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Outside the Spotlight: Doug Sokol is gone, but his spirit endures 

Sokol behind the board at the barnDriving the road into Pine Meadow Ranch is as close to a fuzzy postcard scene as you're ever going

click to enlarge Sokol behind the board at the barn
  • Sokol behind the board at the barn
Sokol behind the board at the barn
Driving the road into Pine Meadow Ranch is as close to a fuzzy postcard scene as you're ever going to find in this region. This time of year the trees are exploding in oranges and light reds as Whychus Creek runs calmly under the wooden bridge that leads to the ranch. It's quiet - even as the wind whips down the eastern slopes of the Cascades and against the side of an 80-plus-year-old barn. And this is the place that Doug Sokol devoted much of the last year of his life toward and it's a barn that caught the eye of the entire town of Sisters.

Doug had been hosting musical events in the barn on his family's ranch, many of them loosely organized, for almost 20 years, but it was last year that he and Rebecca, his soon-to-be-wife, made a full effort to transform the barn into a music venue with a state-of-the-art sound system and enough room for a couple hundred revelers. People came to the shows featuring well-known regional and local acts and soon Doug and Rebecca were getting a call nearly every day from musicians inquiring about booking a show. But soon the Barn, as it's known, ran up against the county officials, who said that the venue was not properly zoned for for-profit events and the shows subsided. It was a blow to the local music community, but nothing like what would follow.


Only a few months later, the Barn's creator was dead.

Doug Sokol's death is shrouded in mystery - he was found barefoot at the bottom of a roughly 100-foot cliff a few miles from his home. But Sokol left little mystery in the legacy he left behind. It's a story of a husband, father, friend and a man who cared little for the spotlight, but nonetheless touched the people in his community. And in the end, his story plays like a quintessentially Americana slideshow - a man devoted to family, music and all around beauty.

Doug's mother, Dorro Sokol, is 82 years old and lives in a home on the other end of the ranch - about a five-minute walk from Rebecca and Doug's home. Having served on the Sisters planning commission for a number of years and still active in Rotary, Dorro is a Stanford graduate from an era when women at the university had yet to become commonplace. She still flies her twin-engine Bonanza plane that she keeps at the Sisters Airport and has a sharp wit and a no-BS attitude - which isn't to say she's not friendly. But she's as tough as any 82-year-old woman you're likely to meet and has a real-life cowgirl attitude that fits nicely with the Western motif of her home.

Drawings of horses cover much of the walls in the living room and a deer head protrudes from above the fireplace-which she says is one of eight in the home. On the mantle is the card from Doug's June memorial and a 10-inch tall stack of sympathy cards sit on a nearby baby grand player piano. Dorro speaks surprisingly matter-of-factly about her son, painting a picture of a boy with a unique touch with horses and an inspired young man who seemed to have music running through his veins. She recalls how Doug used the ranch as his "headquarters" while at the University of Oregon, where he played in a band.

"I had to wear earplugs whenever I saw them play. It was...what do you call it? Rap music?" Dorro says, turning to Rebecca.

"I don't think they had rap back then," Rebecca says, smiling warmly. "That was probably rock and roll."

click to enlarge From pony rider to pony tailed.
  • From pony rider to pony tailed.
From pony rider to pony tailed.One of the bands included Kelly Howard, the notable Portland-based guitar collector and owner of Apple Music Row, with whom Doug built a life-long relationship that blossomed out of the pair's shared musical interests while living out in Prairie City. Although the two were separated geographically for most of their lives, Howard says they had a unique friendship and shared much in common, including the ponytails both men maintained throughout adulthood. During college, Howard would call Doug during vacations to see if he could play a few gigs with his band, and usually Doug would take the opportunity to pick up the bass and fill in. After graduating from college, Doug moved to Hawaii and got a job in a pizza parlor, which was the beginning of a life-long affinity for the islands.

"When you meet one good person like Doug, it makes life worth living," Howard says from his Portland music shop on a Friday afternoon. "Doug had more energy than most people. No matter what we did in life, whether it was driving sports cars or playing music, he put all his creativity into it."

Sitting on a couch she says she's had since Doug was born, Dorro looks sternly across the room, but her face cracks to a smile and she begins recalling a time when Doug was young and couldn't be found. Doug was soon spotted asleep under a tree next to his also slumbering Shetland pony. Doug's sister, Evangeline Sokol, a Portland physician affirms the story with the exact detail of her mother's account, saying that Doug was probably only four years old when this happened. This is almost unbelievable, especially by today's paranoid child-watching standards, but eventually it fits perfectly into the narrative of the Sokol children (Doug had two other sisters in addition to Evangeline) and their upbringing is probably early evidence of the fierce independent streak that ran through much of the man's life. After moving to the sparsely populated Prairie City from California when Doug was about 10, the children grew up on a massive ranch without television, but with plenty of work to be done and plenty of acreage to explore. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for the young children to leave on their ponies in the morning and not return until late in the afternoon.

"I don't think I've ever been bored in my life and I would say the same for Doug," Evangeline says.

click to enlarge Alone, but not a loner.
  • Alone, but not a loner.
Alone, but not a loner. Judging from Doug's later life, it doesn't seem like he had time for boredom. He had devoted a good decade of his life to the residential development on the north end of the ranch while also staying busy with other projects, most notably the Barn. Rebecca recalls how Doug was a tireless worker, but would oftentimes steal away into the wilderness for a run, a mountain bike ride, or just to be alone.

"He had a loner side. But he loved people. It wasn't that he was a loner in a sad way or anything like that, he just sometimes needed to get away and recharge," Rebecca says. It wasn't odd, she says, for Doug to disappear for an hour or two, but he was always in touch with Rebecca before too much time would pass. But on a day in late June, Rebecca didn't get a call as she waited in Bend for Doug to meet her for lunch.

"Maybe he was having trouble with his truck-that's what I was thinking. It wasn't like he would disappear and not come home for hours, but there was no phone service out by the river, so I guessed he just might have been out there," Rebecca says, recalling the afternoon that Doug disappeared.

The next day, Rebecca was in what she describes as a panic and soon found someone with a small plane to help her look for Doug after she had already called police. Doug's vehicle was soon found, and eventually they located his body. The fact that he wasn't wearing shoes when he was found might seem like an odd tidbit, but Evangeline finds this wholly unremarkable. "He loved to go barefoot. It wasn't uncommon for him to take off his shoes," she says. The location of Doug's death was familiar to him - a place he'd taken Rebecca before and a spot where his sister says he would go to meditate.

"We were just overlooking this incredible view and he said, 'Do you like my office?'" Rebecca recalls of the first time Doug took her to the peaceful spot south of Sisters overlooking Whychus Creek with the Cascades in the distance.

Rebecca is tall and thin, almost always smiling and contagiously upbeat. Walking on a dirt road that runs through the ranch, she smiles and attempts to hold her strawberry blonde hair in place as a sturdy afternoon wind rips across the hayfields on the other side of the fence. She is talking about her and Doug's wedding on Maui this past March - and she perks up when she remembers the hours before the wedding when she and her husband-to-be were on the beach. Time was running down, but Doug wanted to stick it out and see how long they could push it before they absolutely had to get ready.

"Rushing through life really made him nervous, he didn't like rushing at all," Rebecca says.

Doug maybe didn't rush through life, but he also didn't slack around during the 57 years he spent on the planet. After the first stint in Hawaii, Doug went to work with his father at a vineyard in California before eventually returning to Oregon. During this time, he and his first wife, Phyllis, played music together and also raised two daughters. Along the way he maintained a busy list of interests ranging from archery to horses to a deep spiritual faith to, of course, music. Some Sisters residents might remember him for the Pine Meadow Village residential development that Doug and a group of other family members created on the family property.

The development, for the most part, is a somewhat typical Central Oregon collection of mountain-style homes and commercial space, except for the mountain views outside of each window and the water feature that runs through the neighborhood. "Water feature" might bring to mind a Home Depot fountain, but what Doug created in the development was a creek that flowed through the neighborhood, culminating in a number of ponds. Unnecessary? Quite possibly, but it seems that it was probably necessary for a beauty junky like Doug - a man his late wife describes as a man "deeply concerned with aesthetics."

"He always said that he wanted to create beauty. Whether it was music or building or even in the garden," Rebecca says.

In a way, the Pine Meadow Village development wasn't necessarily complete in Doug's eyes. He had aspirations to exand the development, but these plans, however, were no longer in the cards after Measure 49 was passed about a year ago, which reaffirmed some of the state and local land use restrictions on rural development.

In Doug's home office, his desk seems largely untouched and a map of the development covers much of an entire wall. Aside from some equipment that had been removed from his home recording studio, it seems like Doug could be home at any moment. Four months after his death, his shoes are still sitting by the door and his MG sports car remains in the garage. But next to the car is what is best described as an obnoxious amount of speakers; super high end, PA style equipment. It's the bulk of the speaker system that was recently removed from the Barn and is now for sale.

They're downsizing the sound, Rebecca says, adding that the original system was, as Doug agreed, more than the room needed. Standing in the middle of the Barn, there's a strange sense of Doug's presence as sunlight pours through windows, highlighting the wooden interior of the space that local musician Brent Alan once said made him feel like he was playing inside of a guitar.

On a personal note, it was the Barn that first led me to Doug. I was working on a story about the venue and had been trying to track Doug down for a quote or two about his project. I remember two things about Doug from that story: he was incredibly hard to get a hold of and he was one of the most humble people I'd ever interviewed. When I finally got in touch with him I suppose our 20-minute chat was largely unremarkable. But there was something that stood out about him and it came when he said this: "I've always liked putting things like this together."

On the phone he was sincere albeit somewhat shy and it was easy to glean that being interviewed for a newspaper article wasn't necessarily that appealing to him. He liked, as he said, putting things together, but it never seemed for a minute that he was doing it for recognition or anything of that nature. It was more like he was a guy who loved music, had a big-ass barn, and took the next logical step - create a music venue.

The venue is still there - its future somewhat uncertain, but Rebecca wants to figure out a way to keep music in the Barn. She knows that's what Doug wanted and perhaps it's the stories from the Barn that were meant to fill the tragically blank pages that Doug left the day he disappeared. On a late fall afternoon, Rebecca looks into the sunlit barn as she leans against the door.

"You know, he never put himself into the limelight. He was kind of a background person, but it was really hard not to notice him," she says.

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