John F. Kennedy University will honor the excellence and community service of three Bay Area mavericks on Nov. 2 at Danville's Blackhawk Auto Museum.
Shirley Nelson, of Alamo, the founder and CEO of Summit Bank; Thelton Henderson, a U.S. district judge; and Jonathan Moscone, California Shakespeare Theater's artistic director, will receive the 2013 Kennedy Laureate Awards. The awards are given each year to three individuals representing the ideals and educational aspirations of America's 35th president.
"Liberty without learning is always in peril; and learning without liberty is always in vain," John F. Kennedy said in a 1963 speech at Vanderbilt University.
The Kennedy Laureates are typically torchbearers who blaze unique, often revolutionary trails to innovation. Some of their histories read like American sagas, with hardscrabble victories, precipitous defeats and gritty determination. Whether they grew up impoverished, like Nelson, the daughter of south Appalachian parents who hadn't graduated from elementary school; or seemingly blessed, like Moscone, the son of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who was assassinated for his political stances; or challenged, like Henderson, by a society struggling to accept a brilliant, reserved African-American lawyer with a fiery passion for social justice.
Henderson became the first African-American lawyer in the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and a federal district judge. His judicial decisions improved conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison and struck down anti-affirmative action Proposition 209. A documentary on his life,"Soul of Justice" by Abby Ginzberg, was released in late 2005.
Moscone's Cal Shakes brings Shakespeare into classrooms and low-income students into the company's performing venue at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. An award-winning playwright and director of the organization's professional theater company, Moscone has built an educational arts empire. Never one to sit still, he pushes art's frontier, introducing Bay Area residents -- young and old -- to California history, literature, language, and culture.
Nelson ignored the "glass ceiling" for women in banking, not only by founding Oakland-based Summit Bank in 1982 but by working as a teller in Alaska year before that.
"It was purely out of necessity," she said. "I lived in Alaska and needed a job. There were two jobs for women: work in a cannery, or teller. I lasted one day at the cannery. The rest is history."
And Nelson is still making history. Uninvited to the "old boys network," she insulated herself from the "anything but pleasant" atmosphere by keeping her sights on a woman she said has been her role model since the 1960s, philanthropist Lois De Domenico.
Nelson became a rare bird: a female leader of a successful community bank in a major U.S. city for 31 years. "I wasn't exactly a pariah, but let's say, all along, men weren't so willing to accept me," she said.
Today, Nelson said the environment is better. CEO's help each other, and there's less pirating of employees. She attributes the change to the economic collapse in 2008. "Small banks all fall in the same boat since that happened," she said.
President Obama's recent nomination of Janet Yellen to be the 15th Federal Reserve chair is a movement toward minimizing excessive regulation and a sign of progress she welcomes. "The next step is a female president," she said.
Nelson's combative energy also defeated cancer twice. Those battles explain why her Summit Bank Foundation will shift its focus to cancer research from the financial literacy program that has reached 25,000 students in local schools.
"I will fund doctors at UC San Francisco beginning with Dr. Wei Ai. Having experienced cancer, I saw a different world. UCSF is right on the edge of finding a cure, and I think it will ultimately be found there," she said.
The foundation's Joe Morgan Celebrity Golf Tournament, Red and White Ball and a handful of endowed funds will continue to supply college scholarships for 11 students. "Long after I'm gone, they will continue -- that's established and won't change," she promised.
The laureate award dinner on Nov. 2 is a fundraising event. Proceeds fund educational scholarships for JFK University veteran and low-income students.
WHAT: 2013 Kennedy Laureate Dinner
WHEN: 6 to 10:30 p.m. Nov. 2
WHERE: Blackhawk Auto Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle in Danville.
The evening will include a cocktail reception, an auto collection tour, a silent and live auction and an elegant dinner catered by Scott's Seafood.
Tickets to the VIP reception and dinner are $250 per person; for just dinner, $200 per person.
For information about the dinner event, contact Anne Marie Taylor at 925-969-3491 or email@example.com.