Councilman Bob Ehler, aka Town Marshall.
Good guys don’t always wear white hats. Sometimes they don dusty, floppy cowboy hats with conchos and feathers, and pair it with a biker vest and cowboy boots.
Mayor Jeff Gowing, remembering Bob Ehler, wasn’t sure what to think of him when they first met. “He was a man who did as he did and dressed the way he did, not to impress others, but because that is what he wanted to do and be. He was who he was and would go about his business day to day, his own man,” Gowing said.
They met over 30 years ago and bonded over two shared loves, community service and motorcycles. “We were both members of the JayCees, (Junior Chamber of Commerce) and worked together on a number of projects to beautify Cottage Grove. The trees on Main Street and in the Highway 99 median are ones that Bob helped plant. We also both rode motorcycles and ended up becoming good friends,” Gowing remembers.
Bob Ehler served his community with considerable pride. He was a member of the City Budget Committee and also held a position on the planning commission. These experiences whetted his desire to do more for his city and he made two runs at the at-large City Council seats. Although Ehler was not successful in those attempts, he gained some good experience in putting himself forward and expressing his vision for Cottage Grove. When the Council seat in his own district, Ward 2, opened up, Bob ran and won in 2016. “The third time’s the charm!” Mayor Gowing remembers Ehler remarking on his victory.
City manager Richard Meyers echoed the consensus of Ehler’s character and service record, “Bob will be missed on the City Council and in the community. He was who he was. There was no false wall or pretentiousness with Bob. He was committed to doing the things he could do for the community. He gave the most precious gift that anyone can give to the community, his time, without any desire for recognition or reward. The reward to him was in the doing.
Ehler moved to Cottage Grove in 1987. As a certified CNC machinist, he lent his skills to the local Kimwood Corporation for over 20 years. When he retired from there his skilled hands did not rest easy. Setting up a workshop at his home he made it his mission to see that no bicycle went to the wayside. Having put the word out, bikes that had seen better days, or just weren’t being used started showing up at his shop. Bob would repair, refurbish them, and then connect the rehabilitated bike to a needy recipient. Sometimes it was literally making a bike out of pieces and parts of several bikes. He often had to dip into his pockets for parts, but occasionally he was the beneficiary of donations by civic minded individuals or companies. Walmart notably gave him a generous donation of wheels and parts.
One of his great joys was seeing kids light up when they got one of his bikes. He worked with “Pay it Forward Cottage Grove” to connect his bikes to those who needed wheels, both adults and youth. The last count I was able to verify was 1,355 bikes that Bob had gotten back into the community.
One time I was at the dump doing my recycling. Right in front of me these guys threw a perfectly good adult three-wheeler trike into the metal bin. I put the attendant into a tough spot. I told her that I was going to ignore the no-scavenging rule and get that out of there. She walked away quickly saying she reminded me I was breaking the rule. When I got the tricycle to Ehler, he really lit up. “I know just who can use that,” he said gleefully.
A small, but thoughtful service Bob rendered was posting a picture of the winning Bi-Mart Tuesday numbers faithfully on the “What’s going on in Cottage Grove” Facebook page. I know a lot of Grovers appreciated that.
Another colleague Ehler met through the JayCees, Cindy Weeldreyer, remembered the great haunted houses they helped set up in the old Youth Center (now Stacy’s Banquet Room). “I really didn’t get to know Bob until he got involved in Bohemia Mining Days. He began entering the BMD Men’s Costume Contest about six years ago and won it several times. In 2016 Gary Williams told us he was stepping down from the Town Marshall’s post he had held since 2007. I suggested to the board that they appoint Bob, who truly loved BMD, and when dressed in his costume, really looked the part.” Ehler readily accepted the board’s appointment and proudly received his star, pinned on by outgoing Marshall Williams.
Ehler always participated in the Slabtown vs. Lemati Feud, Bohemia Deputies contest. He loved being discovered by the younger set as the man who would punch their game cards and give them a hearty congratulatory handshake.
“He told me every year what an honor it was to be one of the BMD dignitaries in the Grand Miners Parade. I remember how eager he was each year to find out what kind of vehicle I’d arranged as his ride,” Weeldreyer said.
Another role he played was the BMD Ambassador. He took on this role four years ago and would appear in costume with Weeldreyer on the KPNW Morning Show. He would tell about that year’s special features of the festival and invite people to come. They would also meet with news crews when they would visit Bohemia City.
Two years ago a selfie contest was added to BMD. Instead of Marshall Bob tracking down ne’er-do-wells and fugitives, he was the wanted man. Festival goers who “caught” him and sent a selfie with Marshall Ehler to the festival web page were in the run for some bounty. At the end of each day the Domino’s Pizza manager selected his favorites and coughed up the dough in the form of free pizzas. Not that Marshall Ehler was all that hard to catch. He spent many hours walking his beat in Coiner Park and, despite the often very warm days, was enthusiastic in greeting visitors and thanking them for coming.
Weeldreyer wanted to pass on this message, “The BMD production team is deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own. He will be greatly missed.”
Daughter Adriana Morgan shared thoughts and memories. “My Dad was a humble man who enjoyed giving his time to the community. He was proud to support the military, especially veterans. He became a member of the Patriot Guard Riders Inc. in 2013.
“Some of my fondest memories were going with Dad to the Cottage Grove Dirt Bike Races, going on lunch dates at Big Stuff BBQ and Bonanza, attending the W.O.E. Fair, watching NASCAR races on Saturday mornings, and attending the annual Cottage Grove Cruise together. On our adventures, Dad always had a story to tell. Sometimes it was of his early days in Cottage Grove and how the town had changed, or about his life growing up with his siblings.”
One of those stories that made it to me was from Bob’s brother Mike who related the history of the ill-fated middle school club the three brothers put together, “The Royal Order of the Claw.” To raise funds for adventures, the club members had a deal with the local pet store, which would buy snakes they caught off the property for $1 a piece.
“One Saturday morning we filled every cage we had and still had one snake left over. The washing machine seemed like a good temporary storage spot. The next morning our Mom woke us up with her screaming, she had found our extra snake. My Dad made us release every snake, about $20 worth, and “The Royal Order of the Claw” was disbanded,” said Mike Hecker sadly.
I first got to know Councilor Ehler when working to get the Swinging Bridge back open. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the effort. He faithfully showed up to support our events, buying raffle tickets, and was supportive on moving the project forward as a City Councilor. I was happy to see his face on the cold, but joyous, November day when the J. Polk Currin Swinging Bridge was rededicated.
Health issues and physical pain had affected Ehler in the last months, finally landing him in the hospital. With the restrictions in place it was difficult for family to visit with him but fortunately many had a chance to say goodbye before complications from cancer took him on May 10. He was 67. His sister Shelly Duncan put it this way, “My brother Bob was the kind of person who was so much involved in helping others that he didn’t have time to take care of himself.”
The family will not be able to have a public memorial for Ehler with COVID-19 concerns.
At last Monday’s City Council Meeting the mayor opened the virtual gathering with a minute of silence to honor Councilor Ehler and then shared comments on Bob Ehler the man, thanking him for his service. Mayor Gowing voiced the hope that Ehler’s seat would remain vacant until elections in November.
In any case it is a large pair of shoes, ahem boots, that will need to be filled with the passing of Bob Ehler. Remember this humble, soft-spoken man, who loved Cottage Grove and also stepped up to make it such a special place to live.
Marshall Ehler, thank you for your service and we’ll try and hold up your end down here, but it’s going to take a lot of hands.
Contact Dana at [email protected]