Les and Judy Vadász named ‘Alcalde’
SONOMA’S NEWEST ALCADES, Les and Judy Vadász, at the Red and White Ball.
Among Sonoma’s many nonprofit organizations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a charity that Les and Judy Vadász have not had a hand in.
Just to scratch the surface, they built the Intel Computer Club at the Boys & Girls Club, they funded the Vineyard Workers Services camps for years, they kicked off the ARTS program at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, they both served as mentors with the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance and their annual contributions provide 260,000 meals for the Sonoma County Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels service. Their Vadász Family Foundation has fostered a culture of giving for 15 years.
Based on their humble attitude and the immense support shown to area charities, the Sonoma City Council voted Les and Judy Vadász as Sonoma’s next Alcalde on Monday night, a title presented annually to Sonoma’s “most useful citizen.” Occasionally, when a married couple has spent considerable time volunteering together, both are selected, such as Paul and Adele Harrison in 1981 or Bob and Carolyn Stone in 1996. This year’s nominees also included Gary Edwards and Robert Wilson.
In addition to signing checks, the Vadászes are known for tackling problems head and hands-on, with a particular proclivity for all things education. Concerned with how English-language learners were falling through the cracks, Les Vadász researched innovative solutions to help immigrant students.
In 2008, he discovered a program of the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry that focused on teaching English through exciting science projects, a concept he brought to Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendant Louann Carlomagno. The program was launched at El Verano Elementary School – thanks to funding from the Vadász Family Foundation and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation – with wildly successful results.
“When you ask (the students) what their favorite part of school is, besides recess and lunch, it’s science,” said Craig Madison, a third-grade teacher at El Verano, after the first year of the program. Without the Vadászes early support, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District would have never qualified for the $3 million federal grant to expand the program to all five public elementary schools.
Les Vadász responded simply about his efforts at the time, “I’m very satisfied with the program, but that’s really minor. The fact that the school community is satisfied, that’s what’s really important.”
Les Vadász was born in Budapest, Hungary, and fled his homeland during the 1956 revolution, finding sanctuary and solace in Canada, where he earned a scholarship to attend McGill University. He moved to the United States in 1961 as a technical engineer and, in 1968, he became the fourth person hired by the Intel Corporation, where he spent decades helping transform the company into the world’s largest producer of semiconductor chips.
“I have shared Les’ story numerous times when teens express their frustrations at the challenges they face as immigrants in the United States. Les and Judy’s story shows them great things are truly possible through education and diligence,” wrote Cristin Lawrence, executive director of Sonoma Valley Teen Services, in her letter to the City Council supporting the Vadászes for Alcalde.
After Les Vadász retired in 2003 as executive vice president, he and Judy eventually moved to Sonoma, where they quickly became active in the substantial philanthropic community.
“Along with Keith Wicks, Judy started the Plein Air Festival … of which all the proceeds go to education,” said Steve Pease, who wrote one of the 40 letters encouraging the City Council to bestow the Alcalde title on the Vadászes.
In another letter, Donna Halow recounted how Judy Vadász grew pumpkins on her property to sell at Halloween to benefit Vintage House. Even when the season was bad, and no pumpkins would grow, Judy Vadász would purchase pumpkins to fill out the patch, with all monies donated to the senior center.
“Sonoma Valley is indeed a better, stronger, more dynamic and increasingly vibrant place to live, learn, grow and grow old thanks to Les and Judy Vadász,” wrote Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, in his letter of support.
As Alcalde, the Vadászes receive the silver-tipped cane presented to the first Alcalde ever appointed, August Pinelli in 1976, along with a key to the city. They will also be honored at the luncheon reception at a date to be determined. Check the Index-Tribune for details when they become available.