The people who make you want to get closer to God aren’t the people who beat you over the head with God.
In fact, profession of faith may never even come up.
Because it’s the example they set, and the generous acts they perform without fanfare, which inspire you to be better.
As former Lighthouse Church Pastor Dave Nelson explains, there’s a common question people like to ask when confronted with a difficult situation where they need guidance: What would Jesus do?
But when Nelson thinks of the late Paul Rowan, who died last week at the age of 80, and his wife Joyce, it inspires him to ask the question, “What would Jesus be like?”
And he figures Jesus would be a lot like Joyce and Paul. Because the Rowans lived their faith. Walked the walk. “They didn’t say anything you didn’t see in their lives. You saw the real thing,” said Nelson. “And what they did for the Mammoth community … They would look for people to help. They didn’t just wait around.”
Paul Rowan was born in the western Pennsylvania town of Uniontown, about forty miles southwest of Pittsburgh, in 1941.
He stayed through high school, working on the family farm for a stern and exacting father, waking at 4 a.m. to milk the cows.
He left Uniontown briefly after high school to seek his fortune in Washington, D.C., but that lasted about six months. Because he’d left a girl behind, and that girl (Joyce) and her family were moving to California. Mining was dying in western PA and Joyce’s parents were looking for a new start.
So young Rowan asked if he could tag along.
The year was 1960.
By the next year, Joyce and Paul were married.
Paul got into electrical training and became a journeyman electrician around the same time he took Joyce and two young sons up to Mammoth Lakes on vacation.
While they were in town, they heard that Jack Meadows of Meadows Electric needed help.
Even though the Rowans had just purchased a home in Orange County, they decided to go home, get their stuff, and move to Mammoth.
And by 1970, Paul decided to hang his own shingle as Paul’s Electric.
The Rowans ultimately had four sons. And as legendary Mammoth teacher and coach Reagan Greene says, the Rowans set the bar as an example of how to raise a family.
He described all four boys as 110% respectful. “They’d run through walls for you. They were four of our best athletes.”
As for Dad, Greene said he was the guy who convinced him to stick it out in Mammoth.
In those days, said Greene, we never had a baseball field. All of our practices and games were in Bishop. “I was discouraged,” he admits. “I didn’t think the school would ever provide a field. I thought of leaving town, but he talked me into staying.”
That first year, Rowan bought four dozen baseballs for the team.
In later years, he served as Greene’s film crew for football, shooting both home and away games with an 8mm camera so the coaches would have tape to review.
Greene coached for 26 years. It took until year 23 to get his baseball field at Whitmore. As Greene says, Rowan ran for County Supervisor in part to ensure that would happen.
As for Greene, he said it was extremely difficult to figure out how to build a home for his family here on two teacher salaries. But after he scraped up the money to buy a lot, and started on construction, “Paul did all the electric for nothing.”
This was a common refrain.
The Rowans were also co-founders of the Church on the Mountain in Crowley with three other families. The Rowans donated the land upon which the church was built.
As Bea Beyer says, “He was good on a handshake and took care of everybody … he was a paragon of the business community like you don’t see anymore.”
And yes, anytime Bea had an electrical issue at her home, Paul would come over to take care of it. No charge.
As Bea said, “Our children were best friends. And all three are coming home to attend Paul’s memorial service on May 7. They wouldn’t all come for anyone else.”
This is the kind of example Paul Rowan set.
As son Paul recalls, back in the ‘70s, a lot of hitchhikers would get dropped at the Crowley overpass and there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Oftentimes, Paul would be driving him from work and see a lost soul and pick them up and invite them over for dinner. It got to the point where Joyce would almost count on setting an extra place. He’d then drop them at Tom’s Place where they’d have a better chance at getting a ride.
Son Paul also recalled the time where his dad and a few buddies decided they’d try big-game hunting. Paul was about 11. He says they all took rifles they’d never shot before, got some deer tags and headed for the hills.
Paul and his Dad come upon a buck. Dad loads his WWI-era .30-06. Shoots. Misses. Reloads. Buck doesn’t move. Doesn’t care. Dad shoots again and again until he runs out of ammo, laughs, and they head home.
He didn’t care how it looked, or how he looked. “He was the first person to make fun of himself,” said Paul Jr. “And always had a smile on his face,” recalled Greg Jennison, who partnered with Rowan on an office building in Mammoth. “They don’t come any better,” he added.
Dave Nelson said he arrived in the Eastern Sierra in the early 1970s. He got to know the Rowans because they hosted Saturday evening bible studies at their home in Crowley for all the young people, the ski bums, young Christians looking for a place to gather. And for people to love and care for them. The Rowans offered a meal, mentoring … “You could talk to them about anything.”
And it was the Rowans who offered financial support and encouragement when Nelson launched the Lighthouse Church in 1998.
“Paul read Proverbs daily,” said Nelson. “And he always had a Proverb to fit the situation. He wasn’t about lofty sermons so much as practical wisdom.” His magic, said Nelson, lay in his availability. He was there for people.
Even in retirement. Especially in retirement.
As Nelson notes, there’s no mention of retirement in the bible. All retirement meant was that Paul could help people whenever he felt like it.
A final observation of Nelson’s. Unlike many local contractors, Paul was never one to get too leveraged or find himself in financial predicaments. And while others might moan and complain, he never did. “Don’t trust in money,” he’d say. “Trust in God.”
If Paul had one extravagance, granddaughter Bailey says it was his boat. “His boat was his prize,” she says, and he reveled in pulling the grandchildren behind the boat on the inner tube.
There was always, she said, a childlike joy. He was playful, funny. Later, as she matured, she appreciated him as a role model. “He was always calm … and had the best answers” to whatever vexing question was presented. “And he had a special spot for his granddaughters because he’d had always had boys.”
Paul’s life was not without tragedy. The greater the faith, the greater the test of that faith.
In 1994, his youngest son Perry died in a ski accident at the age of 25.
As eldest son Paul Jr. said, “This was very hard on their [his parents] faith. And it caused a lot of introspection.”
“It hit him harder than anyone,” says Bea Beyer. “I’m not sure he ever got over it.” Then she paused and reflected, “There was nothing high drama afterwards, but he kind of didn’t have the same sparkle.”
Reagan Greene said that Perry’s service was held on a school day, but “we took the school buses up to the service. They’d only do that for the Rowans.”
In his final years, Paul suffered from Alzheimer’s. But what was interesting was it’s effect upon him. It didn’t make him mad or angry, which can often be the case with Alzheimer’s. Rather, it accentuated that joyfulness inherent in him. “You saw his spirit beyond his mind,” observed Nelson.
Paul is survived by his wife Joyce, his sons Paul, Troy and Mark, daughters-in-law (respectively) Tamala, Karen and Monique and grandchildren Perris, Sonora, Rebekah, Bradley, Bailey, Hunter and Beau. He was preceded in death by his son Perry.
A memorial service is scheduled for May 7 at the Mountainside Conference Center inside Mammoth’s Main Lodge. Time: 3 p.m. All are welcome.