Prudence Draper, a journalist and historian who played an instrumental role in the founding of the city of Cotati, died Saturday at the age of 86.
The cause of her death was heart failure, said her brother Thomas King.
Born in Cleveland, Draper settled in Sonoma County in 1946 when her family bought a Petaluma chicken ranch. Draper, known as “Prue” to her friends, did not care for farm chores and went to UC Berkeley on a scholarship, but dropped out two years later after catching pneumonia.
In 1949, she met Lloyd Draper and they married two years later. Two months into their marriage, they bought The Cotatian, the weekly newspaper where they did everything from writing stories and taking pictures to selling advertisements and operating a large Linotype machine while their children — Robert, Robin and Jay — played in the back room.
“Everybody knew everybody and it was expected that our news stories would tell about birthday parties, trips to San Francisco and who was in the hospital,” Draper told The Press Democrat in 2010.
“We got hot news by dropping in at the doctor’s office, quizzing the grocery clerks or just sitting around the downtown cafe where everybody went for morning coffee.”
The two played a major role in the early 1960s opposing Rohnert Park’s attempt to swallow up the town after the creation of Sonoma State University. In 1963, Cotati became incorporated as a city.
“The experience they had putting out that paper gave them a deep sense of Cotati and the history,” said her friend Lucy Kortum.
The two closed the paper after 15 years, and Draper continued her journalism work as the women’s editor for the Petaluma Argus-Courier, a writer for the Rohnert Park-Cotati Times and later as an assistant for Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron.
“One of the things about her was she was steadfast,” LeBaron said. “You could always count on Prue.”
Draper became known as Cotati’s unofficial historian and led the creation of the Cotati Historical Society and Museum.
City staff would rely on her for such things as ideas for street names, King said.
The couple wrote a book about the city in 2004, and have a city park named after them. Draper also worked at the Hewlett-Packard plant in Rohnert Park after helping recruit the company to the area.
After the death of their youngest child Jay in the mid-1970s, the two joined the Peace Corps and worked for two years in American Samoa, Lloyd as a newspaper publisher and Prudence as a teacher. Lloyd died in 2010.
Draper is survived by her son, Robert, of Cotati; her daughter, Robin Draper of Cotati; her sister, Mary Nell McCann, of Petaluma; two brothers, J. Stanton King, of Atlanta, Georgia, and Thomas King, of Silver Springs, Maryland; and a granddaughter, Erin Roman, of Santa Rosa.
Reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223.
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