Petaluma’s Legendary Bill Soberanes

Submitted by cwilliams on January 7, 2022 - 2:25pm

Bill Soberanes was probably Petaluma’s most legendary character, known far and wide for his rapid-fire speech and quixotic mannerisms. His daily columns were legendary; filled with rambling thoughts highlighting local events from the famous to the mundane, with more than a splash of quirky. This year we mark his 100-year anniversary, and several historians, colleagues and admirers have stepped up to remember. Chris Samson highlights the mysterious way that Bill was able to insert himself into just about any event of the day. Fearless, full of bravado, it seemed Bill knew everyone and there was always someone who liked him well enough to bend a rule or two to give him access to the famous, or infamous, to get a picture with them.

John Sheehy has many personal remembrances of Bill throughout his childhood. John’s story looks at those remembrances through his historian lens to show Bill as the eccentric, thoroughly human person he was.

Dianne Reber Hart gathered 13 fun facts for an overview of the impact Bill had on his friends, family and town:

Harlan Osborne, in his “Toolin’ Around Town” column notes his first remembrance of Bill is through his 2nd grade teacher: Miss Soberanes, Bill’s sister. He continues his recollection noting the many activities Bill brought to Petaluma, and how he, as an Argus Courier contributor, was honored to be able to interview the many participants in the wrist wrestling contests through the years:

Katie Watts, a former reporter and editor for the Argus-Courier, Marin IJ and Press Democrat reminds us that “Did you read Bill today” was a common start to many Petaluma conversations:

Photo-007392 Sonoma County Library

The Sonoma County Library holds many images from Bill’s life including his birthplace on East Washington Street. Later, when he moved next door, he was often spotted by those driving or walking by, typing on the front porch, waving to or chatting with friends. As John tells it, Bill stopped driving after an automobile crash in his 20s. From then on, he walked. One could always spot him, pipe in mouth, bag slung across his shoulder heading, well, just about anywhere.

How much less enjoyable Petaluma would be without Bill’s ability to include everyone “out there in Readerland” as an important part of the city, engaging our imaginations and creating or promoting long-lasting (and a few world-wide) events such as:

Sonoma Co. Library photo #042296
Old Adobe Fiesta and the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, Sonoma County photo #042296

Whiskerino contest
Whiskerino contest, Sonoma County photo #041668

So Co photo # 009313
World-famous wristwrestling contest, Sonoma County photo #009313

The Sonoma County Library August 17, 1988
The Sonoma County Library August 17, 1988

Bill’s unique writing style sparked a lively contest: “I can write like Bill Soberanes.” Launched on Aug. 17, 1988 in the Argus, readers were invited to send in a column in the style of Bill Soberanes.

Charles Beavers
Charles Beavers

Ed Bridant
Ed Bridant

Mahtee Olmsted
Mahtee Olmsted

Three winners were chosen.
Here’s an example from each:

To read the complete story use the library’s; type in “write like Bill” in the subject bar then filter by: Petaluma, CA, October 14, 1988.

And finally… take some time to sit in with Jim Agius, Katie Watts, John Sheehy, Chris Samson, Chris Linnell, Harlan Osborne and Tom Gaffey as they gather to remember the Bill Soberanes they all knew.

This video is now a part of the Sonoma County Library Digital Collections. Find it:

Connie Williams
Petaluma History Room Librarian


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