1997 Marie Sparks Award
Tom & Jo Peterson
Tom & Jo Peterson
Peterson works in parks almost full time for free in Healdsburg
CLARK MASON - THE PRESS DEMOCRAT - October 23, 2011
There are volunteers and then there are super volunteers, people like Tom Peterson of Healdsburg whose commitment defies explanation. For close to nine years, he has lent his services almost full time to the city's parks and recreation department. For eight hours a day, four days a week, he does most of the chores of a regular maintenance worker, but he does it without pay.
Peterson fixes playground equipment, removes graffiti, picks up trash, plants shrubs and prunes roses. He'll hammer nails, paint a shed, blow leaves, install and take down signs, just about anything other than run a chainsaw or power equipment. He leaves that to the wage earners.
"At times, I forget he's a volunteer," said Art Cruz, a senior city parks employee who has worked alongside Peterson for years. "He's just another city employee. That's how he's treated around here." With a Healdsburg logo on his shirt, work clothes and cap, it's easy to mistake Peterson for a regular parks maintenance worker. Except there's no paycheck to collect, no health or pension benefits.
"I love Healdsburg," says the 64-year-old grandfather, who gets by on the retirement from his old telephone company job. "I'm so happy to be able to do this."
As Peterson sees it, every community has a mental self-image, and he contributes "to the overall feeling of Healdsburg and how we look at ourselves." "You expect to see the grass green and not dead, (playground) toys and barbecues that work, things that look nice and not garbage.
"You can't let anything slide. It's like that broken window theory," he said referring to the idea that when things aren't quickly repaired, it leads to more problems.
Peterson got started 20 years ago volunteering as assistant coach in Little League and T-ball, when one of his sons began attending St. John's Catholic School. He credits the influence of his wife, Jo, who was a team mom and president of the parents' guild. "You kind of get hooked on it," he said of volunteering. "He has to be doing something. He doesn't do sitting around well," said his wife, also a retired Pacific Bell employee.
"He likes to be on the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in. He can see the effect of what he does and knows he makes a big impact." When he retired as a splicer from the phone company, Peterson got involved in a community project, painting a city garage. Shortly afterwards, he asked if he could volunteer full time so "I could really get something done." All he had to do was sign a waiver. Since then, he has logged a mind-boggling 10,000 hours or so as a parks volunteer, according to city officials, who earlier this year honored him with a City Council proclamation noting his contributions.
For a dozen years, he also has served as a parks and recreation commissioner.
And Peterson and his wife help out at school football and basketball games, whether compiling game statistics or working the snack bar. "I'm so lucky. I could only do this in a town like Healdsburg," he said. "It's small enough that you know everybody and everybody knows you."
For all that volunteerism, Peterson is rewarded once a year with a lunch with the city manager, mayor and vice-mayor. He hopes he can inspire others to volunteer. "I hope more of my generation steps up. A lot of us have a good retirement and can still function," he said.