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Former Press Democrat high school sports reporter Herb Dower dies at 88

Herb Dower, a former Press Democrat reporter who for three decades brought great care, precision and thoroughness to covering high school sports throughout the region, has died.

An athlete himself and an exacting newsman no less committed to prep sports than newsroom colleagues were to reporting on government or education or business, Dower died at his longtime Sebastopol home on Oct. 29. He was 88.

From 1961 through 1990, Dower was renowned at North Coast high schools as a sports writer who showed up reliably at football, basketball and baseball games, track-and-field competitions and other sports events. He kept meticulous records and, as former longtime Montgomery High School of Santa Rosa baseball coach Russ Peterich put it, “He told it like it was.”

Tom Bonfigli, who coached basketball at Santa Rosa’s Cardinal Newman High for more than 30 years and now is at Petaluma’s St. Vincent de Paul, said of Dower, “He was the voice of prep sports in the Redwood Empire.”

"Sometimes his statistics were better than the coach would have,“ Bonfigli said. ”His rankings were always pretty close to right because he had such a good understanding of all the teams.“

“He was an extremely, extremely responsible, professional journalist. He was respected by everybody: coaches, players, the community.”

Bonfigli added that Dower “was more than just a person covering a game.” Dower, the coach said, ate and breathed and slept prep sports, while addressing underlying issues that affected the players and coaches on and off the field.

Bonfigli said he’s certain, too, that through his coverage Dower generated interest in high-school sports and attracted spectators to games.

“He made sports fun,” Bonfigli said.

Former Press Democrat sports editor Ralph Leef said, “Herb was totally dedicated to local sports. It was his life.”

Leef recalled that higher-ups at the newspaper asked Dower if he’d care to write some about professional Bay Area sports teams, but he wasn’t the least bit interested.

“While Dower was a kind, soft-spoken gentleman,” Leef said, “he held firm his beliefs that the newspaper should spend most, if not all, of its resources on coverage of Redwood Empire sports.

Another former Press Democrat sports writer, Bill Nichols, said, “One of the things he was most proud of was helping girls' sports blossom in the Empire. The PD hardly covered girls sports until he began keeping records and stats for their teams. He also pushed to have equal coverage for both boys' and girls' teams.”

As a younger man, Dower played basketball and fast-pitch softball. He was a great supporter of Santa Rosa’s former, nationally acclaimed Guanella Bros. softball team.

Herbert Evan Dower was born in 1932 in Negaunee, Michigan. His family moved to Sonoma County when he was 4 or 5 years old.

He attended public schools in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, and in 1950 graduated from Sebastopol’s Analy High. He then studied English and math at Santa Rosa Junior College and San Francisco State College.

One evening in Sebastopol in the '50s, a group of young men spoke with a group of young women at a drive-in. Herb Dower and Petaluma native Katy Lea Barr took notice of each other.

“I think right then my dad asked my mom out. That’s how the story goes,” said daughter Lea Ann Woodruff of Sebastopol. Her parents would be married 56 years.

Right out of college, Herb Dower went to work for the Sebastopol Times newspaper, predecessor to the current Sonoma West Times & News.

“I think he had to cover everything,” his daughter said.

After a few years, Dower moved to The Press Democrat and began to dig into high-school sports. Retired coach Ed Lloyd, who founded the celebrated football program at Cardinal Newman High, said that in Dower’s heyday high-school sports were a very big deal in Sonoma County.

And Dower, Lloyd said, “was a true small-town prep reporter. He took great pride in it, and he was good at it. Everybody knew Herb Dower and read his stuff.”

Each summer when the high schools shut down for the long break, Dower and his wife loaded their five kids into the Chevrolet station wagon and towed a camper trailer to national parks and other natural wonders.

Katy Dower died in 2012 at age 76.

Daughter Woodruff said that in addition to his family and prep sports, her dad loved music.

“He had a crazy amount of albums,” she said. Every night, the sports writer flipped on his turntable and savored a few of his widely varied records.

He collapsed at home on Oct. 29 with heart failure.

In addition to his daughter in Sebastopol, he is survived by his sons, Gary Dower of Santa Rosa, John Dower of Sebastopol, Thomas Dower of Forestville and Robert Dower of Brazil, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Herb Dower’s family suggests memorial contributions to the National Park Foundation at www.nationalparks.org/support.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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