Gary Imm, widely respected as one of the area's most humble humanitarians, was named 2013 Citizen of the Year by the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and the Petaluma Argus-Courier as part of the annual Community Awards of Excellence program. A founding partner and retired CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms, Imm was caught completely off-guard by a surprise presentation on Feb. 15th.

"I am truly honored," said the former president of the Petaluma Chamber, founding member of Petaluma Youth Soccer League and past leader of the Boys & Girls Club of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties. "I am but a representative of thousands. Petaluma is a very special community; we are blessed with active, motivated residents who devote their time and efforts selflessly for no reason other than to improve the common good."

A quiet, diplomatic leader, philanthropist and family man, Gary Imm has long been lauded by his fellow Petalumans as a rock of the community.

Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center, Elece Hempel described Imm as a courteous, selfless man.

"Gary has been involved with the evolution of our community, a community we are all proud to call home," Hempel said, adding that his and his wife's philanthropy "has touched thousands of our residents, from those in search of housing, to those who are hungry, to those who need employment."

One facet of the community that Imm has been closely involved with is the Boys & Girls Club. As a youth, Imm was the first 'Boy of the Year' for the local Boys and Girls Club in 1958. He went on to serve as a board member.

"He has been a mentor to me, and I've learned a great deal from him that helps me further the goals of our organization in serving local youth," said David Solo, current CEO of the Boys & Girls Club. Solo described Imm as a "very giving" person who "quietly makes time to help others."

Imm's ties to the organization would prove to have a major impact on the community: "In the late '60s, before we started Clover, we had two young sons and remembering my good times at Petaluma's Boys and Girls Club I went in and asked if there was anything I could do to help," Imm recalled. "I didn't have to ask twice." Imm began coaching his sons in baseball, basketball and soccer, which he described as a challenge since he had never played soccer before.

"Within two years the program had grown and the club was looking for someone else to take over," he said. So Imm, four other coaches and two former soccer players created The Petaluma Youth Soccer League.

PYSL currently serves more than 2,500 children. Imm went on to spend six years as a coach and referee. "Those were some of my fondest memories. The parents and the players and the other coaches became some of our best friends," he said.

Today, Imm serves on two Petaluma Chamber of Commerce Committees, sharing a wealth of experience garnered from skills learned over decades of building one of the county's most recognizable and successful businesses. It was during the years of developing a dynamic business and raising two sons with his wife, Lynn that the Petaluma-raised leader made much of his impact on his community.

"Gary is the first person I call upon for advice and guidance and support," said Onita Pellegrini, CEO of Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce. Twenty years ago, "He was asked to take the reigns of the chamber in some very hard times," she said. "It was Gary's leadership and gentle guidance that brought the chamber out the other side."

Pellegrini added that Imm was on the committee that started the Chamber's Leadership Petaluma program, a nine-month civics class where residents can learn the workings of local government, community organizations and businesses. It is now in its 18th year.

Imm retired from Clover in 2010. At that point, he said, "Lynn and I decided that we would try to spend more time together, which meant curtailing some of our commitments."

Imm attributed some of his commitment to community to his wife, who was named Volunteer of the Year in 2003. He described her as "The perfect example of someone who stays more in the background, yet has certainly touched more lives in more meaningful ways, than me."

"When you are married to someone who is so giving and so caring to all who need help," he said, "you can hardly not try to do the right things yourself."

One of the Imm's sons, Kevin, could not agree more: "My mom and dad have epitomized the practice of leading by example," he said. "All of those who have worked with my dad would attest to his robust honesty, intellect and integrity. People respond to and respect my dad dearly for the simple reason that he respects them first."

Gary and Lynn have one other son, Greg and two grandsons, Colin, 15 and Cade, 12.

Imm said that one thing he hopes for Petaluma is "that we can all be more respectful of one another's opinions and beliefs. We are all in this together and together we can make Petaluma better than ever."

(Contact Frances Rivetti at argus@arguscourier.com.)