Hardship, Blessings & Service in a Sisters life
Last updated 4/27/2021 at Noon
Over the decades, Naomi Rowe has known hardship and many blessings.
Growing up in Central Oregon, her family sometimes struggled. In 1952, when Rowe was 14, her family moved to Sisters.
“There were times I couldn’t participate in school activities because the money wasn’t there,” she recalled. “When we had basketball games at Sisters High School, we had a trampoline and a bunch of us performed during halftime. But I couldn’t join the Glee Club because we didn’t have the money.”
With 10 children in her family, her father — who Rowe says could do anything he put his hands to — worked hard to provide for his family. Just like people today, sometimes even having two hardworking, dedicated parents wasn’t enough to put food on the table.
Rowe’s father had to grow up fast. When he was 12, he ran away from home and hopped a freight.
“He went his own way from there on out,” she explained. “He met my mom in 1937. They dated for three months and got married. He changed jobs a lot.”
Traveling through Bend on their way to another job, their truck got a flat tire.
“While he was fixing the flat, he took a liking to the people and the pine trees,” said Rowe with a chuckle.
Her father worked on a farm, then got on a crew with the mill in Bend.
“Dad’s crew came out to Sisters on the old railroad and worked cutting trees. When that job gave out, he came to Sisters and applied for a job with the Forest Service. That lasted 10 months. Years later, he went back to work at the mill in Sisters as the night watchman. One winter, he froze his ears. When he got into his truck after his shift and it was too cold to start. He had to walk to my house when it was 40-below… that was around 1961.”
Rowe’s childhood experiences inspired her to help folks struggling with food insecurity. When her sister-in-law, Shirley Miller, asked her to be a Kiwanis Club member, she decided to give it a try. She joined in 2000 and has been working at the Kiwanis Food Bank ever since. Over the years, she’s become a valuable member of the Kiwanis team and a trusted advocate for the people she helps. She currently serves as Food Bank Manager.
In 1958, when Rowe was 17, she married Don Rowe. The young couple bought a house in Sisters on the corner of Spruce and Jefferson. They raised five children and are celebrating 63 years of marriage.
“When our youngest son was about 3, I got a job at The Gallery Restaurant as a baker. I worked there for 23 years. I retired from that and went to work at the bakery at Sentry Market in the old Ray’s store that’s now Bi-Mart.”
After her husband became acting fire chief, his salary allowed Rowe the option to quit working — at least for money. Her work with Kiwanis keeps her busy as the needs of the community grow.
For the first three years, Rowe said the food bank had to move from place to place. Eventually, they bought an old house on Oak Street and Main Avenue.
“We didn’t have very much,” she said. “Just three or four cases of food each week. We were open two hours on Tuesday and Thursday. Then we started advertising and people started donating so we had something to give people. At one point, it was just me working and some of the people were kind of scary. So I asked to have someone else there with me. More people started volunteering and eventually we remodeled the garage to store more food. In 2013, we built a small warehouse and it’s full to the rafters with groceries.”
Rowe’s motto in life is simple: “Always be kind.”
She tells all the food bank volunteers to be nice to everyone.
“Don’t judge people, just be nice 100 percent of the time,” she said.
“I’ve had people come in and it really tears your heart. I had one guy who just stood with his face against the wall.
I asked him to come over and talk to me.
He came up and told me he was just so embarrassed to be there and that’s why he was facing the wall.
He couldn’t stand people seeing him there.
We got along just fine.
I got him calmed down and told him this is just like going to the grocery store.
You shop for yourself, take a basket and pick what you like.
I asked him to bring a list and we’ll see if we can get it for him the next week.
He doesn’t come in anymore so he probably moved away or doesn’t need us anymore.
There’s a lot of folks like that.”
Since COVID, Rowe says, volunteers bring the food out to clients.
People from all walks of life need the food bank for all kinds of reasons.
“We have people trying to live on Social Security, and families that can’t quite pay the bills and buy groceries,” Rowe said. “One person asked me if I’d be her grandma until she can see her own grandmother. I told her that I’d try and give her some advice whenever there’s an area I can help with.”
Pushing 80, Rowe says she probably won’t work at the food bank for much more than another year. She wants more time with her husband Don and their 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. She’s also hoping they’ll be able to have a family reunion this summer.
Finding a replacement for Rowe won’t be easy.
“We’ll need to teach two people to do what I do,” she said with a laugh.