Make the McKenzie Connection!

Bill Burwell

William “Bill” David Burwell, age 73, of Rainbow, Oregon, passed away Friday, February 17th, 2023 due to complications from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Born in 1949 to David and Gale Burwell, Bill grew up learning to float Oregon’s rivers, explore Wilderness trails, and work in the woods. Throughout his life he had a strong sense of the surrounding land and forests, and an interest in indigenous ways of life.

In 1967 Bill graduated from Thurston High School with a football scholarship to the University of Oregon where he played for one year. In 1972 he married his High School sweetheart Karen Mikkelsen, and they raised their two sons, Tyee and Lakota on a large farm near the Mohawk River. During this time Bill worked in the woods as a timber faller and high climber, and started a restoration forestry business, Oregon Woods. After being injured on the job he returned to the University of Oregon in 1986 to study education, teaching at Yolanda Elementary school. Bill and Karen divorced in 1994.

Through the Mikkelsen’s Bill met the Kesey family of the Springfield Creamery. Over the years he enjoyed being part of the cultural change inspired by Ken’s ideas, and spent family time with Carolyn Garcia and her three daughters. Bill also contributed significant energy and time to the Oregon Country Fair “Arch(eology) Park” to share his knowledge of local history.

Between 2000 and 2012, Bill returned to Leaburg to care for his mother, and his second wife Denise Nakagawa during their terminal illnesses. In 2013 Bill moved upriver to Rainbow near McKenzie Bridge where, along with Margaret Beilharz, he was active in preserving and presenting local history. Their shared interests also took them on explorations of the local rivers and ridgetops, and travels to central Oregon and to Mexico. During this time he was able to live close to his son Tyee, daughter-in-law Julea, and their children Keirin and Fischer.

Family surviving him are his two sons, his daughter-in-law; two grandchildren; siblings Lee Means and Dana Burwell, their children, cousins, and many friends. Bill was known for his warm heart and big smile, and he is missed by those who knew him.

A celebration of Bill’s life is planned for May 28th at 2 pm near Leaburg Lake at EWEB’s Lloyd Knox Park #4. Please come with any photos or stories of Bill you would like to share.

Memorial contributions can be made to the McKenzie Education Foundation ( and/or the Alzheimer’s Foundation.


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