Cottage Grove lost a city councilor and committed community member with the passing of Bob Ehler on May 10 at age 67 due to complications related to cancer.
“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,” said Ehler’s sister Shelly Duncan. “He will be missed by all who came into contact with him.”
Brothers fondly remembered motorcycle trips with Ehler while other family members recalled his love for the outdoors.
“Our dad was an ‘enjoy the open road’ type of guy,” said daughters Adriana Morgan and Sabrina Ehler. “He loved it when we would call him and tell him we were picking him up to go on a drive. We never knew where we’d end up next, just that we needed a coffee, some old country music and the open road — even if he’d fall asleep every time. If we weren’t going to the coast, driving through Wildlife Safari, or taking a random back road, then we would be at his favorite fishing spot or watching a movie together. We were lucky enough get to spend our time with him outdoors where he loved it the most.”
Ehler spent the last years of his life serving Cottage Grove as a city councilor, a position he had been keen on for some time. After serving on the city’s Planning Commission and Budget Committee for several years, Ehler took the councilor seat of Cottage Grove’s Ward 2 in 2016 after a four-way race.
“It was important for him to be part of that active group,” said Mayor Jeff Gowing. “I think just having a sense of pride in your community and doing something positive is what drove him.”
Gowing said he remembers first meeting Ehler in 1989 as both were members of the Cottage Grove branch of the civic group the JayCees (or Junior Chamber of Commerce).
“We both rode motorcycles and got to be friends,” Gowing recalled. “Over the years, we got to be good enough friends that I got to be best man at his last wedding.”
Gowing held a moment of silence for Ehler at the beginning of Monday’s city council meeting and spoke to Ehler’s legacy.
“He was a very unique guy … He was the only guy I knew who could wear a cowboy hat, a biker vest, Navajo turquoise conchos and cowboy boots all at the same time and pull it off,” Gowing said. “And he did it not to be any part of a group. He did it because that’s who Bob was. He just lived his life to be himself and that’s an attribute a lot of people should have and take from Bob. I think the world would be a lot better place if we all lived like that.”
Gowing said Ehler had always been involved in an array of community services, including planting trees on downtown Main Street and on Highway 99 through his association with the JayCees.
Following the dissolution of that group, Ehler turned his attention to Bohemia Mining Days.
Bohemia Mining Days organizer Cindy Weeldreyer also first met Ehler in the JayCees and recalled, in 2017, Ehler was pinned with the Bohemia City Marshal’s badge, succeeding the previous marshal Gary Williams and becoming the third marshal in the festival’s history.
“Bob loved Bohemia Mining Days,” said Weeldreyer. “He gladly accepted the opportunity to succeed Gary as the marshal.”
Ehler would accompany Weeldreyer as a festival ambassador to help with promotion and continued to embrace his role throughout each event, as in his participation in photo contests.
“One of his most enjoyable duties as the marshal was to have his photo taken in selfies with festival-goers,” Weeldreyer said, describing how winners of the photo contest would be awarded with a free Domino’s pizza. “So Bob was eagerly sought out.”
As marshal, Ehler even got his own vehicle in the accompanying parade.
“He loved waving at people,” Weeldreyer recalled. “He was loved by our production team. He was just a real team player. And he will be sadly missed.”
Ehler had also been involved in the local donation group Pay It Forward for years where he dedicated countless hours to building, repairing and distributing more than 1,000 bikes for children and others in need.
Based on the skills he honed, Ehler even began teaching a bike repair class at Lane Community College.
Though the topic of what to do with Ehler’s councilor seat will be raised at the June 8 City Council meeting, Gowing expressed a hope that the seat would remain empty until November.
“I would just as soon finish out the year in Bob’s honor without that seat,” he said. “Just keep it vacant and let the election decide who would represent Ward 2.”
While family members will remember Ehler’s “open road” approach to life, community members will remember him for his service to the small town he called home.
“Bob loved Cottage Grove, Oregon,” said Weeldreyer. “He was so proud to be a city councilor and to give bikes to kids that needed one.”
A small family gathering in Ehler’s honor is planned to be held privately.