In Memoriam: John C. Gaines

April 8, 1950 – August 22, 2021

John, a dedicated labor organizer, California Homemakers Association (CHA) Organizing Committee member, poet, gourmet chef, bartender, fisherman and Cotati legend passed away at his home in Cotati, on Sunday, August 22, at age 71, after a long struggle with multiple health problems.

He was born in Indiana and graduated from Purdue University in 1972, where he studied creative writing. He later worked in a bookstore at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where he enrolled in classes. At 26 he moved to Cotati.

John met and joined CHA at an information table in front of Oliver’s Market in Cotati in September 2013. As an organizer with CHA, he was a leader in his community, training fellow volunteers to run community canvasses to unite low-income in-home care, domestic, other service workers, and seasonal workers in the Sonoma County area. 

He was passionate about the right of each worker to have access to legal advice, preventive medical care, non-emergency dental care and other necessities. He put his passion into action. John was a mainstay with CHA’s Eleven Point Membership Benefit program, volunteering as a lay legal benefit advocate, interviewing members, and identifying their concerns and arranging for individual interviews with volunteer attorneys during CHA’s Legal Advice Sessions, coordinating transportation and following up each request to assist the member in following the instructions laid out by the volunteer attorney. After learning the steps of advocacy, John taught those skills to other volunteers, ensuring that the progress of the legal benefit was never dependent on the availability of an individual volunteer.  

John also learned and taught volunteers how to facilitate the participation of volunteer dentists, who generously provide tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of education and treatment through CHA’s free of charge non-emergency dental benefit. John personally delivered emergency food to hundreds of CHA members throughout the county as part of CHA’s emergency food benefit. He understood that taking time to see the dentist or doctor, even if there is no charge, can mean missing time from work and less pay, which can mean going without groceries. 

As a longtime resident of Cotati, active in the local business community, he brought with him a large constituency, including the mayor of Cotati, John Dell ‘Osso who from 2014 to 2019 hosted CHA’s annual holiday food distribution. John would speak to everyone he knew about the association, and he was gratified to be able to put into action his longstanding belief that he needed to do something about the problems in his community. 

During the wildfires that decimated parts of Sonoma County in October of 2017, even though the smoke in the air made him hoarse, John volunteered to coordinate the association’s Information and Referral Benefit, calling hundreds of people to direct them to shelters and other desperately needed resources when thousands were displaced.  

An eloquent speaker, John made presentations at numerous public hearings on behalf of in-home caregivers to demand living wages sufficient to cover all basic necessities. He fought to stop government officials from allowing profit-driven utility companies from raising rates when workers’ wages were so low that they were living in constant fear of having their electricity and gas shut off.  

John never let his deteriorating health stop him from finding ways to move the struggle forward, continuing to make phone calls to inspire more people to participate in organizing for a sustainable future. CHA Administrative Assistant Greg Lomakin remembered that in the last exchange he had with John, John firmly stated, “Keep fighting!” Greg assured him in his response “We will!”

John told fellow organizers about why he was a part of CHA, “The organization’s methodology is sound.  I believe it can be used to effectively establish the rightful power of the working classes and eliminate the concentration of power among an ever-smaller number of self-appointed elites.”  

John was bartender and part-owner of The Tradewinds in Cotati for nearly 30 years and was known by many in the area for his friendly and sarcastic demeanor. John also wrote a weekly “Gone Fishing” column in West County News in the mid 80s about fishing, one of his favorite activities. 

John is survived by his sisters, Jane Huber and Julie Cummins, and his brother, Joe Gaines. He is also survived by six nieces and one nephew, five great nieces and one great nephew.       

CHA honored John at a memorial service on September 19 at the Sebastopol Grange. John will be missed by members and volunteers of California Homemakers Association and his many good friends in the Sonoma County area.

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