Theresa May Duggan is a born do-gooder. Her fingerprint can be found on almost every known Kings Beach community crusade. Born and raised in Salinas, Tee May, as she’s popularly known, graduated from UC Berkley with a degree in history, focusing on California. She arrived in Tahoe in 1977 after attending the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School in Paris. With a master gardening certificate from the University of Nevada, Reno, Tee May could have become the next Martha Stewart or Julia Child. Instead, she is one of the most avid volunteers on the North Shore and has left an indelible mark on the Kings Beach community. She and her husband, Geno, live in Tahoe Vista. I thank Dave Wilderotter, the subject of last month’s column, for recommending this community gem to Tahoe Stories.

How did you segue from the culinary field to community activism?

I grew up in a very political family that was completely committed to community and the improvement of people’s lives. My mom and dad were democratic activists, and every two years our house just went crazy with political organizing and letter writing. They were super volunteers! I grew up going to political events in Monterey County. I met Sen. John F. Kennedy when I was 5 years old. I gave flowers to Lady Bird Johnson on Highway 1 when she dedicated the highway. My mom and dad were very committed to the farm workers movement, and they were volunteers for Caesar Chavez. I was walking my first precinct when I was 4 years old. It was in my blood.

Do you find it difficult living in a small community to support issues that weren’t always popular with all of your neighbors?

Of course! But that doesn’t mean you don’t do them. It means you bring your neighbors on board. One of my fundamental beliefs is that the community is the expert, the community has the answers. You have to ask the right questions. You have to dig deeper to find out what matters. 

Is there a contribution to the North Tahoe community that you’re most proud of?

My work with place space planning through the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the Kings Beach Core Improvement Project, the Domus affordable housing project, the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation, I’m proud of all of them. I’ve been very lucky to work with great people and make change in my own community. It started with my parents, and I had this stellar education which prepared me to make a difference.

Your heart seems to belong to Kings Beach. What initially drew you to that community?

Growing up as an angla in Salinas, I was a minority. When I moved to Tahoe in 1977 I was like, “Where’s the Mexican food? Where’s the killer bakery? Where are my peeps?” Kings Beach was instantly home because it reminded me of Salinas.

What’s your next passion project?

Community House! It’s incredibly exciting! We retooled our Kings Beach Elementary School. We have the Boys and Girls Club. The Commercial Core Improvement Project is moving forward, and we have the Domus affordable housing project. The last thing we wanted to tie Kings Beach together was a community center that would house nonprofits in a shared space. The Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation (in partnership with the S. H. Cowell Foundation) purchased the Lake Air Resort property. We received the required permits to redevelop the building, and we’re creating a 4,000-square foot campus to house our basic-needs nonprofits like Project MANA, Tahoe Safe Alliance, and the North Tahoe Family Resource Center. I have an absolute passion for the Community House project; it is so important for our community. Yes, it’s shared space for nonprofits, but what’s more important is the integration of their services. When a client who needs services walks into Community House, they’re only going to have to tell their story once.

Who do you think has an interesting story?

Donna Prishmonte is a longtime Incline Village resident who has a really interesting story. I’d like to know more about her early days as a flight attendant.

~ Donna Prishmonte, the chief organizer of the Democratic Party of Washoe County, will be featured in next month’s Tahoe Stories.