Jeanne Randall said her earliest recollection of her dad was when he would take her and her siblings to work.
“He was always an extremely hard worker,” Randall said. “But he always worked purposefully to provide opportunities that would help and connect others around him.”
Don Rowlett died in his Central Point home Sept. 1, after battling melanoma for almost a year and a half. He was 86. Rowlett was known for his many achievements in the Rogue Valley since he moved to Southern Oregon from California almost 40 years ago.
Unable to afford college, Rowlett worked as a stock boy and janitor at the Woolworth Co. before becoming district manager of Woolworth’s Hawaiian and Alaskan districts. That opened the door for him to become the first president and chief executive officer of Ross Dress for Less in 1982.
"A strong man of the Christian faith," Rowlett had another vision for his life mission, Randall said.
In 1969, he and his wife, Jean, started working on their life calling: to turn their Box R Ranch in the Greensprings into a destination camping site for families and troubled youth.
“Box R Ranch is probably his biggest legacy,” Randall said. “They felt extremely burdened with the decay in culture in the U.S. in the late ‘60s ... The ranch was a place for families to reconnect with each other. It was such an important work for the community.”
Medford attorney Bob Robertson, a close friend of Rowlett's for 30 years, said he met Rowlett at Wilderness Trails, a nonprofit Christian-based camping ministry, when Rowlett first moved to Oregon.
“His ranch was a place for camping and outdoor activities for families but also for the youth who needed redirection in life,” Robertson said. “Literally hundreds of people have been positively impacted by his work. ... He was such a true champion. A real leader.”
Rowlett was also known for his stand on private property rights in Oregon. He fought and won in court when Senate Bill 100 halted his plans to finish the ranch projects in 1972. Rowlett, along with several other local property owners, helped found a nonprofit organization called Oregonians in Action to advocate for private property rights.
Dave Smith, a Medford property owner, met Rowlett when they both filed (and won) lawsuits fighting Ballot Measure 49, the "fix" for controversial Measure 37, in 2008. Smith said they soon became good friends.
“I read this book once where it talks about the five people you’d meet in heaven, and Don, he would be one of the five people I'd pick,” Smith said. “He is somebody you have respect for — either his business or his character. He’s one of the most important people you could meet in your life.”
Randall said her dad kept a dynamic and compassionate attitude until his last days. She recalled Rowlett walking up to a stranger who appeared to be suffering from some sort of cancer at a diner just days before his passing. Randall said he hugged her.
“He told her, ‘I think we share something in common. ... We are in God’s hands. We don’t have to be afraid,’ ” Randall said. “Until the very end, he wouldn’t stop caring about others. It was such a part of his nature.”
Rowlett's family plans a service at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at the Great Western Hall at the New Frontier Ranch (formerly the Box R Ranch). In addition to his wife, Jean, Rowlett is survived by his four children: Donald Edward Rowlett and Jeanne Rowlett Randall of Ashland; Julie Rowlett Ballon of Versailles, France; Jennifer Rowlett Hawk of Atlanta, Georgia; 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Two brothers, Melvin Rowlett and Raymond Rowlett, also survive him.
— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.