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‘True treasure to the county’ – Community remembers Dick Rowland

When walking into a local city council or county commission meeting, it did not take long to spot Richard “Dick” Rowland with his usual cowboy hat and large grin ready to meet and mingle.

The 90-year-old Army veteran did not know a stranger, despite only moving to Russellville three years ago, and his infectious laughter could frequently be heard across the room.

“He was someone who loved to laugh and really kept everyone going,” said Franklin County Extension Director Katernia Cole Coffey, who worked with Rowland on the 2020 Census.

Rowland died Nov. 27 in Russellville surrounded by family. He most recently served as the senior coordinator for the Franklin County 2020 Census Committee.

“You could tell he was sincere in wanting to better Franklin County,” Cole Coffey said. “I’m glad that even though we had obstacles throughout with the pandemic, he lived to see the census through to the end.”

Originally from Texas, Rowland moved to Hawaii in 1971 while still serving in the Army. It was there that he, at age 71, founded the Grassroot Institute to educate others about the importance of freedom.

Franklin County Commissioner Jason Miller said Rowland loved to talk about politics and was always open to listen to ideas from others.

“He had so much life experience and loved getting to share that with others,” Miller said. “He was always someone you could go to for advice.”

Miller said despite having accomplished so much in his life, including being a two-time U.S. Senate candidate, Rowland rarely ever talked about himself or his accomplishments.

“Most of the things about him I learned from reading just because he was so humble and didn’t talk much about himself,” Miller said.

Rowland was passionate about creating “unity in the community” through the 2020 census, which is how Rowland became close with Census Committee executive director and Latino liaison Guillermo Vasquez.

“He had a great view on life and was very down to earth,” Vasquez said. “Any time I was working with him, it never really felt like work.”

Vasquez said Rowland was always interested in others and helping them reach their goals.

“I joked with him once that I wanted to be the first Latino mayor of Russellville,” Vasquez said. “After that, he did everything he could to introduce me to so many different people and get me involved. All he wanted was to see me be able to reach my goal.”

Vasquez said he saw Rowland at his home two weeks before his death and talked with him about life.

“He was very comfortable with where he was in his life,” Vasquez said. “He knew what was happening to him and was very at peace that he had lived a great life.”

Vasquez said he will miss being able to talk to Rowland and will fondly remember the times they spent together.

“If I would have known two weeks ago that that would be the last time I would get to see him, I would have gone back in and made the conversation longer,” Vasquez said.

Miller said Rowland was like a grandfather figure to everyone he encountered and always offered wisdom.

Cole Coffey said Rowland always made others his priority, which was why he was so passionate about the census.

“He was a true treasure to the county,” Cole Coffey said. “He is really going to be missed.”