Orinda Association Celebrates Its 75th Birthday During 2021

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(Courtesy Steve Harwood)
Steve Harwood, singing at one of the 4th of July OA-sponsored event said, “The singing Elvis gig brings a smile to my face. My daughter Alison was just 10-years-old and needed a ride to the parade. To her chagrin, the option was to ride with me, dressed as Elvis, in the backseat of Jim Barnett’s gaudy convertible that we had set up with a sound system. She was so embarrassed that she lay down in the back seat to avoid being seen.”

    In 1945 when William Penn Mott, Jr. brought down the gavel opening the first meeting of the Orinda Association (OA), the city we know as Orinda, was an unincorporated area in Contra Costa County with 3,500 residents.
    For 40 years, the OA served as Orinda’s watchdog, lobbying for repair and upgrade of local streets and highways by county authorities, creating the Orinda General Plan approved by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 1973 and supporting an eight-year battle to save the Orinda Theatre in a tireless pursuit of local self-rule.
    Along the way, the OA provided the major capital down payment for purchasing the land that became the Orinda Library, Community Center and Park.
    Bobbie Landers, who served as OA Administrator from 1976-1986 and Orinda City Council Member from 1986-1996, said when the City of Orinda became a reality in 1985, The Orinda Association faced an uncertain future.
    “There was a great deal of discussion about the OA, which had served as our de facto government in dealing with the county,” she said. “There were those who thought we should ‘close up shop,’ but the OA turned a corner, reorganized and reinvented itself as a non-political, nonprofit, supporting the newly established city.”
    Recent Past President Carlos Baltodano said The Orinda Association continues to be a strong essential civic organization after 75 years “thanks to its ability to connect with the community and respond to its needs in terms of service and events.”
    Baltodano added, “I was delighted, especially last year, with the creativity and organizational skills shown by members during the pandemic in providing grocery pick-ups and reassurance calls, as part of our free door-to-door transportation program, Seniors Around Town.”
    In 1985, the OA celebrated its successful drive for incorporation, and the New Orinda News, established by Orinda resident Ann O’Connell Nye, published its first issue in spring 1986.
    “I thought it was good for our new city to have its own newspaper, dedicated solely to covering Orinda’s news and issues,” said Nye. “Previous local newspapers were sporadically published by volunteers, including the Hayseed Siftings (1893), The Orindan (1927) and the Orinda Improvement Association’s Orinda News (1927-1964). The OA mailed the New Orinda News to residents free of charge, and right from the beginning, supplemented the paper’s advertising funds to support a paid newspaper staff.”
    The New Orinda News’ title was later changed in 1992 to The Orinda News and has remained as such, ever since. The newspaper was designed to promote awareness and encourage dialogue about issues of importance to Orinda residents.
    Past OA President, Mark Roberts, talks about the newspaper’s success: “What I appreciate most about what the OA provides to residents is The Orinda News, which used to be quarterly and is now a monthly, as well as the OA forums informing the public about issues that impact the community.”
    Over the years, the OA has sponsored Meet the Candidates gatherings (City Council, School Board, Fire Commission), as well as forums on ensuring fire safety, planning for disaster preparedness and fixing Orinda’s roads.
    Since cityhood, the OA has initiated and sponsored a wide array of service and events in its mission to improve and maintain Orinda’s quality of life, including a Volunteer Center, an annual Volunteer of the Year award, the July 4th Parade and Classic Car Show events.
    The OA also sponsored the William Penn Mott, Jr. Environmental Award, established in 1993, to recognize a citizen or group who or which displays outstanding contributions in education or environmental preservation, in honor of the first OA president, Bill Mott, who also served as National Park Director under President Ronald Reagan.
    The Volunteer Center opened in 2002, under the Orinda Library. It serves as Orinda’s brick and mortar location. It is open weekdays for local non-profits to share information, advertising and volunteer assistance for non-profit events. It also doubles as The Orinda News office and as a center for registering Seniors Around Town (SAT) drivers and riders and non-profit event ticket sales while providing a convenient drop-off location for donations.
    OA Past President Kate Wiley initiated the Seniors Around Town (SAT) in 2005. SAT is a free program where volunteers help qualified seniors who are no longer able to drive to reach doctor appointments, accomplish errands and more.
    Wiley recently received a 2020 Jefferson Award for SAT’s community program. Wiley added, “It’s a neighbor-helping-neighbor program, which develops friendships, socialization and engagement for seniors with the community and allows them the independence to ‘age in place’ in their own home as long as possible.”
    Every year the Orinda Classic Car Show, created in 2005 by Orinda resident Chip Herman and Orinda Motors’ John Vanek, features American and European cars ranging from the 1920s to the ‘50s and ‘60s. It raises money for local charities, including the OA’s SAT Program.
    Steve Harwood shares Orinda’s distinctive volunteer spirit, as he sums up his memories of being involved in Orinda’s Independence Day parade rated the “Best July 4th Parade in the East Bay” by the Contra Costa Times.
    “I was the overall chairman for two years, the band organizer and ‘a singing Elvis’ one year, and I’ve been the parade announcer, along with my pals Bill Cosden, Scott Butler and Mark Roberts for at least 25 years,” said Harwood. “As I’ve announced the parade, I’ve been filled with pride by all the wonderful work done for the community by so many organizations and individuals. Plus, it’s been just pure fun.”

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