John Halberg, 80, founder of the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association and a Clallam County Community Service Award recipient, suffered an apparent heart attack during his morning workout on an ergometer, or rowing machine. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Rowing association’s John Halberg felled by apparent heart attack during workout

John Halberg died doing what he loved.

Halberg, founder of the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association and a longtime community volunteer, suffered an apparent heart attack last week during his morning workout on an ergometer, or rowing machine, said his wife, Betty Halberg.

He was 80.

A celebration of life is being planned, his family said.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Halberg’s name to the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association, www.oprarowing.org.

In 2012, Halberg received a Clallam County Community Service Award for being the “enthusiastic co-founder and inventive leader” of the rowing association.

Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd remembered being enthralled as a young girl by a strapping, 18-year-old Halberg water-skiing barefoot at Lake Crescent, where he spent his childhood summers.

Halberg shared his love of the outdoors and passion for rowing with youth and seniors alike, Kidd said.

“His passion was so contagious,” Kidd said.

“He just spent his life making our town, our community, a better place for all of us in many ways.”

While the rowing club was Halberg’s focus in his later years, he had touched many lives through his community service in Joyce and Port Angeles, said son Sean Halberg and daughter Kristin Halberg.

John Halberg served for 20 years on the Crescent School Board, coached youth sports and volunteered at Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Port Angeles.

“He really cared about helping people and their health and well-being,” Kristin Halberg said.

Sean and Kristin described their father as “caring,” “passionate,” “optimistic” and “very kind.”

Betty Halberg said her husband “wanted people to become the best that they could be.”

“John’s passing is huge loss for this community and for his family, who shared him with all of us,” said Cheryl Baumann, a founding member of the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association.

“I think John had a spirit of generosity and unsurpassed kindness, which we don’t see often enough these days.”

In 2012, Halberg recruited Rodrigo Rodrigues, a Brazilian rower with a history of international success, as a coach for the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association.

Rodrigues helped build the club’s junior program and coached the likes of Sequim’s Elise Beuke, who placed seventh at the World Junior Championships in 2015 and earned a scholarship to row at the University of Washington.

Halberg himself was a member of the legendary UW crew team — class of 1958 —and later coached freshmen crew at rival University of California–Berkeley.

In 1972, Halberg returned to his native Port Angeles, where he worked in commercial real estate.

“He always loved the outdoors and he always shared that with everyone,” Kidd said.

Throughout his life, Halberg was driven by his goals and was steadfast in “pushing our community forward,” Kidd said.

“John will be dearly missed, but he has left a legacy here that has impacted our our community,” said Kidd, who added that Halberg’s legacy is one of community spirit, personal achievement and working together.

While he aspired to generate world-class athletes through the rowing club, Halberg also relished the victories of introducing non-athletic types to the sport, Baumann said.

Baumann added that John and Betty Halberg, who used their own resources to launch the rowing club, “showed people how to age gracefully and actively.”

“They’re both fabulous roles models for a lot of us,” Baumann said.

Baumann described John Halberg as a “gentle giant in terms of his kindness and his vision and his passion.”

“We don’t see people of that stature every day,” Baumann said.

“I feel blessed to gave gotten to know him and row with him and learn from him.”

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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