CalStage celebrates the life of beloved board member and activist Dale Kooyman.
Dale Kooyman, noted longtime midtown activist, transitioned to his next phase at age 82 on November 5, 2015, following a severe stroke.
Dale was born into an Iowa farm family as the youngest of seven children on May 13, 1933. Although experienced in the farming life by the time he graduated from high school, his interest to educate himself and to teach others led him to attend Iowa State Teachers’ College.
He was later recruited by Coe College, a private, liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids. Coe’s curriculum emphasized research-based critical thinking and informed judgments, clear writing and speaking, intellectual curiosity, tolerance and an appreciation of diversity, all hallmarks of Dale’s life. He received top honors in Geopolitics, studying war strategies. His interest in strategy would surprise none of his friends and stood him in good stead later in his professional life and community activism.
Dale discovered his love of acting at Coe, and, required to learn ballet and ballroom dance for Coe’s theatre productions, was so good he was offered a job as a dance instructor. Post graduation, he continued to pursue his love of the theatre, visiting the theatre scene in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Miami, Mexico City, and Acapulco.
He settled in Los Angeles in 1958, re-connecting with dance and theatre friends. Acting jobs were scarce at the bottom of the recession. However, his college degree helped him get a temporary job at the Unemployment Office in Hollywood, where he provided advice and assistance to unemployed and under-employed movie and TV actors, such as Rita Moreno, Dennis Hopper, and John Derek. He wrote publicity “bios” for other actors and wrote predictions for syndicated columnist Crisswell of “Crisswell Predicts.” He also worked in films such as” Inherit the Wind” and “Elmer Gantry”, as an extra.
His Hollywood acting and writing career ended when he accepted a full-time job in State service with the California Unemployment Department (now known as Employment Development Department or EDD). Various assignments took him to Watts and East Los Angeles during the riots. His promotions into supervisory and management positions led him to stints in offices in Inglewood, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Long Beach and finally to EDD’s headquarters in Sacramento.
Dale’s knowledge, experience, and strong policy development skills led to his being loaned by the State to the Federal government in Washington, D.C. to write legislation and regulations supporting job training for the unemployed and to conduct on-site monitoring of job training programs in Employment Service offices in a number of states. He was EDD’s statewide inter-departmental coordinator of refugee services in the early 80s, overseeing job training programs for the recipients, a challenging job because of the large influx of Southeast Asian immigrants at that time. After retiring from State service, EDD brought him back as a consultant to continue developing and implementing policies, and later consulted as an analyst for an organization assigned to assist workers affected by the technology innovations in their work place.
He loved living in Sacramento’s Central City historic Boulevard Park neighborhood. Once fully retired, Dale turned his energy and skills in policy research and analytical problem-solving to local government policy, historic preservation, and all issues related to neighborhood livability in a dense urban setting: homelessness, crime, code enforcement, overconcentration of social services, traffic, transit, walkability, maintenance of our urban forest, street lighting, parking, and sustainable land use and development. He contributed articles to Sacramento Press, Sacramento Bee and was also often interviewed or mentioned in local news stories on the issues.
In the 1990s, Central City neighborhood associations experienced a renaissance, and the city reached out to work with residents in new way. Dale was a key player in the changes. He served on the board of the Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association, co-chaired the Central City Alliance of Neighborhoods, and when the city was actively engaging with its citizens through service areas, he helped found and later chaired the Area 1 Neighborhood Advisory Group (NAG), an innovative interface between residents, businesses, city staff and developers on issues affecting livability in the Central City. Dale “walked the livability talk,” walking or taking transit or rail, using a car as little as possible.
As always, his opinions and work were based on sound research as well as his experience in other cities. When he worked on the Midtown Traffic Plan, he actually took a course on traffic calming from the UC Institute of Traffic Engineers. When he worked to bring street lighting to midtown, he did the research for staff on cost-effective options. He sat on the Homelessness Board for many years, researching case management best practices used in other cities that might be implemented in Sacramento. He became an expert on ABC licensing requirements for bars and restaurants to ensure the business operations were compatible with resident livability. He was persistent in ensuring the city replaced trees to maintain a healthy urban forest, key to walkability in a hot climate.
Dale was actively involved to help make the City of Sacramento and the Central City to be a more vibrant and livable community. He received numerous awards and certificates of recognition for his work and emphasis on problem-solving: from 1992 to 1999 alone, he received two Mayoral Proclamations for outstanding public service, a Mayor and City Council Recognitions for his work as NAG chair, and other recognitions for service from the Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association, Northeast Area Transportation Study Citizen Committee, Social Services Siting Committee, City/County Board on Homelessness, and the Sacramento Area Council Of Government. He received three City Council Resolutions recognized his service to the community, a State Assembly Certificate of Recognition for Community Service and Leadership, and two awards from the Midtown Business Association for his work as a neighborhood liaison.
He was a warm and gracious mentor, always having time for anyone who needed information or assistance on livability issues. But he was equally a persistent gadfly regarding policies he thought wrong-headed, and he was actively working on several issues at the time of his death. He thoroughly enjoyed life and friends and never lost his love for theatre, serving on the board of Sacramento’s California Stage, contributing in many ways.
He is survived by his sister Ruth Highland of Iowa, his nieces Roxana Corbett of Reno and Irene Reeves of Des Moines, to whom he was especially close, as well as nieces Linda Brennan and Susan Stover of Iowa, Lois Bartel of Missouri, Marsha Anderson of Texas, and nephews Walter Lee, John Birkenholz, Dennis Kooyman, all from Iowa, Ronald Kooyman of Chicago, as well as several great-nephews and great-nieces. The many friends he made in his lifetime of service will miss him greatly.
His spirit lives on within each of us whose lives he touched. He was our teacher, mentor, and friend, always there to support our personal, mental and spiritual growth. He has helped hundreds of people over the past 60 plus years to better their lives. Bless your journey to the next great assignment, Dale. We miss you and send our love. Until we meet again, have fun.
Published in the Sacramento Bee January 3rd, 2016.