An image from the 1979 Morgan Hill Founders Dinner included a picture board of many of the city’s earliest residents. Contributed photo

Since 1969, the Morgan Hill Historical Society’s Founders Dinner has recognized and honored the local residents—living and departed—who have helped create and preserve the local community from generation to generation. 

Serving as one of the nonprofit society’s key fundraisers each year, the Founders Dinner’s chief focus is to give special recognition to the people and families who have lived in the communities of Morgan Hill, Coyote and Madrone for 50 or more years. At this year’s Founders Dinner, which is scheduled for Sept. 9, Mayor Mark Turner will read out the names of the residents—all of whom are invited to the event—who have lived here for 70 or more years. 

The 54th annual Founders Dinner will return to the Hiram Morgan Hill Room at the Community & Cultural Center. The program includes a reception and dinner, as well as a debut viewing of the latest video in the Historical Society’s “Stories From Our Past,” a documentary series that features interviews with longtime residents and images of earlier life in Morgan Hill. 

The longtime residents featured in this year’s documentary are Bob Beach, Tim Edes, Karen Crane, Russell Carr, Carol Holzgrafe and Jim Xavier. Rene and Devin Spencer are also in the documentary sharing family member Brad Spencer’s story posthumously. 

“All of them have stories that focus on long standing traditions,” MHHS President Roger Knopf said of the local community’s founders. “Some of these people have given years of their time and passion to things that really knit the community together.”

The Sept. 9 Founders Dinner celebration will be emceed by Mike and Debbi Sanchez of GMH Today. Santa Clara County Historic Heritage Commissioner Tere Johnson will pay tribute to the “unsung local heroes of historic preservation,” says the Founders Dinner event page on the MHHS website. 

The MHHS was founded in 1971, when community members recognized that the unique history of Morgan Hill “was literally in danger of disappearing,” Knopf added. “Historic buildings were on the chopping block for demolition.

“We were at risk of losing the past—not only the buildings, but the stories of people and events that have shaped the identity and character of the City of Morgan Hill that we know and love today.”

Morgan Hill and San Martin remain the home of many families who have lived here for generations—including several whose ancestors landed here as immigrants generations ago. These founders and longtime residents participated in local government and community service organizations, Knopf continued.

Pictured at a previous Morgan Hill Founders Dinner are Bob and Nancy Foster, and Norma and Bill Link. Contributed photo.

“People who love our community know the importance of capturing and preserving stories from the past—to honor our founding families and to benefit future generations,” Knopf said. “Without history, Morgan Hill and San Martin would become just like any bedroom community, another suburb of Silicon Valley, a cookie-cutter town with no character. History helps us feel connected to the place we call home.”

As the city does not have a staff historian, the MHHS took up the role in 1971, taking on stewardship of Villa Mira Monte, a beloved history park located at 17860 Monterey Road. The park consists of numerous elements, including the Hiram Morgan Hill House, which was built in 1884 by the city’s namesake and his wife, Diana Murphy Hill. 

Also at Villa Mira Monte is the Morgan Hill History Museum, located in a home built in 1911 by the Acton family. A locally well-known member of that family is former mayor Ed Acton. 

And the local history park includes the Centennial History Trail, which was completed in 2006 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Morgan Hill. The trail includes gardens with heritage roses and indigenous plants. 

The local public benefits from MHHS programs by being able to use the “dynamic space for learning history” at Villa Mira Monte; and through a variety of events scheduled for the community throughout the year—including the Founders Dinner, Dia De Los Muertos, guest speakers and educational programs for local schools, Knopf continued. 

The MHHS also maintains a media program that features the “Stories from the Past” series, a blog and collaboration with local media outlets. 

The MHHS put forth the effort to gain recognition for Villa Mira Monte on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its preservation for future generations. 

The MHHS is funded through membership fees; fundraising events like the Founders Dinner; and community partners and sponsors (including Ladera Grill, Guglielmo Winery, Johnson Lumber, Morgan Hill Rotary, Chiala Farms, Colibri Art & Framing, MH Engineering, Edward Boss Prado Foundation, AAUW-Morgan Hill and others). 

Capital improvements and maintenance at Villa Mira Monte are supported by the City of Morgan Hill, and the nonprofit’s education and media programs are funded by grants. 

The society and its events and programs are run entirely by volunteers “who contribute a variety of skills, time and commitment to our mission,” Knopf said. 

Founders Dinner tickets

The Morgan Hill Historical Society Founders Dinner connects families, friends, longtimers and newcomers for an evening of reminiscing, catching up and sharing stories of the past. Tickets are on sale through Aug. 28 for the 54th annual Founders Dinner, which will take place 4:30pm Sept. 9 at the Community & Cultural Center, 17000 Monterey Road. Tickets cost $95 each, and can be purchased online at

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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