2007 Marie Sparks Award
Cassie Call named Volunteer of the Year
By Kerrie Russell, Tribune Editor Oct 3, 2007
Dedicated volunteer Cassie Call received the Marie Sparks Volunteer of the Year award Monday night at City Hall in front of dozens of her friends and family. Photo by Kerrie Russell
Longtime Healdsburg volunteer Cassie Call was honored Monday evening when she was awarded the Marie Sparks Volunteer of the Year award during the Healdsburg City Council meeting. Dozens of her friends and fellow volunteers attended the meeting and Call said she was overwhelmed by the entire night.
"It was unbelievable that they would choose me,” she said. You just never expect anything like that - at least I never did.”
Call, who has lived in Healdsburg for 40 years, has spent much of the past 20 years dedicating her time to volunteering. She said receiving the award meant a lot to her, not just because she was chosen, but because Marie Sparks, who the award is named after, was a friend of hers.
"I admired her for her work and I admired her for her sweet heart. This is really a great day for me and I hope I will be able to walk in her steps,” Call said on Monday evening.
Marie Sparks was a Healdsburg resident who died in 1995 leaving a legacy of good works after years of working to help make her community a better place. The Healdsburg City Council wanted to remember her giving and unselfish spirit by naming the Volunteer of the Year award after her. This is the 12th year that the award has been given.
Healdsburg Senior Services Director Sonja Drown was part of the committee that chose the recipient of the award. She said, "Cassie epitomizes Marie. They are two like kind of spirits and it was very fitting that she be acknowledged with this award.”
Call was a banker for 39 years before retiring in 2001. She began volunteering in 1984 when Shared Ministries began its free meal program on Sunday afternoons. "I've been doing the free meals every four to six weeks since 1984,” Call said.
In 1993, she began volunteering with the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and became a Chamber ambassador in 1995.
She was chosen in 1998 as Ambassador of the Year by the Chamber.
She also began volunteering for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in the early 90s. For the last two years she served as a chairperson for the event and this year she is the Vice Chair for Healdsburg's relay.
Call also serves as the treasurer for the Healdsburg Senior Center Volunteers, Inc., which she says she is "totally dedicated to” and spent countless hours this past year volunteering on the committee that coordinated Healdsburg's 150th celebration.
"That was a big job, but it was worth it the work and the effort,” she said. "It was a fun day.”
2006 Marie Sparks Award recipient Mark Decker said Call was selected "from many deserving people” and he said that whatever she is volunteering for "Cassie gives 110 percent.”
Councilmember Eric Ziedrich was also on the award committee that chose to recognize Call. He said, "If Cassie was a Presidential candidate, she would have run away with the electoral college.”
I’m on the hunt for a Neighbors subject. Rounding a corner in the grocery store, I practically ram my cart into Cassie. And it’s our lucky day ...
Cassie Kontos Call was born in 1937 in the town of Tripolis in the heart of the Peloponnese, a large peninsula in southern Greece. Her parents, Dimitrios and Vasiliki, had four children, Cassie the eldest. In this small town, everyone knew everyone and many were related, both in the town and the surrounding farming villages.
War began when Cassie was 3 years old. Mussolini invaded Albania, followed by the occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany in 1941. The occupation lasted until 1944, bringing terrible hardships to the Greek civilian population.
Hundreds of thousands of people died from starvation. The Greek Resistance was formed and the extreme political polarization led to many years of Greek civil war.
Cassie recalls her uncle kissing her goodbye as he went off to war. Her dad, sent far and wide to repair damaged phone lines, was often away, so Cassie’s aunt and her children shared a home with Cassie and her mom (before Cassie’s siblings were born). In 1943, when Mom was pregnant with Cassie’s sister, Dad and Cassie left her off at the clinic. At midnight, Cassie and her dad, asleep upstairs, were awakened by persistent knocking on the front door. Dad opened the window, asking, “What’s going on?” A Greek interpreter with two German soldiers had come to take him off again to repair wires.
“But I can’t leave my daughter,” Dad insisted, finally persuading them to take another telephone employee, a friend of his. The news came back that a rebel shot and killed this guy, mistaking him for a German, when he was up the telephone pole. Dad never forgave himself.
“I can still hear the clicking of German boots on the stone streets,” Cassie tells me, shivering. “We were always cold because we couldn’t get wood and Mom could only gather scrub brush from the hills. The schools were closed and there was curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Germans moved into the courthouse, schools and homes. By 1943, the rebels had taken over the villages and at night we heard the German cannons firing.
“Eventually, the Germans cut off the town to pursue rebels in the outlying villages. When they surrounded the town with bombs, my cousin’s family had to move out of their beautiful home. When other family members unknowingly came to their house, a cousin was killed.
“There was no refrigeration and we couldn’t get any food from the farmers. All we had were potatoes and olive oil until the Germans agreed to open the town back up. On that day, my dad’s female cousin walked two hours on foot with her donkey loaded with food for us. I get chills, as I can still hear her voice while hugging my mom and everyone, saying: ‘My sisters… my sisters…’
“We soon set the table and were about to take our first bite when a siren went off. We all ran downstairs — then two blocks to the shelter. When we came back, hours later, a bomb had been dropped in the backyard. We returned to the table only to find that the cats had eaten every morsel of our food.”
As the war in Europe wound down, the rebels began turning against each other. One morning Cassie’s father was returning home with groceries. He turned his head and saw seven murdered townspeople hanging. On another occasion, Cassie and her neighbors heard a loud, persistent horn. Emerging from their homes, they witnessed proud rebels dangling a government sympathizer’s head from a rope in their truck.
By the time the government regained control of Greece in the late 1940s, Cassie was 12 years old. In 1955, she graduated from high school. She studied on her own for university and passed. While Cassie was in Athens with a cousin, her Aunt Christine and Uncle Jimmy from San Francisco were speaking with her parents about Cassie going to college in San Francisco. So, after one semester of university and a few months of studying English, Cassie boarded the Queen Frederica in July 1956, arriving in New York sick as a dog, and then flying to San Francisco.
“Flying at night and seeing all the lights was the most magnificent thing in my life!” Cassie recalls. “Cousin Helen picked me up and took me to the family home on 43rd Avenue near Golden Gate Park. She then showed me how to take the N Judah line and transfer to San Francisco State College. Showing me where the school was, she then gave me a hug and left.”
Luckily, an instructor took Cassie to the orientation for foreign students where she made friends. One day, while having coffee on campus, she met Ron Call (formerly Ron Vanderhoof) from the tiny town of Healdsburg. Ron drove her home once and then returned to the neighborhood, trying to find “the Greek girl.” With him, she began seeing San Francisco, and they began dating.
But when the young couple started thinking of marriage, they ran into trouble. Everyone in Cassie’s large Greek San Franciscan family was against her marrying someone other than Greek. The couple tried to marry in the Greek church, but the priest wanted $2,000. So they spoke with Ron’s mother and decided to have the wedding at her home on Tucker Street in Healdsburg.
“My wedding day in 1959 was my worst day!” Cassie recalls. “All Ron’s family, but only Christine and Jimmy from mine –– all because Ron was American! We remained in the city. Ron got his B.A. and teaching credential. I got my B.A. in social work and then went to work at Crocker Bank in the financial district. Our son Anthony was born in 1960 and we decided to move to Healdsburg in 1968, when Anthony was in second grade. I was able to get a transfer to Crocker Bank here in town.”
For most of you old timers, the rest of Cassie’s story is history. Ron (who died in 1995 after 36 years of marriage) taught high school in Geyserville for 20 years and his students still remember him. Cassie was one of Healdsburg’s best-known bankers until her final retirement in 2001. Cassie’s volunteer contributions to Healdsburg are legendary and ongoing –– Chamber Ambassador for many years and Ambassador of the Year (1998), Best of Healdsburg bankers (1993), one of the Distinguished Dozen (1995) and recipient of the esteemed Marie Sparks Award for volunteerism (2007). She buys, cooks and serves the Sunday free meal for the Shared Ministries (since 1984). She was chairperson for accounting for Relay for Life for 10 years and is still involved. She was on Healdsburg’s 150th Anniversary celebration committee and also treasurer for Friends of the Senior Center for many years and is deeply involved there.
“I enjoy being around people,” Cassie tells me. “As long as I can be on this earth, I hope to give back to my community.”
Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:32 pm
by Shonnie Brown