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Hospice Tree of Lights to be lit in ceremony Saturday

The Martinez Tree of Lights ceremony began in 1990, and takes place at this giant oak tree on Morello Avenue. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)
The Martinez Tree of Lights ceremony began in 1990, and takes place at this giant oak tree on Morello Avenue. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The broad canopy of limbs of a tall oak that stands in the median of Morello Avenue north of Arnold Drive will sparkle in tiny lights Saturday night, the first of a series of Tree of Lights celebrations.

This is the 29th fall season Hospice of the East Bay has been lighting trees, said Kathy Kavanagh, community liaison. It started when Win Haagensen set up a card table outside Danville Livery and Mercantile, and insisted people contribute to the not-for-profit caring organization before going in to shop, she said.

The idea grew, and now the Martinez tree lighting is the first of 11 ceremonies this year.

The Martinez ceremony began in 1990, Kavanagh said. How the giant oak was chosen is lost to the organization, but she said some of her organization’s strongest support comes from the city and community of Martinez.

It’s also a fundraiser for the organization, which lets people dedicate a memorial light for a minimum donation of $25, money that is used for end-of-life patient care. Those who give $100 or more may have their names in the lighting ceremony program of their choice, and other recognitions are given to those who give $250 to $999, $1,000 to $4,999, and $5,000 and more. Those interested may call the organization at (925) 887-5678 or visit its website, www.HospiceEastBay.org, or may send donations to Hospice of East Bay, 3470 Buskirk Ave., Pleasant Hill, California, 94523.

The Hospice of East Bay also operates several thrift shops, including one at 550 Morello Ave., a short distance from the tree lighting ceremony.
Each of the lighting ceremonies is dedicated to someone touched by Hospice of the East Bay, and this year’s Martinez tree lighting recognizes Penn Keller and Frank Walsh.

Frank Walsh (left) and Penn Keller (far right) will be recognized in Saturday’s tree lighting.  (COURTESY / On File)
Frank Walsh (left) and Penn Keller (far right) will be recognized in Saturday’s tree lighting. (COURTESY / On File)
Keller was born in 1936 to a longtime Martinez family. A pharmacist, he was invited to join his father and uncle at Martinez Rexall Drug, and later was president and general manager of Valco Drug Company, a family-owned company that grew to 10 stores in Contra Costa County and neighboring Solano County.

He co-founded two banks, John Muir National and Westamerica Bank. His widow, Christine Sharkey Keller, and children, Marc Winston Keller, Kristy Ann Keller and Holly Keller Dredge, described him as a “determined” fisherman and golfer.

Walsh, a career educator after serving as an Army officer in the Korean War, was a history teacher, counselor, vice principal and principal, primarily at Alhambra High School. He was also a member of the Martinez Kiwanis Club for 42 years as well as the Martinez and John Muir Historical societies.

He became involved in the Kiwanis Warm Coats collection program and delivered more than 8,000 coats to the needy. In 2011, the Martinez Chamber of Commerce game him a Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteerism. He and his family were helped by Hospice East Bay during his battle with cancer.

For the first time, Las Juntas Elementary School Honor Choir will perform in a prelude before the lighting ceremony begins at the Martinez Tree of Life.

Mayor Rob Schroder will be a returning speaker, describing how Hospice East Bay has helped his family. The Rev. Terry Reilly of Creekside Open Bible Church, 444 Fig Tree Lane, also is a returning ceremony participant, Kavanagh said.

Hospice of the East Bay provides end of life comfort care, and is one of the few not-for-profit organizations that do so. It makes durable medical equipment and pain relief for patients, many of whom are able to remain at home instead of having to spend last days in a hospital, she said. “Most people can stay at home,” Kavanagh said. “We become the extra hands.”

For those unable to stay at home, Hospice of the East Bay also operates Bruns House, which opened in 2004 to provide inpatient hospice care for those who need acute symptom management.

In addition, Hospice East Bay provides bereavement help for children and referral to community services for other members of patients’ families.

Since its founding in 1977 as the third hospice in the United States, Hospice of the East Bay has helped 23,000 patients, in addition to their families, Kavanagh said.

The Martinez tree lighting ceremony is the first of the East Bay celebrations this year.

Others are at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Town Meeting Hall, 201 Front St., Danville; 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek; 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Gregory Lane near Cleaveland Road, Pleasant Hill; 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Moraga Country Club, 1600 St. Andrews Drive, Moraga; 6 p.m. Nov. 24 at Alamo Women’s Club, 1401 Danville Blvd., Alamo; 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at Creekside Clubhouse, 1010 Stanley Dollar Drive, Walnut Creek; 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Orinda Village by Bank of America, Orinda, as part of that city’s holiday celebration; 5 p.m. Dec. 6, Brentwood City Park, 710 Second St., Brentwood; 5 p.m. Dec. 11 at Blackhawk Road at Blackhawk Drive, Blackhawk; and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14, in John Muir Medical Center Parking Lot, East Street and Almond Avenue, Concord.

The Martinez Tree of Lights Celebration starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at Morello Avenue north of Arnold Drive.

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