lot of fun.”
After working for 43 years as a nurse, Sullivan retired about two years ago. She plans to move back to her hometown of Philadelphia this summer and might return to her career there.
“I love retirement. I loved being a nurse and it was a wonderful career. I’m sure when I get back to Philadelphia, I’ll get back into nursing,” she said. “I want to stay for the Fourth of July because I always think of that as a wonderful piece of Morgan Hill and it will be a perfect way to say goodbye.”
Married to her husband Ed Sullivan for 33 years, the couple moved to the South Valley and Sullivan wasn’t sure they would stay for very long.
“I came here 20 years ago and I fell in love with the town,” she said. “I expected to be here a couple of years. I moved around a lot when I was young, so I don’t really leave my heart in a place. But this was such a great place.”
She quickly got involved when one day during a workout at the gym her friend Vivian Varela asked her to get involved with Community Solutions. She organized the nonprofit group’s rape crisis program training for two years. Then she moved in her involvement to the MHUSD when Principal Bret White asked her to be involved in the school-site council. She got involved with the District Advisory Committee for Improvement of Education as well as the home-and schools clubs as president of Paradise Elementary School, Britton Middle School and Live Oak High School.
“That kind of led to people asking if I want to run for the board. I said no at first because I like being liked,” she said.
She eventually served on the board for two four-year terms, leaving in 2012 to spend time with her children, Dan and Julie, and her grandchildren, Clarisa Aurora Mendez and Theodore Patrick Stewart Mendez, whom she described as “absolutely amazing kids.”