Ashland Outdoor Store founder, 62, dies suddenly

Steve Rowe, creator and owner of Ashland Outdoor Store, is being honored as a lover of the environment, able businessman and family man and enabler of the dreams of many friends. Rowe, 62, an avid fly fisherman, hiker, kayaker and runner, was felled by massive heart attack early Friday morning in front of Safeway, while jogging with his wife, Renee Fox-Rowe, she said.

“As a person, what I loved about Steve was that he was extremely intelligent, had a wonderful sense of humor and brought out the best in people,” she said. “He would get people talking about their passion and what they love, then have great conversations about all our psychology.” 

Rowe served in the U.S. Air Force, graduated in mathematics from University of California at Davis, then embarked on a career in the early years of Microsoft in Seattle, attempting to retire in Ashland in 1992, but instead getting swept up in the vision of an outdoor store, said friend and store manager Bryant Helgeland. The store opened in 1994 in the former home of the Ashland Food Co-op on Third Street at Lithia Way.

“He was a hugely intellectual member of the community in so many ways,” said Helgeland. “He was a great activist, supported many events and environmental initiatives and outdoor activities. He built an amazing staff that feels like a family — and that is why his passing is as hard as it is. We (at the store) were a second family.”

Friend and store employee Erik Hamlet said the store was a reflection of Rowe, “who made it possible for us to serve the community. Our only instruction from him was to do all we could to make customers happy and the community happy and we knew we had the boss’s OK to do that. It was a unique opportunity to put our best foot forward and serve the community. 

“It’s all upside down now, super unexpected and we feel a bit rudderless but, with the store, we’ll keep on.” 

Friend Charles Gehr of Fly Water Travel noted Rowe’s beloved weekly poker games with friends, adding, “He was an incredibly astute and intelligent person with a larger mind than most, also incredibly sensitive to those around him, very compassionate.” 

Rowe’s children by his first marriage are Christopher, 29, who is working on a PhD at Tufts University, and Allison, 27, a Portland lawyer. They are graduates of Ashland High School.

Donations in Rowe's memory, his wife said, may be made to his favorite causes: the Native Fish Society and Rogue Riverkeepers.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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