Rancho Santa Fe community shares memories of beloved icon Roger Rowe
If possible, those who plan to attend the memorial service are encouraged to carpool to the event to help prevent traffic/parking congestion.
By Karen Billing
“Take a look around today and say hello and thank you and be a special friend to each person you meet.”Those were the words of Dr. R. Roger Rowe, celebrating his 80th birthday in 2009 on the campus of the village school named after him. A special friend to Rancho Santa Fe and everyone who met him, Rowe, who was also a devoted husband and father, passed away on Feb. 4 at the age of 82.
While Rowe’s impact is spread throughout Rancho Santa Fe, his legacy is most seen at the school that bears his name, where he spent 43 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
“Dr. Rowe’s lauds and accolades spanned more than a 50-year career but it is the numerous generations of students inspired by their time with him that was most precious,” said RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney. “Dr. Rowe’s legendary high standards for his teachers, administrators and students have cemented a legacy that will continue as long as there is a love for learning and teaching.”
Rowe grew up in a small town called Lee’s Summit in Missouri. He received a Navy scholarship to college, enabling him to complete his studies after a short tour of duty. His formal education included degrees in elementary education, education administration, and leadership and human behavior.
His first class he taught included 45 seventh graders whose ages ranged from 13 to 17.
Rowe came to Rancho Santa Fe in the late 1950s and reflecting in 2009, Rowe said, “Life in a small town is very rewarding.”
He was part of the Ranch when it was at its very smallest — when he started at the school in 1959, he had said that all the residents of Rancho Santa Fe could fit on a single sheet of paper.
“Rancho Santa Fe was still a young developing community when Roger first joined us,” said Jim Ashcraft, RSF Fire District board president. “His fingerprints are all over the good things that happened while he was here.”
At the Rancho Santa Fe School, Rowe started out as a fifth grade teacher and left as its superintendent. The school was named R. Roger Rowe in 2001, an honor that Rowe once remarked “isn’t that neat?”
“He was my fifth grade teacher in 1959,” recalled Sheryl Fellows. “He would often buy us treats out of his own pocket to enjoy in the classroom. He remembered all his former students by name.”
When he started at the school there were just seven classrooms and 17 teachers. Every morning Rowe would raise the American flag on the flagpole in the middle of the school campus.
Former student Bryan McDonald said during his time at the school, Dr. Rowe was an “inspiration of strength, dignity, integrity and solid character.”
Words like inspiration and impact come easily for former students remembering Rowe.
“In reflecting on my youth, only my father had a greater impact on me than Roger Rowe,” said former student Tom Cleary. “He was so instrumental in shaping thousands of young minds. We were certainly blessed to have his leadership and inspiration.”
Even in his retirement, Rowe could be seen supporting his former students’ children and grandchildren on athletic fields and basketball courts, and he was often a part of weddings, christenings and graduation ceremonies.
“The overwhelming legacy he leaves behind is a testament to the power education has, not only to inform, but also to connect each of us in a way that is truly permanent,” Delaney said.
In addition to his work with education on the Ranch, Rowe was also a devoted Rotarian, a member of the group since 1962. At the Monday, Feb. 6 Rotary meeting, members recalled Rowe as a “task master” with a very good handshake.
A self-described “civic junkie,” Rowe was also on the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation board and very involved in the beginnings of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society—past president Pat Cologne recalled his “unwavering support.”
“His efforts were deeply appreciated then and will be remembered now,” Cologne said.
A common saying of Roger Rowe was that the best gift in life is to be remembered. Here, some of his friends present Roger with one last gift:
From Jim Ashcraft, president of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District board:
“Roger Rowe was a Giant in Rancho Santa Fe. He arrived in the community as a teacher and left as a Legend. His dedication to the children of the community over the years was incredibly personal and far reaching. The respect he showed the young people at school was genuine and helped them begin the transition from childhood to an adult. He knew each student by name and would often attend sporting events years after the student athlete had left Rancho Santa Fe School.
“On a personal level, Roger helped Alyce and I decide how to start our boys’ introduction to education. A friend of ours in his 40s told me recently how Roger invited him into his office as a new student and that special visit changed him from a “C” student to an “A” student. Another student in his 20s today told me how he was feeling he had no friends and was lost at school when Roger walked up, called him by name, put his arm on the boy’s shoulder and walked him to some students in the class. He was suddenly a part of the whole school and Roger was his Hero.”
From Pete Smith, RSF Association manager
“When I first came to work in Rancho Santa Fe over 20 years ago everyone spoke so highly and fondly of Roger that when they referred to R. Roger Rowe for years I thought they were describing him as “our” Roger Rowe. I didn’t know at the time that his first initial was “R.” I think that is how I will always think of him, as our Roger Rowe, he was a key part of all of our lives in this community and a friend to everyone.”
From Anne Feighner, Association board member and former school board member
“No person ever did more for children, families, friends and the community of Rancho Santa Fe than Roger Rowe. First, last and always Dr. Rowe was a role model for his students and others. His sense of fairplay, good citizenship and pursuit of excellence in academics and all extra curricular opportunities guided our district for many years.
“He was warm, personal and had a great sense of humor. He knew every child by name and followed the progress of his students as they went to college, got married and had children of their own. Roger Rowe positively affected the lives of everyone who came in contact with him and his integrity and passion for education was an example to us all.
“It is not enough to say Roger Rowe will be missed. He made the world a better place and there will never be another like him. It was my privilege to have known this wonderful man.”
From Marie Addario, former school board member
“If the day you die has anything to do with the life you’ve lived, than Feb. 4, 2012, the day Roger passed, was a spectacularly clear and warm, invigorating, and inspiring day. He was found in his garden filling his days, as usual, with whatever needed his attention. We all remember the first time we met Roger. I was registering my daughter for kindergarten that July 1981, Wednesday, and this broad- shouldered, handsome man with an enormous smile, who was both principal and superintendent at the time, stepped out of his office with as much enthusiasm as I had ever seen in one person, and welcomed us into the school family. The first day of school each year, orchestrated by Roger, was not only a jubilant welcoming back of students, parents and teachers, but a grand celebration of our very American right to free education.
“Roger was a genuine patriot. Over the 12 years I worked with him on the school board, I never saw him misstep or mis-speak or do anything but what would be expected of an effective and loved leader. He nudged and challenged his board, his teachers, his students and his parents as would a great ship captain or a master conductor who understands that every person, every instrument, every section was as important to the success of the whole. His support of those he led was fathomless. The commensurate teacher, Roger had much to teach us all about respect of self and others, about commitment and work, and especially about loyalty and friendship. His was a life well-lived. Dom, Laura, Dominick and I will miss him terribly, but will keep the lessons he taught us along with his beautiful memory, close to our hearts.”
From Matt Wellhouser, RSF Patrol chief and fellow Rotarian
“Roger was such a great man. He was a true gentlemen. He is and always will be an example to follow. I met him 31 years ago and was impressed at the first meeting. He would always be there to help out. He always had the right answer to your problem, no matter how tough. He was so good with the children (“youngsters” as he called them). He was just a great person to be associated with. He was so special for the community, the school and as a friend. Godspeed Roger.”
From Deb Plummer, former RSF School board member
“Rancho Santa Fe won’t be the same without Roger Rowe. I met Dr. Rowe 27 years ago with a 1 and 4 year old in tow when I was searching for the perfect school. A year later he greeted my daughter, by name, on her first day of kindergarten. Roger had an extraordinary gift of making students feel like part of his family and as a doting father, he loved following their lives. He had the unique ability to instill not only a sense of accomplishment, but to encourage them to reach a little higher. Students often returned to campus to share their experiences and successes.
“The Rancho Santa Fe School excelled under his watchful eye because he set a high bar for himself and the school. If you had the privilege of working with him you soon realized that in every situation, good or bad, he saw an opportunity.
“On one especially trying day, he told me that gratitude was one the shortest-lived emotions. Dr. Rowe, we are the fortunate beneficiaries of all that you did on behalf of the community, the school and it’s children. Thank you for serving so well, so unselfishly and so effectively. We are grateful you were in our lives.
“I can still hear Roger’s booming voice on the field yelling, “Way to go Eagles” and I say, “Way to go Dr. Rowe.”
From Christy Wilson, executive director, RSF Foundation
“Roger Rowe was a Director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation for nearly nine years. During his term on the Board, he served as a member of the Grants & Projects Committee, and he gave the same effort to his committee role as he did to every aspect of his life. He was a man of high principles, absolute integrity, and he set a standard for himself that others aspired to. He was a man of great faith, compassion and vision. And he always maintained his quick wit and sense of humor. We will miss him; however, his legacy lives on through the students he taught and the school which bears his name. Our community is better for his having lived and worked here.”
A memorial fund has been set up at the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation in memory of Dr. R. Roger Rowe. Memorial contributions may be sent to the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. Please make checks payable to Rancho Santa Fe Foundation and in the memo line please note Rowe Memorial Fund. All donors will receive an acknowledgement and the family will be notified that a gift has been made in Roger’s memory. The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation’s mailing address is PO Box 811, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067; 858-756-6557; www.rsffoundation.org