Under the Sun: Wayne Schake, new Alcade of Sonoma

Posted on February 23, 2024 by Anna Pier

Wayne Schake (pron. “shockey”) has been named Honorary Alcalde by the City of Sonoma for 2024. The avid Rotarian sat down to talk with the Sun’s Anna Pier about his journey of 88 years.

Congratulations. Thank you. It’s of course an honor, but honestly, it’s a little embarrassing. I think I was mostly chosen because of my work in Rotary. I have been very active in the club for about 12 years, because I believe they’re doing good work to make the world a better place. I was a fan of J.F.K., and the inspiration for all my service is in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Where did you grow up? In Pittsburgh, PA and Buffalo, NY. My father was the oldest of 16 children, and had to leave school after 5th grade to go to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He eventually started working for Westinghouse and was transferred to Buffalo, where I went to high school.

Childhood interest or dream? My brother had been signed by the Cleveland Indians, and I probably could have signed too, but my father insisted I go to college first. I went to Bowling Green State University in Ohio on a baseball scholarship. I played shortstop. And I met my wife Cecelia there. Both of us headed off to grad school in geology, with the thought we’d be professors. But life gets in the way. I was in Air Force ROTC at Bowling Green, and after three years of grad school, my deferment was over and I was called to active duty. We were pregnant, and in the service we only had to pay $8.75 for the baby’s delivery. That was about all we had.

Viet Nam?  Not at first. In ’64 I got orders to go there, after first training as an air commando.

Tell us more.   I consider I have the vice of volunteering. In the military, it is understood you should never volunteer for anything. They ask for volunteers first, then tell you what it’s for. That’s how I ended up in deep sea survival training. And when I was in Viet Nam, my “volunteer” assignment was to fly along the Ho Chi Minh trail looking for “targets of opportunity,” to i.d. and then destroy. But my most interesting mission in the military was luck of the draw. I was co-pilot on a C130, just the right size to carry two presidential limousines and some secret service men. In Nov ’63 we first went to Tampa, and the next stop was Dallas. We were waiting around at the base. I was standing at the steps of Air Force One when we got the news that the president had been shot. Those big burly secret service men were weeping as they brought back both limos and loaded them on the plane. The President’s just as it was.

Next steps? In January ’66 I returned to grad school at U of Texas in Austin. But after all the experiences I had had, the same academic world wasn’t active enough for me. So I decided to apply to be a commercial pilot with PanAmerican, the premier world airline. I never planned on that career, but I never regretted it. They offered me NY or SF as a base. In ’62 I had done a low-flying training mission up the CA coast from San Diego, and thought then, “I’d love to live here.” We rented for a while in Saratoga, but fell in love with Sonoma when we came up to the Plaza one Sunday with our children, and ate treats from the French Bakery. We moved here in ’67, and from then on we have always been active volunteers.

Talk about Sonoma. What I like most about Sonoma is that everyone takes pride in this place, people want to be stewards of the Valley. That’s our strength.

And some of your volunteer work here?  I donate most of my volunteer time through Rotary, where I’ve been the Chair of the International committee. And that connected me to Seeds of Learning. I took 3 or 4 trips with SOL to Nicaragua to build schools – I took my grandson on one of them. Through Rotary we were able to give scholarships to lots of local high school students to go on SOL work trips. These trips were a big influence on these kids. I also have been on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club. I got a grant and started an evening ESL program at the Club for parents. Also I have mentored four kids. And I worked for the census, partly in the Springs because I could speak Spanish, and all over. I felt it was my civic duty. I like the saying that “90% of life is showing up” – just being there helps.



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