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Humanitarian of the Year Announced for Celebrate the Red Gala

SANTA CRUZ, CA – Celebrate the Red Gala, which supports the work of the American Red Cross, will be held on Saturday, September 27 at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom at the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This signature fundraising event will raise awareness of the vital roles the Red Cross plays within the local and global communities. The event will include a champagne reception, buffet dinner, silent and live auction, and music performed by the band Extra Large. To buy tickets, click here.

During the gala, Former Secretary of Defense and co-founder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, Leon Panetta will be presented with the American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter Humanitarian of the Year award for his determination to help the citizens of our region following the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Panetta has served the Santa Cruz community, the region, and the country in a most remarkable way. He has been a champion of the Monterey Bay Region from his early years, assuming the role of Unites States Representative for our community during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He was instrumental in working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to obtain disaster funding to help communities receive the resources they needed to begin the recovery process.

Panetta authored the legislation to implement the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary designation, serving in Washington for many years. Among his many positions serving in the government, he served as Chief of Staff for The White House from 1994 to 1996, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011, and Secretary of Defense in the Cabinet of President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013. Leon Panetta is a man who is truly worthy of being honored by the Santa Cruz County community.

During the gala, other honorees will be recognized to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake:

  • Oscar Rios: Oscar Rios is a four-time former mayor of Watsonville. He was first elected to the council in 1989, after the earthquake hit, and was integral in helping to rebuild the city. He spent 15 years as a representative for District 2, proving his commitment and dedication to his community.
  • Don French: When the earthquake occurred, Don French was the Watsonville Municipal Airport Manager. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, all roads into the county were closed because of damage. Under his supervision, the airport provided essential logistical support for disaster relief operations. It became the main conduit for incoming supplies and, now, many local, state, and federal entities have emergency response aircrafts based there.
  • Tom Honig: As the former assistant managing editor of one of the biggest papers in the county, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Tom Honig ensured that the community would receive news of the earthquake's impact on the area.
  • Ceil Cirillo: After the earthquake, Ceil Cirillo played an extensive role in the rebuilding of Santa Cruz as the city's former economic development and redevelopment agency director. She was hired specifically for the task of redeveloping Pacific Avenue and, now, the area is often touted as an example of a successful downtown.
  • Dick Wilson: As city manager of Santa Cruz during the earthquake, Dick Wilson oversaw the efforts to rebuild the downtown area after it experienced massive devastation.
  • Harvey Nickelson: A number of businesses affected by the earthquake lacked insurance that would help them rebuild. Under the leadership of Harvey Nickelson, who also played a key role in the visioning process as a member of Vision Santa Cruz, Coast Commercial Bank led the effort for local lenders to aid this process.
  • Gary Smith: At the time of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Gary Smith was Watsonville's Assistant City Manager and Fire Chief and became involved in the El Pájaro Community Development Corporation because of the new links they had made with the city as they received Federal aid.
  • Posthumously Honoring:

  • John Lisher: Lisher was heavily involved with the Santa Cruz community after the earthquake, when he took over a shop on Pacific Avenue and began redeveloping downtown. Lisher not only led daily meetings with Vision Santa Cruz, but also played significant roles as board member and executive director of the Santa Cruz Historical Trust, which evolved into the Museum of Art and History, executive director of the Santa Cruz Chamber, a leader in post-earthquake recovery, owner of Artisans Gallery and a respected leader on the boards of the Downtown Association and Downtown Management Association.
  • Mardi Wormhoudt: The City Council of Santa Cruz broke with tradition in November of 1989 when they elected Mardi Wormhoudt to her second term as mayor, the first and, thus far, only time anyone has served back-to-back years. This was an acknowledgment of her tireless efforts to aid a city in distress, serving as an intermediary among a variety of groups: the media, several political dignitaries, government officials, business owners, and residents alike. She was a crucial part in coming up with the idea that later became Vision Santa Cruz, a special task force designed to build a consensus on the image for the new downtown.
  • The 2014 Celebrate the Red Gala is the American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter’s annual fundraising event that benefits local disaster relief and readiness for Santa Cruz County’s residents and businesses. To learn more information about the event, to buy tickets, or to sponsor the event, please visit or contact

    About the American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter

    The American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter is a non-profit, humanitarian organization that depends on the generous contributions of time and money from Santa Cruz County residents and companies to provide services and programs that help our community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. For more information on disaster preparedness, health and safety classes, volunteer opportunities, and financial contributions, visit our website at or call us at 831-462-2881. You may also find us on Facebook and Twitter.