CARLSBORG — While Gabriel Martin Rygaard is gone, the memory of his kindness, his accomplishments and his legacy will live on in the memory of those who knew and loved him, his family said Saturday during a Celebration of Life memorial at King’s Way Foursquare Church near Carlsborg.
Rygaard — a logger, reality TV star, former Clallam County commissioner candidate and father of three children — died Sept. 16 in a three-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles. He was 45.
He was featured for nine seasons on History Channel’s recently canceled reality TV series “Ax Men,” and ran as a Republican in the primary election for the District 2 commission seat and did not advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
More than 300 area residents and visitors attended the memorial to offer their condolences to the Rygaard family, and to cry and laugh as they heard stories of Rygaard’s life shared by those who knew him best.
The sanctuary was packed with well-wishers, with some standing in the aisles and along the walls, and others outside watching via closed cable television.
The attendees “have blessed my soul today, to be here,” said Craig Rygaard, Gabe Rygaard’s father, during the service.
“Let’s talk about” Gabriel Rygaard, and “tell some stories. There are 100 stories I could tell you about the generosity of that man that no one would know [anything] about.”
Katy Sotebeer-Rygaard, his widow, shared a special memory about one of her first dates with her deceased husband.
“Most of you know one of his strongest traits was his generous kind heart,” she said.
“I think from the time that he awoke to the time he attempted to fall asleep at night he was always pondering what he was going to do for somebody else.”
She said he was known for giving the shirt off his back to those in need.
“I actually got to witness that firsthand,” Sotebeer-Rygaard said.
“Back in the summer of 2003, shortly after we met, Gabe came to Bonney Lake to visit me. We just hung out at my home and watched movies and snuggled on the couch.”
Before Gabriel Rygaard left to return home to Port Angeles, “I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled up on his neck and took a deep breath of his amazing cologne,” Sotebeer-Rygaard said.
“He smelled so good. I told him that. He didn’t skip a beat, he ripped” off his shirt and gave it to her.
“After I took it I closed the door and [realized], he was driving all the way home with no shirt on,” she concluded, to raucous laughter.
“He did everything with great passion. He worked, and played and loved with great passion and he was larger than life.”
Jason Rygaard, Gabriel Rygaard’s younger brother, also shared a story of his brother.
Holding his brother’s favorite Seahawks sweatshirt, he said “every Blue Friday for probably 10 years he wore this shirt. I was wearing this shirt” the Friday he died.
“I was looking forward to seeing my brother so I could tell him, guess what … you lost all that stinkin’ weight and your little brother is wearing your sweatshirt because you left it in my truck.”
That conversation never happened.
Rygaard was a certified master logger and co-owner-operator of Rygaard Logging, Inc., of Port Angeles, operated with his brother, Jason, and his son Aden; owner of Ryfield Properties, Inc., of Port Angeles; and Penny Creek Rock Quarry of Quilcene.
Craig Rygaard said his son was a hard working man who was a leader among men.
“He had this unbelievable way of getting things organized, carrying out that plan that he had in his head, but he also did the work,” Craig Rygaard said.
“He wasn’t going to just ride on dad’s ticket. There was no way. That was not the kind of man he was.”
Craig Rygaard said that once, years ago, he and his other son, Jason, “ran into some big trouble,” and asked Gabriel to take over their logging company.
“There is nothing wrong with saying that Gabe saved my company once,” Craig Rygaard said, “and then he took it and put it where it is today. It just makes me proud. It always has.”
His son was “generous, kind [and] driven to a fault,” Craig Rygaard continued.
“I loved that boy all my life, through thick and thin. There have been a couple of times him and I have been up against the wall. I am so fortunate to have known him, and I know all the secrets. I still loved to be with him.”
The day Rygaard was killed was also the 11th birthday of his son Tucker.
No one else in the wreck was injured.
He is survived by his wife, Katy Rygaard; daughter Trilby Bowe; sons Tucker Rygaard and Aiden Rygaard; his parents, Craig and Kathy Rygaard, his grandmother, Ann Dewey; his brother, Jason (Adrianne) Rygaard; his brothers-in-law, Eric (Susan) Sotebeer, Craig (Maria) Sotebeer and Brian (Cheryl) Sotebeer; his sisters-in-law, Joelle (John) Heikkila and Beth (Dave) Hoien; his parents-in-law, Carolynn and Earle Irvine, and Steve and Elaine Sotebeer; and many nieces and nephews.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].