2021 IN REVIEW: Cornelius icon Ralph Brown is never forgotten
One of this year's enduring mysteries revolves around a beloved community figure. Where is Ralph Brown?
The News-Times published a profile of Brown in February with the headline, "Ralph Brown is still giving." It traced the path of his career — growing up in Astoria, beginning his teaching career in Warrenton, working as a teacher, administrator and coach in the Hillsboro School District, serving as mayor of Cornelius, sitting on the Forest Grove school board, and settling into a prominent role as president of the Cornelius Booster Club.
"If you looked up public servant in the dictionary, Ralph's name would be in capital letters," Rob Drake, Cornelius' city manager, told the News-Times at the time. "He's done about everything, and he's had an impact on it all. And he just keeps giving back."
Brown told the News-Times that he did it all for the kids.
"I always wanted to be a positive influence," Brown said, "so that's what I tried to do."
But no one has seen or heard from Brown since May 16, when he left his home in Cornelius, driving off in his navy-blue Nissan Sentra for a destination unknown. Carol Brown, his wife, said Ralph told her he was "going home" before he left.
One of the Browns' adult children, Laurie Sanders, was able to reach her father by phone that evening. But he sounded confused and was unable to describe where he was.
Despite a manhunt and attempts to track Brown's cellphone, Brown nor his car have yet been found. There were several unconfirmed sightings in Newberg, Silver Falls State Park and other locations across the region, but none were ever conclusively linked to Brown, and while Brown's family, friends, community volunteers and first responders followed up on every lead, they have not been able to locate him.
In October, the News-Times profiled Ralph Brown again — this time as one of the Pamplin Community Heroes annually recognized by the newspaper for their contributions and community spirit. News-Times Editor-in-Chief Mark Miller presented Carol Brown with a framed copy of that feature story in a brief ceremony at the Forest Grove Corn Roast, thanking her and her husband for their service to the community.
"In searching since May, I've come across so many stories of how he's touched lives," said his longtime friend, Sue Fleskes. "I pray that wherever he is, he knows his impact and how much he's loved."
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