Gowing speaks at Lions Club meeting, reflects on achievements

At his final City Council meeting as mayor on Dec. 12, 2022, Jeff Gowing was presented with a plaque by the City Manager in recognition of his years of service as mayor. His gavel was placed on the plaque, which was made from flooring that was pulled from the 1930s Armory building during its renovation. (Photo by Kenneth Roberts)

January 19 - Former mayor of Cottage Grove, Jeff Gowing was invited to speak at a recent Lions Club luncheon, where Gowing looked back on his personal accomplishments over the years of service as mayor of the city.

Gowing was first elected to the City Council in 2009, then elected as Mayor of Cottage Grove in 2016, serving until Jan. 8, 2023. After serving six years in the U.S. Army in 1988, he secured a position with Weyerhaeuser in 1989, where he stayed on and continues to work today as a millwright.

“If you remember when I was sworn in, I had a ponytail, which I donated to cancer at the first Relay for Life after being elected. It was cut by our current mayor,” Gowing recalled.

His appearance changed and so did the manner in how the mayor communicated with the town’s citizens. He was the first mayor to be on the radio regularly once a month as a way to be accessible to the community. 

“I started a mayor's bike ride to encourage healthy family friendly activities. We even had roller skaters a couple of times,” recalled Gowing, who also hosted a mayor's golf tournament which raised more than $1,700 for Community Sharing’s H2O program in 2019.

He served on the Lane Council of Governments board and the Lane Area Commission on its transportation board and was the chair in 2020. Gowing has also served as an advisor for the Cottage Grove Community Foundation and continues to serve as a board member.

Gowing was able to get Weyerhaeuser to donate lumber for two Habitat for Humanity houses and toward the Armory restoration project. He was instrumental in having the lumber company sell their railroad right-of-way below market value to the city for a bike path.

Most recently, Gowing helped facilitate the donation of a pavilion by Weyerhaeuser to replace the former one at Pioneer Park, which was removed for rot on the support beams. The project awaits a new pour of concrete before the structure can be replaced at the park.

“One of the best projects was the bench for Clarence the Waver,” Gowing remembered. “He passed away on a Thursday. The next day at the agenda session, it was suggested we put in a bench to honor him.” 

City Public Works Director Faye Stewart, who was at the session, said that he had a bench but it had to go on the adjoining property. When Gowing asked who owned the property since, at the time, it was undeveloped. Faye informed the group that it was owned by Ernie Olson.

“I'll ask him, he'll be at dinner tonight at the Elks Lodge,'' replied Gowing, who arrived at the lodge that evening and explained to Olson what the city wanted to do.

Olson agreed.

Gowing called Stewart immediately with news of approval and, later, the City unveiled the bench the day before Clarence's funeral in May 2019. Gowing reminisced that the memorial project for the local Cottage Grove veteran, who frequently sat on Main and 16th streets to wave at passing cars from his wheelchair, moved unusually fast and was pleased by the timing of the project coming together.

Also in 2019, Gowing was awarded the Leadership Award from the Oregon Mayors Association (OMA) and was elected to its board of directors in 2022, where he served as president of the board until Jan. 8. 

Gowing shared his impression of the first board meeting for the OMA, where he was approached by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler about the state's lack of support with homelessness and the idea of giving cities an unfunded mandate. The result?

“We formed a task force with 25 mayors from all over the state based on area and population,” said Gowing. “Together, we came up with — and asked for — $125 million to address homelessness statewide. It was a historic event that 25 different mayors with different backgrounds all agreed on one subject.”

In 2018, Gowing helped the Homes for Good housing agency work with the American Legion to purchase the empty lot next to the post and build four tiny cottages to rent to homeless veterans. And in 2020, Gowing was there to welcome the first residents at the SquareOne Cottage Village Co-op.

As for the fun things, Gowing noted many ribbon cuttings, recognition to the high school sports championship teams, Bohemia Mining Days appearances, judging chili contests, classic car shows, Halloween costume contests, volunteer opportunities with service clubs in addition to serving on various boards and, once, even conducting the Eugene Symphony.

In what could be the most unique appearance at a city event — if not in Lane County or perhaps in the world — Gowing cited, “I'm probably the only mayor to lead a toga parade. On a Harley Davidson. Wearing a toga.” 

At the close of the meeting, former mayor and Lions Club member Jim Gilroy was present to add some praise and comments about the toughest of challenges during the increase of the unhoused during his tenure. 

Gowing also revealed at the end of the meeting that he would soon retire from Weyerhaeuser and plans to leave the company sometime this summer.

At the moment, Gowing said he will continue serving the city to some capacity. He recently applied for — and was appointed to — a position on the City of Cottage Grove Planning Commission with Tom Munroe, another former mayor of the city, during the Jan. 9 city council meeting.