‘Ranger’ Rick Kaufman, Calif. town’s ‘unofficial mayor,’ dies at 63

Rick Kaufman, a decidedly eccentric character both tolerated and viewed with affection by residents of an equally eccentric northern California town, died Feb. 18 at 63.

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Kaufman was described in local press accounts in Occidental as “the beloved town ‘greeter’” who “kept the town swept, cleaned the pocket parks of Occidental, and helped people park.” The Wikipedia entry on Occidental says, the town is “unique for its high concentration of visionaries and famous artists during recent history, and was the hub of community-centered social movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

A warm appreciation of Kaufman on Bohemian.com, a website focused on Marin and Sonoma counties, said:

In the summer of ’95, on my first morning living in Camp Meeker, I came upon a spindly little creature with a Rip Van Winkle beard and a thousand-mile stare. I quietly mouthed a hello, whereupon the man stopped, put up his dukes and cried, "Do you want a piece of me, fat man?!"

This was my first human interaction as a resident of western Sonoma County. I continued to the Bohemian Cafe, made my way up the stairs, and who should I see again? "I’m not done with you!" he yelled, fists again at the ready.

Quickly slamming the door behind me, I asked around if anyone knew a demented fairy-wood sprite who randomly accosted the citizenry. I was met with smiles and chuckles in equal measure, and was told that I had met the mayor of Occidental.

…To many, he was little more than an unbalanced vagrant with a greatly overestimated sense of self. In my estimation, his face belongs on Occidental’s Mount Rushmore….

Kaufman “completed the New York Times crossword puzzle daily and was to be approached with caution after 5 pm. He seemed to live everywhere and nowhere, as likely to materialize out of a tree as from the back of a station wagon. He laughed like a Viking, and his stride carried him farther and quicker than his diminutive stature would seem to indicate.

Ranger Rick was a trickmaster monkey, a mystical coyote and the crazy river all in one. If he was human, I’ll eat my fedora. The Range was some other category of creature altogether. I rarely understood him, I often seemed to anger him—and I can’t imagine Occidental without him.

Kaufman was born in San Francisco and moved to San Jose with his family at 18 after his father died. “He grew up in a traditional family of that era,” his mother said. “Music lessons, scouts, all that was available to him.” Kaufman moved to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in the height of the hippie era, married, had two daughters, divorced and “had some hard times.”

A passing reference on a website devoted to chronicling the “Diggers,” a hippie-era “anarchist guerilla street theater group” suggested Kaufman may have had some connection to the fabled (among some) group: “Ranger Rick Kaufman is often seen keeping the town clean. The county sends him a small check each month as our town remains debris-free,”

An impromptu shrine to Kaufman appeared in one of the small Occidental town parks Kaufman haunted, “and people gathered with candles to mourn his loss.” His mother, Kathryn Kaufman Runcie, decided he would be buried in Occidental.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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