The Half Moon Bay Patch
By Kristine Wong

A sold-out crowd of over 300 people packed the IDES Hall in downtown Half Moon Bay on Friday to celebrate and honor local volunteers and the Farmer of the Year at the 42nd Annual Mel Mello Farm Day luncheon and awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony kicked off with a surprise award presentation for Half Moon Bay World War II veteran Ray Martini, 91. Martini was honored as he was nominated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from French President Nicolas Sarkosy for his service in the war. Martini flew 50 missions, including two flights on D-Day and four over Normandy, according to Corinne Pereira, Deputy General Consul at the French consulate in San Francisco, who presented Martini with his award.

According to Jack McHugh, a close friend of the veteran who arranged to have the award presented in Half Moon Bay, Martini is the last of his peers alive who flew P47 Thunderbolt planes during World War II. "The name of his first plane in the European theater was the Suzy II," McHugh said.

Martini was given an honorary pin by Pereira, as well as a standing ovation from the crowd. Members of the American Legion Coastside Post #474 were seated at the front table to honor their fellow veteran.

"I'd just like to say something I know none of you know about," Martini said to the crowd. "Twenty-seven of us left the United States — now I'm the only one living," he said. "I lost a lot of good buddies," he said.

Longtime volunteer Connie Whelen was honored with the Glenn Ashcraft Community Service Award. Whelen moved to Half Moon Bay in 1962 and has been an active member in the local community. "She's hardworking and cares about others and the community," said Mayor Naomi Patridge, who presented the award. "She's personally one of the funniest people I know."

Whelen, escorted to the stage by Frank Mello to receive her award from Patridge, also was presented with honors from county and state and national legislators, including San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, State Senator Joe Simitian, and U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo.

Former Half Moon Bay mayor and community volunteer Jerry Donovan received the Dolores Mullin "Like a Rock" Award. Donovan, a Farm Day committee member, said that he was completely surprised when he heard his name being called from the podium.

"Thank you for the recognition," Donovan said at the podium. "Dolores was such a great person that it's great to be associated with her," he said. "Thank you," he finished, with tears in his eyes and a choked-up voice.

"I love you from the bottom of my heart," Patridge said to Donovan as they embraced on stage.

"Naomi told everyone that the award was going to Marina Fraser," Donovan said at the conclusion of the lunch, smiling. "We met all year to plan the event, so when the award was being announced, I stood back to see Marina's reaction — then I heard that the winner grew up in Daly City, and I thought 'No she didn't.'"

"I then heard that the winner graduated from Westmoor High School and then I realized they were talking about me," Donovan said. "You feel funny when people honor you, because that's not what you're there for...then people who you've had different political opinions come up to you to congratulate you, and you realize what a strong community you have," he said.

"I visit Skylawn Memorial to see my wife," he said, "and I always go down and say hello to Dolores," he said. Mullin passed away in 1995.

Frank Mello presented the Farmer of the Year award with his brother, Mel Mello Jr., to John Giusti of Giusti Farms in Half Moon Bay.

"Farm Day to me means a day to give thanks to my community, not only to those who have cultivated, planted and harvested food for my body...but to the community that has lived, worked and played together, that nurture the spirit of my very being," Frank said.

Mel Mello Jr. recalled childhood memories growing up with Giusti, including the first professional baseball game they attended together -- an Oakland A's game.

After receiving recognition from Half Moon Bay, county, state, and Congressional leaders with his wife Maureen and his three children by his side, Giusti spoke to the audience.

"I want to recognize the people who work for me," he said. "They're the backbone," he said.

"I had one of those moments when we were out working in the rain this winter, and they were giving it all they could...without them I'd be nothing," Giusti said after the ceremony. "They went the extra mile to help harvesting crops — I see guys out there outworking me."

Giusti said he was surprised to hear that he had received the award.

Organized by the Half Moon Bay and Coastside Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Farm Day committee comprised of local volunteers and community leaders, the event was locally produced from the food (brussel sprouts and artichokes grown at Giusti Farms and cooked respectively by Cameron Palmer and Jerry Donovan; tri-tip, fish, and salad were served as well) and drinks (Half Moon Bay Winery, La Nebbia Winery, Cameron's Inn) to the flowers donated by growers Bay City Flower, T&E Pastorino, Nurserymen's Exchange, Repetto's and the San Francisco Brannan Street Wholesale Florist.

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