Status of celebratory dinner still up in the air due to COVID-19 restrictions

Photos by Robert Airoldi Above left: Woman of the Year Carolyn Wallace at her home with her husband Eric. Above right: Man of the Year John McKay on the Big Blue Chair he built located in the Second Street Pop-Up-Park.


By Robert Airoldi

Plenty of people give of their time and talent to improve the quality of life in Morgan Hill. Seven local individuals and three organizations next year will be honored for their service to the community.

The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce announced its Celebrate Morgan Hill award honorees as they have in the past with a surprise visit to each recipients. But in the year 2020 as the community deals with restrictions due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, those visits have taken on a new look as chamber staff, board members, ambassadors and friends of the winners have had to alter their approach.

Nonetheless, the surprises went off without a hitch. Nominations for the 10 awards – two new categories were added this year – are made by members of the community. Then past award winners gather to go over the nominations and vote on the winners.

John McKay

2021 Man of The Year John McKay, a city councilmember, was caught off guard by Chamber of Commerce CEO Brittney Sherman at the start of the Dec. 2 Morgan Hill City Council meeting held via Zoom, as they have since March.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” McKay said. “I was completely surprised and that’s hard to do with me as I’m generally suspicious in nature.”

McKay and his wife, Michelle, have lived in Morgan Hill for two decades. He helped create the Morgan Hill Creeks and Trails Committee to maintain native creek beds instead of concrete ditches, he was appointed to the city’s planning commission in 2011, he is a founding member of the Morgan Hill Tourism Alliance, he was a member of the downtown association, he was part of the planning for the first Pop-Up-Park, and he built the Big Blue Chair located at the Second Street Pop-Up-Park in downtown. He was elected to the city council in 2018, to cite just a few of his many accomplishments.

“I am humbled to receive this honor because of the respect I have for those who nominated and selected me,” McKay said. “I have worked side by side with so many great volunteers who feel the same way I do. We are inspired by a city that holds such great potential and has the dedicated community members to fulfill that potential.”

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Carolyn Wallace on the front porch of the historic Morgan Hill home that overlooks south downtown.

2021 Woman of The Year winner Carolyn Wallace was nominated by half a dozen residents. She was surprised at her home with the help of her husband, Eric.

“I’m rarely speechless,” she said after Sherman presented her with a framed certificate and flowers. “I’m truly honored, humbled and shocked. I don’t know what I did to deserve this.”

Retired from IBM in 2015, Wallace is a member of the downtown association, volunteering for the wine stroll and brew crawl. She is a member and volunteer of the Morgan Hill Healthy Aging Council and a volunteer with the Edward Boss Prado Foundation, to name a few of activities that make her worthy of the award.

She said she does what she does because she cares about Morgan Hill, its residents and businesses.

“I love this town,” she said. “We have to figure out a way to help our small businesses and work together to solve problems to matter our political beliefs.”

Photo by Robert Airoldi Volunteer of the Year Gary Palacios accepts flowers from Chamber ambassador Leonette Stafford.

2021 Volunteer of The Year Gary Palacios was working at his Compass Realty office in downtown in early December when, joined by Ron Locicero and chamber staff, board members and ambassadors, Sherman presented him with his award.

“Wow, thank you,” he remarked. “This is really unexpected.”

Palacios, a Realtor and Cathedral of Faith pastor, took on the call to help feed hot meals in his community. It began serving 15 people, then grew to 75 before outgrowing their facility. He eventually moved to the Community and Cultural Center where the meal give away serves 500 people every quarter. For the past 10 years, Palacios and a host of volunteers give away toys and jackets to about 1,500 residents every Christmas holiday season.

“If you can’t open your heart, you can’t see the need,” he said.

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Nonprofit of the Year Poppy Jasper International Film Festival Director Mattie Scariot with Cecelia Ponzini and President of PJIFF and Chair of Mexico Day for the festival Maria Cid.

The 2021 Nonprofit of The Year is the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival. The surprise announcement was made to festival director Mattie Scariot at Cecelia Ponzini’s home. Scariot took over as festival director in 2017, leading the charge to grow the festival that works with all ages of people in the community to create cinematic culture in South Valley.

“I love my community and I thank you for this award,” she said. “It is really, really appreciated. I really hope I’ve made the founders proud.”

2021 Educator of the Year Veronica Andrade was surprised at her home as she was teaching her Central High School students via Zoom.

Photo by Robert Airoldi Veronica Andrade (middle), the 2021 Educator of the Year, with Lisa Martin, principal of Central High School, and MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando.

“I’m never surprised because I’m such a control freak,” she said after receiving her award and flowers. “I’m so shocked right now.”

Andrade also is a Gavilan Community College instructor. She is an inspiration, leader, confidant, and true supporter of all students, according to those who nominated her. This year she is helping provide professional development to her peers.

“I love my principal who allows me to be me,” she said to those gathered socially distanced in her front yard. “I love the kids in this community. This is very meaningful.”

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Small Business of the Year My Pizza owner Hamdy AlTayyeb.

Hamdy AlTayyeb, the owner of My Pizza restaurant which is the 2021 Small Business of The Year recipient, was also surprised with the award at Ponzini’s home.  He and his restaurant were nominated for all the volunteering he and his employees do and for the pizza he provides to nonprofits, including the Safe Parking Program for homeless and firefighters, to name just a few.

“Without this community, My Pizza doesn’t exist,” AlTayyeb said. “Everything we give comes from this community.”

Chamber staff, board members and ambassadors, and Mayor Rich Constantine and former Mayor Steve Tate surprised CEO Biloo Rataul and CFO Rick Kent of Paramit Manufacturing, the 2021 Large Business of The Year recipient.

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Large Business of the Year CFO Rick Kent, left, and CEO Billoo Rataul

“This is our home base and we love it here,” Rataul said. “And we are looking to expand.”

Paramit is a global contract development and manufacturing firm focused on medical devices and life sciences instruments.  They offer a unique combination of design engineering, precision mechanical assembly and electronics manufacturing to support handheld and point-of-care devices, benchtop instruments, and cart based systems.

A new Celebrate honor, the 2021 Special Merit Award, was presented to a surprised Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove in front of the Magic Ship of Christmas at Cecelia’s Closet Saturday, Dec. 19. A group of about 20 people showed up, including two police captains.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Special Merit Award winner Police Chief Shane Palsgrove thanks his team.

In presenting the award, City Manager Christina Turner said Palsgrove was promoted to chief from captain in spring just as the shelter-in-place orders for the COVID-19 were starting.

“He had to deal with so much stuff than a chief has had to deal with in a full career,” She said. “I had to tell him that there would be a time when it wouldn’t be like this. That he wouldn’t have to deal with fires and protests and pandemics and everything else that we had. I know we’re in good hands with Chief Palsgrove and all of our teammates.”

Palsgrove said it is an “incredible honor” to accept the award on behalf of the city and teammates who assisted him. When he got into the chief position, it was a “whirlwind.” There was no field training program for his stepping into this position as there is for rookie police officers, he said.

“When you get into the force, you have a training officer who spends 16 to 20 weeks with you. And you think you’ve got a good handle as a captain, which I was for about eight years. I was thinking, I’ve got this, I know the operations stuff. But when you step into the chief’s role, it’s a whole new thing and a whole new set of responsibilities.”

Facing some of these big events of 2020 like the pandemic, the protests, the fires, he gained an incredible amount of respect for Turner who provided guidance to the new police chief.

“She was that field training officer for me. She provided that calm, that steadiness. She had all the answers,” he said. “She helped me be successful through these events. Don Larkin, the city attorney, was there with us and he would also make sure I wouldn’t fail and we would keep on going forward.”

Robert Airoldi