History of LSR by Founding Director

Leadership Santa Rosa 1984-present,  A Look Back

The true measure of the effectiveness of an organization and it’s mission is whether it stands the test of time and achieves what it was established to accomplish at its’ inception.

The Mission: to identify and develop effective community leaders among the citizens of the greater Santa Rosa area by providing a vehicle to educate future leaders about a broad range of community needs and concerns, encourage informed individuals to server in leadership roles, enhance leadership and management skills and create a spirit of cooperation for the resolution of community challenges. Certainly a worthy mission then and now!

In the case of Leadership Santa Rosa, the same mission statement that formed the foundation of the program adopted in 1984 by the first Steering Committee continues to guide Leadership Santa Rosa today. And you might ask, as I have been asked many times, what was the origin of that mission and how did the program come into being.

The concept of community leadership programs was first introduced to the staff of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, of which I was member as the Assistant Executive Director, at a conference we attended in San Diego in the Fall of 1983. The speaker panel was from Chamber leadership programs in Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Stockton. Each Chamber executive described how, through the program, they were attempting to address deep rooted racial, socio-economic, and educational problems facing their respective communities. Though Santa Rosa did not necessarily face all of the same issues to the degree that these other cities were confronting in the early 1980’s, we certainly had many challenging issues from quality of education to urban growth management, from agricultural preservation to law and justice, and the understanding of the public policy making process of government to the arts/media and culture of our community.

After numerous meetings between me and other Chamber Staff with key individuals from the community who we introduced to the leadership program concept, two groups were formed to create Leadership Santa Rosa. We established a Steering Committee and Fundraising Committee. Together these staff and volunteers spent nearly one year raising $40,000 and developing the curriculum, application/selection process, budget and marketing for the program. We set out to create our own vision of, and consequently our own version of a community leadership program.

We met with individuals from the local media, the City of Santa Rosa, County of Sonoma and numerous business leaders to explain the concept and how we felt it could positively impact Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Initially we were met with much skepticism from governmental officials and the media, always with their cautious eye and concern for any possible political motivation by the Chamber. At the time the Chamber was actively engaged in many critical issues facing the community including the idea of a “bridge over Spring Lake”, the funding for completion of Hwy. 12 in front of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, city centered growth vs. peripheral development near the “outskirts” of the City limits, and whether to endorse and finance city council candidates through a possible Chamber political action committee. There was much debate over these and many other issues of the time.

The first Steering Committee formed in 1984 was comprised of Jim Burns, then Centennial Savings and Loan; Clem Carinalli, then Carinalli & Associates CPA’s; Reverend James Coffee, Community Baptist Church; Dan Condron, then Hewlett-Packard Executive; Barrie Graham, then Executive Director of United Way; Dorothe Hutchinson, then with Empire College; Eric Koenishofer, then with Empire Paper Stock; Dr. Roy Mikalson, then President of Santa Rosa Junior College;, Julie Nation, Julie Nation College; George Ortiz, then Executive Director of California Human Development Corp.; Rick Surlow, then Owner of Photographic Visions; and Art Volkerts, then Editor of the Press Democrat.

The original Fundraising Committee was comprised of Jim Alexander, then President of Union Bank; Shirley Merrifield, The Merrifield Co.; Rich Rinehart, then with Zainer, Rinehart Clarke & Co. CPA’s; along with Condron, Surlow, Hutchinson and myself. Not to be forgotten, then Chamber Executive Director (now titled Chamber President) Paul Wright also played an instrumental role in the formation of the program.

There were so many applicants for the first two classes that we commenced Class 1 in January 1985, and Class 2 kicked off in September of the same year. Over 120 people in total applied for the first two classes if I recall correctly, so the Steering Committee decided to offer two programs in the first year in an effort to accommodate as many great applicants as possible (32 per class). The second class was assembling in the middle of 1985, barely mid-way through the Class 1 program. As a result, we were coordinating two programs simultaneously, fundraising for both, setting the curriculum and conducting Class 1 while preparing Class 2 and holding day sessions for both in the overlapping months of September and October of that year. We held both a kickoff two-day Retreat and a mid-year Retreat for the first and second classes. They were truly inspirational sessions, with facilitators such as Dr.Gary Beal, Shirley Merrifield and Dr. Mitchell Perry.

Most of the approximately 800 graduates of the program since it’s inception in January 1985 may not realize who some of the true leaders are amongst them and the profound impacts these individuals have had on our community. It is my hope that proper recognition can be given many of these individuals and LSR Classes in honor of their community service accomplishments at the June picnic celebration of the 25th Anniversary. It would be profound to create some form of documentation of LSR graduates’ great service to our community! Accomplishments such as Tomorrows Leaders Today (TLT), Forum 2000, new fields at Cook Middle School, and the Thursday Night Market were small example of  the numerous incredible projects created and undertaken by the LSR Classes over these 25 years.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who made it happen 25 years ago, and the following people who carried the torch as Director after my departure in 1986; Jana Moore (1986-1988), Sharon Wright (1988-2000), Mary Kennedy (2000-07), and Janet Rogers (2007-present); and  to all of the guest speakers who graced us with their colorful insights including the likes of Gaye LeBaron and Hugh Codding, Former District Attorney Mike Mullins and Former Santa Rosa Police Chief Sal Rosano, Reverend James Coffee, and the Honorable Judge Joe Rattigan), and Dan Peletz to name a few. A special acknowledgement goes to the Day Coordinators, who for 25 years have made the experience a memorable one for each class, and to each participant who made the learning between classmates so rich and rewarding!

A special thought from me about two individuals who had a particularly profound impact on me during my tenure as LSR Director and in the years since; the dynamic, outspoken and brilliant Ellen Masland Salyer (Zainer, Rinehart, Clarke CPA’s), member of the first graduating Class of 1985 who died in the Alaska Air crash off the coast of California in 2000, and Bob Blanchard, the epitome of service and Class!! Ellen’s death was a terrible loss to our community, as she had a tremendous impact on organizations she served with including Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), the Ukraine Sister City Project and the Chamber of Commerce. Ellen and widower Phil Salyer were the first members of a Leadership Santa Rosa class to meet and then ultimately marry.

The death of Bob Blanchard was another terrible loss. Bob was a guiding light for the program by encouraging us to consider new ways of doing things, a better way to accomplish our goals or challenged us to reach for higher goals in our service to the community, always with an eye toward balance and fairness. Bob was an inspiration to me and was responsible for so many creative activities we undertook in the early years of the program while he served as a Day Coordinator and many other roles he played in the Leadership Santa Rosa program. May Ellen and Bob continue to be an inspiration to all of us!

Written by Paul Schwartz

Founding Director, Leadership Santa Rosa
 1983-April 1986

Sr. Vice President
, NAI BT Commercial Real Estate