Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced city leaders honor ‘Volunteers of the Year’

‘I feel like Santa Claus walking around town handing out masks.
I always have some in my car. I literally hand out masks all day long.’

Robert Garcia,
one of Merced’s Volunteers of the Year for 2020

Merced City Council members on Tuesday night each selected a standout community volunteer to recognize and honor the work and effort they have put into the city.

This is the second year the council has recognized community volunteers.


Robert ‘Zilla’ Garcia of the Rotary Community Corps.


Robert Garcia of the Rotary Community Corps of Merced County earned major kudos from Mayor Mike Murphy for his group’s effort to collect and supply protective face masks, along with COVID-19 education, to residents, organizations and vulnerable populations — such as migrant workers — throughout the region. A substantial amount of Garcia’s work came at a time when masks were in short supply. Garcia was the driving force in the all-ages effort that included fundraising, and at the same time, direct support for struggling local businesses who participated in the public safety awareness campaign. Businesses provided gift cards that Garcia used to acquire home-made masks from the community. In a short period of time, Garcia and the Rotary Community Corps, were able to distribute 3,000 masks directly to those in need. Garcia has also been very active in local food distributions, neighborhood cleanups and youth activities.

• District 1 Council member Anthony Martinez honored Zuleika Quiralte-Reyes, an enthusiastic supporter and fundraiser of the successful marching band programs at both Weaver School and Golden Valley High School. Her efforts have made a difference in the effort to keep these programs going during tough financial times.

• Council member Fernando Echevarria named Rafael Vega as the District 2 Volunteer of the Year. Vega donates more than 100 hours a month toward the health and wellness of District 2, located in south Merced, from MLK Jr. Way to V Street and beyond. For the past 20 years, Vega has volunteered through multiple efforts at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and by organizing health fairs in nearby neighborhoods.

• Council member Jill McLeod recognized Wayne and Vicki Eisenhart as recipients of the Volunteer of the Year award for District 3 in downtown Merced. Wayne is a member of the Alliance for Community Transformation which sponsors the Valley Crisis Center. He has supported A Woman’s Place, Tranquility House and Hope House, and he has been a board member of the Law Library Board of Trustees. Vicki is a very gifted master quilter who donates her time and efforts regularly in the form of quilts that she gives to UC scholars and to children in the foster care system. She is an active participant in the Merced Walks cleanup program, and she also maintains a Little Library site outside her home for neighborhood children to enjoy. They both are active members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and are currently involved in creating a historical district of “Old Town” by identifying, listing and publishing details of residential homes that are 100 years old or more.

Monika Modest, at center, during a ceremony at City Hall.


• In District 4, Councilman Kevin Blake named Monika Modest as his selection for Volunteer of the Year. Modest is an artist known for her public arts projects that involve ceramic tile murals produced and funded by residents and community organizations. Her work can be seen in Bob Hart Square, the G Street Underpass, and most recently, inside Applegate Park where the Merced Open Air Theatre is currently being restored and decorated with “Starry Night” tiles to inspire hope for the city’s homeless population. Modest donated her own time, and $25,000 to the restoration project. She is also a founding member of the city’s Arts Commission.

• Council member Matt Serratto named another Monika — Monika Grasley — as the Volunteer of the Year for District 5. Grasely is the director of LifeLine CDC an organization of people who believe “every life matters.” She has worked for many years to improve the quality of life for residents in the Loughborough neighborhood of northwest Merced. She has supported the Meadows Apartment complex with its youth center and workforce development center.


Rich Gipson


Rich Gipson, who recently passed away, was posthumously awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award for District 6 by Council member Delray Shelton. Gipson has served the city on many fronts for decades. A longtime educator, Gipson volunteered in and led groups such as the Merced and California chapters of the Retired Teachers Association, Friends of UC Merced and the Northern California Democratic Central Committee.

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