Man of many talents: Remembering Drew Knowles
Tragedy struck on July 26 this year when Drew Knowles of Mount Vernon, Oregon died in a car accident on the way home from a fishing trip. Drew is survived by his wife of ten years, Jessica, and their three sons, Charley, Jack and Cody; his mother, Sally; his brother, Trevor, and sister-in-law, Jena.
Drew was a man of many talents, whose main happiness in life was raising his children and carrying out his dream of owning a ranch. His brother, Trevor, said, “Family was everything to him. Starting his own was the most important thing to him.” Trevor, the elder by two years, said that he and his brother were tight-knit from childhood. Their father, Jeff, dealt with several bouts of cancer while the boys were growing up. They found solace in each other and the time they spent on their grandparents’ ranch.
Trevor was a 13-time National Finals Rodeo qualifying steer wrestler, but said his little brother was even more talented. “He was handier than me. Head, heel, rope calves, bull dog, rope horses, shoe horses, weld, mechanic, carpenter, pack, an endless list. I pursued the rodeo career steer wrestling. He didn’t really want to rodeo. He could’ve done any event he wanted but he just decided he didn’t want to travel.” Drew and Trevor rodeoed throughout high school and college together until Drew went to farrier school and Trevor began his professional rodeo career.
From the start their career paths had a larger purpose. “When my brother and I were little we always wanted to ranch together. We were old enough to understand what was going on. Our ranch wasn’t going to be big enough,” Trevor said. Drew worked in various trades, like shoeing horses and calving for the nearby Oxbow Ranch, while Trevor made a career out of his steer wrestling ability. It was all for the common goal of owning their own spread, which they worked toward for 15 years.
For Drew, ranching was a constant. Another constant in his life was his longtime friend and high school sweetheart, who would become his wife. Jessica and Drew were married in 2009 on the same Oxbow Ranch. Drew’s funeral was also held there, making the ranch very special to the family.
Drew and Jessica’s story seems like a fairy tale. “I never thought for a second about spending my life with anyone else, even for the years we weren’t dating. Every shooting star I can ever remember, it was always the same wish. We just always knew,” Jessica said. “I feel like if you were going to write a book, you wouldn’t even have to add all these literary elements to our story. They were already there in real life.”
Their three sons – the oldest is 12 – were as involved with Drew’s work as possible, helping on the ranch and traveling with him as he shoed horses. Drew was also an involved coach in their youth wrestling club. Their sons were getting older and it was difficult for Jessica to be away from home, so in November she made the decision to part with her job as a CPA to be on the ranch full-time. She said, “I was so very grateful for that decision. We were on our way. I was going to start learning and doing everything I could around here. That’s where we were wanting to be.”
“I literally could have done anything, anywhere, with him. I always say that was his dream, so, therefore, that was my dream, too. We wanted to be together with the family and have a simple life so we could be together,” Jessica said.
Around the same time Jessica decided to stay home full-time, Jeff Knowles died. “It really has kind of felt like the twilight zone all year,” said Jessica. Drew and Jessica worked side by side through the winter and spring, doing Drew’s favorite work which was calving out cows. The time together was even more special because of the rawness of grief that they were experiencing.
The Knowles family has taken several blows recently. “I’ve lost my grandma, my grandpa, my dad and my brother in the last year and a half. It’s been a little bit rough,” Trevor said. What was difficult after the passing of Jeff has now become even more difficult with the passing of Drew. Jessica said, “[Trevor] carries a heavy load anyways. He’s always trying to take care of everyone.”
Drew’s outgoing personality contrasted with his older brother’s cautious one, but the two were the best of friends. “It was a good mix. We were nothing alike, but we knew exactly how the other one thought. He made everything a lot of fun. Whether we were fencing, or carpentering, or pulling a calf in a blizzard, you just laughed all day,” he said. Similarly, Jessica says that her husband’s personality complemented her own, and he had a way of facilitating work, whether it be a branding, using his hound dogs to hunt cougars, or helping a neighbor in the mechanic shop.
As the family looks to the future, they plan to carry on Drew’s life’s work. Trevor’s rodeo career has slowed but he still entered Pendleton this year. “I mean, I’m not going to say I’m retired. I just feel like I’m in a position that no one needs to be in. I have a role to take over. I feel like I’ve accomplished all I need to and it’s not really about me anymore.” Trevor took his nephews to a junior rodeo over Labor Day weekend. Trevor and his wife, Jena, are expecting a baby girl this December.
Trevor said, “When Dad died, that was obviously a pretty hard hit for all of us. His last words were, ‘Be a man.’ He was pretty straight to the point. It was hard to understand what that means, but I fully understand it now. I’m not going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I’m going to honor my brother and I’s dream we had since we were little kids and make this ranch take off like it was supposed to. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be here to see it. It’ll be there for my kids and his kids. Hopefully, they’ll want a ranch someday and they’ll understand the sacrifices it took.”