"I don’t think I’ve ever been as emotional about an award as I was today. I am humbled to be a part of the inaugural group of stars."
Debbie Meyer is a three-time Olympic gold medalist from Carmichael and the first and only woman to win three individual freestyle swimming Olympic gold medals. She set world records in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle swimming events at the U.S. Olympic trials. In all, she broke 24 American records and won 19 Amateur Athletic Union national championships.
At the age of 16, Debbie was the first swimmer to win three individual gold medals during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and she is still considered one of the greatest female swimmers of all time. She remains the only female Olympian to win three individual freestyle swimming gold medals in one Olympics. No female swimmer has ever done this in any other combination of distances. She also won two gold medals in the 1967 Pan American Games at the age of 14. Debbie held five world records simultaneously and broke 20 world records and 24 American records from 1967 to 1971.
“The idea of a walk of stars in Sacramento is fantastic," said Debbie. "Growing up in Sacramento was a true joy. Obviously, it wasn't as big as it is now. The Solon's were the only professional team that had been associated with the city and now we have three. I was very proud to represent Sacramento on the world stage of amateur athletics. The support of the community was overwhelming. I am humbled to be a part of the inaugural group of stars.”
After retiring from competition, one of her priorities continues to be working with young people. “I have had such a rewarding career and I enjoy sharing it with others. Perhaps I may inspire someone else to strive for their best,” said Debbie. She has conducted motivational clinics nationwide and in 10 foreign countries, has coached from the grassroots level to NCAA Division 1 schools and has been a commentator for CBS Sports Spectacular and ESPN. Debbie has also done promotional work for Coca Cola, Sports Illustrated, M&M’s, Life Savers, Rainbow Bread Iron Kids, Speedo and Xerox.
Entertainment & Arts
"I truly appreciate this wonderful tribute."
Gregory Kondos is a Sacramento-raised artist and one of world’s most prominent California landscape artists having won numerous awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1999 International Biennial in Florence, Italy. He was also elected to the National Academy of Design and featured in the PBS documentary “A Passion for the Land.”
Gregory is one of the West’s foremost landscape artists. For more than 40 years he has traveled the globe painting some of the world’s most inspiring landscapes, including Yosemite Valley, the French countryside and the islands of Greece. His signature works of the Sacramento Delta have become modern classics that boldly capture its sweeping beauty.
In 1996 Kondos was awarded with American Artist Magazine’s Master of Drawing Award. His work is included in permanent collections around the world, including the Yosemite Museum, where he has been a member of the Artist-in-Residence Program since 1989. A retrospective at the Crocker Art Museum is among his solo exhibitions.
Gregory received both B.A. and M.A. degrees in Art at the California State University, Sacramento and taught at Sacramento City College for 27 years, where he founded and directed the campus gallery. With fellow artist and friend, Wayne Thiebaud, Gregory founded the Artists Cooperative Gallery (now the Artists Contemporary Gallery), one of the earliest showcases for aspiring artists in northern California.
“I have stayed here in Sacramento since I was three years old, not moving to any other town," said Gregory. "I love my art, my teaching and this community. Sacramento has always supported me beautifully and I am so grateful for what this community has done for me. I truly appreciate this wonderful tribute."
Gregory’s works, including his giclée prints, are always available at the Smith Gallery on 11th Street between J and K streets. His pieces are also displayed in the Sacramento City Hall exhibit and at the Sacramento International Airport.
Entertainment & Arts
"I have always claimed Sacramento as my hometown, and today I genuinely feel that Sacramento has, in turn, claimed me."
LeVar Burton is a Sacramento-raised actor, producer and director known for excellence in entertainment. His award-winning roles include Kunte Kinte on the groundbreaking miniseries Roots and his regular role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for which he also directed episodes. Countless children and parents know LeVar for his long-running children’s series Reading Rainbow.
Although he was born on a West German military base, LeVar and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento. After graduating from high school in 1974, he enrolled at the University of Southern California to pursue acting. Just two years later, he landed the role of Kunte Kinte and made his professional acting debut.
Reading Rainbow ran on PBS Kids from 1983 until 2006, garnering over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards. Today LeVar serves on the board of directors for the AIDS Research Alliance, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to finding a cure for AIDS. Although he and his family live in Sherman Oaks, Levar’s mother and younger sister still live in the Sacramento area, and he visits often.
"Everybody comes from somewhere and I have always been proud of my Sacramento roots," said LeVar. "From Glen Elder to Broderick to South Sac; from Holy Angels to St. Charles Borromeo to St. Ann's Elementary, Sacramento has imprinted itself on me in a most indelible way."
Dr. Ernie Bodai
Science & Technology
"I am deeply honored and humbled to be recognized as one of the inductees of the Sacramento Walk of Stars."
Dr. Ernie Bodai is a world-renowned breast cancer surgeon who advocated for the development of the breast cancer research stamp helping to raise millions of dollars for research. He serves as a clinical professor of surgery at UC Davis and directs the Breast Health Center at Kaiser Permanente, nationally recognized as a “Center of Excellence.”
As of December 2015, more than one billion breast cancer stamps were sold by the U.S. Postal Service resulting in more than $80 million raised for research.
Dr. Bodai has authored more than 250 medical articles and has published five books, four of which focus on cancer. He holds a number of medical device patents, is a member of numerous prestigious surgical societies and is the recipient of many national awards. He serves as a board member or medical director of several companies including Sontek Medical, B&B Medical, Liv International, and Nutracea, an international leader in the development of nutraceuticals.
Ernie Bodai, M.D. was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1951. He and his family lived in a bomb shelter for nearly a year before they managed to escape during the Hungarian Revolution in 1957. Following immigration to the United States, Dr. Bodai received his B.A. and M.S. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. He received his M.D. degree from the University of California, Davis in 1977, where he currently serves as Clinical Professor of Surgery. Dr. Bodai served as Chief of Surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento for 15 years before becoming director of the Breast Health Center.
“I’m more than humbled and honored to be the recipient of this incredible star," said Dr. Bodai. "I hope it is the beginning of a long and valued tradition for the people of Sacramento as well as the state of California.”
After treating thousands of patients with breast cancer he became frustrated at the pace of funding for research. In a remarkable one-man lobbying effort he was able to convince Congress and the U.S. Postal Service to issue the Breast Cancer Research Stamp – the first ever stamp in U.S. history that sells at more than face value with the surplus amount donated directly to breast cancer research. He is introducing the first ever “global stamp” raising awareness and funding to conquer the disease worldwide. To date, 12 countries have begun work on this important project.
Timothy B. Schmit
Photo by James Glader
"I’m really humbled and honored to have this opportunity to be among the first group to have their names etched into the Sacramento Walk of Stars."
The Sacramento Walk of Stars announced the addition of a fifth honoree, Timothy B. Schmidt of the rock band the Eagles and a graduate of Encina High School.
Schmit gained fame playing bass and singing lead vocals for the band Poco in the 1970s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 as a member of the Eagles, which he joined in 1977.
“Growing up in Sacramento was ideal for me, and I still have friends there dating back to grade school,” Timothy B. Schmit said. “My former band mates and I still get together whenever I visit. We even play a little music now and then. And my oldest brother and his family are still happy residents.”
Schmit grew up in the Arden Arcade area of Sacramento and attended Encina High School, American River College and Sacramento State University. He started playing guitar music as an early high schooler with three like-minded friends, until he moved from Sacramento in 1969 to further his music career.
“I have many fond memories of living in Sacramento,” Schmit added. “Roaming around the neighborhood on my bicycle as a kid, attending good schools, warm active summers, early romance, learning my craft, and always being surrounded by many dear friends.”
Olympic Athlete & Humanitarian
In the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Billy Mills defied expectations with one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. Largely unknown in the world of track and field, Mills was the first American to take first place and win gold in the 10,000-meter race.
A Lakota Sioux Native American, Mills was born in 1938 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Both his mother and father died by the time he was twelve years old. Orphaned, Mills was relocated to a boarding school in Kansas run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was where he began participating in sports. His father had told him, “Live your life as a warrior,” and eager to live up to his father’s legacy, Mills tried boxing and football before finding track. With a warrior mentality and work ethic, he soon proved himself a talented runner who was picked up by the University of Kansas on a full scholarship.
At college, Mills was consumed with loneliness and an identity crisis. “I was running from rejection, from being orphaned… the Indians called me mixed blood. The white world called me Indian… I was running to find Billy,” Mills once said. This emotional state fueled him to claim a conference record in his first 10,000-meter race. His Kansas team went on to win the NCAA outdoor national championships in 1959 and 1960.
In 1962, Mills married his college girlfriend, Pat, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where his running was celebrated and encouraged. He went on to win the inter-service 10,000-meter race in Germany. By 1964, he was off to the Olympic Trials, finishing second, and went to Tokyo later that year to compete. He was unknown, an underdog, and amazingly, he won the Gold Medal. “I thought of how our great chiefs kept on fighting when all the odds were against them as they were against me. I couldn’t let my people down,” he later reflected of his victory.
Following the Olympics, his awards, accolades and achievements continued.
Today, Mills and his family live in Fair Oaks. He became a successful insurance salesman and founded the Billy Mills Speakers Bureau for motivational speaking. He works with charities such as the Christian Relief Services and the Native American Sports Council, and the Sacramento Sports Commission and Sacramento Running Association produced the Billy Mills 10K as his namesake.
Entrepreneur & Founder of Tower Records
Russ Solomon, a lifelong Sacramentan, is the founder of Tower Records which he grew into a global powerhouse and leader in the sales of music, books, magazines, videos and more.
Beginning at the age of 13, Solomon worked in his father’s small business, Tower Cut Rate Drug Store. When he was 16, he started selling used jukebox records out of the shop, but the United States entered into WWII and he was called away for military service. He returned to the drugstore business, married and fathered two children when he came back home from war.
Solomon parlayed his merchandising business into a full-fledged retail business across the street from his dad’s shop in 1952. By 1960, he’d gotten into debt with his record company creditors to the degree where he was forced to close. He turned to his dad, Clayton, for a loan of $5,000 and formed MTS, Inc., named after his son, Michael. He soon opened a new store, Tower Records, which would soon grow to an international company.
In 1968, Solomon was ready to open a second business in the Bay Area, and signed a lease for an expansive space in San Francisco, which immediately became highly profitable. So he opened another store in LA, which quickly did well, too.
Within the next decade, Solomon would open 150 locations in 20 countries around the globe. In its heyday, Solomon was running a billion-dollar business and his headquarters in Sacramento was a major employer and staple of local culture
Solomon was instrumental in revolutionizing the music industry and the way people buy records. Only about 15% of the music inventory was top 40 so Solomon was able to expose many underground artists to an eager market that wanted more variety. Individual stores catered to local musicians in various locations, too. This enabled musicians to gain exposure in their local markets.
Additionally, he also kept his stores open late which turned Tower stores into social destinations. Tower Records was a place where people and friends could hang out and meet other people that shared a love of music and record collecting. And the top music stars of the time could also be found at a Tower Records store, buying music and mingling with fans.
Solomon was the subject of the 2015 documentary, All Things Must Pass, detailing the rise and fall of Solomon’s life’s work and its impact on the music industry. Music Business Association honored him with the Presidential Award in 1999 for his contributions to the overall success of the music industry. In 2016, he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
Changes in the music industry and the rise of digital online music led to the end of the Tower Records business. But 81-year-old Solomon didn’t give up. He opened R5 Records in the location of the Sacramento Tower Records on 16th and Broadway and in 2009 he sold it to Dimple Records. Dimple Records’ co-owner John Radakovits turned the store’s grand opening into a retirement party for Solomon, who was celebrated by many longtime Tower Records employees at the event for his lifetime achievements as an innovator and entrepreneur.
WNBA Star and Olympic Athlete
Born in Lucedale, Mississippi in 1967, Ruthie Bolton was a basketball player for the Sacramento Monarchs, our local Women’s National Basketball Association team. Basketball has taken Bolton all over the world, as she played in the World University Games, the FIBA World Championships and the Olympics. Everywhere she went, Bolton helped her teams rise to the top.
Bolton served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army reserves as a transportation officer. In college, she played basketball for Auburn University and was named to the team representing the USA at the World University Games. The World University games of 1991 were held in Sheffield, England. The USA team advanced to the gold medal game where they claimed the victory against Spain.
In 1994, she went on to compete with the national team at the World Championships in Sydney, Australia where they fell to Brazil by a 3-point deficit and then claimed the Bronze Medal against Australia.
Still playing with the national team in 1996, Bolton was off to the Olympic Games in Atlanta. She was the top scorer in the game vs. Ukraine, garnering 21 points, and helped the team sweep all eight games. Bolton and the USA won the gold medal.
Following their Olympic victory, the national team went to Berlin, Germany in 1998, winning seven games before facing Brazil in the semifinals. Trailing in the first half, Bolton took back the lead with a 3-pointer in the second half, and the USA went on to beat Brazil 93-79. Next, they faced Russia for the gold medal game. Again, a 3-pointer from Bolton put the USA ahead and when Russia tied the match, Bolton stole the game back again with another three points. The USA claimed the gold with a 71-65 lead.
She played for the USA Olympic team again in 2000 at the Sydney, Australia games. Bolton and her team were undefeated establishing USA women’s basketball as the irrefutable best team in the world.
In between all these international games, Bolton found a home in Sacramento with the Monarchs. She joined the WNBA team in 1997 and helped lead the team to a championship win in 2005.
Bolton’s community involvement is as impressive and inspiring as her athletic successes. Bolton has coached for William Jessup University in Rocklin and Vacaville Christian High School in Vacaville. She is an active participant in SportsUnited, an organization that conducts basketball clinics all over the world for youth and women. Their mission is to promote female inclusion in sports. A domestic violence survivor, Bolton has also shared her story to raise domestic violence awareness throughout the country. This was the subject of an ESPN feature called Mighty Ruthie.
“To be able to be a voice for women and give women a voice has been huge. Women have reached out to me and both given me closure and empowered them,” says Bolton.
Bolton is the author of two books, Ruthie Bolton: The Truth and a book for middle school kids, Ruthie’s Personal Playbook On Keeping Your Mind In Power. Today, she resides in Elk Grove.
Author & Philanthropist
Every one of acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks’ 20 novels has made it to the New York Times bestseller list. His best-known story, The Notebook, he wrote over a period of six months at the age of 28 and it garnered numerous awards and gained a cult following.
But that’s not the only screen adaptation of Sparks’ stories. The Choice, The Longest Ride, The Best of Me, Safe Haven (on all of which he served as a producer), The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song have all taken a turn on the silver screen and culminated in a worldwide gross of three-quarters of a billion dollars. His books have sold over 108 million copies worldwide and have been published in more than 50 languages, including over 75 million copies in the United States alone.
Sparks was born in 1965 in Omaha, Nebraska. As a child, Sparks’ father, Patrick, pursued graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and the University of Southern California. In 1974, he was hired as Business Professor at California State University, Sacramento and the Sparks family settled in Fair Oaks where Nicholas attended high school. He graduated in 1984 from Bella Vista High School as valedictorian.
On a full athletic scholarship for track and field skills, Sparks attended the University of Notre Dame, where he continues to hold one of the school records. At the age of 19, a comment from his mother, Jill, got him thinking about a career in writing. It was here that he penned his first novel that went unpublished, The Passing, followed by a second unpublished novel, The Royal Murders.
In 1990, he published his first book, co-authored by—believe it or not—Billy Mills, another star honored by the Sacramento Walk of Stars in 2017! That book was called Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding.
Sparks was transferred to New Bern NC. by his job as a pharmaceutical salesman, where he still resides. In 1996, his novel The Notebook, spent more than a year on the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller list. Of his twenty novels, all have spent time at #1 on the NYT Best Seller List, and his novels have sold more than 125 million copies. 11 films have been adapted from his works, with the box office approaching one billion dollars.
Writer, screenwriter, producer and also philanthropist, Sparks has donated $1 million to New Bern High School for a new running track where he coached the track and field to four consecutive state championships. Additionally, he has donated millions to the University of Notre Dame for scholarships, internships, and fellowships in the MFA creative writing program. Nicholas founded The Epiphany School of Global Studies in 2006 and has personally donated more than $12 million dollars to the school and serves as Chairman of the Board. He also founded a nonprofit called the Nicholas Sparks Foundation, which provides scholarships to at risk youth.