Citizen of the Year Awards Dinner a Stormy Night to Remember

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Award recipients and presenters (L–R) Richard Westin, Tom Trowbridge, Melanie Light, Pete Hasselman, Candace Andersen, Sue Severson, and Amy Worth were named Orinda Citizens of the Years 2019, 2020 and 2021 Saturday, Oct. 24 by city, county and state leaders at the Orinda Community Center auditorium. Due to the rainstorm, lack of electricity gave the event an exciting feel. Shelby’s restaurant served a wonderful meal and the stories of how attendees had to drive over lawns and back routes to escape the flooding were great.

    Though it was a dark and stormy night Oct. 24 with an atmospheric river deluging the Bay Area, the Orinda Community Foundation (OCF) pulled off a wonderful event in the Community Center to celebrate several outstanding Orinda Citizens of the Year (COY), past and present.
    Citizens included: Pete Hasselman (COY, 2019), Tom Trowbridge (COY, 2020) and Melanie Light (COY, 2021).
    Because many friends and family would not have attended an indoor event, the plan was to move it to the back of the Community Center, opening out onto the patio. Though Room 5 would remain open for food service, the dining tables and podium were to be set outside.
    But things changed as Plan B went into effect.
    That afternoon, before the dinner, OCF sent a notice to attendees stating, “due to bad weather forecast” the event would be moved back indoors, and proof of a clear Covid-19 test or vaccine notice was required, along with masks.  
    Most of the city lost power hours before the event. Parking under the library was flooded, too deep to cross and no lighting. Attendees were dropped off in front of the Community Center and ran up the front steps in pouring rain (no power, no elevator service).
    During the event, there were many stories of driving across lawns to get around flooding and a dependence on navigating back roads to get to the celebration. It was as if the assemblage were saying, “We’ve been in Orinda a long time and have seen this before.”
    The best part of all – the evening was run on generator power!
    The city provided floodlights against the walls, and Steve Harwood added lights and a microphone for the speaker podium. Decorations were simple – balloons by Janet Pease (again), Hasselman’s wonderful drawings and the Orinda Garden Club centerpieces.
    As city, county and state proclamations and awards were handed out, the speeches were so touching that several guests have since requested they be published for others to view. Mayor Amy Worth reminded all that sometimes doing the right thing involves challenges and asked Ann Christofferson to stand.
    The backstory is in the ‘70s when Orinda wanted to tear down the old school building and put in a shopping center. Christofferson raised money to turn it into the current Community Center. She garnered the COY award in 1970 and enjoyed the dinner Sunday evening where she received a round of applause.
    Many of the attendees were past recipients of the COY award and attended to support and recognize fellow recipients.
    The food, provided by Shelby’s Restaurant, was outstanding. I’m usually an eggplant Parmesan critic, yet I snuck a second plate with Helen Hasselman! Everyone commented on the great food. How did Chef Arno pull this off without power?
    The lack of electricity gave the event an excited feel, but the people in the room were the real energy, their purpose and stories, timeless.
Cindy Powell can be reached at

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