Micheal Cole Chetwood, known as Cole to family and friends, was born and raised in Eugene. He came from a family of loggers — his father was Mike Chetwood, and his mother, Carolyn Howard. A skilled logger and carpenter himself, he was good with kids and he loved the outdoors, the woods, bike riding, growing cannabis and skateboarding. He was incredibly athletic, and he could be angry. But he worked on it, and his heart was as big as it was strong. Chetwood had lived homeless, and he died Sept. 1.
Stacy Bierma met Chetwood in the mid ’80s, while they were both in their early 20s. She says that he was the type to make people feel like his best friend just upon meeting him. The two had been close ever since they met, and Chetwood helped Bierma with several construction products, including a huge remodel on Harlequin Beads downtown. He has worked on many homes and projects in Eugene and Portland.
“He would party really hard, and then work really hard,” Bierma says.
Chetwood enjoyed music and concerts; Motörhead was his favorite band. He was said to have an amazing sense of humor and a wicked memory. He made those around him feel at home.
“He was just always there if you needed help,” Bierma says.
Bierma shared that at the 7-Eleven by 5th and Jefferson when a homeless woman who had lost her arms was outside the establishment drinking. Chetwood went into the store to get what he needed, as well as a burrito. He came out, unwrapped the burrito, and gave it to the woman, saying, “You’ve got to eat something if you’re going to drink that much.”
“It seems like maybe he did that every time he went to 7-Eleven,” Bierma says.
In the last five years, Chetwood was not very functional due to drug use and serious physical health issues. But in July 2021, he decided he was willing to get help and went into treatment.
He was still unhoused, but managed to stay sober. Eventually, he came up on the Lane County waiting list and was put in the shelter on Highway 99. On August 4, he was moved into The Nel, a new, permanent, supportive affordable housing community for people experiencing houselessness, at 11th Avenue and Charnelton Street.
“He was so happy to have a safe place and was just looking forward to the rest of his life,” Bierma says.
Ceara Swogger, who works at The Nel, met Chetwood when he moved in. She said that he was the most encouraging and gentle-hearted person during his time there.
“He came down every morning and told every person on the staff how great of a job they were doing, and that we were all rock stars,” Swogger said.
Chetwood was described as a cheerleader for his fellow tenants. He was compassionate, and always wanting to help everyone in the building. Swogger said that everyone looked forward to seeing him every day.
Chetwood had type 1 diabetes, which was his cause of death.
“The reality of it is he could’ve died on the side of the road somewhere, and he didn’t,” Swogger said. “He died in an apartment with a fluffy white bathrobe on.”
Chetwood was a huge contributor to Lane County through his involvement in building houses and logging.
“To look at him at his lowest, nobody would have thought that of him,” Swogger said. “We have this common indecency towards houseless people, and it’s not accurate. I think Cole is a really great peek into the world of that. He was a genuinely good human being who was a productive person and had a low point in his life.”
A memorial was held for Chetwood Sept. 18 at Alton Baker Park, where close friends and family shared special stories with him and about him, while reminiscing on everything that made him special. Chetwood provided those around him with support, humor and inspiration.
Chetwood’s rough and tough side was balanced with the huge love he had for those around him. And speakers shared how much love Chetwood’s family and community had for him. Chetwood will be dearly missed among the many lives he touched. He is survived by his step mom, Sandy Watson-Badenoch, and his brothers, Steve and John Chetwood.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run obituaries for those who die homeless in Lane County. If you know of someone who has died while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.