Cottage Grove, Obituaries & Tributes

Remembering one of the Grove’s best: John ‘Pat’ Patterson

John Reuben ”Pat” Patterson Photo provided

COTTAGE GROVE – The new year in Cottage Grove got off to sad start. On Jan. 2, we lost one of the most dynamic and community service-minded of our citizens, John Reuben ”Pat” Patterson. Encircled by his loving family, he slipped peacefully away, an outsized person who typified ”a life well lived.”
As the tributes have poured in, there are some common threads that have risen to the top like the cream he was – ”larger than life” being one of the most common.
This comes not only from the force of his personality but from the many avenues of activity in his life and from his personal history as well.
Born in Glendale, Calif. on April 20, 1928, Pat was raised in Los Angeles by his mother. Through her connections as a freelance writer and her public relations work for Fox Studios, he got an early taste of the movie business. Appearing as an extra, he had roles in films from age 7 to 12. While he didn’t get his name in lights, he did get some rich experiences and appeared in the blockbuster, ”Gone with the Wind.” He also was in a Shirley Temple movie (”The Littlest Rebel”) and several ”Our Gang” episodes.
”Our Rascal,” as he was known around City Hall, shared some of his acting experiences and mementos at a Cottage Grove Historical Society presentation a few years ago. Quite remarkable was his autograph book that had entries from the aforementioned Temple and many other famous film folks of the day, from Fatty Arbuckle on.
Going to college on a football scholarship with dreams of going to the Navy’s flight school led to the Naval Reserve and his eventual stationing at the Key West base in Florida, but sadly no piloting experience.
Having served his country, he ended up in Tillamook, Ore., working for the Department of Forestry and later for the Bonneville Power Administration. His brush with electricity became his livelihood for the next 34 years, working as a journeyman lineman for Pacific Power and Light.
While working in Portland, Pat met the love of his life, Colleen Elizabeth Mohr. After their marriage and starting their family, a series of job postings eventually lead the Pattersons to Cottage Grove.
Hardly had he hit the ground in the Grove when his service to the community began. On Dec. 8, 2008, a proclamation from the City of Cottage Grove recognized Pat Patterson’s 31 years of service in official city capacities, including the Planning Commission from 1972 to 1981 and multiple terms as a city councilor, starting in 1985. In addition, he represented Cottage Grove with the League of Oregon Cities and as a longtime representative on the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency.
City Manager Richard Meyers, in remembering Patterson’s contributions, put it this way: ”Pat was remarkable. In my profession many other managers give advice that we are not supposed to make friends with our mayor and council. I tend to not follow that too well and in Pat’s case it was particularly true. He was a friend.”
Similarly, Mayor Jeff Gowing reports that he first really got to know Pat as a member of the United States Junior Chamber, a civic club more commonly known as the Jaycees, 30 years ago, and that ”When I became a city councilor he decided I needed a mentor and felt that was his role. He has given me a lot of advice and guidance over the years and a great friendship was the result of that.”
The idea of mentorship was a focus of Pat’s in life. He had the ability to see the potential for leadership and growth in a person and would, in his words, ”Get his hooks in them.” That meant loving support, guidance and advice, with plenty of room for growth as well. Sometimes it was not what he said but what he didn’t say that made the person realize that it was time to stand and deliver their own personal integrity.
Youth service was one of Patterson’s passions. In his city proclamation he was cited for his enthusiastic and outspoken support for the creation and continued support of the Cottage Grove Youth Peer Court and the Youth Advisory Council.
He and Colleen also regularly volunteered at Harrison Elementary School, where he was known as the ”Grandpa” of the school.
Of all his avenues of service, perhaps the one dearest to his heart was his devotion the youth program, Boy Scouts of America. For me, that is the first thing that comes to mind. I was aware of him before we ever met. When I became active locally with the Boy Scouts and attended some council events, folks, when they learned I was from Cottage Grove, immediately asked if I knew Pat Patterson.
When we did meet at a Veterans’ Day celebration, I was in uniform with our scouts to do the flag ceremony. He immediately locked eyes with me and made his way over. I felt his laser-like gaze rake me over and he extended a hand in firm handshake and I was taken into his sway.
He has served in many capacities over the years in the scouting program. Locally, he has been a scoutmaster and commissioner. He has served the local Oregon Trail Council (OTC) in various offices and committees. For his service to the OTC he was awarded the highest recognition a council can bestow, the Silver Beaver.
Nationally, he worked on staff at many of the Jamborees, where tens of thousands of scouts gather for a 10-day event every four years. Patterson’s experience as a lineman lead him to plug into the stage construction and management for the huge arena shows that are often the highlight for Jamboree participants. He and his ”Damned Fine Crew” would pull off the miraculous creation and dismantling of this temporary event venue in a matter of weeks.
The term ”Damned Fine Crew” was applied often and liberally to the other scouting groups under his leadership. It typified his leadership style of selecting the best, pushing them hard, but lavishing praise for their accomplishments in lieu of claiming it for himself.
In the scouting program there is a national honor society known as the Order of the Arrow. It is centered on unselfish service to others. Instead of members deciding who gets in, it is the nonmembers of the honoree’s unit that recognize the person’s outstanding service to the unit or council and elect a member into the Order.
The local lodge Tsisqan #253, founded in 1944, is known as the ”Grandfather Lodge.” Members of Tsisqan have helped initiate and organize most of the OA lodges in the Pacific Northwest. Pat Patterson was a very enthusiastic member of the lodge and served as its lay advisor for many years. He also served as the section advisor over all of the lodges in the area. For his dedicated leadership, he was recognized with the coveted Vigil Honor, a distinction few are given, as well as the prestigious Founder’s Award.
One of the aims of the Order of the Arrow is the promotion and encouragement of unit camping and spending time in the outdoors. Arrowmen are encouraged to continue to be active in their units and to help get ”the outing into scouting.” In this area, Pat Patterson found the most deeply held of his many passions.
Before 1945, the OTC owned a camp along the McKenzie River called Camp Lucky Boy. It was fairly primitive and its attraction was to enjoy the wild beauty of the river. Progress reared its ugly head and a dam project put Lucky Boy underwater. In compensation, the Forest Service offered up a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp near the foot of the Three Sisters, and Camp Melakwa was born.
In its picture-perfect surroundings, Melakwa is known as a primitive camp. There is no dining hall. Units that come to summer camp there know they will be cooking their own food for the week. There are showers, but other facilities include a kybo (outhouse) and a hose bib.
Why would a troop forsake the comforts of a state-of-the-art camp? One look from the council bluff at the Three Sisters reflected on the mountain lake would be a start. Another is the many opportunities for high adventure there, including rock climbing, outbound hikes to the Sisters, and rappelling into a lava cave.
For many years, Pat served as camp director for Camp Melakwa. Known as the Grandfather of the Mountain, his booming voice was heard everywhere – like, from the top of the rock-climbing area, urging a scared scout about to step into space with ”Trust me!”
Often leading hikes up the mountain, he earned his Vigil Name of ”Delate Klatawa”: ”True Hiker” this way. Enshrined in the trading post at Melakwa are a pair of his well-worn hiking boots, a tribute to his many miles and smiles of service to the camp. Each year he was camp director, he attracted and molded another ”Damned fine crew” that made Melakwa a highlight for generations of scouts from this council and beyond.
He earned another honor: the lovingly bestowed title of ”Grouch.” Never hesitant to express his opinion or grumble on occasion, it fell in with Pat’s mode of expression to offer a rumbling critique of whatever happened to be going on at the time.
In fact, many have tried to describe his way of communicating. Seemingly, with his cryptic speech patterns he often appeared to be talking in riddles. You had to be around him and really listen to really understand him and get what he was saying.
One often-shared story was the constant coffee pot at the cook shack for Camp Melakwa. Not an early riser, Pat was frequently getting the dregs of the cowboy coffee from the giant enameled coffee pot that was brewed each morning, and naturally expressing his opinion about that. One day, everyone was hanging out and waiting for his response. When he noticed a piece of twine tied to the coffee pot handle he did some investigating and discovered the coffee grounds were encased in a sock – one of his own!
Steve Early, who got to know Pat in 1973 at the Jamboree and was lodge chief under Patterson for Tsisqan, told how he was handed the camp director’s job as a young professional scouter in southern California. Somehow, through the grapevine, Patterson learned of this and out of the blue gave Steve a call: ”I hear you are caught in the bight of the line,” he said, using another of his beloved expressions.
He told Early he would show up and serve as his camp commissioner. Early kind of forgot about that promise and his jaw nearly hit the ground when Pat came rolling into camp in his blue and white VW van. But his assistance and mentorship helped Early make it through his first challenging year as a camp director.
When his mobility made it time for a different setting, Pat moved into Magnolia Gardens. Instead of coasting on his laurels and taking a well-earned rest, Patterson began sizing up his new neighborhood as well as his neighbors. Soon his drive to serve his fellow man had him organizing the residents into a weekly ”Story Club” and looking for ways to share with younger generations the rich resources that are lagered at Magnolia.
I had several occasions to see Pat in action there, most recently on Dec. 18. He was his usual vibrant self and soon commandeered the floor as I was speaking – and rightly so. It was an honor to have this interaction so close to his passing. It still doesn’t seem possible that he has left us for the scouting grounds in the sky.
There was one of the largest crowds yet on Sunday, Jan. 12 at the Cottage Grove Armory for his memorial, despite the rainy weather. It was a fitting place for his gathering, for it is a venue that he had many connections with. There were tears and laughs as Mayor Gowing and family members took turns telling stories and sharing memories. So many strands that emanated from him came back to honor his life and work, that if the microphone were passed around it would be likely that the memorial would extend into next week.
To his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren I offer my deepest condolences and sympathy. Our community will not be the same without hearing his voice calling into the Beeper Show at KNND, or seeing him at events. Truly, Pat Patterson left shoes too big to fill. Pat, as you hike into the Elysian Fields, Godspeed, good and faithful servant!
Information for this article was provided by Michael Patterson, author of Pat’s obituary.

Dana Merryday can be reached at
[email protected].



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