Rohnert Park co-founder Maurice Fredericks dies at 93

Petaluma-born attorney Maurice Fredericks and his partner, Paul Golis, did something unusual in the mid-1950s.

They made a city.

Golis, the assertive idea man, and Fredericks, the reserved workhorse, wrangled a deal to build atop the former Rohnert Seed Farm near Cotati a from-scratch, thoroughly planned city accessible to regular people but boasting country-club-like amenities: neighborhood parks, pools, tennis courts, ball fields and community centers.

The partners called it Rohnert Park and nicknamed it “The Friendly City.” Fredericks located both his law practice and his family home there, and he was still living there with his wife of 57 years, Betty, when he died Friday at the age of 93.

In addition to co-founding Sonoma County’s third-largest city, Fredericks played key roles in the creation of the ?Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District and Rohnert Park’s first volunteer fire department.

“He was fair to everybody,” said one of his three children, Doug Fredericks of Sacramento. He added that he’s known several people who lived like saints. “One was my dad.”

Maurice Fredericks served as a Navy aviator before earning a law degree from University of Santa Clara in 1951. He joined the law firm that the Pennsylvania-born Golis, eight years his senior, operated out of developer Hugh Codding’s new Montgomery Village shopping center.

The attorneys’ principal client was the hard-driven Codding, who would build large tracts in Santa Rosa and also the Coddingtown shopping center. Golis and Fredericks also represented others active in Sonoma County’s post-war building boom.

There’s a story that one day in 1955, Golis was driving with his wife, Gloria, on old Highway 101 south of Santa Rosa and, scanning the seed farm, declared, “I think I’ll build a city here.”

He and Fredericks made a bid for the property, describing to farmer Fred Rohnert a vision for a neighborhood-focused city based on the planned community of Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Fredericks told Press Democrat columnist and history writer Gaye LeBaron in 1985, “We picked the Rohnert Seed Farm because it was all in one ownership.

“That’s what appealed to us. It was the largest area under one ownership.

“We used to laugh and say that we had 2,600 acres with no improvements and one tree.”

Construction had begun when, in mid-1957, Golis welcomed to his family’s Santa Rosa home a niece from New Jersey, Elizabeth Sibilia. She remembers hearing that her uncle’s partner was coming over, and she expected a gray-haired fellow.

She spied Fredericks and thought, “Holy crow! He’s dark-haired and he’s young and he’s good looking.”

Betty Sibilia had responsibilities on the East Coast, so they didn’t marry until 1961. They moved into a new house on Rohnert Park’s Alden Avenue and soon started a family.

The Golis and Fredericks families spent a great deal of time together. Golis’ son Pete, the retired Press Democrat editorial director, said of Fredericks, “I think our family always appreciated his sense of humor and his generosity and easy nature.

“He was just a good guy. He was a terrific father to his kids.”

The community founded by Maurice Fredericks and Paul Golis incorporated as a city in August 1962.

Fredericks later opened his own law practice in Rohnert Park, specializing in probate and estate planning. Friend and former partner Golis died in 2003.

Fredericks last visited his law office early this year.

Gaye LeBaron asked him once if had any regrets from his co-founding of Rohnert Park.

“I’ll say not!” he replied. “What an experience that was. I’ve had two things in my life: Hugh Codding and Rohnert Park, and I couldn’t have asked for more. That’s pretty good for a kid out of Petaluma.”

In addition to his wife in Rohnert Park and his son in Sacramento, Fredericks is survived by daughter Aileen Woehl of Novato, son Steve Fredericks of Hessel and four grandchildren.

Visitation is from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Parent Sorensen Mortuary in Petaluma. Recitation of the rosary is at 7 p.m.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph’s Church in Cotati.

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