(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)
One very rainy day in the 1990s, Chip Atkin peered outside a window of his family?s home on West Street and noticed that the back yard didn?t look quite the same.
?I saw a new hump,? he said. ?At first, it looked like it could be a snake or the results of a gopher digging there. I went outside, and found to my surprise that someone had dug a ditch.
?Later, I discovered that our next-door neighbor, Doc (Warren) Katen, had dug the ditch to help divert water on our property. He didn?t mention anything to us about it, but that isn?t unusual in our neighborhood ? we all look out for each other.?
Katen, who since 1979 has lived with wife Patricia in the Cherry Valley neighborhood ? named after the many cherry orchards then in the area ? echoes Atkin?s feelings.
?If a family here goes away for a while, neighbors put its garbage out and place its papers on the porch. No one ever knows who is taking care of these things, and no one talks about it. We all simply do it,? he said.
?Families sometimes get together to help our elderly residents with their yard work,? added Susan Rondeau, who has lived on Cherry Street since 1986. ?The people here care about each other, and know they can rely on each other.?
Rondeau, who lives with husband Lance Cerny and their 17-year-old daughter, Marieclaire, feels her immediate neighborhood is very cohesive.
?We were given a welcome party when we arrived, and over time, the neighborhood has become even more cohesive,? she said. ?About 30 families get together to hold a garage sale every year, and we have housewarming parties and annual barbecues. And each year, many of us go Christmas caroling together.?
This cohesiveness was perhaps most evident in the aftermath of the tragic death of the 11-year-old son of Atkin and wife Marjorie Helm. The boy, Trey, was killed instantly when a large tree fell on him at a birthday gathering in October of 2000.
?He was the most important thing in our lives, so this left a big hole,? Atkin said. ?But the whole neighborhood and the rest of the community helped us through this time by offering their support. So many people wanted to attend Trey?s funeral that we kept needing to find bigger and bigger venues. It eventually took place at Petaluma Junior High School.?
While other Cherry Valley residents laud the neighborhood?s cohesiveness, many of them assert that it typically is displayed through a low-key type of caring rather than intense involvement in each other?s lives.
?Cherry Valley is a nice micro community of friendly people. We say ?hello? to each other and look out for one another, but we don?t necessarily drink beer or have barbecues with each other every day,? said Carl Berglund, who has lived with wife Robin in Cherry Valley since 1965.
?We are open and friendly with one another, but we respect each other?s privacy,? added Dolores Bondietti, who has lived with husband Bill on West Street since 1972.
The demographics of the neighborhood have been gradually changing. The neighborhood?s Hispanic population has increased from 9.1 percent in 1990 to 15.6 percent in 2006, and during this same period, the portion of residents over 45 years of age has risen from 30.4 percent to 43.4 percent and the share of households with an annual income of over $75,000 has grown from 15.4 percent to 29.3 percent.