By Miriam Raftery
December 28, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – The lives of some prominent local luminaries were extinguished in 2015, though their legacies live on. Here we remember those who are gone, but never forgotten:
Roy Cook: Native American writer, teacher, singer and artist Roy Cook left behind large moccasins to fill when he passed away at his San Diego home on February 18th at age 71. Founding journalist of the California Indian Education site and publisher of www.AmericanIndianSource.com, Cook’s earliest memories were of the Santa Ysabel reservation. He later studied English, fine arts and graphic communications, also serving in the Army with the U.S. Army Airborne and Green Beret Special Forces during the Vietnam War. He served as historian for Native American organizations and taught at local colleges including Grossmont College, where he chaired the Multicultural Studies department. Honored by KPBS with an American Indian Heritage Month Local Hero award, Cook concluded, “Tribal America has brought to this great country certain human values and political ideas that have become ingrained in the spirit of the United States of America.”
Leroy Elliott: Leroy Joseph Elliott served as Chairman of the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation for over 18 years before passing away on March 18th. The respected leader and elder in the Native American community led efforts to revive cultural traditions as the last fluent speaker of the Kumeyaay language at Manzanita. He dedicated himself to preserving and teaching the Kumeyaay language to his people, also leading efforts to revive bird songs, traditions passed down through thousands of years of Kumeyaay history. Chairman Elliott also served as Chairman of the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association executive committee and was recognized as an “Honored Elder” by the California Indian Education Association. Anthony Pico, former Viejas Chairman, recalled Elliott as a “peacemaker” and credited him with being responsible for the teaching of Kumeyaay bird songs to every singer alive today, leading his people using “traditional values while embracing modern leadership ideas.”
Bill Kolender: After nearly half a century in local law enforcement, former San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender passed away of Alzheimer's disease in October at 80 years of age. A graduate of San Diego State, Kolender served as San Diego's Chief of Police from 1976 to 1988, when he retired and became assistant publisher at the San Diego Union Tribune. In 1995, he came back to law enforcement as Sheriff of San Diego County and won reelection three times. Sheriff Bill Gore credits Kolender with championing rehabilitation programs and community policing initiatives. He called Kolender “larger than life” in many respects, but also remembered his “personal touch,” such as visiting injured deputies in the hospital. To honor his predecessor’s memory, Sheriff Gore ordered all Sheriff stations countywide to fly their flags at half mast.
Steve Kowit: Steve Kowit, well-known poet, author, teacher and resident of Potrero’s Coyote Holler, passed away on April 3rd after heart surgery He taught at Southwestern College and San Diego State University, mentored many, and inspired a generation of local writers through his teaching, readings and writings. He won many awards, including the National Endowment Fellowship in Poetry, two Pushcart Prizes, and the San Diego Theodore Geisel Award. His poetry volumes and books on writing poetry drew critical praise. His writings often highlighted social justice issues, from the journey of immigrants crossing his own property near the Mexican border to turmoil in the Middle East. Fellow poets held a reading in his honor. On his Facebook page, fellow poets and students lamented his passing. Bill Harding wrote, “His poetry was music…We’ve lost a genuine treasure.”
James Loiselle: As a Naval captain, James W. Loiselle managed communication satellite programs at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the Naval Air System Command, and on staff with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. A distinguished graduate of the Navy’s Test Pilot school, he flew 52 types of aircraft and was a NASA finalist to be an astronaut on the space shuttle. With degrees in aerospace engineering and science, he later worked as a defense contractor. The former El Cajon and Coronado resident was named among the top 15 most influential people in the technology field in our region by the San Diego Daily Transcript. But on April 14, the pilot who once aspired to fly in outer space made his final journey, after suffering fatal injuries in an accident at his home.
Garry McClintock: Garry McClintock gained fame for making saddles to outfit trail riders and cowboys across our region for the past four decades. He also traveled to Baja, Mexico where he made a documentary film, “Corazon Vaqueros” on the history of vaqueros in our region, along with his son, Cody, and photographer Eve Ewing. On August 14th, the master saddle maker passed away at his Descanso home. A towering part of San Diego’s western heritage rode off into the sunset with his passage, which was commemorated with a memorial trail ride.
Kylie Rowand: Alpine toddler Kylie Rowand lost her battle with neuroblastoma cancer on February 7th, but captured the hearts of the community. Pink ribbons filled the town as residents held fundraisers and prayer vigils. Her parents, Luke and Lee Rowand, turned their grief into helping others, starting the Kylie Rowand Foundation to help other families find hope for a cure. Alpine Sun editor Lori Bledsoe offered this touching memorial;“…Kylie will always be a symbol of love and perseverance even through the greatest pain. A shared caring that connected almost 100,000 people came into being, and awareness has grown for the love of this child. Kylie, Alpine will never know what you would have accomplished in a long life, but we know that in your short time here on Earth, you brought a community to their knees.” A memorial tribute to the little girl who touched so many hearts was held on Valentine's Day.
Ryan Willweber: A track star at West Hills High School in Santee, Ryan Willweber died of injuries sustained in a car crash that also injured his brother on April 30th. A memorial fund in Wilweber’s honor was established at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, where his father, Paul Willweber, serves as pastor. His fellow students held a candlelight vigil in his honor, running a final lap for their fallen track team member. Liam Breslian, a junior, called Wilweber “the best of us” adding that he offered words of encouragement for other players, win or lose. “He was a great, great young man.”