Busy People Get Things Done

SOMEONE ONCE SAID, “If you need something done, ask a busy person.” They must have been talking about Mike Petouhoff. He’s mastered the art of cramming 48 hours into each day — juggling family, his job and countless volunteer hours improving Montclair.

One of his biggest projects has been tapping the potential of Shepherd Canyon Park. For years, the upper part of the park has been virtually off-limits — a tangle of trees and bramble that attracted only illegal dumpers and under-aged drinkers. Petouhoff and a band of neighbors worked hard to clean up the area, and even forced the city to pick up the debris it had dumped there years earlier. And now things are rapidly changing.

I drove up Escher Road the other day to see the improvements. Parking my car at the first wide spot, I noticed a trailhead marked with logs and woodchips. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it made a nice path through the forest and down the steep slope to the soccer field. The sunlight was filtering through a canopy of trees and a chorus of songbirds made a sweet serenade. In the distance, I could hear laughter, as children played in the park below. This trail was every bit as pleasant as the paths in Redwood Park and our other local parks. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s just the beginning of the changes Petouhoff promises as a new master plan falls in place.

Thank you, Mike — and thanks to all the neighbors who’ve helped you. This is what life is all about. Living richly, giving freely — and leaving a legacy.

PACKING FOR PACHYDERMS: They say an elephant never forgets — but Oakland Zoo volunteer Cheryl Matthews is about to embark on a trip she’ll never forget. After several safari vacations to Africa, she’s headed to Namibia to study the social behavior of bull elephants for 10 weeks.

“We’ll set up our own camp in an area that’s not traveled by other tourists,” she said, adding she’s not scared in the least. “I am so thrilled to have this opportunity — I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather do.”

At age 62, Matthews is the oldest of a half-dozen zoo volunteers making the trip, headed by curator Colleen Kinzley. Before they leave, though, they’ll be part of a 10th annual Celebrate Elephants event on May 18-20 with renowned researcher Cynthia Moss. You can find out more by calling the Oakland Zoo at 510-632-9525.

MONTCLAIR MEMORIES: Thanks to reader Erik Hoffman for alerting me to the death of a longtime local teacher. James “Jimmy” Blass taught music in the Oakland schools for 47 years.

“He was a bit hard on some kids,” remembers Hoffmann, who had him for music at Montclair Elementary School, “but I really liked the guy.”

Blass was a teacher who expected the best from his students and often got it. He lived to be 87, played a number of instruments and even had his own big band.

EMPTY LOT: We pass by it often on our way down Park Boulevard to Highway 580. It’s the empty lot where a gas station once operated, just below the Presbyterian church. Reader Brad Blemker says he recently tried to buy the lot to build town homes, but his offer was turned down. It’s not clear what the owner has in mind, but the gasoline that seeped underground still has to be removed — and that could take years. It involves digging a pit to replace the old dirt and then pumping out the toxic ground water.

REMEMBERING MOM: This Sunday is the “mother of all holidays,” and Montclair photographer Reenie Raschke wants to share the celebration. Her shop window will post tributes this week to moms who are living and moms who’ve passed on. Just write 14 things you want folks to know about your mom, and submit it with a photograph to The Studio at 6232 La Salle Ave.

It’s the least we can do, after all our moms have done for us.


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