Learning stories creates a stronger sense of belonging and shared responsibility

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By Michelle McKay

Michelle McKay

Something special sets Morgan Hill apart from other small cities: our long-standing traditions fueled by community spirit. The Morgan Hill Historical Society’s Annual Founders Dinner is a wonderful example.

The focus of this much-anticipated event is to honor families who came here to build their livelihoods, raise their children, and contribute to community life. They have shaped our local history from one generation to the next.

This year’s Founders Dinner Saturday, Sept. 9, will continue the tradition of recognizing residents of the Morgan Hill, Coyote, Madrone and San Martin communities who have lived here for 50 or more years. Mayor Mark Turner will give special honor to those who have lived here for 70 or more years.

Over the years, recognition has been given to people who are not only residents, but active participants and contributors to all aspects of community life — farmers, teachers, public officials, business owners, first responders, nonprofit volunteers and others who keep our community humming along.

Many of the honorees represent immigrant families whose local history dates back several generations, with some tracing their ancestry to the late 1700s. Their stories are important if we are to grow in our understanding of our diverse history and heritage.

Part of the Founders event tradition is good food, wine and ambience, thanks to event partners including Gunther’s Catering, Guglielmo Winery, Cal Color, and the City of Morgan Hill.

In keeping with custom, local students from Rotary Interact and Kiwanis Key Club will volunteer at the event and soak up a little history at the same time.

Our emcees for this year’s event are Mike and Debbi Sanchez. Mike and Debbi publish gmhTODAY magazine, which includes a regular column contributed by the Morgan Hill Historical Society.

The Sanchez’s are South Valley natives and active contributors to the community, including One Giving Tree, a local nonprofit that collects and donates Christmas trees to families who would otherwise go without. They promise to bring their love of South Valley history to the podium.

Founders Dinner regulars look forward to the traditional “dinner and a movie” aspect of this event. This year, the Morgan Hill Historical Society will debut the tenth film in its Stories from the Past docuseries. Individuals and families represented in the film include: Bob Beach, Tim Edes, Karen Crane, Brad Spencer (as told by Renee and Devin Spencer), Jim Xavier, Russell Carr and Carol Holzgrafe.

Their stories highlight popular traditions, from Freedom Fest and Mushroom Mardi Gras to Valle del Sur Car Club. They also bring a historical perspective to aspects of everyday life from how we get our news to how we provide for family and community life in times of change.

Our filmmaker team led by Robin Shepherd and Nils Myers recently won a Distinguished Preservation Service Award from the Santa Clara County Preservation Alliance for their catalog of documentary and oral history films.

During the event, MHHS Board Chair Roger Knopf and Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commissioner Tere Johnson will also honor people who have made significant contributions to the stewardship of Villa Mira Monte and the development of history education and enrichment programs for the community.

This year’s event is co-chaired by Kathy Devine and Margo Hinnenkamp with the support of other dedicated MHHS volunteers.

What I appreciate about the annual Founders Dinner and the work of the historical society is knowing there are many more stories yet to be discovered and shared, and there are people in our community with a passion for this work.

Every year more people join the community we call “Founders,” with 50 or more years of residence in the Morgan Hill and San Martin areas. The Founders Dinner provides an occasion for them to meet in this historical context and discover connections with each other.

From my perspective, learning the stories of other local residents creates a stronger sense of belonging and shared responsibility for this wonderful place we call home.

Michelle Arellano McKay is a Morgan Hill resident. She serves as a board member of the Edward Boss Prado Foundation and the Morgan Hill Historical Society.