Lucy Kortum – Her Story as a Coastal Advocate

Over 70 years ago, Jean Kortum brought her college classmate, Lucy Deam, an education major at Pomona College, to the Kortum ranch on Ely Road. Lucy said Jean’s thinking was “that painting fences would be a welcome change from city life.”  That is where Lucy met Bill. They married in 1953, and thus began a lifetime of partnership in community involvement, volunteerism, environmental engagement and especially, coastal advocacy.

Lucy and Bill were a team. While Bill was often the face of their endeavors, Lucy was as active in all phases of the various projects as Bill was. Lucy kept everything organized and flowing – the strategist to her husband’s idealist -all while raising 3 children.

Lucy was the other half of a team committed to preserving the Sonoma and California Coast, to ensuring there would be open space and preventing Sonoma County from turning into another San Jose.

Beyond her  involvement in the Battle for Bodega Head to stop a nuclear power plant from being built on an earthquake fault forever scarring the pristine Sonoma Coast, there was the incorporation of Cotati and the successful promotion of Cotati for what would become the Sonoma State University campus, working to make Salt Point a State Park, other parkland preservation at Willow Creek, Annadel, all the political battles to challenge corruption, sprawl, and injustice in Sonoma County, the creation of Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tideland or COAAST-the efforts to pass Proposition 20 and the Coastal Act, the creation of Sonoma County Conservation Action, the creation of urban growth boundaries, and the reason Coastwalk exists is because of Lucy’s work to co-found the organization to ensure completion of the California Coastal Trail and ensure equitable access to the California Coast.

Lucy’s involvement in the founding of Coastwalk was the result of watching large portions of the coast get overdeveloped for only the few to enjoy, blocking public access for all.

40 years ago, Lucy and Bill proposed the first Coastwalk-a trek along the 55–mile Sonoma County coast that aimed to bring awareness to ensuring public access and coastal preservation. On that first “Coastwalk” walk- Lucy and Bill along with Tom & Vivian McFarling and many others wanted the public to know that the 1976 Coastal Act intended a continuous trail –providing a ribbon of protection along the length of California and to connect cities and towns with their nearby natural resources and parks.

40 years later, Coastwalk and its dedicated volunteers continues to promote conservation by introducing and educating thousands about California’s spectacular coastal landscape as they walk the coast and enjoy public access via its many paths made possible by partnerships forged by Coastwalk and jurisdictions along the coast. This was Lucy’s wish and her legacy

Lucy’s constant contributions to coastal preservation and access were one of many reasons she was honored in 2018 at the Coastwalk’s Women’s Coastal Advocates Dinner. Lucy received the award alongside her friends, family, a roomful of Sonoma County coastal sheroes, and fellow honorees Gaye LeBaron, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, and Doris Sloan.

In addition to her environmental activism, Lucy-among the first students at Sonoma State, earned a degree in history. She worked part-time in a secretarial position in the Natural Sciences department and was assigned to the innovative nursing program from its inception, through its accreditation, and role as a national model.

Lucy enrolled in the new Public History program at Sonoma State and her 1991 Master’s thesis was on the subject of the 144 Carnegie libraries in California at that time.

Lucy wrote the nominations that resulted in getting the Carlson Currier Silk Mill building in Petaluma, and the Carnegie Library, which now houses the Petaluma Museum, on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2005, Lucy was the recipient of the Jeanne Thurlow Miller Award from the Sonoma County Historical Society for her efforts in preserving these sites. She was a long-time volunteer at the Petaluma Museum and in 2006, she received The Petaluma “Good Egg” award.

Lucy’s lifelong volunteerism and involvement in many projects have been a benefit to future generations. If you ever visited her home on Ely Road, you would see chairs circling the fireplace where she continued to hold meetings about issues facing Sonoma County.  She stayed active in Coastwalk even after she could no longer participate in our trail adventures and would call the office for updates and offer her support.

We thank Lucy for all her years of activism and inspiration.  I think the words of Vivian McFarling speak what is in all our hearts- “Lucy is an unassuming, thoughtful, insightful, and caring person. Along the side of a great man there was a great woman!

We are all privileged to walk in the Kortum’s footsteps upon the paths these monumental human beings created through sheer will and determination.

Lucy’s children are still involved with Coastwalk. In 2023 Julie will be co-leading a Coastwalk on the San Mateo Coast.


On May 2, 2018, Lucy Kortum, Doris Sloan, Gaye LeBaron and Lynn Woolsey were honored and recognized for their work as Coastal Advocates by Coastwalk California, Executive Director Cea Higgins (pictured) at a Coastal Advocacy Awards dinner at Bodega Bay Yacht Club.

LUCY KORTUM 1928-2022 – Obituary – Press Democrat – 2022

About Lucy Kortum:
August 8, 1928 – November 30, 2022
Lucy Kortum, a historian who championed the importance of local and statewide architectural preservation, died on November 30, 2022, at her home in Petaluma. She was born on August 8, 1928, in Coronado, California, where her father was stationed as a Naval aviator. She had vivid memories from the years before and during World War II, when her mother, driving alone, took her and her brother on numerous cross-country journeys between naval bases to catch up with her father’s frequent redeployments.
She attended Pomona College after the war and then moved to San Francisco with some of her college classmates. After working in San Francisco for a few years, she married Bill Kortum in 1953. In the ensuing years Bill and Lucy became effective advocates for environmental protection on issues such as the battle to save Bodega Head from a nuclear power plant in the early 1960s and the prolonged effort (beginning in the late 1960s) to preserve access to the California coastline and to save it from overdevelopment. Beyond her activity as an environmentalist, she was independently known for her work in architectural preservation, both locally and throughout California. In 1990 she completed a thesis for a master’s degree in history at Sonoma State University. Entitled “Carnegie Library Development in California and the Architecture it Produced, 1899-1921,” the thesis resulted in the addition of ten California Carnegie libraries to the National Register of Historic Places, and still sets the standard by which libraries achieve such designation. Her efforts also resulted in the addition to the National Register of the Petaluma Silk Mill (built in 1892 near the Lakeville Highway and what is now Sunset Park), saving this significant structure from demolition and leading most recently to its repurposed preservation as a hotel which has been in operation since 2018.
Lucy and Bill found the life of activism that they shared to be invigorating and stimulating. For example, when the California Coastal Trail Association recognized Lucy in 2018 as one of the women responsible for protecting the California coastline, she said that the work “was not only inspiring and important, but it was fun.” Indeed, her sense of fun (along with her optimism and enthusiasm) was a primary reason that so many friends looked forward to visiting Lucy and Bill at the home they built in rural Petaluma, eager to discuss anything from travel, food, books and winemaking to state and local politics and environmental issues. Late in life, the topic could even turn to her beloved Golden State Warriors. Her interests also extended to what was happening in the lives of her family and friends, who fondly recall profound one-on-one conversations-free of any political or environmental agenda-where her active engagement and meaningful questions often helped them to better understand themselves. Those who knew her appreciated her kindness, her recognition of the importance of fairness, and her ability to put disputes and irritations into perspective.
She also maintained a close connection with Sonoma State University. In addition to earning a master’s degree there she was one of the first employees of the SSU Nursing Department and worked there for several years as the program grew in stature. In addition, the Sonoma County Historical Society recognized her achievements in the field of historic preservation and research by awarding her the Jeanne Thurlow Miller Individual Award in 2005. The next year, she was named Petaluma’s “Good Egg,” an acknowledgment of her volunteer work for the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. Until recently, she served as a board member of the Petaluma Historical Society and Friends of the Petaluma Library. Her fellow historians informally recognized her accomplishments by occasionally referring to Bill Kortum as “Lucy Kortum’s husband.”
Bill died in 2014. Lucy is survived by her children (Frank (Ellin Kavanagh) of Glendale, California, Julie Groves (Barry) of Los Gatos, California, and Sam (Hyun Ja Shin) of New Haven, Connecticut), and five grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for a later date. In the meantime, the family suggests that contributions be made to Sonoma County Conservation Action and/or Coastwalk California.



Lucy Kortum Memorial 

Dear Friend,

A memorial for our mom, Lucy Kortum, will be held February 25 at 1pm at Sally Tomatoes (1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park). Lucy died peacefully on November 30, 2022, in her beautiful home surrounded by her family. Her obituary can be read here: Lucy Kortum Obituary (1928 – 2022) – Petaluma, CA – Press Democrat (

People from all parts of her life have asked to know when we would be celebrating her: Friends from her alma mater, Pomona College; the Sonoma State Nursing program; the Petaluma History Museum and Petaluma Library; and, of course, the environmental community. We look forward to seeing you if you are able to attend. As mentioned in Lucy’s obituary, she chose Sonoma County Conservation Action and/or Coastwalk California for memorial contributions.

Our mom’s typically modest wish for her memorial was to encourage people to stay home on a certain day to simply enjoy being with their family and friends. With that intention in mind, we want to provide you with a way to visit with mutual friends and enjoy the quiet indoor/outdoor (with heaters) setting of Sally Tomatoes.

There will be ice cream (of course, for Lucy!) and a few people from Lucy’s long life have been asked to speak. There will also be an opportunity for anyone who would like to share a few brief words about the times

you shared with Lucy. We also encourage you to leave a written anecdote, which can be posted on a wall or left with the family, that adds to the multi-faceted portrait of Lucy we all knew and loved. We may even draw a few from a hat to read at the ceremony.

We look forward to seeing you next month. Frank Kortum, Julie Groves and Sam Kortum Lucy’s children

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact: Frank Kortum at [email protected]

Julie Groves at [email protected] Sam Kortum at [email protected]