Cowans are Citizens of the Year

Wade and Kathy Cowan are the 2017 Citizens of the Year. They will be formally honored at the annual Toast to Winters celebration, planned for Saturday, Jan. 27, at Park Winters. Call the Chamber of Commerce for tickets or more information. (Photo by Debra DeAngelo)

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While recounting all of Wade and Kathy Cowan’s volunteer activities over their relatively short time in Winters, it quickly became obvious that it might be easier to just list all the activities they’re not involved in. You name it, and the Cowans likely had something to do with it, from volunteer labor to planning to sponsoring to even cooking mass quantities of clam chowder.

The Cowans arrived in Winters in 2004, relocating here from Vacaville, and bringing Wade’s Construction to town with them. Wade was doing some remodeling work for then-city council member Tom McMasters-Stone, who encouraged Wade to consider a seat on the Winters Planning Commission.

Wade took that to heart, and he and Kathy spent many months attending the meetings. When a seat opened up, Wade applied, and the rest is community volunteerism history.

Joining the planning commission introduced the Cowans to the multitude of causes, activities and groups in Winters, all needing help or support. Kathy was immediately drawn to children’s activities, and began volunteering regularly with the Winters Parent Nursery School and in JoanE Jusell’s kindergarten class, where her grandson Mason was a student. After Mason moved on to the next grade, Kathy stayed on as a kindergarten volunteer every Wednesday for the last five years, simply because she enjoyed helping with the kids.

“Every child in Winters knows Kathy,” says Wade, adding that he estimates that she’s put in about “nine billion hours at WPNS.”

Kathy is quick to downplay her contributions, but Wade is just as quick to highlight them.

“I just help out,” she insists.

Besides school activities, Kathy has served six years as a Little League board member, snack shack coordinator and head scorekeeper. She notes that her involvement wasn’t just as a grandmother — she had compassion for all the young parents who might be missing out on their child’s activities because they’re volunteering themselves. She says she likes helping out “so the parents don’t have to do it — so they can enjoy their kids.”

Kathy has also put in eight years with the Youth Day committee, which includes five years coordinating the annual Youth Day Duck Derby, which turned out to be a major financial boon for the Youth Day Committee and a much-anticipated event each spring. Another Youth Day feature introduced by Kathy is the evening Youth Day concert, now heading into its fourth year.

Kathy joined the Winters Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 2012, and served as president for two years. She now serves as past president on the board, and was a key player in bringing the Fourth Friday Feasts into the Chamber fold. She and Wade had already been volunteering for the monthly fair weather event for a couple years.

The two have been fixtures at not merely the Fourth Friday Feasts, but nearly every community event, pitching in to help however they can. They’ve put in many hours at the annual Waggoner Elementary Cleanup Day, have organized repair days for the old City Park playground, and dug right in to help with the new playground construction this year.

In addition to volunteering every day of “build week,” Wade spent a week at the site helping to prepare for the flurry of construction that took place in October. With his background in construction, Wade also helped with the actual planning of the new playground.

Wade doesn’t just build things, however. Some of his creations come from the kitchen. He has eked out quite a reputation with his clam chowder, which he’s prepared for the Winters Senior Foundation and even Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor’s annual “Soup’s On” fundrasier. He is a two-time champion of the Winters Chamber of Commerce’s annual Rib Cook-off, and took those rib chef skills to a grander scale when he discovered he would be cooking enough ribs for 250 dinners as a fundraiser for Project Playground.

“Thank you, Kathy, for volunteering me for that,” he quips.

Although the Cowans have been involved with anything and everything over the years, many people know Wade mostly as a planning commissioner, city council member and now, the current mayor of Winters. During these years of service, Wade has been involved in some fashion with most every city project, and points out that he was the one who made the first contact with PG&E about constructiong their training facility here. He made the connection via his neighbor, Joe Castro, a PG&E employee.

Wade was also a key player in much of the economic activity in town, from the new hotels under construction to the new businesses out on Grant Avenue. He served as chairman of the Economic Develepment Advisory Committee and as a city council member, was the council representative to the Chamber of Commerce for four years.

Another major activity the Cowans do together is getting all the light strings in place for the community Christmas tree that is lit each year on the first Saturday in December. Kathy says it’s a bigger job than people realize. She has to start organizing the light strings in October and replacing any burned out bulbs. As the big day comes closer, the Cowans are also the ones who the lights up on the tree and make sure they work before Santa gets here.

Kathy also helped pump up the Christmas cheer by creating a decorated stage for Santa in the gazebo, and does the same for the Toys For Tots distribution at the Winters firehouse. The holidays are also adorned with big wooden candy canes, thanks to the Cowans, who cut out and hand-painted each one. They also put the candy canes up each year and take them back down again, just to bring a little extra cheer to the community.

Even more cheer happens on behalf of the Cowans in the form of Toys For Tots donations. When they have Christmas parties, they tell people not to bring wine — bring toys instead. Wade says they routinely collect as many as 75 toys for the effort each year.

Some of the Cowans’ more recent volunteer activities include helping out with the inaugural Lighted Tractor Parade and Winters Salmon Festival. With her Duck Derby experience, Kathy was immediately tapped to coordinate the salmon egg race in Putah Creek at the first festival. She says loads of numbered orange ping pong balls were dumped into the creek, and then they discovered something rather amusing: the balls are so light, they mostly just clumped together and didn’t flow downstream.

To add to the fiasco, the person who was supposed to net the balls was missing in action when the time came, so Kathy waded out into the creek — in nippy November — to retrieve them.

“Did you know there are places in the creek where the water comes up to your neck?” she says with a laugh.

When they couldn’t physically help with events, the Cowans are also generous sponsors of local causes.

“Wade’s Construction has sponsored every event in town at some time,” says Wade, noting that he has the T-shirts to prove it — he’ll see his logo printed there on the shirt after the fact. (Thanks again, Kathy.)

Although the Cowans are being honored for all they’ve done for the community with the 2017 Citizens of the Year award, both say that praise isn’t their motivation. When asked why they participate in so many volunteer activities, Kathy replies, simply, “People ask.”

Wade says that as a former Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, community services is something he’s done all his life. After he and Kathy relocated to Winters, putting that spirit of service into play was just natural.

“Winters is a small enough town that when you’re involved with things, you can really see that what you do makes a difference. It’s an easy town to get involved in. You can see your accomplishments.”

While it wasn’t the reason for their years of service, Wade says it’s “an honor to be a member of that sorority.” Kathy points out that the list of past Citizens of the Year, many of whom she’s met, “are really great people,” and she’s proud to be included in that group.

It’s not the first time that the Cowans have been honored for their service to the community. In 2012, they were given the Theodore Winters Award, which honors those who have served the community in a shorter timespan. The Cowans are the only ones to win both this award and the Citizens of the Year award besides John and Kathy Donlevy, also double honorees.

Although the Cowans can expect to be heaped with praise in the upcoming weeks, Kathy said a recent comment from a child was probably the best praise she ever got. After two solid weeks of volunteering for the playground construction, the Cowans were given the honor of cutting the ceremonial red ribbon the day the playground officially opened.

Children began streaming onto the playground the moment the ribbon fell, and Kathy says one little girl stopped right in front of her, looked up, and said “thank you.”

“I fell apart,” she says. “That made the whole week worthwhile.”

There’s one more heartfelt benefit of all this volunteer work, says Kathy.

“We do it all together. I like that.”

The Cowans will be formally honored as the 2017 Citizens of the Year at the annual Toast to Winters event, planned for Saturday, Jan. 27, at Park Winters. Tickets are $85 per person, available Jan. 2 and must be purchased in advance. For tickets or more information, call the Winters Chamber of Commerce, 795-2329.

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