How many times have you heard the phrase "nice guys finish last?"
We really hope that is not true, because our Rancho Cordovan of the Year truly fits that description.Neil Orchard has been making contributions to the community Rancho Cordova for nearly 43 years - as a professional, as a citizen, as a parent, as a volunteer.
These contributions are so numerous, and span so many years, it is highly unlikely we could cover them all before your bedtime. Suffice it to say, if everybody was as good at making Rancho Cordova a better place to live as Neil Orchard
is, we would have become an All-America City a long time ago.
It was sort of a long time ago when Neil arrived in Rancho Cordova. He had grown up in Pacific Grove, attended Monterey Peninsula College, served a couple years in the Army and then graduated from Sac State.
Somewhere along the line he made the best decision of his life and married Rosalie and on July 3 of this year, while Lloyd Lagerstrom is celebrating his birthday, Neil and Rosalie will be celebrating 50 years of marriage.
By today's standards, Neil's career would be unimaginable. He arrived in Rancho Cordova and took up a 35-year love affair with the Cordova Recreation and Park District. He started out as Recreation Superintendent, moved on to Assistant Administrator and spent the last half of his career there as the District Administrator - the top job.
During his years at the park district, Neil saw both good times and bad as Aerojet workers jammed into homes and apartments across Rancho Cordova and then left in droves after the end of the Vietnam War. He guided the park district through both growth and hard times, guiding the acquisition of the Mather Sports Complex into the park district when Mather Air Force Base was shuttered.
His work at CRPD brought with it professional accolades, including the California Association of Recreation and Park District's "Outstanding Professional Award"
and a "Professional Citation"
from the California Park and Recreation Society.
But while his professional career was full, it was not enough for Neil, who looked around Rancho Cordova for other ways to serve.
He found a pathway to service when he joined the Rancho Cordova Rotary Club, where he has been a stalwart for nearly a quarter century. He has served as both president of the club and on its board of directors and was an assistant Rotary District Governor.
His leadership roles have included chairing the golf tournament and Rotary's Youth Dictionary project, which has put a colorful dictionary in the hands of every Rancho Cordova third-grader for years.
He has chaired and guided Rotary's annual Christmas Basket project, which has served more than 5,000 needy Rancho Cordova families during the holidays for more than a decade.
Beyond Neil's Rotary service there are the two years he was president of the Sacramento Special Olympics, and service as vice president of the Cordova Community Council.
He spent time where the rubber meets the road as president of the Mills Little League, the Babe Ruth League board of directors, and more. He served on various committees which struggled with the question of "what next for Mather" when the base was closed.
His love of parks and golf led him to leadership posts with the Mather Lake Rotary Park Committee and Sacramento Area Golf Council.
Neil has represented taxpayers and fellow citizens on the Folsom Cordova Unified School District school bond oversight committee, on the board of directors of the Rotary Charitable Foundation. He was president of the Friends of Cordova Parks Foundation and the list goes on.
During a busy career, Neil and Rosalie raised two sons, Alan and Dale, and now are delighted with four grandchildren.
Like a lot of great Rancho Cordovans, Neil has stayed true to the community through thick and thin, providing a firm hand on the rudder as we have weathered stormy seas. Still, all these many years later, to run into Neil Orchard is to be reminded of the glory of a life well-lived, full of personal accomplishment and an open-heart for helping others.
Neil, you are the Rancho Cordovan of Year for 2011, but your service to our community has spanned a lifetime. It is people like you, always ready to offer a helping hand, wise counsel and a part of yourself that make us the All-America City we are.
Some may say that nice guys finish last, but that would not be us. That's because nice guys like Neil Orchard are winners before the race even starts.