Though his thick gray hair was dripping with rain, nothing could ruin his day.

Though his thick gray hair was dripping with rain, nothing could ruin his day.

As Don Stathos walked to the microphone in October 1979, small groups of admirers huddled together under umbrellas while others in rain gear straddled their bicycles.

Stathos smiled with pride as he took one more look at the plaque.

"I am so honored," he said. "All the Nobel Prize winners can just eat their hearts out. I'll take the bike path!"

The rule said you didn't name a park, building or highway after someone who was still alive, but for 55-year old Don Stathos and the "Donald L. Stathos Bikeway," the Oregon Legislature had made an exception.

This was America's first official bike path and when the dedication ceremonies ended, Stathos and most of the crowd mounted their bikes and pedaled their way along the four-mile bikeway from Jacksonville to Medford.

Stathos, a Jacksonville resident and a Medford insurance agent, served two terms in the Oregon Legislature. Except for the bicycle rides he took around Salem, it would have been an uneventful legislative career had he not introduced the Oregon Bicycle Bill in 1971.

The bill required the state to dedicate 1 percent of highway funds to build bike lanes and paths. It passed each house of the Legislature by only 1 vote, and Gov. Tom McCall almost didn't support it.

Stathos was upset that it wasn't even safe for his daughters to ride a bike to school.

"My kids and I would go out and ride, and we'd have to go into the gravel because of cars passing," he said. "It occurred to me that here we are, the richest country in the world, and it's almost impossible to go anywhere except in your car. That's where this idea came from."

Jacksonville resident Marjorie Edens didn't attend the dedication, but she remembers Stathos riding his bicycle along his bike path.

"He was a very dedicated bike rider," she said. "In the summertime you would usually see him riding shirtless and in Bermuda shorts."

Nancy Van Dyke, an owner of the Stage Lodge Motel in Jacksonville, takes particular pride in the plaque. After nearly 30 years, it still rests in the garden that fronts her property.

Every spring the daffodils pop up and Van Dyke surrounds the plaque with colorful primrose.

"I wish more people knew about this plaque," she said.

"I remember how Mr. Stathos would come by every once in a while to check on it and, I guess, make sure the plaque was still here. He was always on his bicycle of course."

Of course he was. A nonstop energetic pitchman for the personal and social benefits of bicycling, as long as he was on a bike, nothing could ruin his day.

"It's a habit that clears the mind," he said.

When he passed away in 2005, his ideas had spread across the country. The "father of Oregon's bicycle bill," was now, America's "Mr. Bicycle."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.