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Most of us went about our day Saturday unaware that close by, history was being made in the realm of community caring and human (and canine) kindness.

In dozens of driveways, most of them in Santa Rosa, people who lost their homes to the firestorms helped themselves, at no cost, to all manner of furnishings, clothes, small appliances, toys and such.

It might have well have been the world’s first post-disaster garage non-sale, the brainchild of personal trainer and yoga teacher Diane Madero.

She encouraged people to gather up nice things and set them out for fire victims who are setting up housekeeping in temporary or permanent residence and are starting from scratch.

People from far and wide donated items. In several neighborhoods, residents saw what was going on and quickly set up a table or two on their driveways and piled them up with possessions they were happy to see go to folks starting over after the disaster.

Photographer Jed Manwaring, who lives near Memorial Hospital, fielded a great deal of gratitude from the people who helped themselves to bedding, kitchenware, music CDs, clothing and other items that he and Brenda Tharp, set out.

On Saturday afternoon, Manwaring asked a man who lost to the flames his work tools and nearly everything he owned, “How are you doing?”

“You know what?” replied the client of the all-free garage sale. “A lot better after today.”

THE OTHER FIRST that happened in Santa Rosa on Saturday was the search for cremation ashes that six dog-and-handler teams conducted at the sites of 23 burned homes.

Archaeologists accompanied and assisted the search teams from the nonprofit Institute for Canine Forensics. The volunteers were happy to travel to Santa Rosa from throughout the Bay Area and beyond to help people who had in their now-destroyed homes the ashes of parents, siblings, children or other family members.

“They’ve lost their loved ones twice,” said Lynne Engelbert, the handler of a specially trained border collie named Piper and the leader of Saturday’s large recovery mission. She added, “This was something we had no idea there was a need for.”

The dogs and the handlers and archaeologists found cremation ashes at the remains of every home they searched on Saturday.

“They found my mother’s ashes and my brothers,” Jim McLaughlin said at the ruins of his house off Riebli Road.

“Those dogs are amazing.”

A SILVER LINING to the fire destruction at St. Rose School, off Old Redwood Highway north of Santa Rosa, is the return of children to the fine, old original St. Rose School downtown.

“We have students whose parents and grandparents were educated in our original building and now the students are walking the same hallways,” says Kathy Ryan, the principal of St. Rose.

The private Catholic school moved 1985 to the new campus to the north of town, near the also-damaged Cardinal Newman High School. Until St. Rose is repaired, students will attend classes in the old school building on 10th St. and in adjacent portable classrooms.

Ryan said the temporary move “hasn’t been easy for our students, parents, or teachers, but they have all risen to the occasion.”

The move back downtown certainly has been bittersweet for Rhonda Dennis.

Her daughter, Mackenzie, is a 6th grader at St. Rose. For part of the school to burn was heartbreaking for both of them.

But Rhonda, who’s 50, attended the original school from 1976 to 1981 and she’s enjoying taking Mackenzie there.

“When I walked into the (old) St. Rose building, I showed Mackenzie the area we performed all our school plays, the playground where we had recess and the benches we ate lunch at,” Rhonda said. I’ve been able to share some funny school memories with her and now not only can she hear about them but she can actually see where they took place.

“It puts a smile on my face knowing Mackenzie is experiencing a piece of my childhood.”

DINNER PLANS? Gracious Rotary Club members in Rohnert Park and Cotati are hosting a pasta dinner tonight, Sunday, as a fundraiser for children and seniors who struggle following the wildfires.

It starts at 4 p.m. at the Rohnert Park Community Center on Snyder Lane. Meals are $10 for adults, $6 for kids 11 and younger.

For advance tickets or more information, visit rotaryrpc.org.

The Pasta King will cook and the Poyntlyss Sistars will rock out.

MR. MAYOR’S TEETH: One of the many of us heartbroken and dismayed by the death of dentist and good guy Greg Mlynarczyk is Chris Coursey.

My friend the Santa Rosa mayor and former PD columnist-reporter was 26 and new to town when he became a patient of Dr. Mlynarczyk, who last week took his own life at the remains of his family’s burned home.

The comical and caring dentist 37 years ago peeked into Chris’ mouth and noticed he was wearing an old-fashioned retainer with facsimiles of the front teeth he’d knocked out at age 16.

“I can do something about that,” Mlynarczyk told him. Not long afterward the dentist fitted Chris with a dandy new bridge.

From then on, whenever he came in for an appointment Mlynarczyk would announce to his staff and anyone else within earshot that he’d made Chris Coursey famous.

If Chris was assigned to a more responsible news beat, or won a reporting award, or became a full-time columnist, or was hired as the spokesman for SMART, or won election to the City Council or became the mayor, upon arriving for his next dental appointment Mlynarczyk would restate the obvious: Chris had done so well because of that gorgeous dental bridge.

You can be sure the mayor will think fondly of Dr. Mlynarczyk each time he smiles.

AVERY RIDES HIGH: It’s astounding, isn’t it, what a child can do if she works hard enough on something she loves?

Twelve-year-old Petaluma equestrian Avery Glynn rides five days a week, for two hours on schooldays, three or four hours on weekends.

The Kenilworth Junior High seventh grader completed twice recently, in San Diego and then Sacramento. She and a 14-year-old Oldenberg gelding that’s named Back in Business but that Avery calls Wils competed in an arena event that, simply put, involves jumping.

At the national finals in San Diego, Avery and her mount won the 12-and-younger championship.

And in Rancho Murieta, near Sacramento: At a competition called the Horse & Hound, Avery was judged along with not only other children, but adults.

And she placed first.

“She was the youngest person ever to win it,” said her mom, Hope Glynn, a professional rider and co-owner, along with Avery’s dad, of Petaluma’s Sonoma Valley Stables.

We’ll try to keep up with Avery, though it won’t be easy.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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