Nevada City official nets service award |

Nevada City official nets service award

Eileen JoyceSteve Cottrell stands in the middle of Broad Street in Nevada City Wednesday. Cottrell has been named recipient of the 2001 Elza Kilroy Award for outstanding community service.
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From the way he tells it, Steve Cottrell was an unlikely public servant.

“When I arrived here in 1977, if someone told me I would hold public office, be a planning commissioner, serve as a city councilman, I would have fallen off my barstool laughing,” Cottrell said.

But after dozens of years on unpaid city posts and lots of volunteer time on civic events like the Nevada City Classic bike race, Nevada City City Councilman Steve Cottrell has earned the 2001 Elza Kilroy award.

The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce presented Cottrell, 59, with the annual award for community service at its annual dinner Saturday.

The award is named after Elza Kilroy, a resident who worked tirelessly to improve the town.

Cottrell arrived in Nevada City in 1977, after he stumbled onto the town by accident in 1974, the result of a wrong turn on Highway 49.

He took a look around and knew it was a place he wanted to revisit. He came back on weekends, and in 1977 got a job tending bar at the National Hotel.

Cottrell attended his first public meeting in 1979, when he was appointed to a vacancy on the Nevada County School Board. He saw an ad for the opening and signed up for the school board because his stepson was having problems in school.

The 1981 chamber president, Don Ault, convinced Cottrell to run for the chamber board that year. At that time, he was editing the Nevada County edition of the Mountain Messenger, part of a weekly newspaper editing stint that lasted from 1981 to 1991 at a variety of papers.

In 1982, another accident happened that motivated Cottrell to get more involved in public service. Cottrell was burned out of his apartment in July 1982, losing everything.

Within a week, people organized a fund-raiser – particularly McGee’s bar, which raised $3,000. Offers of more pots and pans than he could use, and furniture also, poured in.

The fund-raiser put Cottrell back on his feet, and motivated him to do everything he could for Nevada City, he said.

“I could never give back to this town what it has given to me,” said Cottrell. “This town helped me when I had nothing.”

In the years since, he has held posts on the Nevada City General Plan Committee, the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Cottrell is now serving his third term and 10th year on the council. He came in third in three consecutive races, when three seats were up for election.

Cottrell has also been nominated for mayor six times, but could not get enough votes for the honorary position, which is chosen by a council majority.

He said that doesn’t matter to him any more, and he will leave it to others whether he should sit in the middle chair as town mayor.

“As I’ve often said, Dan Marino never played in a Super Bowl, and Ted Williams never played in a World Series,” Cottrell said.

Cottrell also is a dedicated and regular volunteer in events that benefit the city, such as the bike race, noted Cathy Whittlesey, executive manager of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

Cottrell has enhanced the city’s image through writing and speaking, teaching Nevada City history for Sierra College’s Elderhostel, and volunteering for speaking engagements, Whittlesey said.

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