Santa Clara Valley Lives: Olson and Packard: Friendship bloomed in apricot orchard

Robin Chapman/Special to the Town Crier
Third-generation valley orchardist Charles Olson, 84, stands at the entrance to Sunnyvale’s Orchard Heritage Park, surrounded by the apricot trees he planted in 1977.

Charles Olson is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, played football at the University of Denver and still has biceps the size of tree trunks. He lifts weights every morning, though his life no longer requires any heavy lifting. His family holdings, including a shopping center, have left him prosperous. But, at age 84, this businessman still loves cultivating his apricot trees on 13 acres in Sunnyvale.

The trees stand on the remains of a 30-acre parcel once owned by several other local entrepreneurs, including Steve Vidovich and Peter Pavlina of Los Altos. The present orchard, once Olson’s own, is now Sunnyvale’s Orchard Heritage Park.

Local students write prize-winning essays

More than 230 students in grades 3-6 entered the 34th annual Margaret Thompson Historical Essay Contest.

            This year’s theme – “Spread Your Wings and Fly” – highlighted the History Museum exhibition “Instinct Extinct: The Great Pacific Flyway.” The essay prompt encouraged students to: “Take a journey in your mind and imagine that you have wings and you can fly like a bird. Spread your wings and soar over your community and describe what you see. Now imagine what additions or changes you would like to see within your community (school, park, neighborhood or downtown) to make life better or more enjoyable for your family or friends. Take another flight and write about those changes.”

            Contest winners gathered May 8 at the History Museum for recognition and an ice cream social, and then were honored by Los Altos Mayor Jean Mordo at that evening’s city council meeting. Winners in each grade received $50 for first place, $30 for second and $20 for third.

            The winners and their schools:

Third grade

  • • First: Andrew Wall, Loyola
  • • Second: Aya Agrawal, Loyola
  • • Third: Lukiana Cherkashina, Loyola

Fourth grade

  • • First: Mariana Leaver, Covington
  • • Second (tie): Alara Martin, Covington; Kevya Wazhi, Springer
  • • Third: Logan Crawford, Covington

Fifth grade

  • • First: Jamie Burton, Pinewood
  • • Second: Michelle Walker, Pinewood
  • • Third (tie): Kathleen Xie, Pinewood; Violet Negrette, Pinewood

Sixth grade

  • • First: Mackenzie Fobes, Pinewood
  • • Second: Jakob Kleiman, Pinewood
  • • Third (tie): Bryce Lim, Springer; Sophia Cheng, Pinewood

            The contest is co-sponsored by the city of Los Altos, the Los Altos History Museum and the Los Altos Historical Commission.

The following are the winning essays:

First place, third grade

“Changes I Wish to Make in My Community”

By Andrew Wall, Loyola

If I had wings, I could fly over our community to see all of the good things and those that I would like to see changed.

            As I soar across Los Altos, I see lots of playgrounds with children having fun playing. However, I don’t see many disabled kids. I would like to see accessible playgrounds for all to enjoy.

            I see beautiful green spaces, but I also see trash on the ground. Littering should stop because we aren’t being nice to our environment. Too much litter will overflow our planet and we won’t be able to survive. We should all put recyclables in the recycle bin.

            I see a safe community, but danger lurks in places. I would like to see no violence because people could get hurt. I also want no stealing because it is not right to steal. All of us should report to the police or adults any suspicious activity to help keep our community safe.

            As I fly farther, I see lots of traffic. Heavy traffic is bad because the cars use a lot (and when I say a lot, I mean a lot) of nonrenewable resources that pollute our environment and cause a real waste of time for people. People should use alternative energy vehicles or public transportation.

            I see people without social etiquette because their heads are buried in their iPhone. While iPhones have done well for society, people are too focused on them. People, put them down and start talking to each other.

            In summary, we have a very beautiful and diverse community. However, there are opportunities for change to make our community better! Let’s all get together to make Los Altos even better than it is already.

Second place, third grade

“Spread Your Wings and Fly!”

By Aya Agrawal, Loyola

It’s a sunny day and the wind is blowing softly through my massive wings. What am I? I am a hawk. I wish I could help improve the environment, but I can’t. You know, humans, maybe you can help make the world a better place. As I am soaring through the sky, I see three things that can improve all living things. Let me share them with you.

            The first issue is light pollution. Plant and animals are affected by the light and they think it’s daylight when it’s really not. For example, my friend owl is nocturnal and sometimes he gets confused. Also, when we fly in the sky at night, the light disturbs our vision.

            The second issue is air pollution. We don’t have the best air, and when we have dirty air, we breathe it in and get sick. Air pollution comes from cars and people smoking. That air rises into the sky, then the clouds rain the dirty water and it goes into the sea that we drink. You see, it’s a dirty cycle that needs to end.

            The third issue is killing our resources. When people cut down trees, it affects all living things. Birds live in trees, and when they are cut down, they don’t know where to find a safe home. They also provide food and shade for my fellow bird friends and me.

            Well, that’s the end. I hope you liked hearing the changes I want for the community and are willing to help.

Third place, third grade

“Wishing while Flying over Los Altos”

By Lukiana Cherkashina, Loyola

As I woke up under a brick roof, I saw the clouds in the sky as I started to fly over downtown Los Altos.

            Then I saw some things that I didn’t like. I saw trash on the streets. I saw a lot of cars that made noise and polluted the air. I saw trees with no leaves. I saw people throwing away food that was still fresh and they hadn’t even bit a piece.

            I closed my eyes for a second and made a wish. When I opened my eyes, I saw the trees were green with little nests on them. The sun was shining. People were smiling. Little birds of all colors, like red, black, blue and even green, were flying around. I didn’t see any trash or wasted food.

            Everything was peaceful and quiet. That is how I wished the world would always be.

First place, fourth grade

“Spread Your Wings and Fly”

By Mariana Leaver, Covington

I close my eyes, turn my face toward the sky and enter my imagination. I become a delicate Lady Gouldian finch – spreading my wings and lifting off the brick courtyard of the Los Altos History Museum. The gnarled old oak tree becomes smaller and smaller as I soar toward the grays and greens of McKenzie Park. The plastic rock formations sit, filled with dust, longing for children to swing, jump and play on them without trepidation. I continue flying toward Covington School’s sprawling green lawn and brightly colored playgrounds, also empty and wishing for the voices of children chatting and calling to one another. I fly on toward the hills of Rancho San Antonio until I am up to Grandmother Oak, her strong branches curving out gracefully and reaching toward the sky, living for decades, yet never ceasing to support the young climbers eager to explore the world, and break free from parents’ fearful restrictions.

            Suddenly, colors around me seem to melt in the warm summer sun, so I throw a wing over my eyes. When I remove it, the world once again comes into focus, only now I see Los Altos has changed. McKenzie Park’s rock imitations are filled with laughing children, not an iPhone in sight. Grandmother Oak is appreciated and recognized by more people for helping children learn how beautiful the world is, even without their phones and laptops. Covington’s play structures are still used after school hours, for in this place, homework sheets don’t interfere with learning about the world. More adults recognize that kids should be able to explore, learning the dangers and vastness of the world, and that their wandering should be appreciated.

Second place (tie), fourth grade

“Flying over Los Altos”

By Alara Martin, Covington

When I imagine spreading my wings and flying over Los Altos, I can see the shops downtown. Starbucks and Safeway are very busy, with people going in and out every minute. The calm, but sometimes bustling, streets hold people carrying shopping bags and cups of coffee.

            As I soar out of downtown, I see the busy roads near my elementary school, Covington. When there are kids there, the playgrounds are filled with lively kids that rush out of their classes to go to the library, the play structure or the field. In the morning around my neighborhood, the roads are busy with people rushing to get to work on time, or trying to get their kids to school before class starts.

            In Los Altos, I would change many things. More people in downtown Los Altos, I think, would make them happier to get fresh air. I would make more and bigger parks, and add in children’s areas. The children’s area would have swings, slides and a big play structure, with benches around it for parents to sit and watch. Posters that told people to throw away their trash would be a good change to make. Also, there should be a group that goes around picking up trash.

            Now that I’ve made these changes, I fly over Los Altos again. I don’t see any trash on the ground, which is amazing. There are more people roaming the streets, some laughing with their friends. I love to see people having fun. The children in the parks are playing on the play structure, with some going down the slide and some on the swings. Their parents are sitting around them. I think these changes would make Los Altos a lot better.

Second place (tie), fourth grade

“Flight over the Flyway”

By Kavya Wazhi, Springer

It was a typical day at school until suddenly I was flapping my wings and flying over Los Altos just like migratory birds in the Pacific Flyway. Look! So many big cars and buses emitting gas and smoke. I never noticed there was this much pollution. “Ack,” I cough, the fumes are filling my lungs. This isn’t good for humans or any animals. As I’m gliding over this maze of streets, I start feeling anxious that they’re cutting down all those trees. This is reducing the habitat for animals.

            “Kavya! It’s lunch,” said Lily. I wake up with a jolt!

            That afternoon I’m flying again. Now the cars are electric or solar and they’re autonomous. “Wow,” they're driving themselves! Nobody needs their own car, and there’s no traffic. So more people are walking and biking because it’s safer and quicker. I see solar panels on all the rooftops. This is a great source of energy because it’s renewable, doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, and my bird friends and I won’t get chopped by windmill blades while zooming over farmland. All these changes are also reducing global warming. “Yay!” the trees they planted with new houses are now grown and providing shade, oxygen and places for the migrating birds to rest. The buildings are fantastic new habitats that have trees, flowers and farms built on them.

            “Briiing,” the bell rings. Springing awake, I realize our community would be much better if we make what happened that afternoon true. We all need to think about the future and protect our environment, in our community and the world. If this doesn’t happen soon, our air will get so polluted we won’t be healthy, and endangered species will go extinct. We must prevent this from happening.

Third place, fourth grade

“A Flight of Change”

By Logan Crawford, Covington

The Great Pacific Flyway is where birds from all over North America migrate on the route from Alaska to South America. When I picture myself as one of those migrating birds, I picture myself flying over my town. I spot my school, which is full of students playing around on the field. I see my house in the neighborhood where I live, and also see the library to which I enjoy going.

            Now I imagine myself migrating on this flyway again in the spring, and passing my town for a second time. I again think about looking at my school, house and library in my town, and the changes I would make to these places. I would change the roads so traffic and congestion are reduced and the drivers are less aggravated. Another change I would make is planting more trees so animals and people can enjoy them, and finally building another school for children who do not have a school near their house.

            If I fast forward to next year, I will see many small changes across my town. The children will be walking to their new school, and traffic will be flowing on the roads. The pedestrians will enjoy trees with animals living in them, and will be content and serene. I now realize that small changes can make a big difference and that my town and its inhabitants can enjoy a higher quality of life.

First place, fifth grade


By Jamie Burton, Pinewood

Envision what it would be like to have wings and soar, towering over the world like a giant in the clouds, peace all around you, You decide to take one last flight over your town before you leave for your southern migration.

            On that flight, you observe children riding their bikes downtown and begging their mothers to venture to the arcade. You also notice garbage in the murky creek water and hefty excavators breaking down the beautiful trees for office spaces and parking lots that once held children from their stout boughs. You are mortified at the appearance of your grotesque, once-beautiful community. Through all the commotion, you spot Lincoln Park, an oasis of calm, undisturbed by mankind. You hear the leader of your flock yelling to go. You have one wish as you depart, for man and nature to find peace and to work together.

            Twelve weeks later, you are prepared to take the journey back home. You recall the prayer you made almost three months ago, hoping that people and Mother Nature would find peace and be able to coexist.

            The flight back home is choppy, cold and fatiguing; however, you arrive home safely. You are flabbergasted at the sight of dozens of trees growing gleefully together. Children are romping on their branches and playing hide-and-go-seek. You observe kids frolicking in the parks that carry dazzling flowers of all sorts of shapes and colors. Then you take a glance at the creek that previously was filled with all kinds of hideous waste, and, Oh! Look at the creek! It is completely refurbished and so immaculate! Its water shines and dances in the sun, You are astonished by the pulchritude of your home and wish you will never have to leave it You can finally call this place home.

Second place, fifth grade

“Greenhouse Gases Be Gone!”

By Michelle Walker, Pinewood

Honk, bonk! I flapped my wings and took off into the nonfictional sky. As I soared above downtown Los Altos, I saw streets packed with cars, moving a foot at a time. First, most of these cars are internal combustion engine cars (ICE cars), so they expended the fossil fuel, gasoline. The problem with utilizing gas to power cars is fossil fuels are not infinite, they are elements that Earth has only created so much of, so we will eventually run out. Also, fossil fuels being burned create greenhouse gases, which are gases that pollute Earth’s atmosphere.

            As I glided through the air, I wondered, What if everyone drove an electric car? What if people rode their bicycles or walked when they were able to? These simple ideas would truly make Los Altos a more special, Earth-friendly place. Additionally, the population would be healthier since they would exercise more by taking a walk or riding a bike.

            I quickly teleported into an alternate dimension of my imagination to see what a perfect Los Altos would be in my mind. I had been to this fictional world before, so I knew what to expect, but I always marvel at how miraculous the mind can be. Still a bird, I circled above the downtown Los Altos of my imagination. There were no cars with smoke billowing out of exhaust pipes, since they were electric and there was almost no traffic. But what I did see was even more amazing. Citizens were strolling around, walking their dogs, riding their bicycles and greeting each other. It was a wonderful experience to see the people of Los Altos transform into an environmentally friendly community from a bird’s-eye view.

            I thought, even the slightest bit of change toward the world of my fantasies would really make Los Altos unique. It would be amazing.

Third place (tie), fifth grade

“If I Could Fly”

By Violet Negrette, Pinewood

I wonder what it would be like to fly and explore like a bird and soar over my surroundings of San Jose. As I explore, I see the highway covered in trash. People do not mind as they speed by in their cars, hoping to get to work on time. Bottles, wrappers, caps and bags are thrown carelessly, as if a tornado has come only to feed on the trash. As I glide around, I see fields, so many empty, spotless fields. There should be a park here. Searching more, I see homeless people begging for just the reassurance of a roof over their heads.

            I fly back home and get a good night’s rest. The next day, I soar back to the highways and glimpse a glorious, spotless, beautiful highway, with people treating each other with courtesy. With a smile on my face, I travel to the many fields expecting a dull and empty place, but in its place is a bright green, sparkling field full of people all playing and exploring the new parks that are safe and fun. I glance around, looking for a homeless person, but there are none to be found. Relief came over me as a perfect day is formed in beautiful San Jose.

            What an amazing day! Full of happiness and spirit! The birds are chirping, the tree leaves are rustling and children are laughing. Everything and everyone is happy and perfect. I only wish life was really like this, but what a wonderful day of flight – a day I shall not forget!

Third place (tie), fifth grade

“Taking a Flight”

By Kathleen Xie, Pinewood

In my mind’s eye, I spread my wings and take off in the cold, crisp air. I am ready to soar over the city of Los Altos.

            In the starry night, I circle around Los Altos. I spotted some garbage on the ground. There were cigarettes, candy wrappers and banana peels.

            “People must be littering,” I thought bitterly. I made a wish that people would pick up their trash and stop littering. Next, I spied a whole area of grass that was dry and yellow.

            “Poor grass, it is dying,” I said to myself. I hoped that people would water their plants because they are just as important as everything else. I gently landed and immediately fell asleep since it was past my bedtime.

            I roused at sunrise ready to take flight again. The sky was as blue as the sea, without any clouds in it. As I flew through the city, I saw everyone picking up trash and nobody was littering. I was very happy. Then, I remembered the patch of grass that was all dry and yellow, so I zoomed to that spot. I was astounded at what I saw. The large patch of dry, yellow grass was now a park! People were planting trees, bushes and flowers to cover the dry grass.

            In conclusion, all my wishes came true and I was exultant about the wonderful changes they made. The city of Los Altos is now filled with people who don’t litter and who water their plants.

First place, sixth grade

By Mackenzie Fobes, Pinewood

“A Los Altos Dream”

I was walking through my Los Altos neighborhood when I met him. He was a jet-black crow sitting in a redwood tree. Suddenly, he spoke. I learned his name was Nevermore. I wasn’t afraid of this talking crow. He claimed that he could make me fly. Nevermore led me to McKenzie Park. He pecked at the ground until he had a beak-full of dirt. He sprinkled the dirt on my head, and I began to fly!

            I soared above my neighborhood. Flying farther, I saw neatly kept, modest homes and larger, fancier homes. Nevermore and I then went over many lush, spacious parks and tidy school grounds. We circled downtown, and I saw small shops and restaurants and tree-lined streets. All around downtown Los Altos, there were many bustling people and cars. Nevermore asked me if there was one change I could make to Los Altos, what would it be?

            I looked down again at the busy people, and I imagined a new town square lined with shops, restaurants and a large fountain. I envisioned outdoor chairs, checkers and chess tables and benches for visiting and relaxing. I pictured shady trees for dogs to smell, a small stage for actors and musicians to perform on and spots for holiday celebrations. I dreamt of one true open gathering space right in the center of town. Nevermore flew me back home and said he would return.

            A week later, Nevermore and I flew together again. There in the center of town was a welcoming town square. People filled the square, mingling, shopping and enjoying the new gathering spot. I could see this square was being used for family time, meeting with friends and quiet time, which adults appreciate. Nevermore then said, “Wake up Mackenzie!” I awoke in my bed – Nevermore was only a dream.

Second place, sixth grade

“Soaring through Change”

By Jake Kleiman, Pinewood

Hi, I’m Jake and I can grow wings! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Just the free feeling of having the wind in between my feathers is so great! I am currently flying over the city of Sunnyvale. The parks and little shops are great, but as Marian Wright Edelman said, “In every seed of good there is always a piece of bad.” As I was soaring over the city, I canvassed the area and noticed the little “pieces of bad,” the dilapidated and abandoned churches, condos and houses slowly eroding away, dissolving into rubble, leaving the wasted space never revised. The wealthy areas thrive and flourish on one side of the street, while the other side is cluttered with impecunious, ill-fated men and women who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week just to feed their family and pay for the bills. The properties easily pay for the consistently rising costs for education, while the destitute can only afford school and a library card when there are already too few public libraries. People are becoming less fit and not exercising at all, not really caring for their health. I thought about a solution for each issue. Nearing my house, I descended and got ready for the night.

            The next morning I took a flight to stretch my wings. I decided to fly on the same route as yesterday and took off. At first, I didn’t notice any difference, but as I neared the inner city, I started to see change. At first, I only saw a small amount of variance, an abandoned, flooded house turned into a public pool and a vegan restaurant being built. But after a little longer, I noticed a stretch of lavish green grass. It was a park for teens to socialize over more than the internet. I also saw the penurious and needy homes being renovated by the city because of the funds the wealthy and hospitable raised and a new library built dedicated for study and knowledge. As I circled back, I thought what all the other cities could do if in the right mindset.

Third place (tie), sixth grade

By Bryce Lim, Springer

Greetings! Welcome to my migration journey. I’m excited to venture with you today.

            What type of bird am I? I’m a male white-crowned sparrow. I eat insects and seeds on the ground. I’m about 15.5 centimeters, but my wingspan is 22.5 centimeters, which is longer than my body! I’m light as a feather, only weighing around 1 ounce. You came to fly with me above the area known as Los Altos and Mountain View.

            I heard that this area is a terrific place for people. I see kids playing in parks and schools. I wish that I could join them. I notice numerous vehicles emitting lots of greenhouse gases. However, I see many electric cars. According to, California continues to have the most electric automobiles in the U.S.

            Although I like Mountain View and Los Altos very much, there are some changes First, I hope to see – more people walking, riding bikes or scootering can make a considerable change to all the birds. Second, I would like to mention the power cables. Those could easily be toppled over by natural disasters. Power cables underground would result in fewer blackouts, and would save the airplanes and birds a bit of trouble.

            In addition, I would be so happy if the number of electric cars increases at this rate. says, “If California continues ... , it will shoot past its goal of 1.5 million EVs by 2025, and approach Gov. Jerry Brown’s new goal of 5 million EVs by 2030.”

            The schools are doing great, too. Recently, they have installed solar panels in the parking lots, which produce green energy and provide shade at the same time.

            Well, I should be continuing my migration journey. It was a pleasant experience journeying with you. See you next time!

Third place (tie), sixth grade

“My New Home”

By Sophia Cheng, Pinewood

I was soaring above the sky with powerful wings that rippled behind me. My sharp eyes surveyed the ground below me for any food. After eating some lush berries that I had scouted out, I drank some water from a lovely, exotic pond. The resources were so numerous around this area! Hmm, I thought. Maybe if I can find a good enough spot, I can live here. While I pondered this new idea, I came across a place called Los Altos. As I hovered above it, I noticed that there were lots of houses and shopping malls, such as downtown Los Altos; the only noticeable patches of green were soccer fields in schools and tiny lawns next to each house. It was as if humans did not care at all about preserving animals’ natural habitats. Sadly, I turned and flew away, continuing on my journey.

            The next year, I took my journey again, through the same route. I had no hope that Los Altos would improve at all, because all the other cities had only constructed more buildings, restaurants and houses; what were the chances that Los Altos had not followed their example? After a long time, I came across a new expanse of green that I had never seen before. All my other surroundings were familiar to me, so I had not lost my way. I continued to fly, and then, I saw a natural park with places for animals to live like they were in the wild! As I neared the park’s gate, I saw a sign: “Los Altos County Nature Reserve.” I really was in Los Altos! At last, I had found a good home.

United Methodist rummage sale Friday, Saturday

Note: The Town Crier's printed version of this article included incorrect dates and times. The item below has been updated to correct the information.

Los Altos United Methodist Church has scheduled its annual rummage sale 8 a.m. to 5 p..m. Friday (May 18) and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (May 19) at the church, 655 Magdalena Ave.

The sale will feature clothing, baby furnishings, garden gadgets, toys, books, electronics, jewelry, collectibles and furniture.

A food truck will sell lunch both days.

The sale is sponsored by the Los Altos United Methodist Women and the Starfire Singers, a student choir. Proceeds support local, national and global charities and missions.

For more information, visit

71st Kiwanis Pet Parade slated Saturday in downtown Los Altos

S.M. Lieu / Special to the Town Crier
A Kiwanis Pet Parade participant shows affection to her canine friend in a scene from last year’s event. This year’s parade is set for 10 a.m. Saturday.

The 7lst annual Kiwanis Pet Parade is scheduled 10 a.m. Saturday, starting at First and Main streets in downtown Los Altos.

Los Altos landscape artist adds local color to weekend Rotary show at Lincoln Park

Courtesy of Rotary Club of Los Altos
Robin Scholl of Los Altos bases her artwork on photographs she has taken of landscapes in California.

Robin Scholl, a Los Altos native and artist who paints impressionistic, light-filled, layered landscapes, is scheduled to show her work at the 43rd annual Rotary Club of Los Altos’ Fine Art in the Park event, scheduled 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Lincoln Park, 199 University Ave.

Scholl, exhibiting at the show for the first time, bases her artwork on photographs she has taken of landscapes in California and around the world. Beginning with watercolor on thick paper, her technique involves adding layers of gouache, pastel and oil to achieve subtle colors, lighting effects, movement and depth in her finished pieces.

Community Briefs

LAUMC rummage sale slated FRIDAY, SATURDAY

Los Altos United Methodist Church has scheduled its annual rummage sale 8 a.m. to 5 p..m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the church, 655 Magdalena Ave.

The sale will feature clothing, baby furnishings, garden gadgets, toys, books, electronics, jewelry, collectibles and furniture.

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