“Murder Mystery!”- themed gala planned when COVID restrictions lifted for events

Photo courtesy Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce
Two employees of My Pizza, a popular restaurant which received the 2021 Celebrate’s Small Business of the Year Award.


By Marty Cheek

The COVID-19 pandemic might have forced the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce to postpone its annual Celebrate gala, but the honorees still received recognition last month — via online technology.

Videos on a Facebook Live broadcast 6 p.m. Friday, March 19, enabled the Chamber to celebrate the people, organizations and businesses that enhance the quality of life for Morgan Hill residents.

The 2021 Celebrate Award recipients are: Large Business of the Year: Paramit Manufacturing; Small Business of the Year: My Pizza; Man of the Year: John McKay: Man of the Year; Woman of the Year: Carolyn Wallace; Educator of the Year: Veronica Andrade; Student of the Year: Catherine Lai; Volunteer of the Year: Gary Palacios; Nonprofit of the Year: Poppy Jasper International Film Festival; Special Merit Award: MHPD Chief of Police Shane Palsgrove; and Youth Rising Star Award: Ryder Kirk

When the county and state COVID-19 guidelines allow it, the Chamber will host an in-person event to celebrate the 10 honorees. The intention is to put on a gala, hopefully in fall, with the theme of “Murder Mystery!” where guests participate put on their thinking hats and try to solve a detective puzzle similar to the board-game “Clue.”

Past year’s themes for the Celebrate gala include “Denim and Diamonds,” “Under the Big Top,” and “Back to Prom,” said Brittney Sherman, CEO and executive director of the Morgan Hill Chamber.

For those who missed the live broadcast, the Chamber put the 45-minute video of Celebrate recipients on YouTube. The link can be found by going to the Chamber’s website at www.morganhillchamber.org.

“This year because it’s a little different and we don’t know if we can do the formal in-person one, we decided to at least do a virtual celebrate award so that way all the honorees feel like they’re celebrated throughout the year,” she said. “We wanted to give them that kind of platform to speak to the community so that we’re not waiting until the fall, even if we can do something through the year.”

Many of the recipients tapped into their imaginations in producing videos with entertaining qualities, she said.

“It’s really neat to see what creative ways people come up with to showcase the recipient,” Sherman said. “I think that really gives them not only that creative flair but it helps them tell the story and explain ‘why do you do what you do?’”

To raise money for the Chamber various programs such as the Friday Night Music Series, Celebrate usually has a silent auction at the gala. This year it did the auction online using a special website platform to display the items donated by individuals and businesses in Morgan Hill, said Lori Allen, Member Services Specialist.

The Chamber collected 49 items for the Celebrate 2021 auction.

“We just had a wide range of things,” Allen said. “If people want to be active, we had a bike. If you’re into cooking or if you want to go on vacation or you want legal insurance for your business, there was a wide variety of things for everybody. Everything sold.”

Photo courtesy Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce
Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove is flanked by Chamber of Commerce board members in video presentation of his merit award.

The Chamber had aimed to raise $6,000 from the silent auction but after the processing fees were taken out it raised a little more $9,000, she said.

“We were extremely humbled that all of the items were completely donated to us from the business community,” Sherman said. “A lot of businesses are struggling to stay open, and for us to ask one time for them to give those items to us to help us keep going, we’re very humbled.”

There were also donations from individuals to the Chamber including one businessman in Oregon who donated $500 to the Celebrate 2021 event’s fundraising efforts.

The Chamber has an annual tradition of surprising the recipients of its Celebrate awards during the month of December. Ambassadors, members, staff and dignitaries with the city will pop into a classroom or business or home to give a bouquet of flowers and a plaque and take photos.

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Woman of the Year Carolyn Wallace at her home with her husband Eric. 

Hamdy AlTayyeb, the owner of My Pizza restaurant which is the 2021 Small Business of The Year recipient, was surprised with the award at the home of Gary and Cecelia Ponzini.  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.”

Photos by Robert Airoldi
 Man of the Year John McKay on the Big Blue Chair he built located in the Second Street Pop-Up-Park.

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.

In presenting the award, City Manager Christina Turner said Palsgrove was promoted from captain to chief 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.

Marty Cheek