The Kenwood Press
: 11/15/2014

The vision and voice of community

Jim Shere

What brings a community like ours together are the things we care about. The dedication of Glen Ellen’s new flagpole the other day, next to our celebrated cannon, was just such an event. Flagpoles are where we salute our loyalties, I thought to myself, as the Boy Scouts raised the Stars and Stripes and led us all in voicing the Pledge of Allegiance.

Old timers remember that another flagpole had been there many years before; when it was gone is not certain, but there’s one there again now. There was also a town flag back then, according to the newspapers of the day. Let’s look for it; and if it can’t be found, then I say let’s design one.

In The Elements of Real Community, anthropologist and long-time Glen Ellenite Gena Van Camp wrote: “Place has always been the setting for real community ... it is the size and kind of place where the citizens live and work, govern themselves, celebrate their joys and sorrows together; that makes for real community. It is a geographic place with a history that its citizens can identify with and feel proud to be among its members.”

On the Fourth of July in 1899 the original flagpole was placed right there in downtown Glen Ellen, at what was then known as the corner of Calabasas Ave. and Santa Rosa Road, and is now where London Ranch Road meets Arnold Drive. A photograph of the dedication shows several wagons, and a great crowd that had gathered from throughout the countryside to celebrate.

The cannon itself was – as many know – the center of another great community demonstration back in 1992, when it was almost sold to an eastern gun collector. As Bob Glotzbach told the story in his Childhood Memories of Glen Ellen: “At any moment a truck would be coming along to haul the cannon away. The community came together very quickly to make certain the cannon would not be removed and to prove the cannon belonged to the town and could not be sold.”

So their voices were heard, and the cannon was saved; and today our new flagpole stands proudly beside it. But now another very significant part of the valley is at risk of being lost if we ignore our history, and concerned people are once again gathering in its defense.

By the time the first town flag was raised back in 1899, the Sonoma Developmental Center had already been established nearby for several years. It was known then as the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children – a highly descriptive name, though to us a rather quaint and perhaps a slightly denigrating one. And yet it brought the most compassionate people to the region, dedicated people who cared about – and provided intimate care for – the most profoundly disabled people.

Jack London’s story “Told in the Drooling Ward” was an early attempt to describe life there, from the point of view of a resident. The recently published novella by Ed Davis, In All Things, A Return to the Drooling Ward, tells it instead from the unsentimental perspective of a person who has worked there. In both cases – though they were written a hundred years apart – we learn the poignant and harsh extremes of humanity that residents and workers there alike have grown to know all too well.

Although its post office is officially known as Eldridge, the community of SDC lies completely within the borders of Glen Ellen, and the two are intimately involved with one another. SDC grew up with Glen Ellen throughout the 20th century, through hard times and good; and, as the greatest employer in the area, it has helped to shape the kind and caring nature of the valley. Most people who have lived here have worked there, or are friends of people who have worked there – from the ones who provide direct care to the residents to those who provide all the necessary administrative and ancillary support, such as the police, fire, food and custodial services.

Now the community is gathering to discuss what will happen there next. It’s understood that whatever happens – whatever is planned and built – will also, inevitably, be part of Glen Ellen, and have great impact upon the character of the entire valley. It’s an important discussion, and one needing the opinions and feelings of each one of us.

“A study of community history,” Gena says in her book, “results in an increase in consciousness of place, of time passing and a growing maturity of vision, an awareness of community connections and the consciousness of self as playing a part in the overall story.”

Gena’s book, incidentally – and Bob’s – is available through the Glen Ellen Historical Society. Theirs are among the voices that speak for the community we have always been, and articulate the vision of community that we want to preserve.

Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also the Executive Director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. Visit his website at jimshere.com.