By Community Foundation Sonoma County
In the heart of the picturesque Sonoma Valley, the Wedekind family’s legacy of love, community, and philanthropy continues to blossom. For over a century, the family has been deeply rooted in the region, and their story is one of hard work, dedication, and a genuine commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.
When Frank Wedekind Jr. moved to Sonoma with his family in 1920, he was just four years old. The Sonoma Valley was a sparsely populated rural paradise of dairies, orchards, small vineyards, and farmland. Frank Jr. grew up working in his father’s orchard and discovered a love and talent for horticulture.
In the early 1940s, Frank met his wife Lorraine at the Boyes Hot Springs Bathhouse, a popular destination for swimming and dancing. Lorraine grew up in San Francisco, and she loved spending her summers visiting her grandmother in Verano. The couple fell in love and married in 1942, shortly before Frank was drafted to serve in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.
After the war, Frank and Lorraine moved into the Wedekind family home in Sonoma, and they quickly established themselves in the community. To help grow their orchard business, Lorraine and Frank opened a seasonal fruit stand, which would continue to grow into a year round business.
In 1956 Frank’s love of horticulture led him to open a nursery, Wedekind’s Garden Center, which thrived for over 35 years. Because of Frank’s passion for education, he developed a series of annual weekend lectures on various horticultural topics and practices, including pruning and grafting.
Although their days were filled with the demands of running a nursery and raising three daughters, they still found time to instill the values of hard work, responsibility, and kindness in their children. Their three girls, Joanne, Francine, and Janet, grew up working in the garden center.
“We three girls did a lot of watering,” shares Janet Wedekind.
“We carried sacks of manure, or plants, out to people’s cars,” explains Joanne Wedekind Stumpf. She adds, “there was no slow season in the nursery business.’
Looking back, Joanne and Janet treasure their childhood memories of Sonoma Valley.
“Our mother used to say that only nice people garden,” shares Janet Wedekind, who still lives in the Valley today. “Everyone buys groceries and goes to restaurants, but only nice people garden. We grew up knowing a lot of nice people.”
Frank was instrumental in creating a rose bush named “Sonoma”, and he participated in the planting of a large bed of the Sonoma roses in front of City Hall.
After retiring from the nursery, Lorraine channeled her boundless energy into volunteering at the historic Toscano Hotel, where she served as a docent. She also worked in the gift store at the Sonoma Barracks. For years Lorraine drove cancer patients to treatments in Santa Rosa and even spearheaded the hospice tree lighting fundraiser that continues to take place in the Sonoma Plaza during the Christmas season.
Today, the Wedekind sisters, including Francine now deceased, are honored to carry on their parents’ legacy of giving back to the community they loved. Through their fund with Community Foundation Sonoma County, they have contributed to building a unique, environmentally friendly play area at Sonoma Garden Park. The new Children’s Play Area at the Park, which the Sonoma Ecology Center runs, is a tribute to their parents and the values they instilled in them.
“It was important for us to create something that combined the things our parents loved,” says Joanne. “Our father absolutely loved nature, farming, and agriculture, and our mother loved music and children, so this project of helping to build the Children’s Play Area was a perfect fit.”
Janet adds, “Our parents taught us the importance of community, and we wanted to honor their memory by providing a space where families can come together and enjoy themselves.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Sonoma Ecology Center’s management of Sonoma Garden Park, which was originally the property of Pauline Bond, a Sonoma schoolteacher who gave the land to the City of Sonoma in 1977. In 1993, Sonoma Ecology Center entered into an agreement with the City of Sonoma to take over regular operation of the 6.1 acre park, and began to grow it from a bare lot to its current lush grounds of demonstration gardens, community garden plots, and public gathering places.
Sonoma Garden Park’s tagline, “It Takes a Community,” is exemplified in this newest play feature. In addition to the financial support of the Wedekind family, the Children’s Play Area was made possible by volunteer Mark Gonzalves. He has designed nature-based play spaces through the lens of children and donated hundreds of hours of his time and effort to the project.
The Wedekind family’s story is a testament to the power of love, community, and a strong sense of place.
Photos from the April 16, 2023 Grand Opening at the Children’s Play Area. Photos by Kristen Russell.
Sonoma Ecology Center sat down with Mark Gonzalves, the creator of the new Children’s Play Area at Sonoma Garden Park to hear about his design process and his hopes for what this play area would bring to our beloved public park. Read more on The Ecology Blog.