Clatskanie teacher, coach, all-around sportsman, humorist and good citizen Ron Puzey lost his long and courageous battle with heart disease on Friday, March 8, at Columbia Community Home Health and Hospice in Longview. He was 84 years old.
“Mr. Puzey”, “Coach” or “Ron” as he will be remembered fondly by hundreds of former students, athletes and friends spent 35 years as a teacher, coach and athletic director in the Clatskanie schools. He continued to coach after his retirement as a teacher in 1992, and later was almost always in the stands to cheer on the local teams.
His countless acts on behalf of his community included serving on the Clatskanie City Council for over a quarter of a century, active membership in the Clatskanie Kiwanis Club, and faithful stewardship through the Clatskanie Presbyterian Church, serving on numerous committees and helping to maintain the grounds until he was well into his 80s. He also served on the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission, the Northwest Oregon Area Commission on Transportation, the Columbia County Juvenile Advisory Committee, the County Alcohol Council, the Clatskanie Jaycees, and as a volunteer with the Clatskanie High School (CHS) Aspire program.
His beloved community honored him by naming Ron grand marshal of the 1992 Clatskanie Heritage Days 4th of July parade, with the City of Clatskanie’s highest honor, the Oren C. Tweet Award for Community Service, and by naming the CHS baseball field after him. He was the 3A State Athletic Director of the Year in 1992, and the Cowapa League Girls Basketball Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1995. He was recognized as one of the 101 Sports Heroes for the Lower Columbia Region.
A third generation Clatskanie resident, Ronald Jerome Puzey was born on Sept. 20, 1934 in Clatskanie to Jerome and Bernice Erickson Puzey. For most of his childhood, Ron’s father served as mayor of the town. A self-described “athletic nut,” young Ron excelled in all sports. By his senior year in high school he was first team all-league in football and baseball, second team all-league in basketball, and all-league in track, tying for first place in the league in high jump.
After graduating from CHS in 1952, Ron enrolled in Pacific University where he majored in physical education with minors in science and social studies. He also played four years of college football and baseball, and one year of basketball. After graduation he played one year of football with the semi-pro Portland Thunderbirds. In 2017 he was inducted into the Pacific University Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 1952 undefeated Northwest Conference championship football team.
By the beginning of the 1956-57 school year, the young college grad was back in his home town with a job as a 7th grade teacher. The next year he moved to 8th grade. For the next four years, the young bachelor - driving a 1958 white Thunderbird convertible with turquoise interior - taught Clatskanie’s 8th graders and also coached flag football, basketball, baseball and girls and boys track. He earned an extra $100 a year for his coaching.
In 1961 he and the former Alice Smith were married. The day after their wedding, as the bride and groom were passing through Tillamook on their honeymoon, he suggested they stop by the baseball field where the semi-pro team of which he was a member was playing. It happened that the team’s pitcher was injured so Ron took the mound. The game went to 10 innings, with Ron’s team finally achieving a 4-3 victory. Alice, he said, was not particularly a sports fan when they first married, but she wasn’t “anti-sports either.” That was a very good thing.
Not long after their marriage, the Puzeys decided to try life outside of Clatskanie. They moved to Sunnyside, Wash. where Ron taught 8th grade for a year before returning to his hometown and resuming his former position. In 1966-67, Ron moved to CHS as a full-time counselor, and later added the duties of athletic director. In 1968, he earned his master’s degree from the University of Oregon. He served as head basketball coach from 1966 until 1977, taking two teams to the state tournament in 1968 and 1976.
His love for a joke and his often incisive witticisms continued until the end of his life. In assessing one of his basketball teams, he once told The Chief editor: “We’re short, but….. we’re slow!”
Ron retreated from head coaching duties when his sons were in school, but he continued coaching freshman boys basketball throughout most of the 1980s and also assisted with football, baseball and track. In 1989, he assumed the girls varsity basketball coaching position - a job he continued after his retirement from teaching until 1998, taking the 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 teams to the state tournament. Girls, he said, were somewhat different to coach than boys. “They catch on faster, forget sooner, and they notice what I wear!”
During his long career Ron coached over 700 basketball games, 250 football games, plus countless summer league, Little League and American Legion baseball games. He continued to participate for many years in men’s basketball, baseball, fast pitch softball, and finally, slow pitch, until, he said with his trademark humor, “Now, I’m just slow.”
As well as participating and watching athletics, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, clam digging, and listening to music. He continued to golf with friends until a few months before his death.
In addition to hundreds of friends, Ron is survived by his wife Alice, sons Craig and Kevin, grandsons Tyler and Colten, granddaughters Stephanie Harrott and Nicole Wolbert, and great grandsons Ryker and Logan Wolbert and Tanner Harrott.
A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. in the Clatskanie High School gymnasium, with a reception following in the commons.
The family suggests contributions to the CHS Athletic Fund, through the Clatskanie Foundation, PO Box 243, Clatskanie, OR 97016 or Clatskanie Kiwanis Club, PO Box 1095, Clatskanie, OR 97016.