Early this year the Cotati Chamber of Commerce honored Jerry Pagnusat with a Citizen of the Year award for his service of 30 years on the Cotati city planning commission.
His many years of service started in 1981, about four years after he first moved to Cotati from Marin with his wife, Judy. Pagnusat wanted to get involved with local government to have a say in decisions affecting the community, without getting too involved in local politics. The planning commission seemed to fit both criteria and he decided to volunteer.
“For me, I could contribute to my community without getting involved in politics,” says Pagnusat. “I wasn’t really interested in the political part of it. A lot of times if you want to get involved you have to run for office. I was never interested in the limelight. But I wanted to contribute to my community and that was a good way for me to do it.”
City council members appoint planning commissioners for two-year terms, and what started as committing to just one term continued until 2011.
According to Pagnusat, scheduling his volunteer time for the planning commission worked well with his job as an Account Manager for the Gillette Corporation where he managed the Northern California territory. His flexible schedule allowed him to schedule his travel around planning commission meetings. He prides himself on using good decision making processes, being fair, and making decisions on facts versus politics.
Obviously Pagnusat saw major changes in the city over the course of 30 years, and even more so in the surrounding areas of Rohnert Park. Yet their overall vision of keeping Cotati a small, family friendly community remained the same, despite significant population growth and during good economic times and bad.
“The thing that was surprising was that we remained the same,” says Pagnusat. “We still tried to keep a small town atmosphere, a small town point of view. I think we’ve kept that. That was really the guiding thing for all of us, all those years and I think it’s still there.”
Besides working on the building commission, both Pagnusat and his wife Judy, with whom he celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary this year, were involved in helping start the Cotati historical museum. The Pagnusats lived next door to Prue Draper who started the museum, and who encouraged them to get involved. Judy acted as the art director setting up exhibits and displays and Jerry helped with any technical issues Draper came across.
Now being retired both from his profession as well as from the building commission, Pagnusat is enjoying the free time. He is using the extra time to pursue other passions, including being the official photographer for the Cotati Historical Museum and honing his craftsman and artistic skills in making jewelry and keepsake boxes out of recycled wood. With his wife, who is a jewelry artist, they help run the Bodega Artisans’ Co-op which displays the work of 50 different local artists.
“I’m an artist and I didn’t realize I was!,” says Pagnusat. “That’s my passion right now. I spend a lot of time making my boxes and I’ve donated some to the museum when they have a raffle every year.”
Pagnusat even won second and third place awards this year at the Sonoma County Fair for his boxes.
While he sometimes misses being involved in city planning and knowing everything that is going on in the city, after 30 years he is happy to move on to other endeavors and was thrilled to be recognized for his efforts.
“I was happy to be able to do it,” says Pagnusat of his years of service. “I love Cotati but the city is in pretty capable hands right now. It was really nice for the chamber to give me that award, and a great surprise for Mike Thompson [the U.S. Representative for California's 5th congressional district] to show up. He gave me a plaque from Congress saying ‘thank you’. I was really surprised. I thought that was pretty cool!”