Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 2, 2014

Carolyn Tucher

Building bridges through art, education

by Sue Dremann

To Carolyn Tucher, a community "is just family writ large. And the best way to accomplish that sense of community is through active volunteerism."

Tucher has had a lifetime full of achievements, for which she will be honored on May 18. Many have focused on bringing people together through education and art and on building bridges across U.S. Highway 101.

To that end, she helped found Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and co-founded Cultural Kaleidoscope, a Palo Alto Art Center program that teams up children and teachers from East Palo Alto and Belle Haven with those from Palo Alto and with local artists.

She spent eight years on the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, including two terms as president, and served on many committees including the California School Boards Association State Legislative Committee, the State Advisory Commission on Special Education, and the State Superintendent's Advisory Committee on the Teaching of Writing. She has also served on the boards of Leadership Midpeninsula, Adolescent Counseling Services, and Palo Alto Art Center Foundation.

But she is quick to add that her achievements weren't hers alone.

"Nothing that I have done have I done myself. Maybe I got the credit, but it really wasn't my accomplishment. It was the team," she said.

A fourth-generation Coloradan, Tucher is the daughter of a hardware-store owner. Growing up, she sold radish seeds and bailing twine, she recalled. She studied political science and history and earned a teaching credential at the University of Colorado, where she met her husband of 55 years, Tony.

The couple moved to Boston after they married, where Tucher taught middle school for $4,000 a year, she said. Later, they lived in New York, where Tony worked at Bank of America. The couple moved to Palo Alto when he was transferred to the Bay Area.

The move suited Tucher just fine.

"I feel to the tip of my toes that I'm a westerner," she said.

While on the school board, Tucher developed a curiosity about her East Palo Alto neighbors. The district was working to accommodate the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, in which schools neighboring East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District began accepting the district's minority students following a 1986 desegregation-lawsuit settlement.

"I was stunned to realize that I didn't know a single person in East Palo Alto. We hadn't talked to anyone there to find out how our actions in the Palo Alto school board would affect them," she said.

She became good friends with Myrtle Walker, a Ravenswood school board member, and that relationship cemented an ongoing commitment to a broader sense of community and equal justice between the two communities.

She was asked to join the board of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, which offers legal help to low-income residents and immigrants, after helping to free Walker's son, Rick, who had been convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Tucher's daughter, Alison, an attorney who is now an Alameda County Superior Court judge, had taken on the case, identified the true killer and helped free Walker after 12 years in prison.

Tucher and Myrtle Walker also joined the Palo Alto Art Center board. They helped form the Cultural Kaleidoscope program to bring paid artists to schools in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, which fosters cross-cultural connections.

Tucher has embraced volunteering for a variety of reasons: "First, I'm a deeply religious person, The teachings of Christ are based on love of God and of others. There's probably a very selfish reason for giving. It's so joyful and satisfying."

Volunteering today is much more demanding than when she started, she said.

"Email had greatly changed things. People don't hesitate to fire off angry responses," she said.

And she has some advice for people who sit on boards: "If you can't accomplish what you came to accomplish in eight years, you may as well let somebody else try," she said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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