Local fence-mending and regional vision defined the work of Paul Koch in his eight years as lead appointed official for the city, and then port, of Cascade Locks.
Koch retired June 30 as port manager, and about 60 people from the Cascade Locks and Gorge community honored him with a warm sendoff at Bridgeside Restaurant on June 28.
Special guests included his daughter, Leslie Winnett, her husband, Kevin, and their son, Colby, all of Gresham.
Port commission chair Jess Groves called Koch “a trusted friend, mentor, collaborator and a caring community administrative leader.”
The audience enjoyed a game of “Trivial Paul-suit,” led by Port Commissioner John Stipan, with questions ranging from how many jobs Koch has held (“too many to mention”) to number of grandchildren (eight) and his favorite movie, “Them”.
“Thank you for everyone in the community, and for the spiritual, holy moments you’ve given me,” Stipan said.
Koch was hired in January 2013, after serving as Cascade Locks city manager starting in August 2011.
Speaker Gary Munknoff of Cascade Locks said of Koch, “Paul was a breath of air. He got us focused, and heading in the right direction, and helped us heal a lot of fences we had broken in our community.”
The sentiment was affirmed by Mayor Tom Cramblett, who also served on City Council for years before he was elected mayor six years ago. Koch was hired at a time when Cascade Locks had deep divisions in city government: The departure of a city manager, a contractual dispute with a former fire chief, near-dissolution of the fire department, and the recall of most of the city council. His leadership overlapped with the start of the reconstituted city council.
“His time here has saved the community,” Munkhoff said, to applause.
Cramblett said, “Whenever Paul talks to a group of people, he always says things like, ‘you did this.’ And he’s exactly right, you’ve got a roomful of people here, and with Paul, but ‘you did it.’
“This community, as Gary said, was off the rails,” Cramblett said.
“Paul was able to come in and get all the folks together who had a tough deal with each other and got them all together. There were no bad people; it was a bunch of good people but it took someone to come and make the connection. And that’s what Paul brought to the community. We were very fortunate for someone like Paul to provide that leadership to connect people and help us do the things we have.”
“It’s with serious mixed emotions that I see him leave our community and the Port, but he is absolutely leaving it much better then he found it,” Groves said.
“The only solace I have is Paul will be coming back. Retiring as manager, but still will be around,” Groves said.
Speakers also included Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee, who said, “I’m going to miss Paul. He is one of the few people I have ever met, and he said this to me, ‘the last time I was talking to Gov. McCall, he told me...’”
Columbia Gorge Commission executive director Krystyna Wolniakowski said, “When I started with Gorge Commission (2015), he was one of the first people I met and he gave me a really warm welcome. He really is a mentor and he has a regional vision. We have worked well together. He has been such a strong force at the legislative and national levels, trying to mobilize resources and economic development opportunities, not only here for the port, but for this entire region. It is unique to have someone who has such a big vision and who is so humble and modest in all he does for our communities.”
Koch will keep his hand in the port on contract, handling updates on the Gorge Commission management plan economic development section, and continue handling negotiations with Union Pacific Railroad including the planned pedestrian overpass that would extend from Overlook Park, with funding to be determined.