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February 7, 2023

Red Cross honors ‘Heroes’

(Arthur Dover, M.D., is brought to the stage to receive a hero award June 15 at Twin Lakes Church during the annual Heroes Breakfast put on by the American Red Cross of the Central Coast. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)

APTOS — Thirteen Hero awards were issued to community members on June 15 for “their acts of courage or compassion,” the American Red Cross said.

The awards were issued at the 2018 Heroes Breakfast put on by the American Red Cross of the Central Coast at Twin Lakes Church.

The 13th annual event singled out recipients based on the degree to which “their actions uphold the values of the Red Cross and have a positive impact on the residents of the Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties,” according to the Red Cross. 

The honorees are:

• Animal Rescue Hero: Darla Smith. For more than 10 years, Smith has rescued more than 500 puppies, taking the time to nurture them and find them their “forever” homes.

• Disaster Services Heroes: James Gruber and Paul Guzman. Gruber and Guzman, who are Water Resources Agency staff, spotted smoke coming from two buildings on San Juan Road in Pajaro. As a major fire threatened apartments across the driveway, the two started evacuations, entering burning structures, alerting people to the danger, and rushing many out to the street and safety. They also rescued nine dogs.

• Education Hero: Mary Gaukel Forster. In “retirement,” Gaukel Forster is the executive director of Your Future is Our Business, an organization that links local and regional employers with Santa Cruz County schools and, in the process, improves students’ employment prospects.

• Environment Hero: Shelby O’Neil. O’Neil, 17, has spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For her Girl Scout Gold Award Project, she formed the nonprofit Jr. Ocean Guardians, which recruits other teens to educate youth about alternatives to single-use plastics.

• First Responder Heroes: Dan Perry, Forest Gleitsman, Ziad Bawarshi. The trio responded to a surfer in distress about 500 yards off shore at Davenport Landing Beach. The three lifeguards worked as a team, battling 12-15-foot high surf, to get the surfer safely back to the beach before darkness.

• Humanitarian Hero – Adult: Jessica Berg. While taking a dinner break from her job at the Crow’s Nest Restaurant in the Santa Cruz Harbor, Berg saw a car rolling down the boat ramp and going underwater. She called 911 and alerted others. A group of employees ran to the boat ramp and pulled a man and woman — both in their 50’s — out of the submerged car.

• Humanitarian Hero – Youth: Matthew Gibbs. He is the founder of an organization called Athletes That Care, which provides sandwiches, clothing, and other items to the homeless of Monterey. He has delivered 30-40 sandwiches nearly every Sunday to people in need.

• International Services Hero: Tammy Renfer. On top of working the past 10 years at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, Renfer decided to join a team of volunteers for a mercy mission to the war-torn South Sudan. On the eight-day trip, she helped families, especially children, with their medical needs.

• Medical Hero: Arthur Dover, M.D. Fresh from medical school in 1969, Dover worked in the parasitic diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Control’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. But Dover’s primary interest at the time was children’s medicine, so he operated a local pediatrics practice in Freedom from 1975 to 2009. After 34 years, he decided to return to disease control as his primary focus, administering recommended immunizations for overseas travel to patients who come to his Aptos office.

“I was an old fashioned kind of doctor who would make house calls and answer the phone,” Dover said. “I started having Saturday hours because there were always sick people calling on the weekend and I didn’t have the heart to tell them they’d have to wait until Monday.”

Dover shared a metaphor with the audience that he learned from a plastic surgeon when Dover told him of his grief about there being so much poverty, misery and difficulty for so many people to get help. The surgeon said, “We can’t change everything. But if everyone would take his drop of sand to the edge of the ocean we can make a beach.”

• Service to Armed Forces Hero: Angel Hernandez. Deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hernandez received shrapnel injuries when his convoy was ambushed by a blast that killed his driver and severely injured his Platoon Sergeant. After recovering and receiving a Purple Heart, Hernandez was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. Once discharged, while working at Salinas Valley State Prison he learned that a coworker was suffering from complete renal failure. Hernandez stepped forward and donated one of his kidneys and the operation was a complete success.


Pajaronian reporter/photographer Tarmo Hannula contributed to this article.


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