History San Jose's Valley of Heart's Delight dinner is always one of my favorite events of the year. Sure, the casual atmosphere and al fresco dinner in front of the electric light tower at History Park is part of the charm. But it's also a testament to people who put a lot of their lives toward building San Jose into what it is today.
Frank Fiscalini, this year's honoree, is a great example. Frank, who is still a towering guy in his early 90s, essentially built the East Side Union High School District. He was an administrator at James Lick High before becoming the district's superintendent in 1956 and presiding over the creation of its next nine schools until he stepped down in 1982. After that, he had positions at Alexian Brothers Medical Center and spearheaded the restoration of St. Joseph Cathedral in 1990. Then he was elected to the San Jose City Council, where he served throughout the 1990s.
Add in the various nonprofit boards he has served on or helped create, and that's a lot of history for a guy dubbed "San Jose's own Renaissance Man."
"I'm deeply humbled by this," Fiscalini said to the crowd of about 400 people upon receiving his award Saturday night. "The historical museum is very important to me, not only as a collection of memorabilia recording our past but as a way to connect to the future we continue to make."
But let's go back to the past for a minute. Normally, at the events there are commendations, and Fiscalini received citations from both Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose. The latter wasn't delivered by a council member or the mayor, however, but by Michelle McGurk, who serves as Mayor Chuck Reed's spokeswoman. And this was a job she asked to do when the mayor was unavailable.
"I got my start working at City Hall in Frank's office," said McGurk, who was Fiscalini's chief of staff in the late 1990s.
"He was the best teacher and the best mentor anyone could have."
She was joined by Joe Guerra, who was Fiscalini's first chief of staff, and another staff member, Edith Ramirez, who is now principal planner for economic development in Morgan Hill.
History San Jose CEO Alida Bray presented Fiscalini with an archival print of an 1890 photograph of what's now known as the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in downtown San Jose. It looks just about the same, if not better, now.
The evening wasn't just awards and speeches. There was lots of music, too, with the band Fiddle Road and the big-band music of Millennium Sounds. There was also a surprise performance by two opera singers, to recognize Fiscalini's role in helping Opera San Jose get its start. Irene Dalis, who just retired as the opera's general director, was there with her successor, Larry Hancock, board chair Laurie Warner and her husband, Mike Warner. Dalis was typically blunt on Fiscalini's role: "Without Frank Fiscalini, there'd be no Opera San Jose," she said.
That was a familiar refrain heard from many organizations the entire evening.