When it comes to Paul and Liz Nyberg volunteering in their community, the question isn’t what they are involved in, it’s more what are they not involved in?
The Town Crier publishers are ubiquitous on the Los Altos scene. Volunteers for multiple nonprofit groups, their calendars remain filled with events nearly every night of the week. An evening at home is unusual for them.
Owners of their hometown paper going on 25 years now, the Nybergs have welcomed all voices while emphasizing local coverage with a sense of fairness and compassion.
Because the Nybergs embody the spirit of goodwill and community service – and after a group of community leaders came together and insisted that they be given the honor – the Nybergs are the 2017 Los Altans of the Year.
“Over these 24 years of ownership, Paul and Liz have contributed their ideas and action in helping make Los Altos a better place,” said Dick Henning, the former Foothill College dean, founder of the Celebrity Forum Speaker Series and head of the ad hoc committee that nominated the Nybergs for this year’s honor.
“In September, a small group of us met with the Los Altos Town Crier staff and requested that Paul and Liz be recognized,” Henning said. “The staff thought it was a great idea.”
The Nybergs are getting a taste of their own medicine after more than 20 years of honoring others with the award, modeled after Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
The Nybergs are a true power couple, and they’ve used that “power” to build community.
Paul has been active in the Rotary Club of Los Altos longer than he has been publisher of the paper. He and Liz can be counted on to work the booths at special Rotary Club events like Fine Art in the Park.
They’ve produced an array of special events over the years, including the annual Los Altos Live! talent show at Los Altos High School that raises funds for the Camp Everytown youth retreat. The show, launched in 2008 and featuring a wide range of acts and age ranges, plays to a sold-out audience every year.
They started multiple high-profile projects through his Los Altos Cultural Association, including the 2000 Millennium Eve Celebration, a swanky black-tie affair held in a big tent that featured a UFO landing; a fundraising effort to equip the local high school theaters with lighting and sound equipment; and “Paint the Town,” a book of artist depictions of downtown Los Altos scenes that celebrated the uniqueness of the village while showcasing the talent of the artists. The statue “Olympics Wannabes” in Village Park is there in part because of Paul’s efforts with the Cultural Association.
Paul started a newspaper tradition in 2000 with the annual Town Crier Holiday Fund, raising money in the community to support the efforts of worthy nonprofit groups. The campaign has raised more than $2.5 million and is still running strong – 20 nonprofit agencies are due to benefit this year because of the community’s generosity.
Liz, the Town Crier’s human resources director, has long been active at the Los Altos History Museum. A docent since 1991, she has served on the committee for the museum’s annual crab feed fundraiser for 23 years – an event sold out so far in advance that it rarely needs any Town Crier publicity to promote it. She was president of the museum board for four years (1996- 2000). Her leadership has played a major role in the History Museum’s standing as the vital community resource it is today.
When the Block Action Team was newly formed under Los Altos Community Foundation auspices, Liz and a neighbor became co-leaders of their street. She has gotten to know all of her neighbors as they partner in learning more about emergency preparedness measures.
Also active in the faith community, the Nybergs were among the group of families that founded the Los Altos Prayer Breakfast in 1995, an annual affair that has grown into the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, attracting 800-900 attendees each spring.
“To know Paul and Liz Nyberg is to know the heart and character of a couple who have neighbors, friends, community, state and country ahead of all personal concerns,” said longtime Los Altos resident and friend Tom Gutshall. “Their devotion and faith-in-action personify my idea of the ideal American couple.”
“After they bought the Town Crier and really got into the community, we were often included in their ‘startups,’” said Jeanne Foerster, who with her husband, Paul, joined the Nybergs in co-founding and co-chairing the first Prayer Breakfast. “‘What’s next?’ we wondered. … So many others have enjoyed the ride (with Paul and Liz) and have met new challenges and friends.”
“The city of Los Altos is blessed to have Paul and Liz Nyberg as the heart of the community,” said longtime friend and community volunteer Duffy Price. “What would Los Altos and the community be without the Los Altos Town Crier, the Los Altos History Museum, the ‘Olympic Wannabes’ statue, the Los Altos Prayer Breakfast and more? They personify what it means to give back to the community. Their camaraderie and volunteerism is reflected and sustained in everything they do. It makes you want to contribute, too. We are indeed fortunate to have such a pre-eminent couple finally recognized as the Los Altans of the Year for 2017.”
Liz looks back
Liz and Paul were taught the value of community involvement and hard work from an early age.
Liz, raised in Niagara Falls, N.Y., was one of four children. Her mother was a volunteer, active in the local women’s club and the PTA and involved in her children’s activities.
Her family moved to California when she started college in the 1960s. She attended UC Berkeley for two years, before marrying her first husband. She completed her bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University. The couple purchased their first house, in Los Altos, in 1972. The city reminded her of Niagara Falls, where she spent what she called her “idyllic” childhood.
“She has loved Los Altos since the day our family moved into a house on Meadow Lane 45 years ago,” said her daughter Cynthia Braun. “In characteristic style, she got involved in the community right away and never stopped. But she’s also given nonstop to our family.”
Liz followed in her mother’s footsteps, volunteering with the PTA and Girl Scouts while raising her two daughters. She also got involved in the local branch of the American Association of University Women, where she served as president in 1976 – then approximately 500 members strong.
“She would routinely be up after midnight, planning events, baking cookies for a function, rehearsing opening remarks for a reception, you name it,” daughter Amy Hollister recalled. “I would be exhausted, dragging myself to bed, but she never ran out of energy. It was like the more she did, the more energy she had. She is the Energizer Bunny personified. … There was never any task too daunting. My sister and I would feel overwhelmed by our homework or school projects, but she showed us how to do what she always did – break down the seemingly impossible into doable steps and march right through them. In the three decades since I’ve been living away from home, I’ve never met anyone as can-do and enthusiastic as my mom.”
Paul’s farm days
Paul was born on a farm four miles outside the small town of Hinckley, Minn., “in the middle of a February snowstorm,” he added. He was one of eight children.
“We all grew up working very hard,” he said. “I think the work ethic was very much instilled in us as kids. We attended a one-room school, a half-mile up the road from our farm, for eight years.”
The large family lived in a three-room house with no electricity and no running water. Growing up was hard work.
“My dad never stopped working – he was a carpenter, a mechanic, he could fix anything,” Paul said.
The industriousness rubbed off on Paul, who became, at his father’s knee, a handyman extraordinaire. In turn, Paul taught his children those same skills.
“He was a master at taking things apart, finding the busted piece and completing the repair,” said his son, David. “These are invaluable skills that I’ve reused through my whole life.”
“We never once hired an electrician, painter, plumber or carpenter – Dad could do it all,” daughter Jill Peterson said. “I thought all dads could do this.”
One thing he couldn’t do was participate in sports – cleaning the barn and milking the cows came first. The irony here is that as an adult, Paul founded Letterman Magazine, a publication dedicated to high school sports.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War for two years, which proved instrumental to his education – he attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., on the GI Bill.
After Wheaton, Paul relocated to California in 1967 to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley.
“I was unique in the sense that not too many of my high school classmates went to college, but I did,” Paul said. “I felt like God wanted me to get an education.”
Paul pursued journalism at Berkeley, where he was editor of a student engineer publication. He earned a master’s degree in journalism before returning to Wheaton.
His first publishing gig came when the Christian Service Brigade hired him as publisher of Venture Magazine, which he ran for 11 years.
Paul was especially proud of creating Letterman, which he oversaw for five years before selling in 1975. He had big names in the sports world join his magazine advisory board, including NFL Hall of Famer Bart Starr and Boston Celtics great Don Nelson.
“It was funny I was doing that because I was not an athlete at all,” Paul said.
In 1975, not long after his first marriage ended, Paul was recruited for a job at Hudson Publishing Co., bringing him to Los Altos.
He then signed on to Homes & Land Magazine in 1978, starting up franchises as president of its western division.
When he wasn’t publishing magazines, Paul was building things.
He built some noteworthy additions to youth camps in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. In Michigan, he constructed a 210-foot suspension bridge over a lake – which was an “amazing feat,” Liz said, “because he’s not an engineer.” That bridge still stands today. At the Wisconsin camp, Paul built cabins, a dining commons and other buildings.
“Dad has a knack of making everything fun, including work,” David said. “Later, with my own children, I adopted two simple rules: Have fun, and be nice.”
“The most important thing my dad taught me was that I can accomplish anything I decide to,” Jill said. “He always had the utmost faith in me and my abilities. He believed in me, and so I believed in myself. This still impacts me on a daily basis. His kindness, positive attitude and optimism are contagious.”
Paul meets Liz
Paul met Liz at a church event in 1981 at the old Menu Tree restaurant in Mountain View. Liz had been selling real estate for Barber Properties in Los Altos.
“We had several dates,” Liz recalled. “Then we didn’t date for three years.”
Liz was in a relationship with someone else, but that didn’t stop Paul from calling once a year to see if she was available.
“The third year, I said, ‘Let’s do lunch,’” Liz said. “I thought, this man’s values are the same as mine, I like everything he’s saying, how important family is to him and work, and he’s successful.”
They were married in February 1984.
They also began a business partnership. Paul asked Liz to start up a Homes & Land Magazine for Santa Clara Valley. She ran the magazine from 1984 to 1995, selling ads, taking photographs, distributing copies, submitting invoices and collecting money. Paul also started a successful publication, Renter’s Digest, in 1984. It grew to three different editions before he sold it to KKR in 1995.
Town Crier era
In early 1993, Paul and Liz were among five bidders for the Los Altos Town Crier, which had been put up for sale by the Tribune Co. of Chicago. The sellers gave the nod to Paul because of his journalism background.
A new era for the paper began as the Nybergs quickly sprang into action.
The Town Crier had closed its doors on a Friday, March 12, and the Nybergs became the new owners Saturday, March 13. That same day, they rehired Chris Redden and Howard Bischoff, who were already veteran newspaper employees.
As a result, the Town Crier never missed a Wednesday publication date.
The headline of the first issue under the Nyberg regime, March 17, read “Town Crier Rescued.”
“The Town Crier, under Liz and Paul’s leadership, has been a bonding agent for our community,” said Bob and Lois Adams, 2008 Los Altans of the Year and longtime friends of the Nybergs. “Liz and Paul have made efforts to present both sides of the potentially divisive political points of view, have championed the arts, organized social events, recognized educational achievements, and through the Holiday Fund, the Nybergs have helped support local philanthropic organizations.”
“Paul and Liz have been extremely supportive of staff members getting involved in community activities from sports and business to the arts and community service,” said Bischoff, the Town Crier’s associate publisher. “They lead by example.”
Added Redden, the paper’s advertising services director: “Over the years, the Nybergs have shown the Town Crier employees numerous acts of generosity and support. No wonder many of us have been here for many, many years.”
Liz has been involved at Mentor Tutor Connection (formerly Partners for New Generations) for 17 years. The nonprofit agency matches adult mentors and tutors with students who could use additional help with schoolwork – or a boost in confidence.
Linda Eckols, former Los Altos School District teacher and principal, recalled receiving a call from Liz in 2012 to join Mentor Tutor Connection as an elementary tutor placement coordinator.
“I agreed, and that became the beginning of a very special relationship for me,” Eckols said.
The two have since teamed up in several Mentor Tutor Connection and History Museum roles, from board members to event planners.
Eckols and Liz are serving as co-chairwomen of the museum’s 2018 crab feed, set for Feb. 3.
“In all settings, I always find Liz to be organized, thoughtful, know- ledgeable of resources and generous with her time, her talents and her connections in the community,” Eckols said. “Whether it is solving a personnel issue, planning a party, or volunteering on another committee, Liz seems to be the person individuals look to for leadership. For me, Liz has become my friend, my colleague, my mentor and my role model.”
“I like to be helpful,” Liz said of volunteering. “It’s easy to do – frankly, I don’t understand why more people don’t do it. Our staff is so capable, it gives us flex time.”
Paul gets great satisfaction from knowing his vehicles for community building are succeeding.
A “Check Out” event follows each Holiday Fund campaign, at which representatives from each of the nonprofit groups receive a check. Paul usually lines up a keynote speaker to offer advice and inspiration to the gathering.
His Town Crier offices feature a gallery of front covers featuring all Los Altans of the Year going back to the first – Lawrence Chu of Chef Chu’s restaurant – in 1994. Paul organizes entertaining dinner programs for Los Altan of the Year honorees, each event guaranteeing laughter and a good time while paying tribute to deserving recipients.
“He dreams up things he wants to do, he starts them, he puts wheels under them and gets them going,” Liz said of Paul.
“I have a sense of pride in making things better for everybody,” Paul said of what drives him.
Clearly, Paul and Liz enjoy bringing joy to others. And like that Energizer Bunny, they keep going.
Note: In addition to Henning, members of the committee that nominated the Nybergs as Los Altans of the Year included longtime community volunteers Tom and Karen Smith, Bob Simon, Dennis Young, Steve Shepherd, John Sylvester, Jack Kelly, Lina Broydo and Sam Pesner; former Los Altans of the Year Bob and Lois Adams, Claudia Coleman, Mona Armistead, Gay Krause, Jeanne MacVicar and Marge Bruno (also a former Los Altos mayor); former Los Altos City Manager Phil Rose; Julie Rose and Pat Kapp, former and current Los Altos Chamber of Commerce presidents, respectively; Los Altos Hills City Councilman Gary Waldeck; and former Los Altos Mayor Frank Verlot.
A dinner honoring the Nybergs is scheduled 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Palo Alto. Tickets are $90. For more information, call Chris Redden at 948-9000.