Stan Gow is everywhere.
At a Santa Rosa City Council meeting. At the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit confluence. On a clean-up effort along Prince Memorial Greenway. Roll through his beloved West End neighborhood.
Gow, a man renowned as an outspoken and conscientious advocate for volunteerism and accessibility for all public facilities, died May 7.
He is 69 years old.
Gow became crippled nearly 40 years ago after a diving accident and has spent most of his days since speaking and appearing to advocate for wider access to all things for people of all abilities.
“People like Stan are the glue that holds the community together,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Chris Coursey. “Stan appeared. Because as difficult as it was in the situation to get around, he succeeded. He shows up at the meeting. He was at the table. But his personality is really low. He’s just a guy that’s impossible not to like. ”
Coursey was on the Santa Rosa City Council in 2016 when the city honored Gow with a Community Service Award for his years of volunteerism and advocacy.
One of Gow’s enduring legacies is the First Saturday Cleanup which he launched circa 2007.
A loyal user and admirer of the green and its long trails along Santa Rosa Creek, Gow has long protected the system. And around 2007, he set it up.
He started gathering volunteers once a month to clean and maintain Prince Memorial Greenway just two blocks from his home.
Volunteers bring snacks and cheers, and equipment and gloves are provided. The weekday has attracted as many as 75 people on several Saturdays and has been a mainstay for some volunteers for years.
The effort is supported by Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Water Agency, but continues to thrive because of Gow’s enthusiastic volunteer squad, said Alistair Bleifuss, a recently retired environmental specialist with the city’s river guard program.
“He is a great ambassador,” he said. “Stan let it go. He brings other people: Chop (Teen Club) is there to run things, Scouts – he engages the community.
“He showed that with just a little support from public agencies that neighbors and other people and volunteers can make our city and parks and Santa Rosa so much better,” he said.
Her energy and commitment to serving others has never been extinguished, despite many ongoing health problems, her friends say.
He would live and observe, reporting back on what worked, on what didn’t, for people with mobility issues or any disabilities.
He visited every park in Santa Rosa, making sure where he wanted to go with his chair, he could.
And that passion sometimes makes him bond.
“He’s always stuck in traffic,” said longtime friend and West End neighbor, Deborah Crippen. “He doesn’t see many limits. More than once I had to try to figure out how to get the chair out because it got stuck somewhere. ”
Carole Quandt came to know Gow after both became members of the city’s Community Service Council. His energy in the pulpit matches his energy outside and around, he said.
“I had to scream because I couldn’t keep up,” he said with a laugh. “He would be a bat coming out of hell in that chair and he knocked it down a few times. The booths I’ve seen rarely let his handicap get in his way.”
But Gow Quandt knows he can also slow things down and focus on what’s important. He keeps perspective.
“I would get restless, the whole thing was a crisis for me,” he said. “He would laugh and say, ‘Oh that’s bullshit**.’”
Gow is already around the block. He didn’t tend to get too upset.
“He said, ‘Choose your battles wisely. Is it really worth putting all your cards on this one?’” he said.
But make no mistake, Gow is a fighter.
“He only has one arm moving like that, but Stan is bigger than life,” Quandt said.
That fighting spirit grew there too, says his brother Bill Gow of Roseburg, Oregon.
“We used to argue like cat and dog,” said Bill Gow. “If he has something stuck in his mind, he will act immediately. But he did something good there, I guess. He’s trying to make Santa Rosa a better place for quads and people in general.”
Gow was the eldest of four children who grew up poor and moved from Central California to Southern Oregon.
He rose after high school but found his groove in his late 20s as a homemaker in the summer and a ski instructor in the winter. He was always active, his brother said.
After a diving accident, Gow was transferred to California to receive emergency treatment and then rehabilitation. He never left.
“He is well known in his community, always involved in community matters. Wherever he goes, he is always looking for better access to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” said Bill Gow. “He really is such a nice person. It keeps his mind busy.”
Crippen describes his old friend as friendly and hot-tempered — depending on the day and/or topic of conversation.
“He’s friendly, talks to everyone, has a story for everyone,” he said. “At the same time, he is a coward.”
A stubborn coward.
Coursey met Gow while Coursey was working for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. Before the train started, Gow attended a meeting advocating for equal access and services.
“He was involved as a future SMART rider and was instrumental in helping us find the best way to accommodate people in wheelchairs and other people with disabilities,” he said. “At that time, SMART was still far away and fragile, so he did this for himself but he really did it for the people of the future, and that’s the kind of man Stan is.”
Quandt said the last time he saw Gow, after he had finished a stint at the hospital, was on Earth Day at an event in downtown Santa Rosa.
They greeted each other and Quandt introduced Gow to the new town clerk who worked in park maintenance.
Gow pounces and urges the man about what the town is doing to save the ailing walnut tree in DeMeo Park.
The park is where the celebration of Gow’s life will be held at 1 p.m. on June 19.
You can contact Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @benefield.