Generations of Turlock youth have had the opportunity to swing for the bleachers thanks to the efforts of Abe Rojas. His vision in creating the Pedretti Sports Complex is just one way Rojas has left a lasting legacy in the area and has earned him the 2014 Senior Award for Stanislaus County Supervisorial District 2.
"I tried to do what's best for the kids; trying to make Turlock a community, and through the youth that can happen," said Rojas.
Rojas' community service began while still a student himself. He was hired by the City of Turlock Recreation Department when he was in eighth grade to coordinate parks activities with the Spanish speaking children of the workers brought to town by the railroad.
He eventually became director of the Parks and Recreation Department — after two years in the Army and a year as a Turlock Police Officer — a position he served in from 1969 until his retirement in 1993.
During his time with the city and after, his service to the community did not end when the working day did. Rojas always found time to offer his help with local sports teams. He's been a volunteer coach, umpire and referee for various Little League and high school baseball, softball, basketball and football teams. He has also announced the home football games at Joe Debely Stadium for over 40 years.
His four decades of volunteer work with the athletic programs at California State University, Stanislaus earned him the honor of being inducted into the CSUS Hall of Fame in 2011.
“It teaches a lot about life," Rojas said about sports, "how to accept decision making, how to accept failure, how to accept reward."
The Pedretti Sports Complex is one of Rojas' most cherished accomplishments.
"Pedretti Park was a fluke, it was supposed to be an airport," he said. "One day I got called into the office and Mayor Dale Pinkney asked, 'What are we going to do with this land?' and I said, 'Let's build a sports complex.'
"We started the project in 1977, and with volunteer labor and materials and state grants, we completed it in 1982. I don't think we'd be able to do that now."
When not on a field or court, Rojas can be found advocating for higher education, as a Yosemite Community College Trustee, a position he's held for 19 years, or fundraising for one the many nonprofit organizations he supports.
Even though the Stanislaus County Commission on Aging is recognizing Rojas, he does not think his volunteer efforts are extraordinary.
"It never was an effort, I just tried to do it for the betterment of our community."
Other 2014 Senior Award Winners are:
Joan Tomlinson, District 1
Tomlinson has been a volunteer at Stroke Resources, Inc. for 24 years and over that time has served on the organization's board of directors and facilitated stroke caregiver support groups.
Tomlinson also volunteers her time at Saint Mary's Church in Oakdale, in a fourth grade class at Cloverland Elementary School and has served at the Oakdale Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Jerry Rhine, District 3
Rhine is an active volunteer for the Stanislaus Academic Decathlon, Stanislaus Academic Pentathlon and State Academic Decathlon.
He is a volunteer advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocates for children and has been since its inception in 2002. He is known for taking the most heart-wrenching, difficult cases and works to make sure the children involved have the best possible outcomes with all the necessary supports.
Rhine also volunteers with the Keynote Chorus, visiting senior residential homes in the county; the McHenry Museum Foundation; California Retired Teachers Association; Hutton House, a temporary shelter for runaway and homeless youth; and the Stanislaus County Mental Health Board.
Billie Taylor, District 4
Taylor has been a member of the Stanislaus County Commission on Aging for many years, serving as president for three years. She has also served as the Stanislaus County Assemblyperson for the California Senior Legislature for 12 years, and as a volunteer for the California Association of Retired Americans, which keeps an eye on health care legislation.
She also volunteered as a mentor for the Stanislaus County Foster Children's Program.
Virginia Vaz, District 5
Vaz has been a member of the Gustine-Newman Soroptomist Club for 51 years, and has been collecting and delivering Christmas gifts to needy families in these two cities for the past 10 years.
She has visited the residents at San Luis Convalescent Hospital in Newman every Monday for the past 15 years, helping ease the loneliness of the residents and praying the Rosary with those who are Catholic.
She has also volunteered with the Newman-Gustine Agape Food Pantry, and as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.