Moraga Citizen of the Year: Cliff Dochterman's work
left a mark on many levels
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Cliff Dochterman, the 2014 Moraga Citizen of the Year, is a man unafraid to step outside. From childhood Scouting adventures to administrative wrangling at UC Berkeley to brash and brilliant initiatives as world president of the International Rotary in 1992-93, the Cridersville, Ohio, native has sought solutions with pioneering spirit.
Dochterman will be honored on Friday, May 2 at a banquet at Saint Mary's College Soda Center. Moraga's Citizen of the Year award is sponsored by the Lamorinda Sun, Kiwanis of Moraga Valley, Saint Mary's College, the Lamorinda Weekly and the Moraga Chamber of Commerce.
From his Moraga home, where he has lived since 1994, Dochterman recalled his childhood days as a Boy Scout.
"I had an older brother who was a Scout and I always wanted to catch up with him," he said. Dochterman did more than catch up -- at the age of 13, he became the youngest Eagle Scout in the country.
"I found excitement in that any boy could excel. You could be the best knot-tier, the best canoer, the best intellect. I was a small kid, but in Scouts, I could be the best scholar, cook, hiker, outdoorsman."
He took his skills indoors, during 20 years holding administrative offices at CAL and 20 years as executive vice president at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
"I was considered a problem solver," Dochterman said. "I was occasionally referred to as 'the heart' of the university. A big institution often has problems that don't fit into the framework: I was a mediator, someone who'd step outside the frame to work out what is right, fair and just."
Gary Irwin, past Moraga Rotary Club president, called Dochterman "a wonderful orator" and praised the books he's authored; "The ABC's of Rotary" and "As I Was Saying," a collection of Dochterman's favorite speeches.
Kevin Reneau, a longtime associate involved with Senior Helpers of the East Bay, wrote in a letter that Dochterman's humanitarian efforts line up with his lifetime, guiding principal -- that real happiness comes from helping others.
Dochterman said the free speech movement in Berkeley meant his professional work was sometimes taxing, even disturbing, and for a period of three years he stepped just outside of institutional academia to work for an educational organization in Colorado. An offer from Stan McCaffrey, then head of UOP, drew him back to California, but it took a woman to draw him to Moraga.
"I'd been a widower for seven years, so when a friend said he knew a woman he wanted me to meet, I thought 'no, getting married was what young people do.' " Mary Evans Straub, founder of Moraga's Saklan School, "meshed pretty well," Dochterman said, about his wife of 20 years, who passed away in 2013. Their blended families seat him as the patriarch of four adult children and six grandchildren.
Although children throughout the Bay Area know him variably as the Moraga Country Club Santa, or as their former Scout leader during his years of service to the organization, Bay Area adults recognize him as a 56-year Rotary International member (and often director or president) with perfect attendance. Originally joining the Berkeley branch of the club, his years of involvement are filled with pivotal initiatives -- the Rotary Foundation's PolioPlus program, a worldwide humanitarian effort helping achieve a 99 percent eradication of the disease -- and a lesser known story he said is one of his proudest achievements.
"I had a letter from a fellow in Austria in 1992," Dochterman said. "We went over to help with refugees pouring in from Bosnia and Croatia. We got money, clothing, food, medicine. At the end of the year, a letter from the United Nation refugee agency thanked us for saving 100,000 people from freezing and starving to death."
Dochterman said some people are satisfied by just seeing a problem. He tries not to judge them, but wonders, "Why lose an opportunity to enrich your life by improving the situation, helping people, fixing something?" Institutions, he says, don't have all the answers, so individuals need to step forward with compassion and courage.
"Everybody is a resident of an area, region, community. A citizen is someone who takes on a responsibility for the welfare and success of a city block, a state, a nation. Some people, when they hear a call for help, they close the door. A citizen opens it."
About the Moraga "Citizen" award, Dochterman is clear: "I've traveled the world and received plaques and medallions from kings, queens and prime ministers, but to be recognized in your own hometown is more significant because it's friends and neighbors."