Enduring Friendships: Pair bonded over pets
By JAMES LANARAS / Windsor Correspondent
Dog lovers rejoiced when the quarter-acre dog park at Pleasant Oak Park officially opened on July 26, 1997. Still, something was missing. It was not shaded, there was limited seating for dog owners, and the park got muddy when it rained.
One day in 2009 as Penny Green, Chuck Williams, Jennifer Capuano and Cheri Brumley sat watching their pets, they decided the time had come to expand and improve the park. In the process, Green and Williams formed a special bond over pets that continues after his death.
Back in 2009, a Town of Windsor official told the pet owners there was no money for an expansion, but the town could donate a quarter-acre of land with more than a dozen oak trees for shade, doubling the size of the dog park.
With more than a dozen volunteers, the Dog Park Association of Windsor was incorporated in August 2010 as a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization. Brumley was president of its board of directors, Green was vice president, Capuano was secretary, and Williams was treasurer.
“We were a bunch of misfits who just got together and liked each other,” said Green, 65. “I can’t see how we would ever have met if not for our love of dogs.”
Volunteers solicited money in front of Walmart and Safeway, put on a Halloween contest and sold bandanas, T-shirts and hats. The group started a Facebook page and entered a float that came in first place in last year’s Windsor Day Parade. With help from Williams’ brother-in-law Peter Hulin, they raised about $8,000 toward the expansion of the dog park.
Chuck Williams resigned as treasurer because he had no patience for formal group meetings, Green said. An avid gardener, he preferred to landscape the expanded park, often weeding, mowing, spreading mulch and hauling in truck loads of bark.
“We named him ‘landscaper in chief,’ ” Green said. She and Williams became close friends during their many visits to the dog park, as did their rescued dogs Max and Lexi. The dogs “became like and old married couple,” she said.
Before moving to Sonoma County, Williams lived in Los Angeles and worked in the city’s environmental affairs department. In the mid 1980s, he was diagnosed as HIV positive.
“He was told to get his affairs in order because he was going to die,” said his sister Sidney Hulin of Walnut Creek. “He took medical retirement and moved here. Our mother lived in Hayward, and he wanted to be close to the family.”
Williams moved to Guerneville, then in 1998 to a cottage on Alden Lane in Windsor. He and Green met at the dog park in 2007 when he was “going through a metamorphosis.”
Green said he told her that in 1985 he was given five years to live and had watched many of his friends die from AIDS.
“He told me he didn’t want to make friends with anyone because he was just going to die,” she said. “He didn’t want to start a life. He was just sitting at home waiting to die.
“When he realized he wasn’t going to die soon, he said, ‘Maybe I should start living again.’ ”
Williams became a regular at the dog park and his sister drove from Walnut Creek to visit him there.
“It was a weed lot, and he brought chairs and umbrellas to make it more comfortable,” she said.
Green’s friendship with Williams grew. They both liked old movies and had dinner and drinks together. They went to the dog park every day, even when it rained, and they spent Thanksgiving 2010 together with Hulin.
Last New Year’s Eve, Williams told Green he wasn’t feeing well enough to have a champagne toast. A few weeks later doctors at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center diagnosed colorectal cancer. He had a colostomy the next day and went home to heal before starting radiation treatment.
“The doctor said it was curable. We were all very optimistic,” Williams said. His network of dog park friends rose to the occasion.
“As soon as I put the word out that Chuck was sick and we needed to help him get through this, Ba Boom! There were random acts of kindness,” Green said.
“One woman went to Comcast and ordered every channel you could get for because she knew he loved old movies,” she said.
Curtis Carrillo and others walked Williams’ three dogs. Green washed his dishes.
On Feb. 19 he took a turn for the worse and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he as diagnosed with inflammation of the colon and sepsis and was scheduled for surgery.
“Before the operation, he gave me a big smile and said, ‘Take care of my babies.’ He died at 7:30 a.m. the next day,” Green said.
A celebration of his life was held at the dog park on March 23, and on July 6, his 55th birthday, a ribbon was cut at the newly renamed Charles “Chuck” Williams Memorial Dog Park.
“He really was an incredible person,” said Hulin. “I’m proud to say that his name is going to go on. This is the best legacy for him.”
Green now lives in his cottage on Arden Lane, where she cares for his three dogs and her own.
“We could not have asked for better friends,” said Hulin. “When Chuck got sick, Penny stepped up, and she’s just like our older sister now.”