I'm going to try to make it more clear how to connect with us during this time of physical distancing, and how to view the tributes to Ron's life I will be creating over the next few days before the private service. This will be a work in progress, so if you are interested, please be patient and check back from time to time.
If you would like to read the full obituary:
Click here to visit the Riposta Funeral Home
I have also posted the full obituary at the very bottom of this page - scroll down until you see OBITUARY. (The obituary posted in the Bangor Daily News was only a short notice to alert people, not the full life story.)
If you would like to share photos, stories, or condolences:
We would love to hear your stories. As my parents got older and inklings of mortality crept in, I always envisioned having a public gathering for people to share in Ron's passing. It is very sad to me that this is no longer possible. It means we will miss out on one of the most enjoyable aspect of funerals, which is to hear people recount stories that we either didn't know about Ron, or stories we would love to hear one more time. If you have something to share, please do so at the Riposta Funeral Home . We will read them, save them, and share some of them at the private service. It will be as close as we can come to having you there and it will be very appreciated. If you would prefer to share anything with us privately, we can be reached at the following email addresses:
Cheryl "Cherie" Cowan: cowan at gardenfaces.com
Ben Cowan: ben at bluealpacaranch.com
Ryan Cowan: senervation at gmail.com
If you would like to view photos and tributes we have to celebrate Ron's life:
Check back here for updates later. We will post some things on this page and then the full collection will be viewable on a subpage of Ron's www.gardenfaces.com site that will honor his legacy as an artist.
If you would like to know more about why we set up this fund and what it will be used for:
There are many ways to die in the world. The general sentiment in our family has always been 1) it would be nice to die as old as possible in a way that isn't too drawn out by machines and painful treatments and 2) after we're gone we don't need frills or anything done to us, just put us in a hole and let us rot away. Other than passing too soon, as most do, Ron knocked the first concern out of the park when he passed quickly, quietly, and peacefully in his sleep. We didn't get any say in that. But we do get to decide what to do with him now.
When Ron first passed, my mom knew that he would be cremated and scattered. This was mainly because nowadays that is the least expensive option and we like the idea of returning to the earth by way of scattering in beautiful places. Ron was OK with this plan. But in making our final arrangements for him, we had a strong and unanimous feeling that for Ron in particular, it would be nice to tie him more permanently to the little city he loved so much.
He was extremely proud that he had discovered this gem of a place for our family in 1988 and subsequently moved the four of us here. He immediately fell in love with the waterfront, which everyone told us had recently been filled with feathers and chicken parts until the chicken industry left. As kids, we made countless trips with him down to the docks just to watch boats come and go (and maybe have an ice cream or onion rings).
As we grew up, Belfast kept changing, especially with the arrival of MBNA. A lot of people would grumble with every big change, but Ron always saw the best in things and kept loving Belfast more and more. Every feather in the cap of Belfast was a feather in the cap of Ron who would just beam bigger when he would tell you about what's happening next in the town. He truly did not see any location on the planet that Belfast couldn't stand toe to toe with. He never missed any opportunity to tout its benefits.
He was so content to "keep on keep'n on" in Belfast that he had very little impetus to even visit anywhere else. Simply trying to get him to consider locations around the world for a vacation was difficult. He was happy just to be in Belfast. He was content and at peace. As long as he could maintain his modest property and feed his family, there was nothing more he yearned for and he happily bounced from one experience to the next.
His ultimate legacy in Belfast began with a hobby he started just before moving north from Connecticut. He had taken down a barn and had a bunch of 200 year-old chestnut beams. He had played around with clay to make some portraits and one day an idea struck him to try to do the same in wood. So he grabbed his chainsaw and some of the beams and went at it. He learned to use chisels, sand paper, and floor wax to make the faces smooth. Having a small collection of finished pieces he began setting them up in places and receiving comments like, "Wow! I've never seen anything like that!" and, "You do that with a chainsaw?" From then on he was hooked and it would become his life's obsession. He loved being able to take a chunk of wood, stare at it for a little bit, and then bring out the spirit of that wood in the form of a face. It was a unique talent. He loved it, and he was very good at it.
In Maine, he began taking them to local craft fairs, including the first Arts in the Park in the Belfast City Park. Year by year, more and more wooden spirits scattered to new homes as people brought them to live in their gardens. People also started asking him to carve larger faces on site in stumps of trees that had been damaged, and some even in live trees. Over the years he started putting copper on the tops to preserve them longer. But even so, he liked the beauty of the outdoor wooden pieces changing with the weather and over time going back to nature, as in all life.
With time, hundreds of gardens up and down coastal Maine and beyond became enchanted with a garden muse by Ron Cowan. Some had multiples. Some are big and bold and can be seen from the road. Others are tucked around corners, or by fireplaces, or in back yards, or down hidden wooded paths. One of the installations he was most proud of was The Long Breath, which was purchased by the City of Belfast and consisted of seven pieces placed in the Belfast Harbor. You could walk to the pieces at low tide and then by high tide they would be entirely immersed. For many years Ron maintained them and groomed the seaweed he attached to their heads. He called himself the Keeper of the Hair.
I have had countless conversations with people who have said, "Your father is the one who does these? We were just driving through such-n-such town and saw one. Did he do that?" Yes, he did. "We see these all over the place and always wondered who did them." It was him. "I just bought a house and our backyard came with one."
He liked to say he was "famous from here to North Northport." But he was bigger than that to those who recognized his work. Belfast is filled with artists, eclectic humans, and creative souls. As outwardly humble as Ron was, he was so proud to play his part in this community, and he played it well. He is Belfast through and through. And Belfast is him.
That is why we know the place for him now is in the dirt, up on the hill, behind the high school, marked with a stone and his name, to secure him permanently in the history of Belfast. Ron Cowan, Sculptor of Wooden Faces. And maybe every now and then, long after most of his work has gone back to dust, as it was always destined to do, the cemetery trees may overhear, "Ron Cowan, is that the guy who did the sculpture your grandfather had? The one you said you stuck your fingers in the nostrils?" "Ron Cowan, is that the name that was on the face we found in the barn?" "Ron Cowan, this must be the guy who did my aunt's sculpture. She said he was such a nice person."
This would make Ron break out in a big grin and a twinkle in his eye.
Ron's passing was unexpected and the reality is that burial expenses are hard to come by, especially with Ron being the main source of income for his wife, Cherie. Requesting money is not something we feel comfortable doing. But for those with a desire to help in this way, it would honestly be the most direct and impactful action. We are hoping to bury Ron in Grove Cemetery in his beloved Belfast, with an appropriate headstone. We know he would appreciate this. Not too long before he passed, he and Cherie walked through the cemetery and he commented on how it was peaceful and he would like being there.
Any financial donations in excess of funeral, burial, and headstone costs will be used by the family to ease the immediate financial burden felt by Ron's absence. I know that he was at peace with his life when he left us, but the one thing he would regret is leaving my mom in a tight spot. This would make him feel horrible. The last gift he can give her is through your generosity and kindness. All donations of any amount, no matter how small, will be cherished and appreciated with equal weight and tremendous gratitude.
OBITUARY - RONALD J. COWAN
Belfast, Maine – Ronald Jarvis Cowan (Ron), 77, passed away in his sleep quietly, peacefully, but unexpectedly, at his home in Belfast, Maine on Monday, September 14.
To learn the story of Ron is to reveal the secret behind a life well-lived. A life filled with unbounded optimism. A life that achieved a sense of peace and contentment unknown to many. A life that began with adventure and dreams of being a millionaire, and somewhere along the way resulted in a lesson learned that happiness can be found in smaller circles, and a slower life, surrounded by family where you have the freedom to pick and choose what you do each day.
Ron was born March 24, 1943 to Ray and Ruth (Clark) Cowan. He lived his boyhood years in Newport and graduated from Newport High School. Ron served his country honorably in the Army where he was stationed in Germany. Upon returning home he attended New Haven College where he was editor of The News and graduated with a degree in Public and Social Administration. He was also a staff reporter at the New Haven Journal Courier.
While in New Haven, Connecticut, he married the love of his life, Cherie – a union that he was later proud to announce lasted 52 years, until his death. Always open to new adventures, they moved to Florida and bought a pizza restaurant, which they ran for 10 years and grew into three locations. During this time, Ron drove convertibles, sailed boats large and small with Cherie, and even competed on an amateur race car circuit.
Soon the northeast was beckoning and they moved back to locations in Vermont, Connecticut, and New York City where Ron attempted a variety of business start-ups, and at one time had an office at 30 Rock where Cherie would meet him midday for lunch. After a couple failed business ventures Ron decided that the hustle and bustle was not for him and he needed to take a new tack in life.
By this time they had two young boys, Ryan and Ben, and Ron thought his childhood state of Maine might be a good place to raise them. In 1988, on a solo scouting trip he crested Hayford hill entering Belfast and caught a glimpse of the bay. In that moment he knew he was home for good. After all the prior adventure, travel, and moving, he settled in Belfast for the rest of his life, only leaving the state a handful of times over the next 32 years.
Ron loved Belfast. The waterfront, Main Street, and the diversity of characters that make up the community made him feel like he fit right in. He was a people person. He was loved for his caring heart, warm smile and sense of humor. He never wanted to say anything that would hurt anyone. Given the option, he always thought the best of someone, and he was so proud of this town and its people. You could see it in his smile wherever he went.
Ron’s love of the town meant he was always willing to help out and join in, often too generous with his time. He had a hard time saying no, which is how he lucked into the following experiences.
As a parent of kids playing Little League baseball, yet knowing very little about baseball, he got tagged to coach Ben’s team, and wound up winning the City championship and then taking the 9/10-year-old All-Star team on to win the district championship.
As a substitute teacher he found he connected well with youth, especially those who didn’t fit the traditional student mold. He was asked to teach full time courses for a variety of middle school and high school subject areas, including art, math, science and alternative education. One particular group of middle school students he taught entered a competition for which they made a mini documentary shining a light on the life of homeless teenagers in Belfast. They were awarded the grand prize, which was a trip for Ron and the students to visit Senator George Mitchell in Washington DC. He was an especially good fit at the BCOPE alternative education program where he taught classes and was also the chef.
As an actor with carpentry skills, he found himself building sets and performing in a number of Belfast Maskers productions, a few alongside Ryan and Ben.
As a frequent breakfast customer at the local diner, he wound up filling in as a cook whenever they were shorthanded.
After signing up as a FEMA inspector surveying local damage caused by the ice storm of ’98, he was subsequently recruited to travel the country for other disasters and wound up exploring Puerto Rico where he made new friends.
As an enthusiastic supporter of Belfast high school sports, and the concession stand popcorn that accompanied it, he cheered on teams well outside those his kids played on. He was around so much they signed him up as the clock operator for basketball and wrestling, the videographer for the football team, and a helper at track meets, all of which he ended up doing for eight years or more.
Over the years he had jobs selling everything from restaurant supplies, encyclopedias, and newspaper ads, to Electrolux vacuums.
And yet none of this myriad of life experience includes his actual legacy and what you may know him as: The Man Who Carves Faces. All around Belfast, from the waterfront to the surrounding towns and beyond, you may notice Ron Cowan carvings, which he called Garden Muses. Tucked in gardens, old stumps, living trees, and old piers in the bay, these wooden spirits present themselves in a style unique to Ron. We estimate that he made over 1000 pieces in his lifetime and was still working on pieces until the day he passed away. More about his sculpture work can be found at www.gardenfaces.com.
When it came to family, Ron had endless support, optimism, and love to give. He was a wonderful and loving grandfather, self-dubbed “Grand Pepito.” He was so very proud of his children and grandchildren and you could tell because seeing their accomplishments is when you would see the biggest twinkle in his eyes. Yes, anyone who knows him can confirm his eyes actually did twinkle.
Ron was never quick to judge and encouraged thinking something through before acting. He was laid back, contemplative, patient, and of a tender nature. He was a hard worker and always had multiple projects underway. He always said, “inspiration will best find you at work” (adapted from Pablo Picasso). He lived a life much bigger than his own, and yet was one of the humblest people you would ever meet.
Ron felt a strong connection to nature and found his spirituality there. In particular, birds, trees, and salt air breeze energized his life force. He has now joined his spirit brothers, the crow, raven, and fox. His mind and spirit had so much more to give, but his body decided it was time to go. He went too soon, but he had a full life and we are proud of him.
He didn’t leave us monetary riches, but he left us a life story to be proud of, endless laughter, and enough lifetime lessons and nuggets of wisdom for generations to come. We love him dearly for it, more than any amount of money could ever buy.
Over the past several years many of his siblings and nephews followed the path he took decades prior and migrated from up and down the east coast back to Maine to settle in Belfast and the surrounding towns. You could tell that Ron felt a sense of wholeness seeing his life come full circle at the end, both in location and family. Even if he didn’t travel out of state to see them often, he did not take them for granted and it was clear he loved them all very much.
Ron is survived by his spouse Cherie; two sons, Ryan (spouse Sarah, daughter Molly, son Wesley) of Hampden and Benjamin (spouse Michele) of Belfast; five siblings, Robert of Apopka, FL, “lovely sister” Myrna (spouse Edward) of Morrill, Linda (spouse Winston) of Lexington, GA, Roger of Apopka, FL, and Carl (spouse Karen) of Belfast; five nephews, James (daughters Violet and Fern) of Washington DC, Daniel (spouse Maryann, sons Jesse and Wesley) of Belfast, Roger (spouse Yoon, sons Gabriel, Xavier and Victor) of Montville, Jeffrey (fiancé Nadine) of Stockton Springs, Jonathan (spouse Melissa) of Altamonte, FL; and two nieces Rachael (spouse Luis, sons Jon and Mario) of Mechanicsville, VA, and Kiki of Alexandria, VA. Ron is preceded in death by his father Ray, and mother, Ruth.
The family is holding a private service on the farm prior to burial in Grove Cemetery in Belfast. In deep gratitude to a very generous community, we are able to mark the grave with a stone that will represent Ron well. We could not have done this without you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We know that Ron touched many lives in the community. In lieu of a public gathering, we will be sharing some additional memorial content at his website www.gardenfaces.com. Condolences may be left at www.ripostafh.com.
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