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April 5, 2005 > Howard Tom

Howard Tom

Howard Tom was born in the small farming village of Koon Far near Canton, China, May 5, 1908. In 1922, at age 14, he came to the United States with his family. Howard mastered the English language, worked his way through school, and launched a business career. He became a United States citizen in 1951, lived in Stockton and moved to Sunnyvale because of his wife's poor health. At her death in 1958, Howard came to Fremont in the midst of his grief.

Tom opened the Capitol Dollar Store on Niles Boulevard, became active in the Niles Merchants' Association, and helped found the Niles Flea Market. He joined the Fremont Art Association and was chosen to be a director. During his fourth year as Chairman of Observances and United Nations Week in 1961, he received Fremont's annual Community Service Award. He was a five-year veteran of the Fremont Recreation Commissioners Council when he became chairman of the Bay Area Park and Recreation Commission. Tom married Marian Severance in July 1963 and they established their home in Fremont.

Tom was a leader in many of Fremont's most dramatic civic developments. He was a recreation commission member when he became the chairman of the dedication program for Vallejo Mills Park, May 5, 1963. George Coit, president of Washington Township Historical Society, introduced the event ceremonies including a prelude by the James Logan High School band, presentation of colors by the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts troops, and a tree planting ceremony by the Camp Fire girls.

The highlight of the afternoon was the unveiling of an original millstone from the Vallejo Mill that had been preserved by Laura Whipple since 1936. She had hidden the stone in her yard for some 37 years. This millstone is now housed in the Museum of Local History, waiting for the Vallejo Mill to be restored.

Fremont mayor, Jack Parry, who had worked with the commission to preserve the property as a park, welcomed the crowd. George Roeding Jr., owner of the California Nursery and a member of the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors gave the keynote address. He presented a history of the site and the relationship between parks, community recreation and growth.

Vallejo Mill was recognized as one of Fremont's most historic landmarks. The Southern Pacific Railroad donated the property after negotiations with the city of Fremont. Money for initial development of the 10-acre park was a gift from Jack Brooks, a Fremont developer. The Department of Community Recreation developed the site as a picnic spot and location for summer day camp.

Tom took charge of the Olive Hyde Community Center dedication in June 1964. A newspaper photo shows Olive Hyde cutting the ribbon across the doorway as Howard and Mayor Don Dillon look on. Tom was president of the Fremont Art Association when they held their outdoor "Art in Action" show at the International Kitchen on the mall. The show was organized by Dan Bodily and sponsored by the International Kitchen merchants.

Tom was part of weeklong dedication ceremonies held by the city of Fremont in March 1969. Ceremonies for the dedication of Lake Elizabeth and a Sailing Club Regatta were held on Saturday March 22. Dedication of the new city government building included an open house, a tree planting ceremony and a formal dedication. Howard Tom was among those honored at a special award banquet at the International Kitchen.

As the first man to join Las Antiquelagas, a local antique study club, Tom joked "Seventy-two or so women and one man. I feel like a minority." He was chairman of the Chinese Seniors Club and a member of the Senior Citizen Commission when honored by the Washington Township Historical Society in 1988. He also was honored that year by the Fremont City Council and President Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Howard Tom was a founder and charter president of the South Bay Chinese Club. He helped plan and carry out numerous activities, fairs, dinners and celebrations over the years. He often wore traditional oriental costumes and gave away his paintings at Chinese New Year fairs. He enjoyed giving Tai Chi demonstrations.

The editor of the NewsRegister wrote in 1965 that "Howard has always been extremely civic minded and has participated in many local, city and social affairs and could always be relied upon to perform his tasks well." Several mayors recognized his services to the community over the years. Major Geoffrey Steel wrote in 1969, "Future historians will undoubtedly record the participation of its citizens in their municipal government as one of the major reasons for Fremont's success." Citizens of the city of Fremont are indeed grateful for the heroic efforts of its volunteers such as Howard Tom.

Howard Tom's life story was printed in USA Today and several local papers. He died in 1996 and was quietly mourned by his family and many friends.

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