The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce on April 3 will host its annual Celebrate Morgan Hill awards ceremony, honoring the organization’s 2022 honorees in the following categories: Woman of The Year, Man of The Year, Educator of The Year, Student of The Year, Businesses of The Year, Nonprofit of The Year, Volunteer of The Year and a Special Merit award winner.
The award ceremony, themed “Sip & Celebrate – A Vintage Garden Party,” will take place the evening of April 3 at Guglielmo Winery. The ticket cost of $90 per person (or $750 per table), includes a champagne welcome, beer and wine, hors d’oeuvres, carving station and dessert.
Woman of The Year: Lesley Miles
The full circle of community and the importance of work and family that Miles learned from a small village in Guatemala is present in all that she does. Following her stint in Guatemala and a degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Miles and her future husband, Charles Weston, moved to Morgan Hill to build his fifth year architectural project, a Waldorf school.
Three years in, it became clear that the project would not proceed and Miles—with a two month old baby—decided to start her business, Umbellularia Landscape Design. She enjoyed working strictly as a landscape designer until 1984, when a client asked about designing a house, according to information provided by the chamber. Gradually, the landscape firm evolved to encompass Weston and architectural projects; in 1986 they opened Weston Miles Design when Miles drove the decision to build a firm that followed the American Institute of Architects’ processes and guidelines. During that time, they also built a family with their daughters, Alicia and Madeline, who both attended Mount Madonna School.
Following the Columbine High School shootings, and noting the lack of available plans and documentation on safety and security in schools, Miles worked at securing patents for her safety ideas and started a company, Plan Ready. The recession of 2009 stopped all company progress.
Throughout this time of professional expansion, Miles’ community involvement was constant as a board member of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association and the Chamber of Commerce.
This involvement evolved into community-making in 2003, with the purchase of the old Isaacson Granary on Depot Street. Charles and Lesley’s goal was a sustainably designed building.
In 2006, The Granary project was awarded the 25th LEED Gold certification in the world and, in 2009, the California Redevelopment award of excellence for a commercial project.
Managing and curating tenants that have a similar vision has been rewarding as the building footprint has expanded to almost 30,000 square feet and more than 16 businesses.
Today, Miles’ work includes the business finances, long term educational clients, writing about just about everything and completing her book on the two years she was in Ixcan, Guatemala.
Man of The Year: Jeff Dixon
Since moving to Morgan Hill with his wife and daughter in 2002, Jeff Dixon has continuously contributed and worked to make the town the best it can be, according to the chamber’s press release. From youth sports and community planning to festivals, fundraisers and tourism, Dixon is committed to making a difference.
In addition to his contributions to over 20 community service projects, Dixon in 2004 founded the South Valley Flag Football League and continues to operate it. Since 2008, he has served as the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance President. During his tenure with the alliance, he managed the Outdoor Sports Center on Condit Road, opening the fields to local kids for play during the week, supporting soccer, football, rugby, lacrosse and field hockey as well as evolving the center to include sports like cricket and events such as the USDAA Dog Agility World Championship, Boots and Brews festival, fireworks, circuses, carnivals and cookoffs.
Dixon has participated in the evolution of local tourism, and through his work with the OSC, has contributed to making Morgan Hill a sports and event destination. Dixon focuses on empowering the youth through his football league and alliance, as well as efforts such as the Community Sports Mentor Program and as a member of the Community Asset Builders.
In addition, Dixon currently serves as co-chair of the Freedom Fest Fireworks on the Green. From 2008 through 2020, he served as Freedom Fest Vice President and President.
One thing Dixon appreciates is the fellowship he finds in all his community projects. He will be the first to tell you, teamwork is key to success.
When not in town, Dixon and his wife, Joyce, can be found in Reno, visiting their grandchildren, Talia and Thatcher, and their proud parents, Jaclyn and Cameron. If asked, this Man of the Year will tell you his family is what powers his drive to give back.
Educator of The Year: Felicia Gaudin
Gaudin offered the following biographical information to the chamber:
“I first began my teaching journey in Morgan Hill as an AVID tutor at Sobrato in 2018 while simultaneously accomplishing my teaching program, and it was during that time that I learned how much I love this campus and how much I want to be part of this community. From there, I was hired on as an English teacher, and my time so far at Sobrato has taught me the importance of building meaningful connections with all students while making accessible and relevant curriculum.
“From student-made classroom playlists and debates on movies to gratitude writing and rhetorically analyzing pieces of popular culture, I am no stranger to incorporating anything and everything that is relevant to my students in hopes to make the most out of their experience every time they walk into our classroom. I say ‘our classroom’ purposefully because this space is as much theirs as it is mine, and it is extremely important that they feel it is their space. So, when students walk in the door, lights are dimmed while fairy string lights illuminate the ceiling, they hear their music, and they see walls that acknowledge this space is theirs with student-made posters highlighting who they are and what they value.
“Along with gauging students’ needs and interests, I collaborate with my colleagues to support both students as well as teachers at my site and throughout the district, leading professional developments on LGBTQ+ inclusivity and grading equity. While this additional work is challenging, it is some of the most meaningful work I am doing because it directly and positively impacts our students, and I feel extremely honored to be in a position where I can do that alongside some of the most hardworking people I know. This is just the beginning for me, and I am thrilled to continue this hard work alongside a phenomenal Bulldog staff who has guided and supported me along the way.”
Student of The Year: Gelasia Tiwana
Gelasia Tiwana is a student who is hard working and passionate while composed. Her Grade Point Average is among the highest in the school at 4.41. She has maintained a 4.0 or above during her time at Sobrato and is the recipient of multiple Superintendent’s Awards, according to the chamber.
Her favorite courses have been bent toward understanding and improving the human condition. She has been a member of her American Association of the University Women (AAUW) since eighth grade, a college-level neuroscience student with the International Youth Neuroscience Association and an AP Scholar in Chemistry, Biology, Calculus and Physics. She has also delved into Child Psychology and Sports Medicine.
Tiwana revels in leading and making a difference in her community. She is an accomplished public speaker, and is active in the Red Cross as a mainstay at blood drives, a disaster relief specialist, a first aid provider and a trained leader. She currently serves as the Ann Sobrato Red Cross Club President and has organized the school’s blood drives over her entire career at the school. She is also a California Scholarship Federal Community leader volunteer. She has held multiple offices and is currently President of the Interact Club, a beneficent community liaison group. She assists with Future Women Leaders conferences, mentoring and facilitating research talks.
Small Business of The Year: Morgan Hill Steve Tate Library
Staff of the local public library offered the following statement to the chamber after receiving the Small Business of The Year award:
“The Morgan Hill Library has been a part of the community for more than a century and at our current location since 2007. We support the educational and recreational needs of our residents by providing free access to collections, programs and online services. All of our employees are committed to providing a positive patron experience; we love to help people find their next great read and so much more!
“The library is supported in part by The Friends of the Library who raise funds for our Best Seller collections, Summer Reading Program, Story Times and Speakers Forum. Each year we see a quarter million visitors and circulate over 650,000 items. In addition, we provide free access to computers, internet, wifi, blockbuster movies, ebooks, streaming movies, music and more.
“Over the past two years, Covid-19 has significantly impacted how we offer library services. During the initial months of the pandemic we moved all of our services online. Many of our employees were activated as Disaster Service Workers serving as contact tracers and working at county vaccine sites. With our building closed, we quickly moved to a curbside pickup model, bundling hundreds of items each day for patrons to pick up. While children were physically out of school, we knew they needed access to healthy food. We began offering free grab-and-go meals in partnership with the YMCA. We served over 50,000 free meals to children and families in 2020 and 2021.
“Currently offered virtually, we have storytimes, early literacy activities and animated e-books for young children. School age children can participate in our virtual STEAM & Art programs monthly, engaging in fun educational opportunities. For adults who are technology oriented, check out our free online courses on LinkedIn Learning, covering software, hardware, and programming for beginners and pros. For those interested in the past, we have digitized and put online over 100 years’ worth of Morgan Hill newspapers.”
Large Business of The Year: Shoe Palace
Shoe Palace is the realization of a dream that its founder, Agob Mersho, believed could only be accomplished in America. His goal from the start was simple: he wanted to provide a better life for his wife and five kids, says a statement from the chamber.
In 1978, Agob made the bold choice to move his family from their home country of Syria to the U.S. It took 15 years of trial and error, but eventually the first Shoe Palace location opened its doors in the Bay Area in 1993.
In 2023, Shoe Palace will be celebrating 30 years of business. The footwear company currently has close to 200 locations across the country and a successful e-commerce website. The retailer is one of the most trusted names in the industry with a list of partners that includes Nike, Jordan Brand, Adidas, New Balance and many more.
Nonprofit of The Year: Morgan Hill Community Foundation
The Morgan Hill Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that connects donors and local needs for a lasting impact on the quality of life in the Morgan Hill community. “We encourage a ‘Give Where You Live’ philosophy,” the nonprofit said in a statement to the chamber.
The local foundation is funded solely through contributions, and is dedicated to six focus areas: arts and culture; education and lifelong learning; environment and agriculture; health and human services; recreation; and science and technology.
The Morgan Hill Community Foundation makes its impact in the community by offering annual grants and sponsorships; fiscal sponsorships for a range of community programs; and philanthropy celebrations to “honor those who make a difference.”
Volunteer of The Year: Peggy Martin
Peggy Martin has devoted more than 35 years of her career to the financial services industry. She holds a Master’s degree in Financial Services from the American College of Bryn Mawr, and is a Chartered Financial Consultant and a Chartered Advisor for Senior Living, says a statement from the chamber.
She is a co-founder of Family Wealth Consultants, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisory Firm, where she works as a Wealth Manager. In this role, she educates clients about legacy planning, guiding them through issues surrounding wealth (well-being), values, family, caring for aging loved ones and leaving a lasting legacy.
Martin is also a volunteer and philanthropist. In addition to being the treasurer for the Morgan Hill Community Foundation, Martin is currently a board member of the American Association of University Women, Morgan Hill Branch. The membership of the branch named her Philanthropist of the Year in 2015. She is an alumna of Leadership Morgan Hill (Class of 2014).
Martin is and has been an Advisory Group Member of The Sue’s Story Project since its inception in 2017. Additionally, she volunteers with the South Valley Science and Engineering Initiative and the AAUW Morgan Hill Wildflower Run.
Special Merit Award: Eddie Bowers
For 30 years, Eddie Bowers has been organizing the Veterans Day and Memorial Day commemorations held in downtown Morgan Hill. He says it is important for him to give residents a way to honor those who served in the armed forces every Nov. 11.
Bowers joined the U.S. Army at age 19 and fought as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam. He recalled how the idea came to him to create the memorial located in the median on First Street and Monterey Road, which also serves as a gathering spot for Memorial Day commemorations.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I’d go to the cemetery, but it just didn’t feel right,” the 73-year-old veteran said. “What I was going to do was take a small piece of brass and put the Vietnam (deceased servicemen’s) names on it. And I was going to stick it in the middle of the street.”
Bowers kept mentioning his idea to people. But no one paid attention to him, and years went by. Pretty soon, he said to himself, “This is it, man. We’ve got to do this.”
With grit and determination, he and other volunteers used round river stones to build a simple monument and designed the Veterans Memorial monument. A bronze plaque was installed, inscribed with the names of local men who died in various conflicts including both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The plaque reads:
“In honor of the men and women who fought, gave their lives and remain missing in the defense of the United States of America and the ideals for which it stands. May we never forget that freedom isn’t free.”
What drives Bowers to honor the veterans? “It’s the American pride. I understand the sacrifices made for freedom. I spent 26 months in Vietnam. Two years. I got there May 1, 1968 and left June 1, 1970.”
He is also proud of how the community supports his work in honoring the town’s veterans and those who gave their lives in military service. “I love Morgan Hill,” Bowers said. “I never thought about moving. I think Morgan Hill is still a great town to live in.”