Hundreds celebrate life of avalanche victim

<I>Kathleen Ellyn/Chieftain</I><BR>Friends of Roger Roepke gather on the porch of Terminal Gravity to celebrate the life of the avalanche victim.

Hundreds gathered at six different memorial events over the weekend to honor the Enterprise man who was killed in an avalanche in the wilderness area south of Wallowa Lake during a backcountry skiing trip with his son and seven friends.

Roger Roepke, 50, was killed March 7 when a quarter-mile wide avalanche near the remote Aneroid Lake Basin buried him, his 15-year-old son, Erich, and another skier, Don Woodhouse, 52, of the Vancouver, Wash., area. Woodhouse and the younger Roepke were rescued by other skiers.

The memorial events that honored Roepke included a "celebration of spirit" dinner and potluck at the Joseph Community Center that was attended by an estimated 300; the first annual "Roger Roepke Memorial Ski Day" at Ferguson Ridge east of Joseph; and a wake held at Terminal Gravity pub that included a potluck, drumming, dancing and a series of great big life-affirming belly laughs led by Roepke's friend Nils Christoffersen.

A visitor to the county, who had simply come to ski and was swept into the emotion of the events wept openly as she danced and laughed with the crowd at Terminal Gravity. "We've lost a lot of people in our ski community recently," she said. "This is the perfect memorial for them, too."

Roepke, an avid outdoorsman, moved to Wallowa County in July 2006, with his wife, Lisa, and sons Erich and Kyle.

The couple was looking for a location of both natural beauty a powerful sense of community in which they intended to both decrease their carbon footprint and find a home that reflected their respect for the planet and their dream of sustainable living, according to his obituary.

Roepke was born in San Francisco Feb. 21, 1959, to Robert and Doris Roepke. He was raised in Castro Valley and graduated from Castro Valley High School in 1977, where he excelled as a champion wrestler. He joined the Merchant Marines and traveled the world.

Upon his return to California, Roepke enrolled in college, graduating from CSU Chico in 1986 with a degree in civil engineering.

He met his wife, Lisa Armstrong-Roepke, while attending school in Chico, and the couple married on June 11, 1988.

Roger's 23-year career spanned employment in the federal, state and private sectors. After working for eight years with the Indian Health Service (U.S. Public Health Service) in Elko, Nev., and Spokane, Wash., Roepke retired with the rank of lieutenant commander. He and his family returned to Nevada, where he worked as a water engineer, first for the state and later with Lumos and Associates. In 2001, Roepke and his wife established Black Rock Engineering Inc.

They settled in Enterprise after a long search for the ideal place to raise their boys.

Roepke was an avid cyclist and a skilled backcountry skier. He loved all outdoor activities, including kayaking, sailing, hunting, and hiking. He also enjoyed a variety of humanitarian work, including volunteering his engineering services in the post-Katrina effort with Architecture for Humanity and the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network. Roepke enjoyed partnering with affected families and like-minded groups to engineer innovative and affordable housing for the region.

His main focus was always on family - family in the broadest sense, according to his obituary. Roepke is survived by his wife, Lisa; their sons Erich and Kyle; his mother, Doris Kramer Roepke of Castro Valley, Calif.; and brother, Michael Roepke of Pleasanton, Calif.

A memorial fund has been established at Community Bank. In addition to benefiting the Wallowa County Search and Rescue, proceeds will establish an annual bike ride in Roger's memory planned tentatively for September 2009. Donations can be made to the "Roger Roepke Donation Account" and mailed directly to Community Bank, P.O. Box 399, Enterprise, OR 97828.

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