Ron Balzer: Putting Community First
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter
SANTA ROSA – Ron Balzer started his first screen printing business out of a small shop in Sebastopol when he was only 17 years old. When he closed the business two years later to become a professional firefighter, the last thing on his mind was eventually picking up where he’d left off, but that’s exactly what happened. “I was a fireman for 10 years before a back injury abruptly ended my career,” he recalls. “I was only in my late twenties, so I thought, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ Since I’d had some prior experience with screen printing, I decided to pick it up again, and that’s how Creative Images was born. Almost 30 years later, I’m still doing it!”
A native of the Bay Area, Ron regards Northern California as an ideal location to run a business—not merely because of its excellent weather and scenic beauty, but because of the long-term customer relationships and community involvement that have become such an integral part of his life. “I grew up around here, so I know a lot of people,” he says. “I like the fact that my kids went to the same high school that I did. There’s something special about living in one area your whole life, maintaining longstanding personal and professional relationships, and watching your community grow and change over the years.”
Community involvement is very important to Ron—he spends much of his spare time helping with local fundraisers, and he’s a board member and past president of the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been on the planning committees for many Sebastopol community events, including the Apple Blossom Festival and the August Nights car show,” he says. “My favorite part about community involvement is the satisfaction I get from seeing others have a good time. When you help put on a festival and see thousands of people show up and enjoy themselves, it’s a very satisfying feeling.”
When he’s not at Creative Images Promotional Products’ Santa Rosa shop, meeting with clients or staying active in his community, Ron enjoys spending time with his two young grandchildren and doing outdoor activities like camping, fishing and gardening. “I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors,” he says. “I was very involved with the Boy Scouts when my son was young, and we participated in a lot of camping trips and other activities with his troop. I also really enjoy cooking. Being in the fire service, you learn to cook very well. We took two things very seriously—our jobs and our meals!”
After 28 years in the screen printing business, Ron doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, but when asked what he would do if he could retire tomorrow, his reply is simple. “I would take a nap,” he laughs. “I don’t get a whole lot of sleep, mostly because I’m so active and don’t like to miss out on things. However, I’m finally getting to a point in my life where sleep is becoming a valuable commodity. I also can’t wait to watch my grandkids grow up and help them get involved in community activities like sports and Boy Scouts.”
When he looks back on his life, Ron says the one principle he’s found to hold true is that benevolence is both something one should expect from others and something one has to pay forward. “Whether in my personal life or in my business dealings, I’ve always liked to be treated with a certain amount of fairness. Over the years, I’ve come to find that when you treat others the same way you’d like to be treated, it tends to come back around.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
A: Haggis. It might not be that strange to some, but it probably is to the average person. It consists of pretty much every part of a sheep or lamb that you wouldn’t normally eat. I was actually introduced to it through a Boy Scouts function, where we took on a Scottish Games theme. A couple of the Scout leaders challenged the Scouts to try it. Out of 450 scouts, only 35 brave souls accepted the challenge, and almost all of them actually liked it.
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: Report From Engine Co. 82 by Dennis Smith, who was a New York firefighter. It was written in the 1970s and describes some of his experiences during his career. For the average reader it may not be anything special, but since I used to be a firefighter, I relate to it closely.
Q: Dogs or cats?
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A: Definitely dogs. I have four: a Golden Retriever, a Labrador, a purebred yellow Labrador, and a Retriever/Labrador mix who’s the offspring of the Retriever and the purebred Lab. Retriever/Lab mixes are typically used as service dogs because they’re so intelligent, disciplined and affectionate.
Q: What were you most known for in high school?
A: Probably my good looks and my calm disposition.
Q: Beatles or Rolling Stones?
A: The Beatles, although I’m really more of a Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears guy.
Q: What’s your favorite game?
A: Cribbage. We played a lot of cribbage at the fire station and had tournaments once in a while, which was a lot of fun. My dad taught me how to play when I was really young. He actually made a cribbage board when he was in college, and I still have it to this day. It has a very special significance to me because my dad passed away at a fairly young age, so it’s one of those things that serves as a reminder of the great man he was and the good times we had when I was growing up.