Smith: Catching up with the guy who’s lighting up Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park

A former Coffey Park resident has made it his mission to bring a little holiday cheer to the streets of the devastated Santa Rosa neighborhood.|

You know how cold it’s been at night.

Something internal warms Ronnie Duvall as he’s stayed up very late for nearly a week to string strands of battery-powered Christmas lights in Coffey Park.

“I used to live in this neighborhood,” said Duvall, who’s 41 and not yet ready to return to work after driving the 48 contiguous states to promote research to prevent childhood cancers.

He has friends and former neighbors whose Coffey Park homes burned.

“I remember some really good times with my neighbors from the five years I was there,” he said.

Immediately after the fires he assisted displaced people as a Red Cross volunteer. And one night not long ago, he drove through the remains of his former neighborhood in northwest Santa Rosa.

He was struck by how empty and devastated and dark it was.

Too dark, especially this close to the holidays. Duvall took in the blackness and the destruction and depression and uncertainty that reside in the ruins of Coffey Park. He wondered how he might brighten it, even a bit.

“OK,” he told himself, “I’m going to buy some lights.”

He purchased 30 lengths of LED lights that operate on batteries and can be programmed to go on and off. Six nights ago, he drove to the burned section of Hopper Avenue near Coffey Lane.

He strung lights on the trunks of trees along the street and the sidewalk, and on utility poles and posts. Then he stood back to assess how they looked.

Need more lights, he decided. He purchased more strands and returned to Hopper Avenue another night, then another, to string them.

One night a Sonoma County deputy sheriff pulled up and asked what he was doing. Duvall told him and asked if it was a problem.

“Not at all,” the officer replied. “In fact, I love the idea.”

Duvall has put up lights in the daytime, too, and some Coffey Park residents and passersby have stopped to thank him and give him money for more strands and batteries.

By now, he figures, he has strung between 250 and 300 strands.

How does he have Hopper Avenue looking nine weeks after the fires and 13 days before Christmas?

Much better.


COFFEY CAROLING: Perhaps some of the families burned out of Coffey Park will be back on their property Saturday afternoon, perhaps not.

Regardless, folks are invited to gather at Coffey Lane and Dogwood Drive at 2 p.m. that day, for caroling.

Buzzy Martin, the grand-hearted rocker, will have a megaphone and get each song started.

The plan is for the carolers to spend about two hours strolling the streets of flame-razed Coffey Park, feeding the Christmas spirit that has emerged from the ash in the form of decorated trees and of lights like those strung by Duvall. Organizing the caroling are Terry Schembari and Josh Duke.

They head up Community Hands Rebuilding Santa Rosa, which envisions locals embodying the old barn-raising ethos and helping construct new homes. Schembari and Duke can be emailed at

They encourage all who’ll come for caroling Saturday to wear red and/or green. There will be printed lyrics, a fire truck, at least a few elves and possibly a jolly chap with a great, white beard.

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