Citizens work for better Williams
The patrol car rolled up behind her and Pat Ash figured the gig was up.
After she and other members of the newly formed Citizens for a Better Williams had been threatened with arrest by city officials if they proceeded with their plan "to clean up the town," Ash was certain she would soon find herself cuffed, fingerprinted and jailed.
Instead, Jim Saso, now the chief of police, simply stopped and told her the town was looking nicer, and he wanted Ash and the group to know it was appreciated.
"I think it is just a lot of politics, and all we can try to do is try bring back what Williams used to be, and volunteers used to do it," said Ash, noting the swimming pool and Little League fields as examples of that old community spirit.
That was in 2005 — and it has been full speed ahead ever since.
In addition to ongoing clean-up days, Citizens for a Better Williams is responsible for planning and putting on two major community events, it helped develop the downtown Town Square, is part of the Concert in the Park series and has taken on the role of welcoming the city's servicemen and -women home.
That has been as somber as being part of the homecoming for Rueben "Boy" Lopez, who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2011, to the recent celebration of Alejandro Jauregui's return. He lost both of his legs in April, but is already back on duty helping other soldiers who have been severely injured.
It was not a role Citizens anticipated, but it has fostered the idea of developing some kind of Veterans Day event sometime in the near future.
The next major project, however, is a mural for the wall next to the Town Square. The design will be of the old Williams Hotel, which used to be in that location.
For now, the group is focused on the fifth annual Festival of Lights, which has become one of the nicest small-town Christmas events in the region.
Residents line Seventh and E streets to cheer on the parade floats and other entries, and children scamper to collect up all the candy tossed in their directions.
For the second year, a Christmas Stroll, featuring crafts, food and other vendors will run from 3 p.m.-8 p.m., with the traditional kickoff event of the lighting of the Town Christmas Tree at 6:30.
Andi Armstrong, Ash's daughter and another of the group's founders who serves as its president, said Citizens started for a couple of reasons.
One was to kind of pick up the Pioneer Days torch and carry that longtime tradition forward. Several of the early members of Citizens were part of that celebration's planning committee.
The other reason was a general sense that the town was looking a bit shabby, with weeds and other trash scarring the look of the downtown and civic area.
"When I came back (to town), there were a lot of people thought the streets were not being kept up ... so we got together and said 'let's have a clean-up day,'" said Ash, who was raised in Williams, but had moved to Fort Bragg for a number of years where she ran a business.
The group even started a program by which downtown business and property owners could buy the paint, and the group would provide the labor to spruce up the buildings.
The catch was the color of the paint had to fall into the shades of the historic downtown, and if painted over within seven years, the owner would be responsible for paying Citizens for the labor.
"It seems like it has been a long battle to get people on board, but I am one of those people who jump in with both feet," said Ash, who is also a councilwoman and admits her political antagonists are not always pleased with her either.
Describing exactly who are the Citizens for A Better Wiliams is difficult.
Armstrong said there is a core group of about 15 people who do much of the work, but the organization also has many more business partners and other donors.
"But if we send out and SOS, more people come out," Armstrong said.
And now the group is even hiring the high school football and volleyball players to help with the chores. The money goes to support the athletic programs, and Citizens gets an energetic work force.
As an average, Ash said, Citizens works on a $5,000 annual budget. It is a nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible.
The group officially became Ciizens for A Better Williams in 2006, a kind of rebirth of the Williams Area Revitalization organization, which had the acronym of WAR.
That did not seem particularly appropriate given the world climate, so a new name was created.
Ash admits it has been bumpy at times, and that the group has probably stepped on a few toes along the way, but there are no apologies.
And to date, no one has gone to jail.