Jim Carr still thrives on the outdoors

Harlan Osborne’s exploration of the people and places of Petaluma runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. Osborne can be reached at

Harlan Osborne's column Toolin' Around Town appears every two weeks in the Petaluma Argus-Courier. (SCOTT MANCHESTER/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)
Harlan Osborne's column Toolin' Around Town appears every two weeks in the Petaluma Argus-Courier. (SCOTT MANCHESTER/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

It’s said that one of the basic ingredients of happiness is the refreshment, relaxation and enjoyment that comes from the great outdoors. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictive health advisory guidelines, many of us are sheltering in place and limiting unnecessary contact with others.

But safe alternatives are available right here in Petaluma, as Argus-Courier community Editor David Templeton is revealing in his timely, multi-part series on Petaluma’s numerous city parks.

Rather than staying home and singing the summertime blues, safe outdoor fun, with plenty of elbowroom, can still be enjoyed. By taking an excursion to a city park you’ll likely find enough open space and recreational opportunities to escape the humdrum of isolation and get a dose of sunshine, fresh air and exercise at the same time.

To some, the entire Petaluma region is one vast park, immersing us in greenery, open space and privacy, but that doesn’t acknowledge those who work to enhance our community by planning, creating, maintaining and improving those city parks and playgrounds. Many people are responsible for Petaluma’s beautiful parks, but the final decisions are made by the Director of City Parks and Recreation, working with a full-time staff of supervisors, who operate individual departments.

One of the smoothest appointments to the Parks and Recreation Department’s director’s chair occurred in 1990 with the hiring of good-natured and well-connected Jim Carr, who’d served as superintendent of Sonoma County Veterans Auditoriums for eight years.

“The director’s job was a great fit for me,” said Carr, of the position. “I already knew lots of the community leaders I’d be working with. Mayor Fred Mattei, Helen Putnam and Lynn Woolsey really helped us out, along with Don Ramatici, Jack Healy, Don Smith and many others. I don’t want to leave the impression that I did it all myself,” he added. “I was supported by a wonderful staff. Don Phoenix, Jan Mandrell, Donnie Dutra and Ed Anchordoguy all reported to me, but they handled the day-to-day operations.”

With his guidance, Carr and his staff added six modern playgrounds and 14 new parks to the Petaluma landscape during his 17-year career as director. Among the highlights and major improvements were the installation of artificial turf and a lighted soccer field at Lucchesi Park, and the addition of Leghorns Park, with its tennis and basketball courts, bocce ball, baseball fields and playground area.

“One of our greatest accomplishments was to replace the original Shollenberger Park with the current one that features some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere,” he said. “It’s one of Sonoma County’s most popular parks.”

Another signature achievement, he continued, was building Prince Park, with its lighted ball fields.

“Which allowed us to close the softball field at McNear Park,” he said.

A native of Peru, Illinois, Carr was raised in Tiburon and Corte Madera, and graduated from Redwood High School in 1963. He had plans for law school but after serving two tours aboard a U.S. Navy missile frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War, he decided he’d go into coaching sports. At San Francisco State, he again changed his mind, graduating in 1972 with a degree in Recreation Administration.

He and his wife Pat have been residents of Petaluma since 1974. They raised their son Donald and daughter Jamie here, and have been married for more than 50 years. Pat was a stewardess when they met on a (very short) flight from Oakland to San Francisco.

As superintendent of Sonoma County Veterans Auditoriums, Carr helped develop consistent fee structures, eliminate double bookings, improve and renovate buildings and, together with Marion Hodge, provided for the installation of the retractable tiered seating system at the Petaluma Veterans Building.

“We had skilled and conscientious people on staff at each veteran’s building, which weren’t getting the attention they deserved,” said Carr. “We’d go to board meetings and request funds.”

Throughout his life and 34-year public service career, Carr has displayed a strong commitment to his family and his community. He’s served on numerous boards and committees including 40 years as a member and president of both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma Kiwanis, Grand Knight for the Petaluma Council Knights of Columbus, Deacon at both St. Vincent de Paul and St. James Church and board member of Petaluma Valley Hospital and Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Park Association.

Among his favorites is Kairos Prison Ministry International, a Christian-based ministry that addresses the needs of those incarcerated.

“We hold twice-a-year retreats at San Quentin prison and find the recidivism rate among participants drops by as much as 50 percent with Christian-based education,” Carr said.

After retiring, Carr was able to enjoy hobbies such as hunting, hiking, golf and reading, along with camping trips to Yosemite and Doran Regional Park.

“We were out at the coast every weekend. I used to dive for abalone,” he recalled.

Carr, now 75, plans to keep volunteering and offering a helping hand.

“I enjoy being able to work with all sorts of people with different backgrounds, belief systems and philosophies,” he said. “I’ve always believed that I’ll keep working with the community as long as I can. I was taught if you sit still, you’ll deteriorate.”

Harlan Osborne’s exploration of the people and places of Petaluma runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. Osborne can be reached at

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