Local leader leaves legacy of altruism


NEWPORT — If there was one thing that Rex Krabbe loved most, it was supporting education and helping people. His commitment to those two pursuits not only shaped his life, but left an impression everywhere he went.

They also led him to his wife, Natalie, who partnered with him in many of his altruistic endeavors. Rex was the first son born to Russian homesteaders and Natalie was a first generation Russian emigree, but what led to their lifelong marriage was their shared values.

“Their discussions when they were dating were about philosophical structure — what did they believe?” said Virginia Tardaewether, daughter of Rex and Natalie. “They had a fabulous relationship because they philosophically had similar beliefs. Like, both families were dedicated to education.”

The two became educators, and later found themselves ready to move their families and change their lives for their beliefs. Though the two lived on the family’s homestead in Colorado, when their superintendent began changing the district curriculum to pull focus away from getting kids into college, they left on principle.

“They came home, they said ‘we quit our jobs today. Where would you guys like to live?’” recalled Tardaewether. “It was very cool … that was so weird for us (as kids).”

Soon after, Natalie and Rex were hired by the Lincoln County School District and moved to the coast.

“When we got here in ‘67, we embraced the community. We went to the tidepools, we went clamming, we went crabbing, we went fishing — we just became marine people,” Tardaewether explained, laughing. “From dryland farmers to marine people, it’s just really funny.”

She went on to explain that the library was a key piece of how they learned to do all of these things, that her parents were encouraging of checking out books to learn new skills.

A little while after arriving in Lincoln County, Rex found himself looking for an outlet through which to serve his community. He decided in 1985 that — in addition to his teaching career, raising his children and the time he spent designing and building their family home — he would join the Toledo Rotary Club. In 1987, he became director of the Lincoln County Foundation board and retired from teaching. So, to fill more time, he ran for the Zone 4 chair on the Oregon Community College Service District, where he served 28 years on the board. He also served as president of the Oregon Community College Association.

“His entire life he gave back to the community,” said Tardaewether. “They both worked 50-hour weeks or 60-hour weeks and then did all this other stuff, too.”

One of his big points of pride was the transformation that LCF went through while he worked on it. In his personal autobiography, he wrote that the foundation had approximately $100,000 in assets when he took over as secretary/treasurer in 1990; it had $3.5 million when he left the position in 2012.

But his great labor of love was the community college.

“It’s so funny, what Daddy saved,” said Tardaewether, looking over a collection of her father’s newspaper clippings. “He was so proud that we had a college, that we made it happen, that it got accredited, that it got buildings.”

In all of it, Rex was in the pursuit of serving his family and his fellow man, no matter what their story was. He and Natalie were committed to humanism both financially and practically.

“Everyone was welcome in their home, and they lived that (humanist) life,” said Tardaewether. “So it was very honoring for people to be their child, because you knew that it didn’t matter who you brought home — and my brothers and I brought home all sorts of people of all walks of life. And they were always welcome, and they always sat around the dinner table with us.”

Natalie and Rex fostered a teenager so that she could finish high school in the area, they also would go out to feed volunteers at the Yaquina Bay cleanup.

The commitment to supporting and creating community outlives Rex and Natalie in a tradition their children and grandchildren are carrying on: Russian Orthodox Easter.

“We don’t do it particularly as a Christian thing, as a celebration of spring and life and friendship,” said Tardaewether. “Because once you’ve come to Russian Easter, you can bring people to Russian Easter … all the grandkids grew up with that tradition, they all helped make Russian Easter happen every year of their life. All of the kids, and me and my brothers, it’s part of who we are.”

The last wishes of Rex Krabbe were to be with his wife, and for others to serve his community: that a portion of his ashes be buried alongside Natalie’s in the family plot, and that anyone who would like to contribute in his memory can do so to the Toledo Rotary Club, care of LCF treasurer Carol Ruggeri, 1121 S. Spruce Way, Newport, OR 97365.

“If we had 10 percent of people in every community like him, life would be a lot better,” said Tardaewether.

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