As the gardener who tended the governor's residence in Sacramento, August Neil "Gus" Hermoso, enjoyed an unusual perk - playing catch with then governor Ronald Reagan.

When Reagan needed a break, he'd step outside and find Hermoso.

"They'd play catch football," Hermoso's wife Kris said Wednesday of Hermoso's time with "The Gipper," Reagan's enduring nickname from his Hollywood role in "Knute Rockne, All American."

Reagan "would come out and want to clear his head and he'd throw the football," her husband of 32 years told her.

Hermoso was a staunch Democrat and didn't agree with the conservative politics of Reagan, who would go on to become president. But on a personal level, things were different.

"He said Ronald Reagan was a really nice guy to get along with. It made working there at the governor's mansion more interesting and pleasurable," she said of Hermoso's job in the late 1960s.

Hermoso, 76, who died Monday at his Healdsburg home as a result of cancer, would use his skills from a career in landscaping to beautify and improve a half-dozen parks in Healdsburg and also maintain the sports fields.

He volunteered at parks, was a Park and Recreation commissioner and past member of Healdsburg's Airport Commission.

Two weeks ago he was one of three people honored with the city's 2013 Marie Sparks Memorial Volunteer Award.

Hermoso was singled out for many activities, including his cooking at the annual Senior Appreciation Dinner and involvement with Healdsburg's 150th anniversary celebration.

"He was a great community volunteer," former Mayor Jason Liles said Wednesday.

Not only did city staff use his expertise and energy to help rebuild some of the city's parks, but "he was an amazing barbecuer and amazing cook," Liles said.

"Any special project that went on in Healdsburg, he was one of those 'go to' guys," he said.

"If someone was having an event, he would offer to cook," said Healdsburg Tribune columnist Ray Holley.

In volunteering his cooking skills at barbecues, Hermoso was known for the tasty sauce he applied to the spareribs.

But he didn't share his secret ingredients.

"He would not talk about that with anybody, or let anybody drive his tractor," Liles said.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Hermoso was the only child of Filipino parents. His mother was a bookkeeper for a shipping line and and his father a school district landscaper.

Hermoso joined the U.S. Marines in 1959 and served for six years, including in Vietnam and Japan, according to his wife.

"He was extremely proud to be a Marine," she said of her husband, who usually wore a red baseball cap with the USMC logo. "His hobby was kind of military history and he read extensively about it."

After leaving the Marines, Hermoso lived in Sacramento where he had a shoe store before going to work as a landscaper for the state and then the California State College system.

He was married three times and had five children.

Hermoso retired as a landscape administrator at Sonoma State University about 20 years ago.

Five years ago, he had surgery for esophageal cancer. When he went back to the hospital earlier this month to put his feeding tube back in, he became ill and a body scan showed the cancer had returned, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his children Shannon Bartow of Missouri, Andrea Colbert of Placerville, August Earl Hermoso of Citrus Heights, Neil Richard Hermoso of River Pines, Romell Suden of Sutter Creek; and 10 grandchildren.

A celebration of his life is scheduled for April 26 at Villa Chanticleer at a time to be determined.

Donations are suggested to St. Joseph's Health North County Hospice, or the Rose Pavoni Memorial Fund at Friends of the Healdsburg Senior Center.