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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Prudence (Prue) Draper: 1930-2017

I'm mourning the passing of my sister Prue Draper, who among a legion of other accomplishments was a distinguished local historian and historic preservation advocate in Cotati, California, a city that she and her late husband Lloyd did much to create. Here's the obituary I prepared, which is a bit longer than the one published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat yesterday.

2009 Cotati Accordian Festival. L-R: Recycle bin, Prue Draper, Pat Parker, some guy 
clapping out of synch

Prue Draper, a pillar of the Cotati community, died at her home on January 21st, 2017.

Born Prudence King in Cleveland, Ohio in 1930, Prue was the oldest child of Ted and Helen King. She moved with them as a sub-teen to Atlanta, Georgia, where her three siblings were born. With them and her mother she traveled by train to San Diego in 1943 when Ted was deployed by the Navy to the Pacific. She recounted how her mother had her dress in her Girl Scout uniform to encourage respect from the other passengers, and how she and her sister and brother would form a protective circle around their mother to protect her from prying eyes as she nursed their infant brother. From San Diego the family moved north as the war progressed, and in 1946 bought a chicken ranch in Petaluma.

Prue detested chicken ranching, but put up with it through her high school years, gamely vaccinating chickens, “scratching eggs” to remove clinging chicken poop, plucking and cleaning chickens for the pot, and performing the myriad other chores required of a small and struggling egg operation. She escaped gladly to the University of California, Berkeley on a scholarship, but fell victim to pneumonia and had to drop out of school after two years.

Back in Sonoma County, in 1949 she met Lloyd B. Draper, then a semi-itinerant printer from Martinez. After a courtship during which Lloyd tried to teach her to drive a car – through a neighbor’s front fence – they married in 1951 and took over operation of The Cotatian, then Cotati’s weekly newspaper. Building a house in Hessel and later moving to School Street in Cotati, the couple operated The Cotatian until 1966. Both gathered news, wrote stories, shot and developed photographs, sold advertisements and marketed the paper. Both operated the huge, clanking linotypes that cast printing type as lead slugs; these they locked into heavy page frames that Lloyd hefted into the massive press to churn out the printed pages. Their children  – Bob, Robin and then Jay – played in a back room as the machinery roared.

Prue and Lloyd were active in the life of the then-unincorporated town of Cotati, including efforts to site a new state college campus there. When Rohnert Park was established in 1962 and launched an aggressive growth initiative, they were leaders in the successful drive to resist absorption by incorporating Cotati as a city in its own right. Lloyd served as Cotati’s mayor, and Prue sat on the City’s Design Review Committee.

Meanwhile, The Cotatian succumbed to the technology and economics of the digital age. With its demise, Lloyd worked as a printer in San Francisco, Sebastopol, and Sonoma, and Prue as a reporter and writer for the Argus-Courier, Press Democrat , and Rohnert Park-Cotati Times. She also worked at the Hewlett-Packard plant in Rohnert Park.  Real estate they had acquired on Cotati’s Plaza began to produce a stable income, and both Prue and Lloyd were able to enjoy semi-retirement after about 1990, remaining active in civic affairs.

The tragic loss of their son Jay (Jeffrey Edward) in a 1975 motorcycle crash was devastating to Prue and Lloyd, but they responded with typical grace and creativity, joining the Peace Corps and working for two years in Samo’a – Prue as a teacher, Lloyd as a newspaper publisher. They made lifelong friends in Samo’a, and retained lifelong interests in its people and culture. Samo’a launched them on a series of travel adventures that took them around the Pacific and to the Amazon, the Andes, Mexico, Central America, Europe and Africa.

Back in Cotati, Prue and Lloyd plunged into a range of civic affairs. Prue served on the Cotati School District Advisory Committee, the Cotati Chamber of Commerce, and the Sonoma County Library Foundation. A tangible reminder of their civic engagement is Cotati’s Lloyd and Prue Draper Park. Another memorial was proposed by Cotati city leaders in the form of the plaque and base under the Athena sculpture on the Plaza, not far from the old Cotatian shop. But as reported in the November 24, 2010 Community Voice:

…in no uncertain terms, Draper declined the honor and stated that her preference was for the plaque to be dedicated to the Cotati Historical Society.

"We dedicated our lives to the Historical Society and the credit should go to the organization," she said. "It makes sense for it to be about the Historical Society, not individuals."

What if her wishes are ignored and the plaque is named in honor of Lloyd and Prue Draper?

"I'll throw eggs at it," she said. "I will!"[1]

Prue served as the city’s unofficial historian, spearheading establishment of the Cotati Historical Society and Museum. She spent many hours every week welcoming visitors to the Museum, composing its newsletter, receiving donated objects and organizing collections. The City government drew on her expertise whenever a new street had to be named; Prue could find one grounded in the area’s history, and provide its bona fides.  Deputy City Clerk Lauren Berges calls her “an amazing pillar of the community, a magnificent historian, and true gem of the City.”  And  City Councilmember John Dell’Osso says: 

Prue Draper has been a pillar in our community. Along with her husband Lloyd, they have made Cotati what it is today.

Prue was also an energetic supporter of Sonoma State University’s library and community outreach activities. Michelle Covington, Sonoma State’s Director of Development, says:

Few people are as involved in so many areas of University life as Prue was at Sonoma State. From her involvement and support of the University Library to her interest in uplifting the community through the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center to a strong commitment to personal growth via the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Prue’s presence and partnership with the University were significant, greatly appreciated and will be missed.   

Besides her civic activities, Prue and Lloyd danced with the Petaluma Cotillion and traveled by recreational vehicle with the Happy Hookups. In 2004 they co-authored a book on Cotati in the popular “Images of America” series, lavishly illustrated with historical photographs (https://www.amazon.com/Cotati-Images-America-Prudence-Draper/dp/0738528730).

Lloyd succumbed to pneumonia and heart failure in 2010; after taking a trip alone that they had planned to take together – to Argentina, Antarctica, and Easter Island -- Prue remained active in the life of the city and the university, the Historical Society and her family. She was a leader in efforts to preserve Cotati’s historical heritage, for example coordinating the successful 2014 campaign to save and relocate the city’s rare chimera redwood. In 2013 she was honored with the Woman of the Year award for California’s 3rd Senate District.  Much loved by her far-flung family, she sponsored several large and boisterous reunions in rented beach houses at Bodega Bay. Her niece, Kerrie McCann of Chula Vista, recalls:

Her birthday/family reunions have been such a wonderful gift to our family, helping us know and stay in touch with the Clan. And every holiday she would wrap up and mail to us some collection of fun things for my kids to enjoy - Easter egg kits at Easter, Gingerbread houses & Advent Calendars at Christmas, Valentines candies & cards for Valentines, and on and on. Colt especially loved doing the Gingerbread houses this year all in the midst of our crazy move. He kept reminding his grandma and me that we had to make the Gingerbread houses from Prue! Even though she was not in our daily lives, my children know and love her. Such generosity of heart in helpful, fun ways! I loved her and miss her!

Prue’s health began a rapid decline in January 2017. Some suspect that as a lifelong Democrat she fled the onset of the Trump administration, but that is nonsense; Prue was not one to run from an uphill fight.

Prue’s long-term friend and colleague, journalist Gaye LeBaron, says:

There is no one who has stood taller and steadier in the pursuit of local journalism and history than Prue Draper. As owners, editors, reporters and printers of the weekly Cotatian in the 1950s, Prue and her late husband Lloyd Draper guided that community from farm town to municipality with respect for the past and a vision for the future. Among her many titles, including women's editor of the Petaluma Argus Courier, executive secretary at Hewlett-Packard's Cotati plant, and founding president of the Cotati Historical Society, Prue was also – in her retirement years and my last years as a full-time columnist—the asistant in my Press Democrat office, where her reporting skills, editorial ability and, most of all, her sense of humor, served me and my readers well. She was my good friend and I will miss her terribly.

Prue is survived by her son and daughter, Robert Lloyd and Robin Elise Draper of Cotati, by her granddaughter Erin Roman of Santa Rosa, her sister Mary Nell McCann, her brothers J. Stanton King and Thomas F. King, and many nieces and nephews.

All of whom are grief-stricken, but in Prue's own tradition, will carry on.




[1] http://www.thecommunityvoice.com/archive_article/news/2066

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