The at Sunday night’s star-studded ceremony at the came from far-flung fields – how many events simultaneously honor a landscape architect and Sammy Hagar? - but they all had one particular star to whom they wanted to pay tribute: their hometown.
Each Milley recipient dedicated the better part of their acceptance speech Sunday night to the role their hometown, their community and the mountain below which it resides played in allowing them to attain the creative achievement for which they were being celebrated.
“There’s no greater honor than being honored by your own community,” said Eldon Beck, the aforementioned landscape architect, whose acclaimed work ranges from the village at Whistler in British Columbia, which received an international spotlight during the 2010 Winter Olympics, to the initial remodel of Mill Valley’s in 1965.
Beck, who moved to Homestead Valley with his wife Helen in 1963, said he had no idea at the time “how much Mount Tam and Mill Valley would shape my principles of design and the personal philosophies of life.”
Katy Butler, an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Mother Jones, Vogue and the Buddhist Review, said her hikes on Mount Tam often provided the spark to jumpstart her work.
“The rhythm of the walking allowed the words to come,” said Butler, who recently won the 2011 “Science in Society” award from the National Association of Science Writers for her New York Times Magazine story, “My Father’s Broken Heart: How a Pacemaker Wrecked Our Family’s Life.” The story chronicles a journey in which the installation of a pacemaker in her father’s heart “forced him to outlive his happiness and his brain.”
“My mother and I had come to long for the machine in my father’s heart to fail,” Butler said, noting the controversy her stance on the subject incited and the support she received from her friends and neighbors.
Each recipient Sunday night emphasized the importance their proximity to other creative people played in propelling them to their own success.
“There are probably more artists per square inch here in Mill Valley than anywhere on earth,” said Sue Carlomagno, the founder and former director of Youth in Arts Italian Street Painting Festival, which launched in San Rafael in 1994.
Carlomagno said the renowned event actually had its unofficial beginning in 1993 in front of during the Mill Valley Film Festival.
“This is where it all began,” she said.
Jazz pianist Si Perkoff, who was honored along with his son Max, a trombonist and music teacher at Neil Cummins School in Corte Madera, said Mill Valley often made him think of the saying, famously uttered by Isaac Newton, “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“For me this community itself are those shoulders,” he said. “Without that community, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
“Don’t take for granted, and I know that you don’t, the fact that Mill Valley doesn’t take its artists for granted,” Max Perkoff added, regaling the crowd with his father’s “criminal past” that saw him bringing Max into bars as a kid to see his dad perform, including the Sweetwater, where he had a “secret knock” to enter through the back door.
Although he’s traveled the world many times over for his music and myriad business pursuits, Sammy Hagar said Mill Valley retains a special place in his heart.
“I just love this place,” he said.
Hagar said he used to bring his eldest son Aaron to Mill Valley to play in soon after they moved to the Bay Area in the late 1960s.
“I thought that if I ever made any money, I’d move to Mill Valley,” he said.
Hagar did just that 40 years ago, and all four of his kids have attended , including Samantha, set to graduate from there this year.
Hagar called Mill Valley the kind of quaint community “where you can have friends for 30 or 40 years – it’s kind of incestuous in that way. My business manager for 20 years livs here – and her husband is my Ferrari mechanic.”
In emphasizing her love for Mill Valley, Carlomagno redirected the spotlight by reciting a lyric of 1996 Milley Award recipient Rita Abrams’ famous song “Mill Valley” with her third graders at .
“I'm gonna talk about a place that's got a hold on me…” Carlomagno said.