Long-time rowing coach and former WWU oarsman Bill Kalenius passes away


The life of Bill Kalenius will be celebrated on the afternoon of Oct. 3.

But first, there will be some rowing.

Kalenius, the founder and president of the Vancouver Lake Crew rowing club, died on Wednesday after a six-year battle with colon cancer. He was 57.

A memorial Mass is planned for 1 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Vancouver. A public reception will follow. That morning, Vancouver Lake Crew rowers will participate in the annual Head of the Dog Regatta on the Willamette River.

"He wouldn't have wanted to have the service without going rowing first," said Will Kalenius, Bill's son.

The desire to share his passion for rowing motivated Kalenius to form the Vancouver Lake Crew in February of 2002. He remained the club's president and head coach until this summer.

"Bill had the love and the passion for the sport, and he wanted to share it with everybody and anybody," said Anita Roberts, the Vancouver Lake executive director who has coached alongside Kalenius since the club formed.

Born in Chehalis on June 7, 1952 to Pat and William Kalenius II, he was raised in Lakewood. Kalenius is survived by his parents, his wife of 35 years Mary Kay, daughter Kara Novak, and son Will Kalenius III.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to Vancouver Lake Crew, 8612 N.W. Erwin O. Rieger Memorial Highway, Vancouver, 98660.

With the help of Alan Stewart, Bill Byrd, and other rowing enthusiasts, Kalenius started the Vancouver Lake Crew in the winter of 2002 by making a pitch at area high schools.

A total of 45 high school students participated in that first season.

"We knew it would work," said Stewart, who returned to the VLC recently as the head coach for the juniors and masters programs.

Stewart noted that Vancouver Lake was long a popular place to row and race, but that the lack of property prevented a club from forming before they leased some land near where Burnt Bridge Creek enters Vancouver Lake.

It wasn't long before VLC rowers were winning regional championships and rowing at the junior nationals. In the program seven years, 25 students have gone on to row in college.

It was at Western Washington University in the early 1970s that Kalenius discovered his passion for rowing.

After competing for the Vikings, he went on to coach at the University of Puget Sound. He helped found the Olympia Area Rowing Association and was involved with rowing clubs around Puget Sound.

An accountant with a lumber company, Kalenius moved his family to the Portland area in 1987 and was active in expanding several clubs along the Willamette River.

As a competitor, his successes included winning the four consecutive lightweight doubles championships with partner Roger Payne at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta from 1980-1983. At the time, that regatta was drew all of the best rowers from the United States, Canada and Mexico, Paynbe said.

Kalenius also won a Canadian national championship in lightweight singles. He and Payne also were frequent winners at regional regattas.

"I can't even tell you how special a time that was and how special a person Bill was," Payne said.

Payne said he was traveling from Wisconsin to visit his friend when Bill died on Wednesday morning. Later Wednesday, he went rowing with Will Kalenius on Vancouver Lake.

Bill Kalenius was diagnosed in October 2003 with Stage 4 colon cancer -- three days after racing with son Will at the same Head of the Dog Regatta that will take place on the morning of his funeral. He was told he had a 5 percent chance of surviving for five years.

Through 11 rounds of chemotherapy, two radiation treatments, countless surgeries and treatment from at least nine doctors, Kalenius remained the driving force behind Vancouver Lake Crew and most days was at the lake.

When the Vancouver Lake Crew suffered significant tornado damage in January of 2008, Kalenius called on his ties within the rowing community to save the club.

Since the founding of Vancouver Lake Crew, Kalenius worked to try to find a place where the club could establish a long-term home instead of relying on a year-to-year lease. That dream came true this summer when the Vancouver Lake Crew moved to a new home just south of Vancouver Lake Park.

"His vision was to teach the youth of Clark County to row," Roberts said. "He wanted all the youth to row. Whether they could afford it or not he would find a way to help them."

Sept. 23, 2009

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Bill Kalenius, the 2009 recipient of the Western Washington University Alumni Association Community Service Recognition Award, died today following a long battle with cancer.

The 57-year-old Kalenius was director and coach of the Vancouver Lake Crew near Vancouver, Wash., which he founded in 2002. In 2007, he was voted one of the Top 10 "Most Caring" coaches by USA Today.

Kalenius, who graduated from Western in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree in accounting, rowed two years for the Vikings and then went on to join the Lake Washington Rowing Club, one of the most active clubs in the country.

After serving as a coach for clubs and schools throughout the region, Kalenius took a handful of donated boats and a passion for rowing and turned them into the Vancouver Lake Crew. So strong was the club that in 2008 when a rare tornado touched down and tore through its boathouse located on Vancouver Lake, Kalenius had his rowers back on the water within days. Many of his rowers went on to compete at the collegiate level, including at Western on its women's national championship teams.

Kalenius worked many years in the timber industry where he helped with sawmill construction and improvement projects throughout the nation.




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