From the time they started school, Rick Dronen challenged his sons Kevin and Jason to make a new friend every day.
That simple suggestion embodied the way Rick Dronen lived life, and reflected the importance he placed on community, friends said.
A passionate supporter of youth soccer and Skyview High School sports, Rick Dronen died unexpectedly on March 10 at his Vancouver home. He had turned 46 years old five days earlier.
According to his wife of 26 years, Denice, the cause of death is unknown. It might be several more weeks before results of an autopsy are available.
Whether he was helping to lead the Salmon Creek Soccer Club, supporting Skyview athletes, or helping to get truck-building plants up and running, Dronen’s focus was on building positive relationships.
“He’s one of the most caring and loving individuals who I’ve ever met,” said Robin Grove, a former president of Salmon Creek Soccer Club. “He cared so much and stayed with the soccer club long after his sons stopped playing.”
A 1980 graduate of Prairie High School, Dronen lived in Vancouver for most of his life. He was a volunteer for a dozen years with Salmon Creek Soccer Club — long after his sons had stopped playing soccer — filling a variety of roles from equipment manager to club president.
“He loved the people. He loved to be involved in his community. He was caring,” Denice Dronen said, explaining why her husband dedicated so many years to the soccer club.
Rick Dronen helped start Salmon Creek Soccer Club’s advanced-competition wing. F.C. Salmon Creek was established in 2004. He also was instrumental in the partnership with Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation to build soccer fields at Felida Park, and helped to move forward the club’s plan to build an artificial turf field at H.B. Fuller Park, a project that is in the fund raising stage.
Roger Snoey, another former Salmon Creek Soccer Club president, said that Dronen’s work as the club treasurer was vital. Dronen took it upon himself to establish proper accounting procedures for the club, Snoey said. And he grew the club’s reserve funds to more than $100,000, money that was vital to the Felida Park project, Snoey said.
Dronen was also a consistent volunteer on game days, helping to prepare fields and address problems, Snoey said.
“Whatever it took to make that program run well, he did it,” Snoey said. “He was one of those people who gave and gave of himself.”
Grove, who has been friends with the Dronens for almost three decades, said one of Rick’s great strengths was his ability to attract volunteers to the program.
“For non-profits, it can be very hard to attract the volunteers to get the work done. He brought the volunteers on board to make sure we could accomplish what we needed to,” Grove said.
Snoey called Dronen “a great problem solver,” both at the soccer fields on game days and as a board member who found resources to help improve Salmon Creek Soccer Club.
Dronen worked for Daimler Trucks (formerly Freightliner) for 25 years. A manufacturing development engineer, Dronen oversaw plant construction projects in the Mexican towns Saltillo and Santiago.
In addition to the job, Denice said her husband immersed himself in the communities where he worked. That included organizing soccer games for employees.
“The United States and Mexico are both mourning a great person,” Denice said.
Denice said that Rick always loved soccer.
But Rick Dronen’s influence went far beyond soccer. He and Denice were active in the Skyview High School booster club while their sons were students. For several years they ran the concession stand for volleyball and basketball events, and have been enthusiastic supporters of Skyview football.
Jim Condon, now in his seventh year as the athletic director at Skyview, said that during his first two years at the school Rick and Denice were deeply involved members of the Skyview community.
At the end of his second year at the school, Condon selected Rick and Denice for recognition as the Skyview athletics volunteers of the year.
“They were those dream parents who say ‘Tell us what we can do,’ ” Condon said.
In recent years, the Daimler Trucks construction projects in Mexico meant more travel for Dronen, But Denice said Rick recently suggested they again ramp up their community involvement, perhaps through Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
“He’s just missed,” Denice said.
She said the hundreds of people who attended his March 15 funeral, and who have expressed their gratitude and sympathy to the family, are a tribute to the way her husband lived.
“I was just so overwhelmed with the number of people who’s lives he touched in different ways,” she said.