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Founders of ‘Salute’ honored as Good Eggs

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.

Sometimes the Good Egg is honored for preserving Petaluma’s history that occurred long before any of us were alive. The recipient of this year’s Good Egg award has been selected for helping us remember and honor a time in Petaluma’s more recent history, and in the process, create an event that brings 30,000 visitors to Petaluma and invests tens of thousands of dollars back into the community.

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John and Joetta Furrer, founders of Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti, have been named the 2013 Good Egg.

petaluma downtown association

John Furrer and his wife, Joetta, have been selected as the 2013 Good Eggs for creating, promoting and producing Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti event, now in its eighth year.

“Although they acknowledge that they didn’t do it by themselves, it was their vision, dedication and hard work that has a produced a premiere event,” states their nomination form.

Since 2005, the “Salute” has celebrated Petaluma’s starring role in the iconic film with a car show of classic cars, live music, vendors and food. Because of the annual event, Petaluma is now identified as the place that many of the movie’s most memorable scenes were filmed.

Furrer has become the “face of Salute to American Graffiti,” acting as both an ambassador for the event and Petaluma.

“Word has gotten out. If you’re a classic car or American Graffiti fan, this is the place to come. We know we’ve had visitors from 18 different states and eight foreign countries,” says Furrer.The 2013 “Salute” takes place on May 16-18, with the car show and festival in downtown Petaluma on May 18.

This year’s event is a particularly significant one for both the movie and the Furrers. It is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 filming of “American Graffiti” and the 40th anniversary for John and Joetta.

It was a combination of a love of cars and a personal encounter with the film that planted the seed that grew into the popular event.

“I’ve been into cars since high school,” says John. “Joetta and I heard about ‘American Graffiti’ being filmed in Petaluma. We went to town and watched them tow the car around while they filmed. When the movie was released in 1973, it changed me from a modern car guy to a classic car guy.”

An encounter with Candy Clark, the actress who played Debbie in the movie

“After he saw the movie, he was hooked and started looking for a car to work on,” Joetta adds.

Furrer found a 1931 Model A, although it wasn’t much of a car because only the body was on the frame; the rest of the car was “in boxes.” Furrer spent the next 11 years restoring it from the ground up while working as a fleet mechanic for PacBell and raising their three children, eventually getting the car on the road in 1985. “We used to drive it all over to car shows.”

“More car restorations and car shows followed including another encounter with “American Graffiti” that reminded Furrer of Petaluma’s connection with the film. The Furrers were on their way to a car show in Antioch in 1998 when they drove past a drive-in theater in Concord having a 25th anniversary showing of the movie.

“That kind of started it. We were at Hot August Nights car show in Reno and started talking with Candy Clark, the actress who played Debbie in the movie. When we told her how we had watched the filming in Petaluma in 1973, she suggested doing a car show. As it turns out, we had some experience in this because for five years, we had been helping friends in Oregon put on a car show,” Furrer says.

In 2005, the mention of “car” Petaluma’s Boys & Girls Club’s “Art Car Project” drew Furrer and his longtime friend Wayne Van Patten to a meeting looking for volunteers. Although designing an art car wasn’t in Furrer’s expertise and the Boys & Girls Club wasn’t interested in taking on a car show and cruise as part of the fundraiser, this turned out to be a very important meeting in the history of the event.

Furrer met Rich Poremba, who was in charge of the project for the Boys & Girls Club.

“We bonded instantly,” says Furrer. “He became part of our family and although he wasn’t a car guy, we made him a car guy.” Poremba became a driving force behind the event until his sudden passing in 2010.

The first “Salute” was held that year at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets with 150 cars, raising $10,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs. Although the Boys & Girls Clubs chose not to continue with the fundraiser, Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti took on a life of its own, forming the Cruisin’ the Boulevard, Inc. non-profit in 2005.

“I was adamant in the bylaws that it be an all-volunteer organization and all money that is raised by invested back into Petaluma,” Furrer says.

The organization had built a strong working relationship with the police department during its first three years, so in 2008, “the PD asked us what we would like to do and we said we’d like to move it downtown and do something memorable for the 35th anniversary. It was Rich’s idea to do a re-creation of the cop car scene and when he put his mind to something, it got done.”Cruisin’ the Boulevard, Inc. has reinvested more than $120,000 back in the community.

One of its primary projects is raising funds to place Automatic External Defibrillators in the community. Because of the “Salute” events, AEDs are now in all police cars, city hall and with high school coaches so there is always an AED available on the field or on the court.

“You put them out there and hope they never get used. The very thing that Rich helped create wasn’t there to save him; if an AED was closer he would still be alive.”

Additionally, the event has raised funds for Christmas Cheer, the police department’s free bicycle helmet program and established the Henry Travers Memorial Scholarship Fund and will be creating a scholarship fund in Rich Poremba’s name. Furrer encourages high school seniors to contact their counselor or call 762-3394 for details.

more information.

Furrer says that there aren’t any plans to change the size or format of the event. “We’re very happy with how we do it and where we do it.” Joetta adds, “No way I ever dreamed it would have been this big and this international. It amazes us every year.”

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