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Motorcyle crash takes life of 'gentle giant' coach

Rich Sowers, active in Lake Oswego High School and youth football, dies at age 60
by: Submitted, Rich Sowers

Lake Oswego lost a 'gentle giant' and a giant in the youth sports community last Friday afternoon when Rich Sowers was killed in a motorcycle accident near Detroit Lake.

Sowers, 60, was riding with friends Donald Hiebert, 54 and Jeremy Hiebert, 22, on Breitenbush Road. Both Heiberts took a corner on a weathered road and crashed, according to what Sowers' wife Sandy was told by investigators.

Sowers then came around the corner and swerved to avoid his friends, losing control as well. Donald Hiebert was flown to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital while Jeremy Hiebert was treated and released at Santiam Memorial Hospital. Sowers was pronounced dead at the scene.

Sowers was adopted in Portland at the age of 2 and moved around the United States and Canada growing up. He went to high school in Ohio before joining the Navy.

In 1974 he moved back to the Northwest and became a contractor. He and his wife Sandy recently celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary. They have one son David and Sowers has two other children from a previous marriage Keri Stone and Richard Sowers. The Lake Oswego couple also has two grandchildren.

'He was my life. We did everything together,' Sandy Sowers said.

He was known at Uncle Rich to the children that Sandy looked after in day care and loved to build things in his spare time.

'He was just a big teddy bear. He could be tough when he had to be but he was always looking out for people,' Sandy Sowers said.

Sowers made his biggest impact in the Lake Oswego community with the football program at Lake Oswego High School. He coached and was involved with the youth program for nearly 30 years and was largely responsible for coordinating that program with the high school varsity team. Now the youth program is one of the largest and most highly decorated in the state.

Sowers was also the strength and conditioning coach for the high school team, working with players year-round.

'He probably spent more time than anyone with the players, running offseason programs four days a week. He's a hard guy to replace,' Lake Oswego football coach Steve Coury said.

Sowers was known for pushing athletes hard while holding a special place in his heart for those who may have needed some extra guidance.

'One of the biggest things about him was his compassion. He tended to gravitate toward kids who struggled a bit,' Coury said.

At the age of 40, Sowers was diagnosed with leukemia and was told he had two years to live. Twenty years later, he was still battling the disease and didn't let it get in the way of his work or his volunteering.

'You'd never know it to look at him. He never complained for one minute,' Coury said.

'God really took care of us over the years. Rich always said that he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. He told David a while ago that he would be happy if he went out on his Harley at Detroit Lake and that's what happened,' Sandy Sowers said.

When Coury got the news Friday evening he sent out an e-mail to his team saying that a meeting would be held the following morning.

Roughly 150 past and present players showed up on Saturday and, according to Coury, 'there wasn't a dry eye' in attendance. Then, the team filed silently into the weight room as a tribute to Sowers.

'I think they all were trying to do what they thought Rich would have wanted. The kids thought he was invincible. Some of them said they didn't think anything could hurt him,' Coury said.

In the near future, Lake Oswego High School will rename the weight room in Sowers' honor and Coury is currently working on something that the team can wear on its helmets this year to commemorate him.

'He was a true Laker,' Coury said.

A memorial service will be held this Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Lake Oswego High School field at 2 p.m