Terry Moriyama will formally receive “excellence” accolade at July gala

Terry Moriyama and her dog Mochi in the backyard of her Morgan Hill home. Photo by Calvin Nuttall

By Calvin Nuttall

When Terry Moriyama was asked to join a private huddle with fellow Rotary Club members after a recent meeting, serving others was the only thing on her mind.

“Mario was being strangely insistent,” Moriyama said, referring to Mario Banuelos, president of the Morgan Hill club. “So I thought it would be about his project, and that he wanted me to be a part of his team.”

Photo by Calvin Nuttall

As she was ushered to the back of the quiet banquet room of the Community Center, she was astonished to be met by a group of prominent local figures, including Lisa DeSilva, Roger Knopf, and former mayor Steve Tate — all past recipients of Leadership Morgan Hill’s prestigious Leadership Excellence Award. They told Moriyama she would soon be awarded the same honor.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, what kind of project is this?’” she said. “Then they told me the news, and it took me by surprise. There were other quiet little meetings going on in the room, and there I was in the back and just yelled out, ‘Holy crap!’ I was so embarrassed.”

The Leadership Excellence Award recipient is chosen for their vision and leadership. It is widely considered to be one of the city’s most prestigious honors. Moriyama will be formally presented with the award July 20 at an evening celebration/fundraiser at Guglielmo Winery.

“Terry’s track record as a super volunteer and an innovative leader has made Morgan Hill an even better community, closely aligning with LMH’s mission and values,” Tate said in a press release.

Banuelos received the accolade last year and has worked with Moriyama on many of her volunteer efforts. He expressed his approval of her selection.

“I’m excited Terry is receiving recognition,” he said. “As a purpose-driven leader, Terry effectively communicates her vision and inspires others to achieve it. She consistently works to benefit her community, to make Morgan Hill a better place, and she’s a deserving recipient for the Leadership Excellence Award.”

Originally from Walnut Creek, Moriyama was raised by her single mother, a zoologist specializing in venomous herpetology. An abiding love of animals remains a consistent throughline in Moriyama’s life and work.

“I was an only child growing up, and we had rattlesnakes and all kinds of stuff,” she said. “All my siblings either had fur or scales.”

In the mid-1980s, Moriyama began to breed and show Persian cats, through her business Jester’s Cattery, one of which became in 1984 the Fourth International Cat of the Year. However, this profession presented some unique challenges which ultimately drove her move to Gilroy.

Photo by Calvin Nuttall

“It’s very hard to rent a house with 25 cats,” she said. “I had a friend who also had cats who had a rental in Gilroy, so I moved into a house full of cats.”

Moriyama has stayed involved in the South Valley volunteer community for three decades. After moving to Morgan Hill and marrying Tom, in 1990, she began working for nonprofit groups including Hope Rehabilitation Services and Rebekah Children’s Services, where she founded the annual Festival of Trees event. Eventually, she changed careers to real estate to have the flexibility she needed to care for her mother.

In 2004, Moriyama joined Leadership Morgan Hill’s nine-month program.

“The Leadership program totally changed my outlook,” she said. “So many of our current leaders have come out of those classes. I’d love to do it again; 2004 was a long time ago and a lot has changed. The stuff you learn makes you much more well-rounded.”

While she was in the program, Moriyama lost two beloved pet dogs, one to cancer and the other to a broken heart shortly after. Empowered by the fundraising know-how she learned in LMH and inspired by the loss of her dogs, she decided to start her own non-profit organization.

“My mind was going, ‘I have to do something. I have to give back,’” she said. “I saw an article in the newspaper, there was a fireman with a hamster with a little tiny mask on it, and he was trying to raise money to get this equipment on their rigs. It took a few years, but that was the beginning.”

With help from Santa Clara Unit Fire Chief Derek Witmer, Moriyama established Air for Paws, a nonprofit that provides respiratory equipment and training to firefighters for the resuscitation of animals. Since then, Air for Paws has grown. It now delivers nearly1,800 animal resuscitation kits in 39 states and four countries.

Air for Paws is not Moriyama’s only volunteering effort. During the years, she participated in community organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as a board member; the Rotary Club, where she was president in 2001-2002; the Mushroom Mardi Gras; the Community Law Enforcement Foundation; and others.

“With CLEF, my heart is really there,” she said. “They are the fundraising nonprofit for law enforcement, and they raise money to buy equipment like license plate readers, vests for their dogs, all kinds of stuff.”

As the Rotary Club president, Moriyama spearheaded the creation of the Safe Exchange Zone, a designated area in the parking lot of the Morgan Hill Police Department where community members can safely conduct private transactions and custody exchanges in a well-lit area under 24-hour video surveillance.

“I thought of it when Tom wanted to sell a car for cash,” she said. “People don’t think of how dangerous it is sometimes when you’re switching children between feuding parents, or exchanging custody of elderly.”

Moriyama’s motivation for her extensive volunteer work sums up to one simple reason: people.

“There are just too many people to thank,” she said. “First of all, Tom. I like to describe him as the wind beneath my wings — he is always there, always supporting me. Everything I have done is for the people around me.”


Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.