Setting the bar: Nine seniors who exemplify the meaning of being selfless | News | Palo Alto Online |


Setting the bar: Nine seniors who exemplify the meaning of being selfless

Avenidas recognizes locals with Lifetimes of Achievement award

The 2020 Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees, from left to right, Betsy Gifford, Steve Player, Eliane Neukermans, Armand Neukermans, Fran Codispoti, Gay Krause, Bill Krause, Alma Phillips and Jim Phillips, photographed at Avenidas in Palo Alto on Jan. 23. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

This year's Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees have gone beyond the call of duty to create positive changes in their communities by donating countless hours of hands-on service to local organizations and programs aimed at improving education, health care, the environment and services for seniors, among other areas.

The recipients of the annual award are Fran Codispoti, Besty Gifford, Bill and Gay Krause, Armand and Eliane Neukermans, Alma and Jim Phillips and Steve Player.

The honorees were announced at an evening reception on Thursday at Avenidas@450 Bryant in Palo Alto. They will be formally celebrated at an afternoon garden party on May 17, the main annual fundraiser for Avenidas, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that offers tools for positive aging to seniors and their families on the Midpeninsula.

"The treasure trove of outstanding seniors who have made so many contributions to our community makes our honoree selection process very challenging, and this year was no exception," Avenidas President and CEO Amy Andonian stated in a press release. "Each individual's story is so interesting and rich and their accomplishments give us all quite a high standard to shoot for in our own lives."

Fran Codispoti is a Los Altos Hills philanthropist who has spent much of her adult life improving the wellbeing of people young and old. She turned her attention away from a career in tech and consulting to work with organizations that benefit education, medical research and the community's aging population after recovering from Hodgkin's lymphoma. She was instrumental in raising funds for facilities at Gunn High School, which her children attended. She later went on to co-chair two capital campaigns for Avenidas after joining the board of directors in 1998. Other organizations she currently works with include: Stanford Cancer Institute, where she serves on the Cancer Council of advisers; Foundation for a College Education, where she serves as an advisory board member; Bay Area Cancer Connections, where she serves as chair of the Emeritus Board; Human Rights Watch; Stanford Women's Cancer Center; and the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Betsy Gifford has spent hundreds of hours lending a hand to nonprofit organizations large and small over the past five decades, from raising money for the construction of the YMCA in East Palo Alto to maintaining the grounds at Gamble Gardens each week for the past 30 years as a member of the group's "Dirty Knees" volunteers. She began her longtime role as a community volunteer shortly after moving to Palo Alto in the fall of 1966. The young newlywed was a long way from Aurora, Illinois, and didn't know anyone besides her husband and a former high school classmate at Stanford University. She decided to change that. Over the years, Gifford has served as a "Pink Lady" at Stanford Hospital and as a member of the Palo Alto Auxiliary, the Music Guild at Stanford University, the Palo Alto Community Fund and the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula and a local PTA.

Education philanthropists Bill and Gay Krause have spent decades working to improve local education. The Los Altos Hills duo launched the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College, which has helped more than 21,000 teachers integrate technology into their classrooms over the past two decades, and are recognized as the Foothill-De Anza Community College District's largest private donors.

Bill has spent the past 25 years mentoring business entrepreneurs since retiring from a long tech career during which he co-founded networking pioneer company 3Com, which introduced Ethernet to the world. He has served on numerous public and private boards, including CommScope, Forward Networks and Smartcar. He also is a senior adviser to investment firm The Carlyle Group and a board partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, named him "Alumnus of the Year" in 2013 for his support of the college's leadership development curriculum; Junior Achievement Silicon Valley inducted him into its Business Hall of Fame; and he was elected as chairman of the American Electronics Association (now known as AeA).

Gay has served as the executive director of the Krause Center since its opening in 1999 after the president of Foothill College asked her to work on a startup project aimed at providing professional development for K-12 educators. Before launching the center, Gay worked in the Mountain View Whisman School District as a teacher, counselor and principal of Graham Middle and Landels Elementary schools. Currently, she serves on six nonprofit boards for the YMCA of Silicon Valley; the Foothill-De Anza Foundation; Children Now; Challenge Team of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills; the Palo Alto Medical Foundation; and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.

Armand and Eliane Neukermans actively support social entrepreneurial and environmental efforts. The Portola Valley couple initiated the JaipurKnee project at Stanford University to encourage students to design a low-cost prosthetic knee for the JaipurFoot Organization. The project resulted in the creation of a $20 knee prosthesis that has been manufactured for more than 18,000 amputees in clinics across India.

Armand, a trained engineer and physicist, was active in the tech industry for more than 50 years and was nominated "Silicon Valley Inventor of the Year" in 2001. Since his retirement, he has led a group of retired volunteer engineers and scientists in technology research in support of innovative climate mitigation efforts to cool the earth at the University of Washington and Harvard University.

Eliane, who obtained degrees in economics and philosophy from Louvain University in Belgium, taught at Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management, Sacred Heart Preparatory and Castilleja schools. Since her retirement, she has been engaged in supporting various community organizations, including the Palo Alto Community Fund, Foothill College, Environmental Volunteers, Avenidas, the Big Sur Environmental Institute, Human Rights Watch, the Thomas Merton Center, St Elizabeth Seton School, Portola Valley Ranch, Global Women's Leadership Network, the JaipurFoot Organization and Amici Lovanienses.

Alma and Jim Phillips are active community volunteers. Collectively, the Palo Alto couple has volunteered for more than a dozen local organizations aimed at improving everything from the environment to social inequality.

Alma grew up on a farm in rural Texas and worked as a teacher before moving to California. Once on the west coast, she shifted her passion for working with children in the classroom to volunteering with nonprofits aimed at educating children. She has worked with Environmental Volunteers and Deer Hollow Farm as well as the League of Women Voters and MidPeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing (which has since merged with the Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity).

Jim turned to volunteer work after a long career in technology in which he worked in systems development with General Electric, the Ling-Temco-Vought Corporation and Lockheed Martin.

He has served as chairman of the boards of the Palo Alto Family YMCA board and Habitat for Humanity's local chapter, and has sat on the boards of the YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula, Palo Alto Community Child Care, Foundation for a College Education, YWCA of the Mid-Peninsula Donor Advised Fund, One Dollar for Life and the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto.

Steve Player, a resident of Palo Alto, spent much of his time assisting startup nonprofits while he was a young lawyer after graduating from Stanford University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Player was among those who helped form the Senior Coordinating Council of Palo Alto, which later became Avenidas. After practicing law, he joined Stanford University as a planned giving officer. He has maintained a close association with Stanford as a volunteer where he has served on various boards over the years, including the Buck/Cardinal Club and the Stanford Historical Society. Player has been the recipient of several community awards, including the Stanford Associates Award, the Tall Tree Award from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and Red Triangle Award from the YMCA.

Tickets for the May 17 Garden Party are $85 and available online at or by calling 650-289-5445.


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What is it worth to you?


9 people like this
Posted by Tina Rosario/Avenidas Blooms
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2020 at 10:08 am

What Beautiful legacies and love of others that each has displayed, which love always continues to grow. Thank you!

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2020 at 11:17 am

Steve Player, per his name, was also on football at The Farm, and worked to help organize bay area professional soccer .

7 people like this
Posted by Inspiring Lives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Palo Alto Weekly, for shining a bright light on lives well lived. These folks are an inspiration.

2 people like this
Posted by Curious...
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm

A noteworthy account of selflessness & giving. Good story.

Curious...why are there are no significant volunteers representing the new wave of immigrants now residing on the peninsula? They are certainly seen in large numbers at the various community senior centers (i.e. MV) during the senior lunch program and various game rooms.

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