Thoughtfulness, devotion and hard work are all qualities that could very well merit having a park named in your honor and longtime Rohnert Park Parks and Rec Commissioner, devoted family man and oak tree protector, Jerry Griffin, seems to embody all of these characteristics and more. Following a 5-0 RP City Council vote, it was decided that the future “Oak Grove Park” in the up and coming University District, will be renamed “Griffin’s Grove Park” in celebration of the commissioner’s dedication and hard work throughout the years.
Griffin, who has been a commissioner for 25 years and has put in countless hours as a volunteer for 30 years – helping with the local little league baseball team, keeping score at Rancho Cotate High School basketball games and helping to nourish oak trees, said he was very honored to have even been considered for the name change and was pleasantly surprised.
“Another commissioner put forth the motion (of the name change) and that was the first I had heard of it, but I was quite surprised and pleased and thrilled,” Griffin said, who seems to carry a humble demeanor.
Fellow Parks and Rec Commissioner Bonnie Black, said it was an emotional moment for everyone in the room when the decision was made by city council.
“I was fighting back tears of joy as I watched Jerry’s reaction. It was a powerful and a well- deserved thank you to the man who’s served this community,” Black recalled of the moment.
Griffin, who grew up in Southern California, never quite envisioned himself as working in local government, however, the sports and nature enthusiast said the role of commissioner came to embody all that he was passionate about, spurring him to take on the role.
“In 1992, I ran for city council and I was appointed for the commission and it (the role) just seemed to fit — family, community, nature and sports, so I thought being in the commission was a perfect fit,” Griffin said.
Over the years as commissioner, Griffin worked on giving back to the community through numerous ways, such as overseeing several parent/teacher organizations, filling the role as president of the Education Foundation – a local non-profit that works on processing grants for teachers and schools that need supplies or other tools .and coaching the kids’ baseball team.
However, his biggest pursuit in helping to make the community a better place, lies in his efforts to help preserve oak trees and educate the younger generations about the tree’s importance.
“Jerry has always had a passion for planting and protecting trees,” Black said.
Around 30 years ago Griffin made his own backyard a popular field trip destination for local schools, where he would show students various oak tree seedlings and would encourage kids to plant their own seedling. Each student would then get to go home with their own seedling toplant.
“Each kid would walk away with a seedling and I hoped they would enjoy and nurture them, Griffin said. Most recently, Griffin advocated for the grove of oaks to be protected and preserved in the University District.
When asked why oak trees became one of his many passions, Griffin said it was their simple beauty and heritage that made him fall in love with the unique tree that can thrive for up to 500 years.
“I just think they’re beautiful, beautiful trees and they have such a history in this area with the Native Americans who were here before us. They’ve been cut down for farming and I would love to see them return to the way they were in this area,” Griffin explained.
During the Jan. 9 RP City Council meeting, a public hearing was held to discuss the idea of renaming the future park after Griffin due to his work in helping to preserve the ancient grove of oak trees in the University District build area. Several community members spoke in favor of naming the future park after Griffin and many of the comments praised him for his tireless efforts in volunteering and working for the city.
Rancho Cotate High School Assistant Principal Henri Sarlatte spoke in favor of the name change, saying Griffin was a good candidate for being honored because he, “Exemplifies getting involved with your community.”
“Jerry has been passionate about Rohnert Park for over 25 years, he’s been a mainstay in this community and I’ve heard that he is very passionate about the location of Oak Grove Park and I think that it would just be a great honor to name this park in his honor for all of his services,” Sarlatte continued.
Black echoed Sarlatte’s thoughts, saying Griffin’s qualities make him a perfect person for this honor.
“Jerry is a committed community volunteer. His gift of time to the community has been even more precious over the past 10 years as he’s fiercely fought multiple myeloma. He never complains and always seems to find a way to fulfill his commitments,” Black said of her colleague. “He obviously adores his family and his gentle spirit leaves a bit of light wherever it can through his eternal optimism, strength and devotion to his family and the community that he loves.”
The name change passed with no opposition and Black says while the commission hasn’t made a final decision on the design of the park, they would like it to have a different feel than most of the parks in RP. Instead of housing a baseball field or large playground, the commission would like to see, “a more natural place to stroll through the grove and maybe pause at a bench and enjoy a bit of nature,” Black says. The commission is also considering adding a dog park area to Griffin’s Grove Park, as well as a natural looking playground.