A tradition of building a better community

More than one new resident of Sonoma has been surprised at the high level of community support for local causes. They are in awe of the scope and quality of our events, such as the Red and White Ball, the Harvest Wine Auction, Sonoma Valley Muse, the Sweetheart Auction, et al, and they are surprised that a community as small as Sonoma can do so much for so many different worthy nonprofits.

It is a tradition rooted here more deeply than our oldest surviving grapevines.

One of those roots reaches back to the founding of the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club in 1901. Among the founders were my great-grandmother, Kate Granice, and my grand-aunt, Celeste Murphy. They, along with other members of the club, took on the beautification of the Sonoma Plaza as their first project.

The Plaza, which had been laid out by Gen. Vallejo in the 1830s, was little more than a trampled, dusty cow pasture with dilapidated buildings.

It took nearly 10 years for the women to accomplish their task, and aided by some fiery editorials from Harry Granice, editor of the Index-Tribune and husband to Kate and father of Celeste, to get the city government to pitch in.

But the event that set the tone for future community engagement happened in 1909, when the woman’s club sponsored a “Sonoma Day,” during which the town turned out in force to work an entire Saturday on the Plaza. Business owners, workers and residents grabbed shovels, rakes and wagons, leveled the land so a lawn could be planted, and paths improved. They picnicked that day in the shade of trees planted in the Plaza previously by the woman’s club.

The same group led the way for restoration of the Sonoma Mission, which was collapsing into ruins from years of neglect, abuse, weather and the 1906 earthquake.

So many projects we see in the Plaza were completed because of community engagement. The Sonoma Chapter of the Native Sons of Golden West built the stone and bronze monument that highlights the Plaza’s northeast quadrant.

The woman’s club also provided leadership in the founding and completion of Sonoma’s library in the Plaza (now headquarters of the visitors bureau).

The old Sonoma Grammar School building, which was condemned for school use in 1949, was saved from demolition in 1952 by a group led by Dr. Carroll B. Andrews. With lots of volunteers, fundraisers and community engagement over six decades that continues to this day, that old school became the Sonoma Community Center.

In 1991, Suzanne Brangham, with the support of the Sonoma Valley Historic Society and Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers, organized the first Red and White Ball to raise money for Plaza improvements, including new lights. Later, the ball raised money to plant trees all along Broadway, from Four Corners to the Plaza.

Suzanne and the many who worked with her on the first ball, and all those since then, along with numerous other fund-raising events, are part of a tradition of community involvement that began long ago, and over many decades gave us Arnold Field, Hughes and Teeter Field, Paul’s Field, the Field of Dreams, the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club and Vintage House. Even our hospital exists today, and is being improved today, because of active community support.

We are truly blessed to live in a community of so many visionary, energetic, and generous people.