Where the Buck stops at SDC
STAFF MOUNTED A plaque on a bridge at SDC in honor of Bucky, a resident who can often be seen there, tossing rocks into the water.
He’s been there for as long as anyone can recall and, as far back as most can remember he’s gone almost every day to the same concrete bridge over Sonoma Creek at the Sonoma Developmental Center and tossed rocks into the water. He tosses slowly, methodically and with amazing accuracy.
Though he doesn’t speak, if you are walking or jogging by he’ll excitedly gesture, and often grunt in an effort to communicate, urging you to admire his handiwork.
His routine is to scout a pile of gravel, picking up the rocks that please him and passing over or discarding others, then walk over to one of two spots on the bridge where he lays his pebbles out. He then tosses them one-by-one into the creek about 20 feet below. Then he goes back to the gravel pile and collects another batch and returns to the very same spot to toss those into the water. Then he’ll repeat the whole process again.
“Oh, that’s Bucky,” said Richard Dale, director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, which maintains the creek bed and has a station at the Marian Rose White Bridge, from which Bucky throws his rocks. Dale said Bucky has been there as long the Ecology Center has and is well-known to the staff. The bridge was named for Marian Rose White, who lived at the developmental center much of her life, first as a (likely misplaced) patient who then returned as a volunteer and an advocate for clients rights.
On the top of the parapet, close to where Bucky lays the rocks he’s collected, someone has affixed a plaque that reads “The Buck Stops Here.”
Bucky, probably about 60 years old, walks the campus freely, and has for many years. It wasn’t always this way.
A retired SDC counselor told the Index-Tribune that Bucky lived in a locked residence in the early 1970s, when the counselor first began working at SDC. Those units housed patients – as they were still called at the time (SDC now prefers “clients” or “residents”) – with severe assaultive behaviors. Those patients with a history of biting, punching and kicking either their peers or staff would be placed in such units, though this accounted for a small percentage of the population at SDC. He didn’t know why Bucky had been placed in the locked unit, nor for how long he’d been there, but said he never saw Bucky exhibit any assaultive behaviors.
When the employee first met him, he says Bucky could not have been more than 25 years old. He said, when he first arrived at SDC to work, “The first person I saw was Bucky. And he’s big. And he looks really mean. And I said, ‘Oh what am I getting myself into?’” That first time, when both men were in their 20s, he was with Bucky for a week straight in an intensive program, all day and all night, and everything was fine. So began a relationship between counselor and client that would extend for the next four decades.
The counselor saw Bucky weekly for the next few years, during which time he was still living in the locked residence. Part of his job was to take residents like Bucky for residential therapy. They’d go on field trips during the day, for example, once the staff felt the residents were not a risk, getting them in a van and driving down to the Sonoma Plaza or going to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park for a picnic lunch.
The counselor continued to work closely with Bucky for about five years. During this period, SDC was rapidly changing, introducing new and progressive programs, soon to enter what some staffers remember fondly as a golden era for the facility in the 1980s. But before this period, then (as now) many pointed to understaffing as a big problem.
“As we got more and better trained staff at all levels, the team was really able to take a closer look at each client and evaluate them and their programs,” and one of the questions the staff always asked was, “Is this person in the appropriate housing?” As a result of such evaluations Bucky was moved to an open residence. Eventually, he got into the Sunrise Industries Workshop program. That program, which makes work for the residents, giving them wages and purpose, still exists and was one of the first true partnerships between the developmental center and the community. Bucky began going to the workshop, on the grounds, to do work for local businesses – assembling sprinkler heads, for example– for which he was paid.
He is non-verbal, but he understands – he has receptive language, for instance, meaning he’d understand how to get to the workshop and be able to follow instructions on how to put things together there.
“He went from that locked environment, to a non-locked environment where he independently could walk to the workshop, do his job and then come back,” said the retired counselor.
Somewhere between the time Bucky got off the locked residence and when he started going to the workshop, he was given the freedom to roam the grounds as he pleased. And he pleased. “He loves to walk around the grounds,” said the counselor.
He’s a loner, though. “I don’t ever recall seeing him in the company of other clients, unless it was at a dinner table or whatever,” said the former staffer.
He describes Bucky, now, as “the picture of autonomy.”
As a developmental disabilities professional with decades of experience, the counselor says it’s hard for him to imagine another place where Bucky would have the same degree of freedom and the same quality of life he currently enjoys.
Bucky walks and walks, alone, sometimes miles a day, and can still be found exploring nearly every part of the campus. Though there is one place of which he is especially fond.
Somewhere along the line, Bucky got interested in throwing the rocks off the Marian Rose White Bridge. “The staff knew how much he liked to do that. It was one of his favorite pastimes,” said the counselor. “Bucky used to go and he’d collect rocks wherever he could. Along the creek banks or wherever he could find them. And the staff got behind it. And I think they used small bulldozers to bring in piles and piles of rocks. That bench that’s on the north side of the bridge they put there for him. And then they put that plaque there.”
Once the rock pile and bench were in place, the former employee described Bucky as a kid in “a candy store.” And said since then, “I’ve never seen him not have a supply.”
Bucky points out where he’s thrown the rocks to passersby, and enjoys an audience, said the counselor. “He loves that,” he said. “He loves the attention.”
Besides that aspect, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why Bucky, who’s a lefty, derives so much enjoyment from tossing the rocks, though it is an art he has apparently perfected over the many years he’s been practicing it.
“From the top of the bridge down to the creek – 20 feet or about that – his rocks go within a six-inch shot group,” says the counselor. Sometimes the clusters of where his rocks land can be even smaller. “He is so accurate. It is just incredible.”
The retired counselor says he’s long watched Bucky and wondered, “Had he had the opportunity and all the things that’d have come together to make it happen, how good of a pitcher would he have been?”
When he’s not at the stone bridge, another spot Bucky likes to spend time is the bench on Arnold Drive near the entrance to the iconic Old Administration building at SDC, where can often be found sitting and waving at cars as they drive by. He is, says the former staffer, “almost like the unofficial greeter.”