Remembering Dale Macomber
By KAITLIN STROHSCHEIN
Port Orchard Independent Reporter
August 16, 2011 · Updated 12:38 PM
His family remembers 36-year-old Dale Wayne Macomber, the son of bestselling author Debbie Macomber, as a devoted father of two who was passionate about teaching, running and helping kids with disabilities.
Dale Macomber, who his family said had been struggling with depression, was reported missing Aug. 9, and searchers found his body Thursday morning in woods near his home.
Hundreds of people attended a memorial service for him Tuesday morning at the Christian Life Center in Port Orchard.
Macomber was born in Burien in 1975 and moved with his family to Port Orchard in 1986.
He attended Marcus Whitman Junior High School, where he set records for running that still stand today, and he continued running at South Kitsap High School.
“He was a very above-average high school runner,” said Ed Santos, the athletic director for the South Kitsap School District, who was Macomber's track and cross country coach in high school. “He was great to have on our team.
"He was very committed to our program and his teammates. He trained very hard and worked very hard for the years that he ran.”
Dale also ran for his college track team, and ran marathons as an adult.
But he spent a lot of his free time and career helping people who couldn’t be as athletic.
During high school, Dale developed a close friendship with Jeremy Dirks, a classmate afflicted with muscular dystrophy.
“(Dale) made this world a place worth living for my nephew,” said Dirks' aunt, Ardith Fowler, who was his guardian during high school.
“It’s gloomy when you have a teenager hurting,” she said. “(Dale) lit up our home.”
He “took Jeremy under his wing,” Fowler said.
When the elevator stopped working at school, for example, Macomber got some of his friends to help carry Dirks in his wheelchair down the stairs.
“He was just an incredible human being,” Fowler said. “For a young person, it’s unusual to be that interested in someone else — certainly, he had lots to do, with school and sports — but he made a place for Jeremy in his life and we always owe him for that.”
Dirks died in 2005.
“When (Jeremy) was dying, he said, ‘when we get to heaven I’m going to kick your butt in a race.’ Now they’re both there, and I think the race is on,” said Dale’s sister, J. Adele LaCombe.
Because of his friendship with Dirks, Macomber pursued a bachelor’s degree in Special Needs and Physical Education from Whitworth College in Spokane, after graduating from South Kitsap High School in 1994. He later got a master’s degree in education from Whitworth.
He worked from 1999 through 2007 at John Sedgwick Junior High School, where he taught physical education, coached several sports, taught adaptive PE for students with disabilities and was twice named Sedgwick's teacher of the year.
He had worked as a special education teacher at Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma since 2009.
“The Franklin Pierce community is grieving the loss,” said Willie Painter, a public information officer with the school district.
Through the years, Dale “impacted many young lives,” said his brother, Ted Macomber.
In spite of his athletic abilities, Dale had been “battling an extended illness” before his death, according to a press release from his family.
His wife, Laurie, who teaches at Sedgwick, had told authorities he had threatened to commit suicide and attempted it in the past. She also said that when he went missing Tuesday, he had a bottle of Wellbutrin, an anti-depression medication that he could have overdosed on.
“It’s looking like it is a suicide,” said Deputy Scott Wilson, public information officer for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office. “We haven’t found any evidence that it’s foul play.”
The family didn’t wish to comment about his depression.
“We appreciate the warm outpouring of support in search of Dale and in response to his passing,” Adele LaCombe said. “We ask that, at this time, our family be afforded privacy to deal with our tragic loss.”
The Macomber family requested Tuesday that the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office not release an initial missing person report to the media, although family members had asked his students and friends, through Facebook posts, to help look for Dale.
Dale Macomber is survived by his wife and two sons, Collin, 4, and Jaxson, 1.