Remembering a life well-lived |

Remembering a life well-lived

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado – Memories are the scrapbook of a life well-lived and it’s through remembering that loved ones will live on.

Many members of the Rifle community gathered at the United Methodist-Presbyterian Church in the heart of Rifle to say farewell to Orval Laverne Sowder. For more than 52 years he was and will always remain, in memory, a pillar of the tight-knit community.

“We come together today to say good-bye to a loved one,” said Reverend Rich Stokes. “The memories we have of him will forever be with us. We will always remember the way he touched our lives.”

To say that Orval “touched” many lives during his 85 years does not begin to express the impact which he had on his community.

Orval’s shoulder gathered thousands of tears over 36 years as the director of the Sowder Funeral Home in Rifle. He was a friend to so many during their time of need, as was evident on Wednesday.

“[The Sowders] were dedicated people to their craft,” Stokes said. “They brought dignity and grace to so many lives. … They were always there when we needed them.”

So many may have only one memory of Orval, but it’s that memory that illustrates Orval’s kindness and compassionate nature. He made a career of being there for people during their time of loss.

Not only did Orval serve as mortician for the community for many years, “He deeply integrated himself into the life of this community,” Stokes said.

“He was so modest, and cared so much about people. Not only at our time of need, but all during our lives,” Stokes said.

That is why Orval will be so missed, by so many.

Orval passed at his home in Rifle on April 1. He and his wife, Jennie, were married for 63 years. The couple called Rifle home since moving there in September 1957, after buying the old Rifle Funeral Home. They operated the Sowder Funeral Home until 1993.

Orval was born on his grandfather’s ranch in Deuel County, Nebraska on Oct. 3, 1924. After graduating from high school, Orval served in the U.S. Army during WWII, as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

Upon his return to the states, he married Jennie in Denver. He interned as a mortician in Denver before attending the College of Mortuary Science in St. Louis, Mo. The couple then moved to Monte Vista where Orval worked as a mortician’s assistant for a while before learning of the opportunity in Rifle.

Being there for his neighbors during their time of loss is only half of Orval’s story.

Orval was active in a number of community organizations including the Masonic Lodge, the American Legion, Eastern Star, the Odd Fellows, and the Rebekahs.

Many members of the local community organizations of which he was a member were present at Wednesday’s service, including members of the local Lions Club, and members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Rifle Post. Both of which, Orval was an active member for many years.

Nearly the entire battalion of the Rifle Fire Protection District, of which Orval was once chief, and a volunteer of for over 23 years, attended Wednesday’s service. Each dressed head to toe in dress blues – A black band across their badges in honor.

Smiles outnumbered the tears until a voice crackled over a walkie-talkie calling for Chief Sowder.

“Rifle Fire for Chief Sowder…,” the voice called, followed only by silence.

Current Fire Chief Mike Morgan headed the Ceremony of Last Call for Orval, where three sets of three rings of the fire bell signified the fireman’s final call home. His duty complete.

Orval was, and will forever be, a staple in this community.

Stokes quoted Orval, from a journal of sorts, that summed up the way he felt about death.

“Do not miss me when I’m gone, but be thankful for who I am,” Stokes said.

A final memory for his family and friends to add to the scrapbook of a life well-lived.

It’s in the memories that Orval will live on, and will forever be a part of the Rifle community.

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