Published in the Aug. 5-18, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Steve Tate


Photo by Liza Garibaldi
Mike Cox, left, and Roger Knopf, right, congratulate Leadership Excellence Award Dinner winner Data Ditmore at last month’s celebration in which about 320 attended, including 40 members of the Ditmore family.

Three hundred and twenty smiling and laughing people. Delicious and plentiful food and drink. Classy bluegrass tunes. A wonderful outpouring of respect, admiration and love for a very classy and very excellent local leader. A beautiful venue on a perfect weather evening. Unique bargains at auction. Wow — what a great time!

With the theme of “High Class Bluegrass,” the 10th awarding of the Leadership Excellence Award put on by Leadership Morgan Hill took place Saturday, July 18 at Guglielmo Winery. The event had been sold out for well more than a month in advance and all 320 seats were filled. The big draw was the awardee, Dana Ditmore, who greeted everyone warmly and exemplified the perfect gentleman so deserving of the recognition he received. Joining Dana and his lovely and gracious wife Elaine at four tables were 40 Ditmore family members. They made all of us other guests feel like members of the extended family.

Guests were greeted with champagne in the outer courtyard, where they could circulate and collect delicious hors-d’oeuvre, such as the oysters being shucked by Rich Bergin or the pizzas being prepared by Mike Cox. As they entered the event area, they found a wine and beer bar set up. Many browsed the silent auction area which was popular with active bidding on weekend getaways, wines and many other unique items such as Janie Knopf’s incredibly good limoncello. Throughout the evening, bluegrass band Sagebrush provided music — in the background before dinner and for dancing after the program.

Dinner was fantastic. Our wonderful Morgan Hill restaurants and farms did a phenomenal job of contributing unique dishes that were served family-style. And they just kept coming and coming, no one went away hungry and everyone certainly found several of their favorite foods being served. Dana is a frequent customer at all the contributing restaurants and their affection for him was very evident in the high quality of the food they provided.

The after-dinner program was a very fitting tribute to Dana’s leadership. It was kicked off by Mike Withrow’s original song (…sing with me, Dana D — he’s the man!), and that was followed by six speakers who addressed six areas of a proclamation — Dana’s service to the Charter School, Rotary, Leadership Morgan Hill, San Jose State University, the Healthier Kids Foundation and his support of science/engineering fairs and supporting foundations. Then the Ditmore kids took the stage and did sort of a mini-roast of Dana while at the same time communicating the love and close family relationship they all have. It was hysterical and moving at the same time.

The medal was then awarded with all previous winners coming on stage to welcome Dana into their exclusive “club.” Dana then expressed his gratitude and acknowledged our great community and many of his mentors. Dana, humble as always, provided a fitting conclusion to a program that was orchestrated beautifully by Jennifer Tate.

Sagebrush then took the main stage to provide dance music for those who stayed. There were many long goodbyes, attendees seemed to want to cherish the experience of the evening, all leaving with huge smiles. Congratulations and thank you to Karl Bjarke and his event committee on a superb job!

The annual Leadership Excellence Award Dinner not only recognizes outstanding Morgan Hill leaders, it is also a fundraiser for the Leadership Morgan Hill program, an annual (January through September) “class” that immerses participants in all things Morgan Hill, preparing them for future leadership roles. Although the final accounting for the event is not in yet, it is sure to set new records for net income with Dana’s selection drawing a record sponsorship amount. Leadership Morgan Hill deeply appreciates all the wonderful contributors to the event and to the evening — it was truly magical.

Steve Tate is mayor of Morgan Hill and an alumni of the Leadership Morgan Hill program. He wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.

Robert Airoldi