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Fundraising event honors local heroes

The Real Heroes Breakfast honors the extraordinary compassion and commitment of community members, while also raising funds to support essential local Red Cross services.

SANTA ROSA, CA – Two teenagers saved a man’s life while traveling overseas; a doctor traveled to Nepal to perform life-changing cataract surgeries; a man saved a woman from a burning car. These are just a few of the 11 powerful stories that will be presented at the 9th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast and Fundraiser. The American Red Cross, serving Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties, is presenting the invitation-only event on Thursday, April 19 at 7:15 a.m. at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park. More than 50 individuals from the three counties were nominated as heroes this year.

The Real Heroes Breakfast honors the extraordinary compassion and commitment of community members, while also raising funds to support essential local Red Cross services.

At the breakfast, videos projected onto 10-foot screens will show each hero telling his or her story in compelling, brief vignettes.

More than 350 business and community members are expected to be in attendance to honor the heroes. Those wishing to attend the fundraiser may call the Red Cross at (707) 577-7627. There is no set ticket price, but guests are encouraged to contribute the suggested minimum donation of $131, which represents $1 for every year the American Red Cross has been serving the American people.

Emcee for the Real Heroes Breakfast is Sue Bonzell, radio personality at KZST 100.1. Honorary Chair is Mark Aston, Director/Fire Chief and CFO of Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services.

The Platinum Sponsor of the event is Jackson Family Wines. Gold Sponsors are St. Joseph Health System - Sonoma County and Wells Fargo. Silver Sponsors are Eileen Adams, American AgCredit, Amy’s Kitchen, Bank of America, Infineon Raceway, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Medtronic and Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa. Bronze Sponsors are Agilent, Kaiser Permanente and Redwood Credit Union. Major Media Sponsors are Comcast, Firefly Creative Company, North Bay Business Journal, The Press Democrat, Sonoma Index-Tribune, The Ukiah Daily Journal, and Roaring Mouse Productions.

A committee of community leaders chose the winners. Selection Committee members were:

Selection Committee Chair:

  • Ernesto Olivares, Mayor, City of Santa Rosa
  • Selection Committee Members:

  • Vince Albano, Chief Executive Officer, Mary's Pizza Shack
  • James Goltz, President, Retech Systems LLC
  • Carol O’Hara, Managing Shareholder, Burr Pilger Mayer, Inc.
  • Lieutenant Commander Mike Reed, Public Information Officer, United States Coast Guard
  • Captain Gregory Tracey, Commander, California Highway Patrol
  • Eloise Tweeten, Owner, Tweeten Eldercare Advisors
  • Elena Whorton, President and Founder, Protransport-1
  • Donna Zapata, Executive Director, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County
  • Significant in-kind donations have been contributed by Barlow Printing, Star Shots Photography, Roaring Mouse Productions and graphic designer Roberta Rankin.


    Good Samaritan, Youth: Caitlyn Hallman’s and Phil Coren’s put their CPR and First Aid training to use while they were on a study-abroad program. While visiting the cliffs of Portugal, Caitlyn and Phil went into rescue mode when heavy winds swept Canadian Mark Jefferies over the cliff. Both Caitlyn’s and Phil’s actions helped save Mark Jefferies’ life.

    Good Samaritan, Adult: Chris Cox was driving down Stony Point Road when he spotted a car on fire. Cox cut the seat belt of Ricki Ann Thiele, who was unconscious, and freed her dog, who was trapped in the car as well. Then, with the help of another bystander, he pulled the woman to safety. Cox, who lost his 19-year-old-son Danny in a car crash just three months earlier, was inspired by his son’s dreams of being a firefighter and helping others.

    Good Samaritan, Senior: Louis Hopfer is a volunteer at The Tamayo House, a home run by Social Advocates for Youth for 18- to 25-year-olds. The Tamayo House helps young adults transition from foster care or homelessness to becoming functioning, self-sufficient adults. Hopfer shares his life experience with those who need it most, guiding grateful youth in the right direction.

    Law Enforcement: Santa Rosa Sergeant Clay VanArtsdalen is dedicated to public service and his profession as well as to improving the Police Department and his community. Sergeant VanArtsdalen helped organize the “Shop with a Cop” program. This event gives residents from children’s homes and shelters gift cards to purchase gifts during the holidays.

    Education: Dr. Glenn Langer, retired professor of medicine at UCLA, and his wife Marianne, founded the mentoring program Partnership Scholar in 1996. This program gives underprivileged youth the opportunity to succeed in school and attend college. In the last three years, almost 100 percent of the programs participants have been accepted into colleges.

    Medical: Ophthalmologist Dr. Gary Barth traveled to Nepal to assist renowned Nepal cataract surgeon, Dr. Bidya Pant with advance eye care surgeries for poor residents. In this farming community, blindness can mean severe hardship, and the surgery team does hundreds of surgeries per day. Dr. Barth has helped cure blindness in India, Cambodia and elsewhere.

    Animal: Dr. Grant Patrick is a veterinarian who volunteers his time caring for injured wildlife. He has treated as many as 100 fawns a year since 1987. He has also treated countless other animals, both domestic and wild, including foxes, jack rabbits, coyotes, mountain lions, squirrels, cats and dogs.

    Military: Lee Gooding, Executive Director of Helping American Veterans Endure (HAVE), works with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A Vietnam veteran, Gooding has created programs to help vets alleviate stress and live healthier. HAVE workshops include such activities as writing, humor, art classes and even pet therapy. Through HAVE, Gooding has created a place of healing for military veterans.

    Rescue Professional: Firefighter Gabe Lopez, California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Dye, Security Operations Manager Steve Atkinson and Security Officer Byron Atkins saved the lives of two young men who were victims of a house fire in Hidden Valley Lake. While off-duty, Lopez spotted the fire and immediately went to help. Without any fire gear, Lopez went into the home to rescue one of the victims who was still in the house. Lopez was assisted by the other rescue professionals in treating the victims, getting the rescue helicopter to the site of the fire, calming the community. Both young men survived, although one had burns over 80 per cent of his body.

    Environment: Thomas Furrer, a retired wildlife biology instructor, was teaching about the irretrievable loss of fish species, when one student asked: “What can we do?” That question, and Furrer’s dedication to the environment, led him to spend 30 years reviving our waters and fish. He founded the United Anglers Conservation Fish Hatchery in 1983. With the help of his students, Furrer’s hatchery is the only high school-based, fully licensed fish hatchery in the U.S., and is dedicated to protecting of the steelhead salmon from extinction. Furrer also founded the Adobe Creek Restoration Project, which, again with his hundreds of students over the years, turned a formerly dead stream into a vital, living creek.