Judson Snyder, the voice of journalism in Rohnert Park and Cotati for the past 40-plus years, wrote a folksy and opinionated column every week for the Community Voice, making every deadline through a decade of failing health except for the last one.
The 92-year-old Snyder died Saturday at a caregiver’s home in Santa Rosa, surrounded by colleagues such as his friend Irene Hilsendager, an editor and writer for the Community Voice. Hilsendager said the paper plans to publish his final, posthumous column Friday along with the obituary he wrote and left on his computer desk.
Throughout the span of his long career, Snyder bore witness to the city of Rohnert Park as it grew from a rural seed farm into a sprawling city, He often served unapologetically as a thorn in the city’s side.
“He was rough around the edges,” Hilsendager said. “I always called him an old curmudgeon. The one thing I can honestly say is Rohnert Park’s politics will never be the same.”
After moving to Sonoma County in 1972 with his wife, Pauline, he worked as an editor for a newspaper owned by Rohnert Park co-founder Paul Golis, then for the Rohnert Park Clarion and finally for the Community Voice.
“The name of the newspaper describes Jud perfectly, because he truly was the community voice,” said Cotati Mayor Mark Landman. “He knew the history, the people … and everybody read his columns regularly.”
In private, Snyder was also a jazz lover and a staunch supporter of the Cotati Jazz Festival as well as a talented visual artist whose pen-and-ink drawings of barns often hung at community art exhibits.
“He had strongly held opinions that he was not afraid to express, and since our opinions differed, we were going to clash,” said Jake McKenzie, a longtime Rohnert Park councilman. “But from the personal point of view, he was a charming gentleman, and I appreciated that he was a jazz fan.”
Born in Huntington, Long Island, he graduated from Farmingdale High School in Farmingdale, New York, in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served for three years, including a stint in the South Pacific.
After getting married, the couple moved to San Francisco then settled in several Sonoma County towns, from Sebastopol to Occidental to Santa Rosa. They didn’t move to Rohnert Park until 2008.
He started working for the Rohnert Park Clarion around 1975, where he started writing his local column, “Coffeegrounds.”
“He said it was like sitting with a cup of coffee, and swirling it around,” Hilsendager said. “He could see things happening to the city.”
After the Rohnert Park Clarion closed down, longtime Sonoma Index-Tribune publisher Robert Lynch launched the Community Voice in 1993 and asked Snyder to serve as editor. Because of declining profits, the Rohnert Park operation was transferred to Sonoma around 2000.
Yatim Shah bought the Community Voice a few years later, and Snyder came back as its editor.
Despite a string of debilitating falls and hospital stays in recent years, Snyder persevered in his writing career with the respectful help of his colleagues.
“He was truly dedicated to his craft of writing and understood the use of words,” said Rohnert Park City Councilwoman Gina Belforte, “He was 92 and still writing. That’s how much he loved the craft.”