By Kathy Sullivan
The next time you stop for fresh-picked produce at LJB Farms, consider the fruit and vegetables you’re about to enjoy are grown by the Bonino family, whose ancestors immigrated to America from Europe in the early 1900s and developed fertile orchards and fields of row crops, supplying grapes for our first wineries and food for our community during the lean years of the 1930s and ‘40s. Lou Bonino and his sons continued the farming tradition while his brother, Don, went on to become a homebuilder and a cattleman in our community.
If you’re shopping for an RV, consider that one of Morgan Hill’s forefathers, Irv Perlitch, also the son of a European immigrant, founded Aristocrat, once America’s leading travel trailer business and Morgan Hill’s largest manufacturing company. Irv is no longer with us, but his son Bruce, and Bruce’s wife Heather, are co-hosts of Morgan Hill’s popular El Toro Social Club. And Irv’s daughter, Julie Belanger, co-owns an aerial photography business with her husband, Pat, based at the San Martin Airport. In the mid-1950s, Irv also ran The Flying Lady, one of America’s largest and most unique restaurants.
If you’re driving along Murphy Avenue, perhaps to enjoy a soccer game at the Outdoor Sports Complex, you might notice the Morgan Hill Buddhist Center across the street. This historic gathering place was designed, funded, and built more than half a century ago by Japanese-American families like the Fujitas. Upon their release from the internment camps after World War II, they returned here to farm and to help rebuild our community.
If you happen to attend a San Martin Chamber of Commerce mixer, you might rub elbows with Steve Ludewig, known as the “unofficial historian of San Martin.” Four generations of Ludewigs have lived in the San Martin country home he and his wife, Connie, occupy today. Steve’s passion for history led him to preserve not only his family’s stories but other stories of life in San Martin going back decades.
These stories and more are part of this year’s “Stories from the Past” project organized by the Morgan Hill Historical Society. Now in its fifth year, this project uses the power of the documentary film genre to capture personal histories from our founding families — people who have lived in Morgan Hill, Coyote, Madrone and San Martin for 50 years or more and who have contributed in a variety of ways to our community. The project is a collaboration between our board members and a local filmmaker team including Nils Myers, Mattie Scariot, and Robin Shepherd. Our team researches the families and conducts hours of interviews on camera to produce a masterfully edited montage of stories in a 30-minute film.
At the Founders’ Dinner, we welcome these founders as honored guests. We present them with a copy of their individual, edited film, and the official “Stories from the Past” montage. Every year, we add the latest installment of “Stories from the Past” to our archive.
The Founders’ Dinner is sponsored by the Morgan Hill Historical Society, and open to the public. A delicious dinner is followed by the distribution of raffle prizes and a screening of the film. Typically, the event attracts several hundred people. This special dinner would not be possible without the dedication of volunteer board members, including Ellie Weston, Margo Hinnenkamp, Sandy de la Cuesta, and Kathy Devine.
By bringing local youth into the effort we open the door for them to discover the significance of their local history and the people who shaped it. As in past years, Rotary Interact and AVID students provide volunteer support by serving dinners and more. Founding families always enjoy the smiles, laughter and energy our teens bring to the event.
We don’t want to find out that a founder has passed away with no legacy that can live on. We have developed a database of founding families eager to have their histories become part of the Morgan Hill Historical Society’s archives, which are shared with the community including our schools and senior centers.
There are things we can do to “remedy” the past by bringing to light issues like prejudice. We are constantly reminded of the importance of inclusiveness and diversity by learning about the First Peoples, our Japanese-American founders, and others. This is a priority of the society.
If we don’t know where we’ve been or the lessons learned by our forebearers, how can we make good decisions about where we’re going?
DVD copies of “Stories from the Past” videos can be ordered at the Founders’ Dinner and other Historical Society events and will be available on its website in the near future. Learn more at www.morganhillhistoricalsociety.org.
Kathy Sullivan is the board president of the Morgan Hill Historical Society.