Gary and Elena Petersen stood under the tall shade trees on Western Avenue Saturday afternoon as their two young daughters sat on a picnic bench, wholeheartedly occupied by the cool, delicious ice cream they were licking off their spoons.

The Petersen family came from Cotati for the Petaluma Creamery's 100th Anniversary, an event that drew an estimated 650 to 700 people all wishing to celebrate Petaluma's dairy heritage and the role the Petaluma Creamery has played in it.

"We just took the tour of the creamery," said Gary Peterson, adding, "It was pretty amazing, clean as a whistle and pipes going everywhere."

The tours were conducted by the Creamery's owner, Larry Peter, until he lost his voice. "I thought we'd have maybe 15 or 20 people on each tour," he said hoarsely, "but it was more like 60 or 70 people!"

Among the attendees at Saturday's event were politicians and community leaders as well as farm families that trace their history in Petaluma back four and five generations.

The Petaluma creamery was founded by such families in 1913. That's when 33 dairymen, led by Silvio Gambonini, established the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery to serve the thriving dairy industry.

The association purchased land and built a plant at 619 Western Avenue, receiving the first shipment of cream in January of 1914. In 1916, the Clover brand name was born and in the following years the creamery and its product lines expanded.

The iconic creamery almost vanished in a devastating fire in 1975. In 1977, a group of employees, and then-manager Gene Benedetti, bought the Clover brand name and founded Clover-Stornetta Farms. The creamery continued operations as California Gold, producing cheese and butter and processing milk.

But in 2004, the creamery's future looked dim again when the plant was closed after being absorbed by Dairy Farmers of America.

That's when Larry Peter, owner of Spring Hill Dairy, stepped in and purchased the creamery, believing that it was a valuable asset to the agricultural community and the economy of the region.

"It is important to not lose a way of life that has existed here for over a hundred years," said Peter.

In the following years, Peter poured more money into the plant, now called the Petaluma Creamery, and added additional product lines. The creamery now has a popular retail operation selling cheeses, butter and home-made ice cream, as well as sandwiches, pizza and a daily barbecue.

Tours of the plant attract visitors, school children and business groups, and today the butter cream-colored buildings have become a symbol of Petaluma's dairy industry.

Peter happily received a proclamation for his ongoing commitment to agriculture heritage, land stewardship, and providing high-quality dairy products. But when asked what was most significant about the day for him, he returned to the importance of family and community.

"It's not about me," he said Saturday. "It's about the generations that built this creamery and kept it going. I look around today and see all the people who make this community so special."

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscou