First Rotary dinner a big-time success
Public servants and businesses honored at inaugural event
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By Dave Williams  May 16, 2014 12:00 am

It would be a major understatement to say the inaugural Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati Dinner and Awards Ceremony was a success.

The event, held May 9 at Sonoma Mountain Village, drew an overflow crowd of Rotarians as well as family and friends of the nominees and winners. The event shined a brighter light on individuals, businesses and public officials who have made a positive impact on the local community.

The ceremony was the brainchild of Gerard Giudice, who is the outgoing club president and owner of Sally’s Tomatoes. There were three categories of awards– Individual Volunteer of the Year, Business of the Year and Public Service Officers of the Year. The first two categories had multiple nominees, while the Public Service category declared one winner each from the Cotati Police Department, Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety and the Rancho Adobe Fire District.

Donald Persico, who tutors kids struggling with math at the Rohnert Park Boys and Girls Club, was named the Individual Volunteer of the Year, while Downtown Auto Body was tapped as Business of the Year.

Cotati Police Chief Michael Parish presented Officer Baudelia “B” Gallo as his department’s Officer of the Year. Officer Josh Burns was honored by RPDPS Chief Brian Masterson as the department’s Officer of the Year. Frank Treanor, Chief of the RAFD, selected firefighter Bruce Linscott as Firefighter of the Year.

“This shows the community can be allies and partners,” a beaming Giudice said. “What pleases me most is none of the nominees were Rotarians, and no members of the selection committees belonged to Rotary. This was community. Through the media, we see the bad outweigh the good in our community.”

Others nominated in the individual category were Wes Claasen, Amee Sas and John Umland. Persico has been tutoring kids from the first through eighth grade for years and plans to do so because additional work outside the children’s classroom is a much-needed commodity.

“Being given this award means the work we do at the Boys and Girls Club is regarded by the people as having significant value,” Persico said. “Math is a very difficult subject for some kids, and they deserve whatever help we can give them.”

Gus Travena, owner of Downtown Auto Body, said he was humbled by the honor on behalf of those on his staff and himself. He acknowledged that any of the other nominees in the Business of the Year category – DK Landscaping, Loud & Clear Music and Rohnert Park Disposal-Ratto Group – easily could have been given the award.

“It’s a cool feeling, but it’s an awkward feeling as well, because I’m in the room with peers and people I really look up to…people who do more than I do,” Travena said.

Parish told the story of how Gallo rose through the ranks in Cotati, starting as one of the department’s Explorers. He said her sheer determination, hard work and the values instilled upon her by her parents have molded her into one of the top officers in the department. Gallo said she sometimes is taken aback at her career.

“Sometimes I’m floored to see where I started as to opposed to where I am now,” she said. “It meant a lot to me just to be nominated for Officer of the Year, because all of the officers in Cotati do great work.”

Masterson, when speaking about Burns, highlighted a case where his officer used both brains and brawn to capture a suspect. Recently at one business, a good deal of money was taken from its cash register. After getting a description of the suspect and checking surveillance cameras, Burns asked himself, “Where would someone with a lot of quick new money go?” The answer, the casino. Burns tracked down the suspect at the Graton Resort and Casino, made eye contact and chased him down and subdued him in the parking lot.

“Something like this (award) is humbling, but it’s nice to be recognized for the hard work,” Burns said. “I don’t think I was doing anything special. I was just doing my job.”

Linscott actually tried to get Treanor to hand out the Firefighter of the Year Award to someone else, but the numbers of volunteers at RAFD have dwindled.

“I guess I was the obvious choice,” Linscott said with a laugh.

What makes Linscott being honored so unique is the fact volunteer firefighters have to be trained in the same manner as paid firefighters, which Treanor said, “that takes a lot more commitment.”

Linscott, who runs a business in San Rafael but lives in Rohnert Park, said, “It means a lot to have the years as a volunteer honored.”

Rotary plans on making this an annual event, and Giudice is already floating ideas on how to improve on what proved to be a successful event. He feels it is of vital importance to honor the volunteers and especially public service officers.

“There is so much negativity with firemen and police, but these people are not the enemies…they are the good guys,” Giudice said. “They’re the people who are putting their lives on the line so the rest of us can feel safe. To be able to honor them in the community is crucial. We just need to see more of the positive aspects of our community brought to light.”

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