Editor’s note: This profile was submitted by the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, which nominated Kneeland for the Spirit of Sonoma Award.
This year the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce has nominated Laurie Kneeland as recipient of the “Spirit of Sonoma” award for community service.
“I’m the Ticketron of Cloverdale,” she said.
In that role, Kneeland’s Mail Center supports most of the nonprofits in town by selling tickets to their events.
Ticket sales are just the visible side of her community involvement. She has served as president of the Cloverdale Kiwanis Club on two occasions; been on the board of directors of the Cloverdale Boys and Girls Club; currently serves on the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Board; is working to revive the Druids Circle, the ladies arm of the Druids Grove; and volunteers at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center.
Kneeland is not afraid to literally get her hands dirty in helping the nonprofits. When the Performing Arts Center was being constructed a failed movie theater donated their seats. Each one had to be dismantled and cleaned before they could be installed in the theater. She found candy, gum, popcorn and, in one case, a swarm of ants. Thanks to Kneeland and her co-workers seats looked like new on opening night.
She is, perhaps, proudest of supporting youth in the community. When the United Church of Cloverdale was unable to continue the annual Oktoberfest, Kneeland was Kiwanis president. The group jumped in to continue the event which features Courtney’s Pumpkin Patch. The pumpkin patch sells pumpkins donated by a local merchant and has a large silent auction to raise funds for scholarships.
“It’s a full year project with lots of things for the kids and I get to see all those smiling faces,” she said.
A couple of years later, Kiwanian Greg Carter returned from a trip to Tennessee where he learned of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Carter and his wife, Julie, sat down with Kneeland and they decided to urge Kiwanis to sponsor the library in Cloverdale which is funded through the annual Kiwanis Vineyard Races. Now every newborn child receives a book a month until the age of five.
“Studies show that youngsters who are read to consistently do better in school right through from kindergarten to high school,” she said.
Her most immediate concern became obvious during the recent Kincade Fire. Dozens of people self-evacuated to the Citrus Fair when they lost power, gas or were told to evacuate from the east side of the Russian River near Asti.
“We don’t have a generator and could not serve as an evacuation point as we did during the Pocket Fire in 2017,” she said.
Fair management is investigating a solution with appeals to county and state officials for funding.
Feeding evacuees started when a Key Club member called to say that people were at the fairgrounds and hungry.
“We organized a team initially of Kiwanis and Lions, raided the food pantry (where Kneeland also serves on the board) and started cooking.
“As word spread other companies in town brought their food rather than see it spoil,” she said.
“It became a big thing. Supervisor James Gore came up. Channel 7 came up. Cloverdale was on the news that night. Wow — look at Cloverdale. Even Gov. Newsom called.”
She’s proud to have a shirt that went to major donors when a Kickstarter campaign garnered $50,000 in four days to re-open The Clover, a movie theater that had been closed for several years.
Kneeland began visiting Cloverdale in the 1970s to see her mother and moved full time in 1999.
She moved her Mail Center business from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale in 2006. Her sense is that people in Cloverdale do so much more than in wealthier cities like Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.
“If we didn’t have the Lions, the Rotarians, the Kiwanis where would our towns be and where would our kids be?” she said. “We’re the ones who support the kids, Wallace House, food pantry and all those other people who need dollars. The bottom line is: community service is in my heart.”
“That’s the spirit that provided Laurie Kneeland with a richly deserved Spirit of Sonoma award for Cloverdale,” Chamber of Commerce President Ron Pavelka said.
Kneeland will be honored at a county-wide Spirit of Sonoma County Award luncheon on Friday, Dec. 13 at the Flamingo Hotel & Conference Center in Santa Rosa.