Another tree in the forest of Keizer leaders has fallen—Dennis Koho passed away this week. The former mayor and city councilor was still active until the day he died; he was preparing for a small role in a theatrical production this summer.
Like most good leaders, Koho had many fans and supporters. The moment his passing was announced, the acknowledgements filled social media quickly.
The words used repeatedly in remembrances were funny, compassionate, patient and inclusive. Yes, all that is true. He was also a good friend to many, including myself. Time with Dennis was always time well spent, one could always count on a story or a joke from him. He enjoyed a good prank as well as anybody.
His compassion for his community and his fellow man were evident. He earned his law degree from Willamette University while in his early 50s and used it to great effect. Dennis was a good lawyer but not much of a businessman. The pro bono work he provided helped local organizations achieve their goals. Of course, there was much legal work he was paid for, including acting as legal counsel for some small towns in the region.
Leadership was second nature to Dennis Koho. He ran for a seat on the Keizer City Council in 1990—unopposed. Being a man who wanted things to happen, he ran for mayor halfway into his four-year council term. He narrowly won in the a three-man race in 1992, becoming Keizer’s third mayor. He was re-elected twice before stepping away in 1998.
Concentrating on his law career in his post-mayoral years, Koho was active in local organizations, including the Rotary Club of Keizer and the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. He was elected Chamber president in 2009.
The political itch was still strong when the former mayor decided to run for an open seat on the Keizer City Council in 2012. For reasons of health, he stepped down in 2016, just months before his seat was up for election. But he got the most out of this second stint on the council: he was voted president of the body midway through his term.
Health scares left Koho hosptialized for weeks. He himself said that when he was in a coma, his late brother appeared to him and said it wasn’t his time to go. Koho rallied and went home. But he wasn’t done living, not by a long shot.
He ‘found’ a new career when he decided to audition for Keizer Homegrown Theatre, a group he helped obtain their non-profit status. With cane and oxygen in hand, Koho gave 100 percent in his role, just like everything else in his life. At his passing, he was preparing for a small role in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park.
Dennis Koho was a leader, but first he was a man, who loved his wife, Lori—many times the butt of his pranks, his family and his community. Though his roots began elsewhere, Keizer was home to Dennis and the city received the benefit of his experience, knowledge and passion.
There will be a big hole where Koho was. He will be missed by many.
At press time, service arrangements were pending.
(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher and editor of the Keizertimes.)