Resident Feature

Meet the Kanars

Music, Faith and Fun

We’ve all heard nightmare blind date stories, but the Kanars first date story will make you a true believer in the power of love at first sight. “Tom and I met on a blind date,” says Melissa. “We were set up by mutual friends. On the first date we went to two summer picnics, and were together for about 10 hours. If we didn’t like each other, it could have been a disaster. We clicked immediately and became inseparable. Tom and I were married May 10, 1980 at St. Lawrence O’Toole church in Pittsburgh, PA.” 

Tom was born in Brownsville, a small town southwest of Pittsburgh, PA. His family lived across the street from the local Catholic church, St. Peter’s. His love of music began with piano lessons in the second grade from the local Sisters, which blossomed into his first paying job in grade school managing the music program for the church. He attended St. Peter’s Elementary and moved to the public high school system where, in addition to academics, Tom was active in the marching band and jazz band. Tom attended St. Vincent College, in Latrobe, PA, earning a BA in Accounting/Finance and was honored as the top student in the program. Tom has a younger brother, Patrick, who resides in Delaware with his wife, Letitia. 

Melissa was born in Newark, NJ. As a first grader, her family moved to Piscataway, a township in Central New Jersey. Melissa was the oldest of three children. Her brother, Dave, and her sister, Melanie, live in Virginia. Melissa went to middle school and high school in Piscataway. She was shy and introverted in school but a very good student. She went out for baton twirling and eventually became the drum majorette for the high school band. She left Piscataway for Thiel College in Greenville, PA. Then she went on to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where she met Tom. After earning her Ph.D. in Microbiology, there was an offer for post doctoral work in Dallas, Texas, so the Kanars moved to Texas. During their years in Texas, Tom started working for a Dallas based company called Club Corp of America. Club Corp owned and operated private clubs throughout the United States. In 1987, Club Corp decentralized the company operations and opened a western regional office in San Ramon. This time it was a move for Tom’s job. Tom became the Western Region CFO for Club Corp. 

Melissa was always interested in science. Her postdoctoral work at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Southwestern Medical School, in Dallas, concentrated on research in immunology, natural killer cells, and transplant immunology. When Tom’s transfer to the Bay area presented itself, she decided to leave academic research for a career in biotechnology. Over the past 34 years, Melissa has worked for several Bay Area biotech companies, including Chiron, PDL Biopharma, Novartis, AbbVie and others. Her current position as Director, Quality Assurance is with Agenus, an immuno-oncology company based in Lexington, MA. Agenus has a manufacturing facility in Berkeley where they make monoclonal antibody products for cancer immunotherapy. As director of Quality Assurance, Melissa is responsible for ensuring that the drugs that Agenus makes are of high quality and are in compliance with the CFRs, FDA’s regulations regarding manufacturing and testing of pharmaceuticals. 

Tom started his career with Price Waterhouse in the Pittsburgh office earning his CPA license during his tenure. As Tom learned, change is constant. He modified his finance skills for use in the medical space after a stint in hospitality. Over a ten year span, Tom worked to grow two medical device businesses both ending in acquisitions. From there, Tom pivoted again, gaining financial expertise in tech oriented companies and now works as a Consulting CFO specializing with emerging growth technology companies seeking to scale their business. 

The Kanars have a cat, Leo. Or, as Tom would say, Melissa has a cat. Leo has been a family member since 2015. Last year in January, Leo used up one of his nine lives. He was chased up a 60 ft. tall redwood tree in the park next door, spending several days in the tree, with near freezing temperatures. Long story short, with some begging by the Kanars, the local fireman came to the rescue with their ladder truck. As the fireman approached Leo on the ladder, he was sufficiently startled to race down the redwood on his own, bouncing off a few branches in the process. While fully traumatized, he was not hurt. He has not repeated that exercise. The Kanars would like to salute the Fire Department for a great deed, rescuing Leo! 

Tom’s mother, Connie, lives nearby in Shadowhawk, in a townhouse the Kanars purchased for her. Last February, the Kanars met up with Tom’s brother and sister-in-law in Las Vegas to celebrate Connie’s 90th birthday. They had a great time and two weeks later, everything shut down. The Kanars’ son, Jason, also lives nearby in Dublin. 

Tom and Melissa are longtime members of St. Joan of Arc church in San Ramon. Over the years, they have been members of the church choir and Melissa has served as an eucharistic minister. Tom is often seen cultivating his landscape, tapping the design talent of a fellow Blackhawk Chorus member, Bill Williamson, for new ideas on plant material. 

Tom was recruited for the Blackhawk Chorus in 2003, singing bass. In 2003, the Kanars joined the first international chorus trip to Austria and the Czech Republic, performing concerts in Vienna, Straussberg and Prague. This was the first of a number of international performances for the chorus under the expert leadership of Diane Gilfeather, founder of the Blackhawk Chorus. The next chorus trip was to Italy where there were concerts in Rome, Florence and Assisi. In Rome, the chorus was invited to sing Alleluia by Morten Laurenson at a noon mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral; it was a memorable experience. Melissa joined in 2006. That year the chorus traveled to London, Wales and Scotland, performing three concerts in those cities. In 2011 the chorus returned to England during the Queen’s Jubilee and then took the ferry over to Ireland, performing in Waterford, and Cork. The last international trip was to Spain in 2015 where the chorus performed in Barcelona and Valencia. “We really love singing with the Blackhawk Chorus; it is refreshing to do music with others, it brings us joy and is very different from our day to day jobs,” says Melissa. 

Although Tom and Melissa both hail from the East coast, they have been in the Bay Area since 1987 and consider it home. “We love living in Blackhawk, with the beauty of Mount Diablo, the golden hills and the quiet neighborhood feel of the community.” 

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By Megan Scott, Resident since 2010