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News: 11/01/2018

Protecting What We Love – the legacy of Eldridge

Events aim to connect the past, present and future of state hospital

Above: On Oct. 27, Christian Pease (left) and Jeff Todhunter helped decorate the Arnold Drive bridge in Glen Ellen with portraits of outgoing Sonoma Developmental Center clients, as part of “Protecting What We Love,” a series of events commemorating the legacy of SDC. Below, portraits line downtown Glen Ellen. They will stay up until Nov. 4. Photos by Jay Gamel
SDC banners hang in Glen Ellen

The past, present and future of the 127-year-old Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) are marked by three events, two of which occurred before this story was published. Their common threads are the love and compassion between the people being cared for and the caregivers, between conservators and their wards, and between the institution itself and the neighboring communities which share the natural beauty, serenity and bounty of the Valley of the Moon.

An exhibit of powerful portraits of longtime, developmentally disabled residents with their loved ones now line the village of Glen Ellen, the very last Halloween Parade that brought together the few remaining residents and caregivers with alumnae at the Eldridge campus took place on Oct. 31, and a convocation of leaders and involved citizens is slated for Nov. 3 at the Hanna Boys Center. All these events are designed to remind the public that SDC’s legacy needs protection and nurturing, and that there is much work remaining to answer the many, many questions that bedevil those in authority, those who are responsible for the fate of this property.

The lands of Eldridge are steeped with emotion and history, including hundreds of acres of open space and wildlife, all at risk of being auctioned off to the highest bidder unless a better solution is worked out by the State of California and the County of Sonoma.

Under the theme of “Protecting What We Love,” the Parent Hospital Association (PHA), Glen Ellen Forum, Sonoma Land Trust and The Eldridge Portraits Project formed a host committee to sponsor these commemorative events to honor the workers, residents and families of SDC.

Protecting What We Love

On Saturday, Oct. 27, photographs and artwork were installed in the heart of Glen Ellen, along Arnold Drive from the corner of Warm Springs Road to the Glen Ellen Village Market, where they will remain until Nov. 4. The portraits were taken by photographers Christian Pease and Joseph Garappolo from Mountain View-based Light at 11B studio, with help from project manager Carolyn Allekna Todhunter, who worked at SDC for 25 years. The exhibit has the full blessings of the subjects and creators, along with that of the SDC.

Pease first encountered the staff and residents of the Sonoma Developmental Center in 1974, early in his career as a professional photographer, a happy undertaking that brought him back to visually document the final exodus, which is expected to be complete by the end of December. Over a period of four years, Pease helped create a recruiting film, worked on a “special staffing” documentary, and worked directly for the state, developing employee training materials related to the work of the SDC.

“It’s about the enduring relationships forged between the families, the parents, staff, and even conservators, some who aren’t even related to their wards,” Pease said. “I want to show that the subjects are just like everyone else – they have enduring and full relationships and basic human needs. Their lives are worth remarking on in life and in passing. There are things we all share in common, including the citizens of Glen Ellen with the community of Eldridge. Those relationships are now ending and will become something else.”

The portraits can be seen online at and

A crew of Glen Ellen Forum members, their partners, and friends, worked with Pease to install large-format banners of the portraits through Glen Ellen, many of which include photos from the time they first came to live at SDC, alongside pictures of their present selves with their family or guardians. Many of these people have resided there for decades.

A painting of “Buck,” a resident who has lived and prowled the entire campus for over 50 years, is the icon of the exhibit. The portrait was done by Pat Meier-Johnson of Sonoma, and shows Buck sitting at the Arnold Drive bus stop in the center of the campus, where he could often be seen waving at passers-by.

Other photographs and artwork were provided by Scott Hess, from Light at 11B, Joan Schwan, principal ecologist for Sebastopol’s Prunuske Chatham, Inc., and the State of California’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

“JJ” Fernandez, assistant to the executive director of SDC and public information officer, was on hand to help with the installations. The last official resident count posted online by the DDS for Sept. 26 showed 46 clients remaining; Fernandez said that there about 20 residents still living at the center as of Oct. 27.

Halloween parade

The SDC hosted its last annual Halloween Parade on Oct. 31 – a tradition at the Center for over 40 years. The parade started at 10:30 a.m. at Harney Circle (in front of the historic red brick building). This year, members of the surrounding community participated, with entries including the PHA, Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma Ecology Center, Neil Shepard from Glen Ellen (his great-great uncle was Jack London) with his horses, The Magic Man and Witchy Poo, and other float entries in honor of SDC employees. Current and former residents and employees of SDC participated in the parade, and former Eldridge Farm animals also made an apperance. There were awards given for most humorous, traditional, scariest, and the ever-popular grand prize trophy.

Afterwards, PHA and Sonoma Land Trust hosted a lunch buffet for SDC employees to thank them for their many years of service.

Hanna Center event is sold out

There will be a thank-you and farewell celebration at the Hanna Boys Center on Arnold Drive on Nov. 3. Don’t bother trying to go – the event was sold out shortly after it was announced on Oct. 5. The event will mostly be social in nature, with formal speeches and presentations at 4 p.m. There will be a display of the Eldridge Portraits.

Katherine Miller is the co-president of the PHA. Her son, Dan, will be the last person to leave his SDC campus residence in the next few weeks. She has been fighting many years for the best care possible for developmentally disabled people and will speak at the commemoration gathering.

“We want to say to our supporters, ‘We’re not done. We’re just getting started on protecting what we love.’

“The work isn’t over. That’s my message,” said Miller.


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