Jerry Cox – January 22nd, 2009

101_0046I met with Jerry at the High School on a Thursday afternoon and we sat in the staff common room for our little chat. Several teachers came in and out during our talk and it seemed very apparent from the brief exchanges that Jerry was liked and respected by all… Jerry was born, Gerald Cox, on May 30th, 1925 in Oakland, California, to parents of Irish descent, both sets of his grandparents having come over from the ‘old country’ in the late nineteenth century – his paternal grandparents had arrived with “$0” according to the records Jerry saw when he visited Ellis Island. He was the second oldest of seven siblings which included one set of twins and a set of triplets!…Following his attendance at a Catholic elementary school, at the age of fourteen he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary College in Mountain View and began training for the priesthood, graduating to St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park when he was twenty. His training continued until he was ordained as a priest on June 16th 1950 at which point he was assigned assistant pastor to St. Mary’s Church on skid row in Oakland. Here he spent five years working in a community that was predominantly black and Hispanic and it was during this period that he began his mastery of the Spanish language. In 1955, it was felt that a combination of his position as a priest plus some knowledge of the social services system would be beneficial so he was sent to study for his Masters in Social Work to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. He returned to the Bay Area two years later where he was assigned to Catholic Social Services in San Francisco before continuing his vocation at the Hanna Boys Center in Boyes Springs, Sonoma County. This was “the Boystown of the West”, where from 1957-62 he was the Assistant Director at a facility dealing primarily with delinquent kids. In the early sixties, Jerry was involved in the creation of the new Diocese of Santa Rosa, covering several counties in northern California, and he became its Chancellor, meaning he was involved with mainly administrative duties. This had the effect of moving him away from what he really liked to do – “it was not my thing” – so, when he was given the opportunity, he seized the chance to become the Director of the Youth Program for the Catholic Social Services and this enabled him to re-hook up on a daily basis with the Spanish-speaking community. “There were quite a few radicals around – the Mexican American Political Association (M.A.P.A.) was one group, not as radical as the Black Panthers but they were certainly prepared to take on the powers-that-be and it included Cesar Chavez, who had his first ‘house meeting’ at this time, and who was to eventually form the Farm Workers Union and make a real difference.” Jerry was the only Spanish-speaking priest in the whole diocese and focused much of his time into getting the Mexican community more involved in politics and officiating at marriages, funerals, and quinceanera celebrations all the way to the Oregon border. He started a new parish in West Santa Rosa called the Resurrection Community Center which was a unique place at the time in that it was used for far more things than as just a church. It was a center of the community with meetings, dances, and dinners all held there. Furthermore, and something else quite different from the norm, Jerry lived in the community not on the church property. He asked for and was given permission to buy a house in the neighborhood. ‘I told them I’d move into a priest house later but it never happened. I was living amongst the parishioners and the community appreciated this I’m sure…. I was very active during this period with farm workers rights, the boycotts, and social justice. I almost went on Martin Luther King’s march to Montgomery – I always regretted that I didn’t.” At this time a new assistant was needed to help Jerry in his work and two nuns were interviewed for the position. “The Bishop advised me to take on the older one but I told him I’d prefer the younger one – she was more my style. I got my way and that was Sister Kathleen Snyder – the future Kathy Cox!”…We worked well together but a couple of years later, with the dam was starting to leak in the church and many leaving, Kathy decided she was no longer connected to many of the older traditional viewpoints and she joined the Peace Corps and moved away. We kept in touch – we were certainly attracted to each other and I began to seriously question my priesthood position. Finally, in 1973, I sought dispensation from the Pope to legally revert to a layman, as it was important to Kathy and I that we get married in church. This was granted and in June 1974 we were married in Spokane, Washington, where her family is from, before we settled back in the Bay Area.” Jerry returned to a job with the Catholic Social Services and became its Assistant Director whilst Kathy attended U.C. Berkeley at the School of Public Health. He also became Executive Director of the Easter Seals Society during this period and then in the space of a couple of years they became the proud parents of two daughters, Rebekah and Mary Anne…They had visited the Anderson Valley area a few times previously and when Jim Ferhoff, who as it turned out had grown up on the same block as Jerry in Oakland, began developing Rancho Navarro in the late seventies they decided to buy some acreage. They would come up for short visits, camping with a trailer, and soon realized that this was “a fantastic place to raise kids” and made plans to move to the Valley permanently. “In 1983, we made our move to the Valley and were talked into buying the Floodgate Store – a general store and beer and wine bar – the stupidest mistake we ever made. We signed a five-year lease and after initially living there we bought a house on Rancho Navarro. Kathy didn’t like the business and she got a job at the Health Center and it was during this time that she formed the Anderson Valley Housing Association. She became very involved with the Mexican community and helped to find them real housing as opposed to the culverts and chicken huts many had to live in at that time…I stayed at the Floodgate, selling groceries, ice cream, general supplies, fishing licenses, etc and then beers to the loggers who would come in at 4pm every day… However, I was not a businessman at all and so when Johnnie Schmidt came along looking for a place to set up a little restaurant it was like a gift from God. We became partners – I was the maitre d’ and he was the chef – and in 1986 the Floodgate Café was born. We served predominantly upscale Mexican food, good salads and desserts, and a Sunday breakfast – a very simple menu actually. It became very popular with people coming from many miles around; so popular that on some nights, being such a small place, people had to wait in their cars until their tables were ready. I remember going outside and serving guests their beer and wine and saying things such as, ‘Smith, party of four in the blue Chevy – your table is ready!’…We lasted two years until 1988 when Johnnie moved to the Hotel in Boonville and I joined him there. Although I feel I am a very hospitable person I never really liked the hospitality business and left after a relatively short time.” Jerry got a job with the Teenage Rehab Center in the Valley and then in 1989 he and Kathy opened the Indian Creek Ranch to house those undergoing treatment and recovery. It lasted for three years until 1991 when social service cut backs in such ventures took effect, resulting in them closing the facility down. Jerry went to work for the Social Services Department in Ukiah. Here he set up Nuestra Casa (Our House), providing counseling, drug and alcohol rehab services, and various kids’ programs…He commuted to Ukiah for three years during which time he also got involved with fund-raising for the church under the name of ‘Gerald F. Cox and Associates’ – “although it was just me – there were no associates.” Then in the mid-nineties Jerry and Kathy decided on a complete change of direction and pace. From 1994 to 1998 they went to Hong Kong to work at The American School, teaching Spanish to American and wealthy Chinese kids in the Language Department. ‘It was a great few years. We had a wonderful time in Hong Kong and during our stay out there we had a ball traveling around much of Asia”… On their return in 1998 Jerry approached School Principal and Superintendent, J.R. Collins, and suggested a job as a counselor for the Spanish-speaking kids. J.R. thought it was a great idea and that’s where Jerry remains to this day, working three days a week with about fifteen kids in total…With social activism not as prevalent in his daily life, he and Kathy now love to spend time with their four grandchildren – Rebekah’s Gerald and Gigi Rocha who are in Windsor and Mary Anne’s Cadence and Milo Doble in Ukiah, and yet he still found time in recent years to lead the fund-raising campaign for the addition to the Anderson Valley Clinic, ultimately raising over a million dollars. I asked Jerry what he most liked about life in the Valley. “I love the people here. We have many friends and have lots of fun here. The community is very caring and of course there is the natural beauty of the Valley…We love to eat at Lauren’s and go out to Navarro Beach at the coast…The one disappointing thing about our time here has been our inability to really develop significant housing for farm workers and others that need it. I was very disappointed that the School Board voted down the project to build housing for public employees on school property.” “We attend many of the Valley’s events – the Crab Feed etc, and had a great time at Lauren’s on New Year’s Eve…I’ve been to Mexico about twenty five times and to Ireland on three occasions to check in on my roots. We don’t travel as much now and like to spend time with our kids and their families…I can’t imagine ever leaving here – you can bury me here; strew my ashes along the Navarro River.” I then asked Jerry for his responses to various key topics of conversation in the Valley…The Wineries? – “They naturally provide lots of jobs for our Mexican community. Unfortunately, perhaps their presence means we don’t have a more balanced agricultural base and it’s also a problem that many owners do not live here and are not part of the Community.”…The local public radio station, KZYX? – “Kathy listens a lot and I get much of my news from her. I subscribe to the New York Times but I can’t tell her anything – she’s already heard it on the radio! I like Democracy Now and the Celtic music on Sundays and I’m a station member.”…The A.V.A.? – “I love it! Bruce and I have been buddies for a long time and although we certainly have our differences, particularly about the school, we have a mutual respect. I like Alexander Cockburn’s columns, he’s certainly a radical Irishman, and I like to know what’s going on around the County which the A.V.A. covers well…I’m glad Bruce returned – the paper’s better for it”…The High School? – “We have an excellent high school. People who take their kids out of the school are losing a lot. We have no racial problems amongst the kids and the staff are to be greatly admired – they are not just teachers; they are very compassionate and caring and the kids get the experience of being around very loving people.” I asked Jerry whom he’d vote to be Mayor of the Valley if such a position existed. “Donna Pierson-Pugh would get my vote. She knows the Valley backwards and forwards and is a very talented administrator”…And if you were the Mayor, Jerry? “My first project would be to bring people together from all walks of life in the Valley to try and solve the housing problems…And secondly, Kathy and I would love to establish a family fitness and swimming center near to the school – if we won the lottery, of course” To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bob from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”… What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Hola – ‘hi’ in Spanish” What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Asshole” What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “I really enjoy communicating with people, telling jokes and making others laugh.” What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Militarism and corporate greed. Some of these people, one being Bernard Maldoff who has ruined so many lives with his recently exposed fraudulent financial schemes, should burn in hell.” What sound or noise do you love? – “Sea waves” What sound or noise do you hate? – “Blue Jays squawking.” What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Shit” What is your favorite hobby? – “Writing, walking, swimming.” What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “Conducting a symphony orchestra – creating beautiful music.” What profession would you not like to do? – “Business administration.” Do you have any words to live by? – “Well I am a Christian and I believe in a God of Love and a God of Justice. All of my community involvement has been based on feelings of caring, fairness, and peace – nobody can preach the gospel without considering these issues and those of housing, education, health, and economic welfare…I try to ensure that there is a direct connection between what I believe in and what ought to happen in society.” Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come on in, Jerry, you did a good job.”

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Nice blog Thanks for the information, I Like your Blog so much……I also have Quinceanera Celebration website, May it will be informative for you

    For more information log on to the below link:

    Quinceanera Tradition

    Keep up the great work!!!!!!!

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