What are the things that matter the most to you? This was one of the questions I asked myself as I worked on my planned giving arrangements several years ago. For me, the answer was easy.
Over 175 years ago, my great-great-grandparents, Mark and Guadalupe West, settled in Sonoma County. Today, Sonoma County Regional Parks is preparing to open a new park bearing Mark West’s name. I wanted to be part of his legacy. Designating a bequest in my will for this park through the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation will undoubtedly enhance this property for future generations.
Sonoma County Regional Parks are essential to the quality of life in our community. Our parks provide convenient locations for outdoor recreation; they bring us close to the beauty of our open spaces and improve our health. Our parks give us places to gather with family, making memories for a lifetime. And our parks not only benefit the human residents of Sonoma County, but also provide critical wildlife habitat.
I started this post by asking, "What matters the most to you?" Here’s what matters to me. I want to ensure that this land – land that was precious to my great-great-grandparents, just as it's now precious to me – will continue to thrive for generations to come. I want to know that decades from today, my granddaughter can bring her granddaughter to her favorite regional park to play, hike, and scan the horizon for turkey vultures.
You likely have your own special memories of these beloved places. I hope you'll join me in the Parks Foundation Legacy Society. Together we can ensure that Sonoma County’s outdoor treasures will be protected – today and for generations to come.
In the 1990s, when Lygia was in her 70s, she took the bold step of engaging with her generation’s version of Match.com: She answered a personals ad Jim Charlton had placed, and the couple’s very first date was at Spring Lake Regional Park.
Lygia’s daughter, Diane DeRoo, says: “My mom was always a bit shy about the fact that they came together through a personals ad. When people asked her how they met, she’d leave out the part about the personals ad and just say they met on a park bench at Spring Lake! She was always willing to try new things, and I told her it was great that she answered the ad.”
Jim and Lygia wed and continued to enjoy walks and picnics at Spring Lake throughout their 20-year marriage. Then, in the summer of 2017, Lygia passed away. Seven months later, Jim also passed away. Jim left a $10,000 bequest to the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation to show the couple’s lasting appreciation for our beautiful parks.
The family’s fondness for Sonoma County’s Regional Parks extends to Lygia’s daughter Diane. Diane and her husband Michael, who own an RV, regularly drive from their home in Sebastopol to camp at Doran and Gualala Point Regional Parks. “We can drive a short 18 miles from home to Doran and be totally relaxed in the No Chore Zone,” Diane says. “There’s a wonderful bench at Doran with a plaque that reads, ‘May You Find Peace & Joy in This Moment.’ I like to sit there, take a deep breath and think, ‘That’s exactly how our parks make me feel!’”
The Parks Foundation is working with Diane to dedicate a bench at Spring Lake as part of Jim’s bequest. Diane concludes: “This is something that will be a lasting memorial to both my mom and Jim. It’s really meaningful to me and would certainly please both of them. Good stuff!”
LEARN MORE ABOUT COMMEMORATIVE GIFTS TO THE PARKS FOUNDATION
In 2019, for the first time in our history, the Parks Foundation received a donation of property to sell and benefit Regional Parks.
As a young couple in the 1970s, Victoria White Hand and Skip Hand lived in Berkeley, but they longed to come to Sonoma County. "We wanted to be dirt farmers," Victoria explained. Eventually they purchased a charming little farmhouse in Sebastopol where they raised chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and all kinds of produce.
Skip and Victoria lived in their quaint farmhouse for 40 years. When the time came to think about their legacy, they looked with fondness at their property in rural Sebastopol and thought of how it reminded them of a park. As Skip and Victoria wrote their trust, they decided they wanted their property to benefit Sonoma County Regional Parks.
In August 2017, Skip passed away. The next year, Victoria's trust officer, Andriy Lesyshyn of Exchange Bank's Trust & Investment Management Department, reached out to our nonprofit Parks Foundation to fulfill Skip's wishes.
The property sits less than a mile from Occidental Road, in a neighborhood where the West County Trail is simply a bicycle lane on the road's shoulder. Currently, cyclists and pedestrians must carefully share a space with cars passing at 50 mph.
In the coming years, the gift from the White-Hand Family Trust will be combined with other funding, making it possible to construct a safe, 8-foot-wide extension of the West County Trail from Highway 116 to Atascadero Creek. Because of Skip and Victoria's foresight, their property has become a transformational gift that will benefit neighbors and the community at large for generations to come.
If you would like to discuss a potential legacy gift to the Parks Foundation, please reach out to Executive Director Melissa Kelley at 707-565-1830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Laba, owner of Russian River Adventures, shown here with Lesley Pfeiffer and Jim Boyce of Regional Parks' Lifeguard Services, is a longtime supporter of Regional Parks' River Patrol. As summer winds down, we asked him about his involvement in this life-saving program.
You donate life vests to the River Patrol. Why is this program important to you?
Many people who come to swim in the river don't understand that even at beaches at our Parks, some places can be dangerous. You can be walking in water that is 2 feet deep and in the next step drop off to 6 feet deep. The Water Safety Patrol was meant to save lives on the river, and I want people to enjoy the river safely. Also, many people find out that wearing a life vest is actually more fun because it makes swimming and floating easier.
How many life vests did you donate this year?
90 this year and somewhere between 300 and 400 since the beginning of the program.
You own Russian River Adventures in Healdsburg. How did you get involved in water sports?
I began a love affair with rivers when I was about 10 years old, canoeing, swimming, fishing and camping. In the early ‘90s, I designed the first SOAR Inflatable Canoe and entered the outdoor recreation industry. Subsequently, I moved to Sonoma County and began offering river trips.
Thousands of people come to the Russian River every year. What makes this river so special?There are many canoeable rivers like the Russian River east of the Rocky Mountains, but few to the west. The Russian usually has a nice gentle current, making it easy for people to explore. The river is also home to great biodiversity. Visitors are likely to see lots of birds that only frequent riparian habitat, like herons, kingfishers and osprey. Plus, on any given day, there are likely to be surprises like river otters and bald eagles. This is the only river of its kind in all of California.
If you could tell visitors one thing about how to be safe at the river, what would it be?
Something that I tell all of the guests that come rafting down the river with us is that even though they might be good swimmers, wearing a life vest makes being in the water easier and more fun.