May 27, 2018
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From the Archives II-2007

By: Irene Hilsendager
March 16, 2018

As I continue to sort through old flyers, newspapers, and booklets on various years of Founders Day, I find that I have taken it to my dreams at night. Read along as I describe the future…..

It is a warm fall Saturday in 2012. I walk to Sonoma Mountain Village, very near to Lumen-takala, the site of the oldest Miwok settlement, as well as John Reed’s 1827 cabin. Once the occasion would have been held in Alicia park, but that area is now too crowded with homes and traffic for such a celebration.  

Happily, participants in the Fun Run start at Alicia, but end up at the Village. Lions await them with a traditional pancake breakfast. A shuttle passes by, carrying SMART rail visitors.

The first thing I notice is a riot of color coming from the rows of fruit, flower and vegetable stalls.  Locals are proud to show their backyard produce and compete for a prize. This activity honors the history of Waldo Rohnert’s seed farm, which grew carrots, onions and beets. Because they bloom too early in the year, their signature sweet peas are absent except in an art/photography show held by the Cultural Arts Commission. In former times, their heavenly scent caused railroad cars to slow as passengers opened windows and breathed deeply.

The parade route includes a homemade float for Miss Rohnert Park and her court, as well as several vintage cars for former mayors and founders. Betwixt and between are the recycled metal frames that recreate the bed races of the 1960s and 70s.  

I stop by Sally Tomatoes for a taste of their fifties era burgers, fries and cherry cokes and walk through the nearby “Time Tunnel” set up by the Historical Society. Viewers can see large display frames representing each of the historic decades of their town, from its Rancho Cotate days to its 1958 first move-in date and beyond.  Videos of founders are on hand for those interested in stories of bygone days.

Volunteers hand out walking/driving tour guides to the town and encourage folks to view the new historic markers now placed on such locales as the Rohnert/Carley farmhouse (now Holy Family Episcopal Church hall), and the Naval Airfield (rose compass now in front of Target.)

Kids are making their final practice runs as they prepare for the three-legged, wheelbarrow and sack races. Families have organized by neighborhoods and have assembled activity booths in the Funway.  A “diaper derby” rounds out the kids’ contests.

Other groups are busy barbecuing and making special foods that represent their family’s heritage. The Boy Scouts, both ceremonial and parade leaders, are busy demonstrating the outdoor arts.

Men have been buffing up all summer for the “Men’s Lucky Legs,” contest, while everyone is invited to enter the “Tight Fitting Jeans” contest.

The stage has a full lineup from the Kitchen Kut Ups to various children’s performing groups. Local bands such as the Moonlighters keep things swinging and swaying all day.  

Folks have been watching “Hairspray” and “Bye Bye Birdie” all summer in order to learn how to stroll, fly and twist their way through the big sock hop which caps off the evening. Poodle skirts and pompadours are the fashion of the day and a costume contest enhances the fun. Founders Day 2012 commemorates the entire 50 years by re-creating some of the best of each former celebration. So far all this is just a dream. We have five years to make it, or something like it, a reality.

Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.