The word of Ann Rasmussen’s passing last week reminded many of us that six months ago her colleague, Jud Snyder also left us. Many have been reading their columns these past forty some odd years. Most of us have an Ann or Jud story or two. All of these stories and many of their columns contributed to making this Rohnert Park and Cotati community. Words make communities, perhaps, more solidly than do buildings.
Ann captured the social scene, and Jud handled the politics. Ann’s “Talk of the Town” covered all of the latest in shows, fundraisers and other fun gatherings. Jud turned politics upside down and inside out. By the time he was finished, he had scratched several sore points on both sides or all sides. The Hinebaugh Creek Philosopher always left us wondering. Ann, in crisp and concise manner, gathered up all of the names and events, and never left us wondering.
Week by week, like Native American sand paintings, Ann and Jud poured out their words only to see them erased and succeeded by the next week’s columns. But as they wrote and responded to the growing pains of a little California city, they told many stories, some dramatic such as the Salcedo tragedy and some milk toast mild such as the renovating of the trees along Country Club Drive. Yet, all taken together over four decades patched up some of the Rohnert Park and Cotati history helping to define it as a community.
I first met Ann and Jud in the summer of 1987 at the newspaper office on Southwest Boulevard. Andy Witthohn, a Hahn kindergarten teacher and president of the local teachers’ union and I spent the summer going through the hardcopy archives as we were writing a fact- finding report in an attempt to retain both the forty-five/fifteen elementary school schedule and
the traditional secondary schedule. Ann would wave and smile as we passed her to go to the dusty archive room while Jud might grunt an indecipherable groan that passed as a greeting. Each day when we left, Ann and Jud appeared to be deep into that day’s work. While our efforts to build a strong case went for naught, a relationship with these two writers, and especially Jud, developed.
Less than two years later, I came to know Jud as an ally. We enjoyed a mutual respect. I wanted him to support our teachers’ movement as we built to a strike, and he wanted a good news source. For the next twenty-nine years, I met Jud here and there, accidentally. Most of our conversations happened in the grocery store and sometimes at school board meetings. Not long ago Jud stated directly in a column what most of us knew was true about him; he confessed to being a liberal, a union supporter and a backer of teachers.
I never knew Ann Rasmussen as I did Jud, but I admired her from a distance. In 1996 she reviewed a play that I was in with the Santa Rosa Players. The Press Democrat reporter had just torn the play apart as though he were a critic on Broadway. Ann followed that review offering congratulations to the two actors from Rohnert Park who performed well in community theater play. Her supportive comments encouraged me to stay with the acting. My point is simply that Ann recognized what community is and in plays and performances it is about community members being involved. She wrote many reviews of local productions in such a fostering manner.
One last thought about Ann really came from her granddaughter, Andrea Sotelo. In my English class, Andrea spoke about her famous grandmother and how proud she was of her. This is what being a community maker means: pride in family and generations. Ann passed this on through her family and her family passed this on through Andrea and her presentation in my class.
Jud made his mark on this community in a different way, yet, nevertheless, as powerfully as Ann made our community. Jud was a recognizable celebrity wherever he went. He took on the city, and he took on the school district. He always encouraged me to say my piece in his paper, and he rarely edited anything out. He printed nearly a full page op ed that I wrote about censorship of a middle school book. He never turned away anything that I sent (and I have sent plenty these past forty some years.)
The last time that I saw Jud was at the Rohnert Park Farmer’s Market one year ago. I worked at a booth that criticized the management of the school district. He said, “I heard that you were up to no good. Now, what have you got that I can use in the paper?” The final thing he told me was that he was glad that I was still teaching English even though I was in my seventies. “Don’t ever retire,” admonished the ninety-one year old newsman, ‘because that’s when they’ll get you!” I am not sure what the HCP meant (I often didn’t), but I knew it was good.
When I recall Jud and Ann, I see community makers who never would quit. In some of William Faulkner’s stories and novels, the thought expressed is to celebrate our successes briefly and then move on to more accomplishments. These two community makers I celebrate because they did just that: they wrote their stories and articles, paused for a little celebration, and then moved on to do more.