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Raj Hajela

Mythic Open Spaces & Selfless Acts of Others Inspires Legacy Supporting Big Idea of Ridge Trail

Talking about his decision to include a gift in his will to the Ridge Trail, Raj Hajela is frank, “I like big ideas, but ideas, whatever the size, always have a bigger impact than anybody imagines.  So, I’m supporting this big idea.”

Born in India in the 1960’s, Hajela describes his childhood as a “crazy different way” of growing up.  “It was essentially a company town that was very westernized.  English was the common language.  The movies, news, music all came from the west.  I grew up with Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry.  It was a very different experience versus the rest of India,” Hajela shared.

Hajela and his wife, Sudha, met in college.  An engineer in India’s automobile industry, Hajela was recruited to work in the US.  He and his wife moved to Michigan in 1989, where Hajela would earn an MBA from Michigan State University.

About their move Hajela said, “Growing up I read about places like Yellowstone, the Badlands and Custer National Battlefield.  My wife read about places like Yosemite that seemed mythical.  The idea of open spaces is really hard to comprehend in countries like India.  These places motivated me in coming here.”

While on vacation in California in 1999, Hajela and his wife visited many of the places they had read about as children.  The experience inspired their move to the Bay Area in 2000.  “Why did we end up in the Bay Area?  It’s because of the hiking trails – that was significant,” Hajela explained.

In 2010, Hajela met Joel Gartland, who was then volunteer coordinator for the Ridge Trail.  Though familiar with the Ridge Trail as a hiker, Hajela says it was his conversation with Gartland that got him involved.  “I loved the concept of a 500 plus mile loop trail.  For me, that was a compelling idea and from that point I was a supporter,” Hajela said.

Explaining why he is making an unrestricted gift to the Ridge Trail in his will, Hajela says, “There are countless individuals who have done great things very selflessly – and they have no idea of the impact they’ve had in people’s lives.  I’ve been a beneficiary of that, just like we have all benefitted from selfless deeds by others.

“Someone had the idea of the Ridge Trail, they formed the Trail Council, they got the trails built and I’ve gotten to enjoy it.  Whatever money I can give will help.  I have no idea what kind of impact it’s going to have, but how do you measure the impact of a trail on the lives of people?”

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is honored to welcome Raj & Sudha Hajela as members of its Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Phil Arnold

Phil Arnold’s Legacy Provides Support for Trail’s Financial Infrastructure

While serving as Chair of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, the late Phil Arnold said, “I like improving things people can’t see, so what they do see works.”

Arnold, a former chief financial officer for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, became acting director of the San Francisco Zoo the year of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. “Much of the zoo’s infrastructure collapsed during the quake,” he said.  He helped put together a major bond issue that was used to repair the zoo’s water, gas, electrical and sewer systems—all invisible to the visiting public.

Golden Gate Park had a similar potential for hidden damage, he continued.  “So I worked on a bond issue to rebuild all the stuff you don’t see—underground utilities, including water, power, and sewer systems.

As past treasurer of the Trail Council, Arnold saw some financial weaknesses that, like damaged infrastructure, are invisible to most.

“The Trail Council went through some rough financial times in 2009,” Arnold said.   “Then we got a bequest out of the blue of about $110,000 that saw us through.”

But Arnold knew that surprise bequests were not the answer.  “I realized we lacked sufficient operating reserves,” he said.  Like water and electrical systems, operating reserves provide quiet, reliable support to nonprofit causes during times of economic stress or uncertainty.

As a hiker, swimmer, sailor and runner, Arnold encouraged people to get out on the Trail.  “I want them to experience its beauty and see how it enhances life in the Bay Area. I want them to feel that it deserves their support.”

Arnold set aside a fixed amount in his living trust for the benefit of the Trail Council.  “My gift is totally unrestricted,” Arnold explained.  “But I hope it will support the operating reserve.”

A San Francisco resident, where he lived with his wife Monique Zmuda, Arnold was the father of four adult children and a passionate advocate of open space.  “I grew up in Southern California,” he said.  “When I was in high school, I saw the orange groves of Orange County paved over.”

After moving to San Francisco, he joined the City’s Recreation and Parks Department.  At age 41, he became director of the Open Space Program which provides funding for acquisition, development and maintenance of public open spaces. One focus of this program was the acquisition of hilltops so that views of San Francisco could be preserved for the public.

When first asked to join the Trail Council board, his personal and professional history made him immediately sympathetic to its mission.

“Imagine the vision the Council founders had back in the late fifties and early sixties,” he enthused years later.  “How many people back then were thinking of a trail encircling the Bay and connecting some 65 parks, 16 in San Francisco alone?  We are the torch bearers of their vision.”

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is honored to list the late Phil Arnold as a member of its Ridge Trail Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Mark Evanoff

Mark Evanoff’s Unique Lens Spots Trail’s Economic Value

Mark Evanoff sees something along the Ridge Trail most hikers miss: economic value.

Evanoff, a founder of the Ridge Trail Council and the Deputy City Manager of Union City in Southern Alameda County, discerns the financial benefits of hiking trails the way birders spot Red-tailed hawks: routinely and with quiet excitement.

He cited a business executive whose company decided to locate multi-million-dollar office buildings in Union City: “He told me that proximity to BART and access to hiking trails weighed heavily in favor of the investment. Both made tenant recruitment easier.”

Evanoff, who speaks with concise clarity, summarizes the Ridge Trail as “a 500-mile-long community effort that will unify all the major parks around the Bay Area.  We’re at about 365 miles now.”

He envisions the completed Trail as linking urban communities with the natural world and with one another. But his city-management lens also perceives the Trail as an economic magnet, attracting businesses, new families and others contributors to the local tax base.

Joining city-management after twelve years as head of Union City’s Redevelopment Agency, he relishes watching  land once thought worthless multiply in value almost overnight.

“I’ve seen 130 acres in Union City that had a negative value now worth millions when transformed into sites for housing and commercial development adjacent to BART.”

(Since its incorporation in 1959, Union City’s populations has as grown from 6,000 to more than 72,000 today.  The students at Union’s City’s James Logan High school speak 51 languages.  Evanoff proudly points to its nationally recognized track team, band, and debating teams.)

Because of the Ridge Trail’s environmental, recreational, and economic value, Evanoff, an avid hiker and cyclist, plans to invest in the Trail’s future  through a “substantial gift” in his estate plan.

“The public has supported expanding the Bay Area park system since the founding of the Ridge Trail Council” he said, citing park bond measures passed in the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, the East Bay Regional Park District, Sonoma County, and Santa Clara Open Space District.

His estate gift will help assure the completion of Bay area Ridge Trail and  the continuation of the benefits he’s seen it bring to local communities—a personal bond measure to finance a cause he loves.

For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Doris Lindfors

Lindfors Bequest to Trail Council Remembers Woman ‘Full of Fire”

28 years a teacher and 27 years a supporter of the Ridge Trail Council, the late Doris E. Lindfors approached teaching and hiking with a passion strong enough to draw praise from former students and add miles to the Trail she loved.

“You could see her strength of character,” Trail Council Executive Director Janet McBride said of the 5-foot-two-inch Lindfors, who was a founding member and first secretary of the Council’s board of directors. “When she smiled she would light up the whole room.”

One of ten Ridge Trail women dubbed “the walkie-talkies,” Lindfors often hiked the San Mateo County section of the Trail with her friend Jean Rusmore, author of Bay Area Ridge Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Equestrians.  Along with enjoying the scenery, they looked for landowners willing to open their properties to the Trail.

Her husband of 64 years, retired attorney Peter Lindfors, 91, recalled that one of the toughest challenges Doris and the Ridge Trail Council faced was extending the Trail through San Mateo’s Crystal Springs Reservoir System that serves as the emergency water supply for San Mateo and San Francisco Counties.

“I remember a group of us descending on San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan to get help with the Public Utilities Commission,” Peter said. “We were not successful,” he added, with the air of an affectionate husband pulled along by the enthusiasms of his energetic wife.

The scenic Crystal Spring Watershed trail is now open to the public by reservation with docent-led groups.

Remembered as an environmentalist, educator, activist, volunteer and philanthropist, Doris’s interests embraced reading, public transportation, public libraries, early education and the symphony. She and Peter included in their living trust a charitable bequest to the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council.

“She was a small person full of fire,” Peter said.

He recalled attending a reunion at Wesmoor High School in Daly City where Doris had taught journalism and English and worked as a counselor some twenty years prior.

“We were seated with a group of former faculty,” he said.  “A middle-aged woman came up to Doris and told her, ‘You are the most important person in my life!’ On the way home, I asked Doris, ‘What was that all about?’  She said she had steered her through ‘some complications’. I was very proud of her.

“She could really get through to teenagers,” Peter added.

Following her death on December 16, 2014, tributes posted by former students described her as “dedicated and inspirational,” “patient, and creative,” and a “lighthouse” to those she taught.

Doris is also survived by her daughter, Karen Lindfors, M.D., and son-in-law, Patrick Moore, of Carmichael, grandchildren, Jared Moore of Boston and Kendra Moore of Philadelphia.

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is honored to list Doris and Peter Lindfors as members of its Ridge Trail Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Ruth Zamist

Ruth Zamist’s Trail Bequest Mixes Passion and Calculation

Ruth Zamist, CPA, who became the Ridge Trail Council’s first treasurer in 1991 and served on its board for seven years, has made it her mission to hike the Bay Area Ridge Trail in every county it crosses.

“The concept of connecting neighborhoods and counties via a ridge trail is very appealing to me,” she said.  “I go to other counties to hike and learn about places other than my little corner of the world in Marin County.”

Like her hiking, her volunteer service to the Ridge Trail went well beyond the expected.

“I loved collecting cash and checking I.D.s at the annual Tour de Fat fundraiser for the Ridge Trail Council and the SF Bicycling Coalition in Golden Gate Park’s Lindley Meadow,” she says with a glee rarely associated with accounting but that pairs well with bicycling parades, big happy crowds, and beer sales.

She has also participated in the Trail Council’s 19-year-old Ridge to Bridge event, in which hikers, runners, bikers and equestrians take to the Ridge Trail on the same day, traversing sections of the Trail that twist above, around, near and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

An enthusiastic Ridge Trail supporter—besides annual contributions she has made the Trail a beneficiary of her retirement plan—her love for the cause is both CPA rational and deeply personal.

“As a hiker, I like the concept of the Ridge Trail,” she said.  “And I liked the people who ran the organization. The staff and volunteers are smart, hard-working, and passionate about what they are doing.”

She singled out the charismatic Brian O’Neill who served as co-chair of the Ridge Trail and was superintendent of the Presidio of San Francisco before his death in 2010.  “Brian was an inspiration to everyone he met,” she said.

When talking about her retirement gift and estate planning generally, her tone shifts from volunteer enthusiast to no-nonsense CPA: “We had a hiking friend who died suddenly and did not have a will.  He loved the outdoors, the ballet and the opera.  Unfortunately his entire estate went to the State of California.

“Most people do not want to face their eventual demise, but no one lives forever.  For those without children or even with children, it is important to have an estate plan.”

Her own estate-gift strategy—making the Ridge Trail Council and other causes she loves percentage beneficiaries of her retirement plan—has a CPA’s tax-savvy touch. Left to individuals, her retirement plan distributions are taxable.  Left to the Ridge Trail Council and other nonprofit organizations, her distributions pass tax-free and in full to the causes she loves while her non-taxable assets pass to the people she loves.

Born, raised and educated in New York City, Ruth took up archery five years ago at a range in Novato.  “It’s fun,” she said.  “It’s the total opposite of hiking.”

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is honored to list Ruth Zamist as a member of its Ridge Trail Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Jorgen Hildebrandt

Top Ranked Senior Tennis Player Has Trail Council in Estate Plan

At age 85, Jorgen Hildebrandt of San Rafael, a retired financial adviser, became the US Tennis Association’s top ranked Northern California singles tennis player in his age category.

Now age 88, Mr. Hildebrandt still takes to the courts a few times a week to keep his game and body in shape.  To keep his mind agile and his memory retentive, he regularly plays duplicate bridge.

“I believe that the keys to a long and healthy life are physical and mental exercise,” Mr. Hildebrandt said during a recent phone interview.

A lover of the outdoors, he is a long-time member of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council.  “What impresses me the most about the Council is its vision of a continuous trail around the Bay Area,” he said.  “Once the Trail’s completed, anyone living here who enjoys hiking will be a short distance from it. That’s what excited me when I became a member and that’s what excites me now.”

A man accustomed to putting convictions into practice, Mr. Hildebrandt has included a gift to the Trail Council in his estate plan.

Mr. Hildebrandt, who has lived in the Bay Area since age 14 and is a graduate of UC Berkeley, was married for fifty-seven years to his late wife, Marion, who died in 2011. “She was very sympathetic to my interest in the Ridge Trail, but her health prevented her from participating in many Ridge Trail activities,” he said.

Jorgen and Marion—she was also a graduate of UC Berkeley and a successful artist who used native plants to create baskets and other art valued by collectors and displayed at both galleries and museums—made the Ridge Trial Council a beneficiary of their revocable living trust about ten years ago.

“Our thought was that our modest estate would not make much of an impact if left to large organizations,” he said. “The Ridge Trail is small enough that our gift will matter.  Plus, it’s local, and we liked that.”

A life-long recreational tennis player, Mr. Hildebrandt’s favorite pro is Martina Navratilova.  “She had so many obstacles to overcome—Communist Russia, weight problems, sexual identity,” he said.  “She overcame them all, and became the number one player in the world.”

The Bay Ridge Trail Council is honored to include Jorgen and Marion Hildebrandt as members of its Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.

Harry Engelbright

Engelbright’s Bequest Continues His Family’s Trailblazing History

A fifth generation Californian, Harry Engelbright had a paternal great-grandfather who worked as an engineer in Nevada City in the 1850s when it was the most important gold-mining town in the state.

His mother’s ancestors crossed the Oregon Trail in large-wheeled covered wagons and became cattle ranchers in California before travellers abandoned the trail’s rutted routes for the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

Like his forbearers, Engelbright is a trailblazer.

The retired Solano County urban planner and long-time Fairfield resident was assigned by Solano County 25 years ago to study agricultural economies and open space.  To his surprise, he found that Solano County offered hikers little beyond Fairfield’s Rockland Hills Park.

“Unlike Marin and San Francisco counties, other Bay Area counties gave the public little access to open space,” he said.  A hiking and biking enthusiast, Engelbright was pleased to find a group that wanted to change that.

In 1989, he represented Solano County at a meeting at San Francisco’s Fort Mason called by Brian O’Neill, then superintendent of the Presidio.   The group proposed a continuous network of Bay Area trails that would give Bay Area residents and visitors easy access to the outdoors whatever their county.

When the Presidio group established the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council as a nonprofit organization and set up county committees, Engelbright volunteered to co-chair the Solano County committee.  He then joined the Council’s board of directors at their first meeting 25 years ago.

What started as a job assignment has morphed into a 25-year volunteer commitment for Engelbright that culminated in his and his wife Eve Somjen including a significant gift to the Ridge Trail council in their estate plan.

“The Council attracted me because its members wanted to tie the region together through linked communities,” he said. “They had a very simple vision: encircling the bay area with a multi-use trail. It was a natural fit for me.”

He views the Council’s impact on his own Solano County with satisfaction. “The trail now goes through 10,000 acres of beautiful hills in Solano County, from Vallejo to Benicia to Fairfield.”

A Sacramento native with a BA in Public Service from UC Davis and an MA in Urban Planning from the University of Washington in Seattle, he encourages other Ridge Trail enthusiasts to join with him in including the Ridge Trail Council in their estate plans.

“Once the Ridge Trail is completed, it’s still not done,” he said.  “We’ll need to refine it, maintain it and discover new opportunities.  There will always be work along the trail long after we’re gone.”

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is honored to list Harry Engelbright and Eve Somjen as members of the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle. For more information about the Ridge Trail Legacy Circle, contact Marie Sayles at (415) 561-2595 x 208 or mariesayles@ridgetrail.org.