Issue: June, 2007
Author: Kristopher C. Koski
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Ken Koski: a Man of Adventure - a Man of Integrity (1950 - 2006)
Unlike many of you reading this article, I never knew Ken Koski in a professional context. Fortunately for me, I was extremely lucky enough to just call him “Dad.”
Ken Koski graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1979. After receiving his J.D., he served as a law clerk for one year in Cody, Wyoming, before opening a private practice in Powell, Wyoming. In Powell, he operated a general practice and served as a part-time public defender.
Growing up as a young kid, all that I knew was my dad was a lawyer. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to help “get criminals off.” I remember having the belief that he must not be a very good lawyer, because according to television, all lawyers were rich and that did not seem to be the case with us. Sometimes, we would get an awful lot of corn-on-the-cob. Things made a little more sense in my later years when he showed me a still-in-mint-condition homemade knife that he had received as payment from a client.
Dad’s office was located on the main street in Powell. I always looked forward to the days that I could go to his office after school. When I arrived, Judy Braten, his longtime secretary, would kindly greet me, my sisters and whichever friends we might have been with. If Dad was meeting with a client, she would escort us to the library. We could never wait for him to finish meeting with his clients, because that meant he would either give us a couple dollars to go up the street and spend at Kragler’s or some money to spend in the office’s candy box. In fact, any kid who happened to stroll into his office could not escape without Dad pulling two quarters from his drawer so he/she could pick out a piece of candy.
Dad was heavily involved in scouting while in Powell. He devoted every Monday night, most weekends and sometimes weeks for the many scouting activities he helped organize. This was great for me as a little kid. Although I was not old enough to be a scout, I was able to tag along for many hiking, backpacking, climbing, canoeing and various other trips. Initially, hiking with Dad was difficult. He never developed the concept of waiting. With my shorter legs I often ended up very far back with another leader or my mom if she went along. Mom sometimes got a little upset with Dad being gone so much on scouting and leaving her “the kids” for the weekend. That is just how he was. He wanted to and succeeded in introducing so many youth to the wonderful outdoors. As former scout Paul Crabtree said, “Because Ken was so generous with his time, many of us boys had a lot of opportunities for adventure. Many of my better qualities are the direct result of his influence.”
In 1995, when I was 12, we moved to Cheyenne when Dad accepted the position of Deputy State Public Defender. My sisters and I were upset because we had to leave all of our friends and move to such a “big city.” Things eased a little bit when we discovered the nice neighborhood we had settled in on Vandehei.
Sylvia Hackl was the State Public Defender at the time. She hired Dad for the position. She recalls his first day of work:
I'll never forget Ken's first day as Deputy Public Defender. On that summer morning, I got to the office around 7:45, and Ken was already sitting ("perched" is a more apt term) at his desk. I commented on his early arrival and he looked just a tad chagrined. "Well," he said, "I didn't intend to be here quite so early. It's just that, well . . I allowed a half-hour for the commute to the office."
After I recovered from laughing, I asked Ken how long it HAD taken him to get to the office from his home. "About seven minutes," he replied.
I so enjoyed watching Ken's transition from small-town resident to "big city" sophisticate. At first, he wouldn't leave the office right at 5:00 because he didn't like the traffic. Then we computerized the office, and he discovered the Internet - which he would surf right after work while waiting for the traffic to dissipate.
The lesson I learned from Ken, which I use to this day, is something I call "Ken's Corollary": "When in doubt, don't." Those four words often get me to rethink a position, or at least to delay an action until I have more information.
I so enjoyed working with Ken. To borrow his favorite phrase, "I never had it so good."
It turned out that moving to Cheyenne was a good move. Dad had a lot more free time, spent more time with the family and really enjoyed working in the Public Defender’s office. A few years later, he became the State Public Defender. It was evident that he had an extreme amount of pride in the Public Defender’s office. As many of you are aware, he made coins commemorating the program and loved to give them out to anyone and everyone. Dad was the epitome of a public defender. He was a juvenile specialist and enjoyed being able to help juveniles succeed. He believed strongly that there was no such thing as bad people, only good people who made poor choices. He got so much joy when he heard back from former clients who had turned their lives around. A few years ago he took me to dinner and he talked about applying for a judgeship. While most my attention was focused on the Rockies game, I indiscriminately said, “Why would you want to stop being a Public Defender? What you do is so noble.” At the time I thought nothing of it. Recently, my aunt told me how they had talked the next day and how he was so giddy and happy that I was proud of him and respected what he did.
Dad’s passions were very broad. In recent years, he studied WWII with a special emphasis on his father’s unit. He told me that he regretted not taking the time to learn about all his father’s war experiences. He took it upon himself to learn everything he could. Through his research he learned that two of his father’s war buddies lived right next to each other in California. Dad was amazed to learn that these two war veterans had not seen each other in decades and were unaware that they lived so close to each other. When Dad went to California later in the year for a public defender’s convention, he picked both up, spent the day with them and an old friendship was renewed. He later helped both individuals receive medals that they had earned during the war, but which they had never received.
Dad also loved books. Much to the chagrin of Mom, he turned the entire downstairs family room into his personal library. Every person who came to the house had to take a 10-minute tour (which really meant a minimum of two hours if you got off lucky) of his books and pictures. When he discovered Amazon.com, the library grew very rapidly. In fact, his monthly Amazon.com bill typically exceeded my rent. He tried to hide how much he spent on them from Mom by saying “I got a really good deal on this treasure.”
Dad especially loved Wyoming books. If a Wyoming author wrote it, he had to own at least one signed copy of it. I don’t know what made Wyoming authors better than others, but his extreme love and pride for Wyoming was very apparent. In fact, if you ever stopped by his office he just had to take you on a tour of the Capitol. If you traveled with him across Wyoming, you had to stop at every landmark, even if you had seen it with him several times before.
As Mark Goldberg (investigator for the Public Defender’s office) said, “I have taken several road trips with Ken and we stopped at every historical sight. He gave me an education on all the special places in Wyoming. Ken knew the entire history of our state and its people. Nobody was more dedicated to our program and he had a great respect for our justice system. I miss him an awful lot.”
Dad never considered leaving Wyoming and was staunch in his stance. My two older sisters (like himself) attended the University of Wyoming. When it was my turn for college, I chose to attend the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He could not be convinced that this was a good idea and could not believe that I would not attend UW like the rest of my family. It is funny how things work out. After receiving my engineering degree, I realized that I was more like my father than I liked to admit and went to law school. After a year in Ohio, I transferred to Wyoming. Although he never told me, I knew he was thrilled. He bragged to everyone that all four of his children had attended the University of Wyoming.
The summer of 2006 is one I will never forget. I had been living away from home for several years. When I decided to attend Wyoming, I moved to my parents’ house for the summer. Life was great! I slept in until noon. When Dad got off work, he would inevitably decide that “rather than cooking” we should just go out for dinner and a beer. Mom traveled a lot between her jobs with the state and the Navy. If she was home, all three of us would go to dinner. If she was not home, it would be just the two of us. As many of you know, it was impossible to pick up the tab when you went out for dinner or a beer with my dad. Being a college student with a limited budget, this was great for me. Throughout the summer I had the privilege to have many long talks with Dad about anything and everything over our dinner and beer. At the time you never think much of it, but those few hours out of my day were the best hours I ever spent.
Overall, my fondest memories of my father are from our special bond, which was an annual Wind River Mountains backpacking trip. Dad loved the outdoors and loved to share his extreme enthusiasm with anyone and everyone he could. Many of you had the luxury of viewing his “must see” pictures. Naturally, I would grow to love the mountains too. At first our interests in the mountains were very different. After hiking many rugged miles, Dad always had to get up early in the morning and go climb at least one peak. I, however, chose to sleep in and fish in a nearby lake or stream. Dad would return late in the afternoon and the first thing he absolutely had to show me was a little rock. He would say, “Look, Kris, this came from the top of mount (insert mountain), aren’t you impressed!!” To which I would reply, “Sure dad, it’s a great rock—looks exactly like the ones at the bottom of the mountain too.” As I got older he somehow convinced me to get up and climb the mountains with him. He was right, the feeling and the view from the top was completely exhilarating.
The most memorable backpacking trip I took with my dad was our last one in August of 2006. We chose to do a trip on the reservation portion of the Winds. We “cross-countried” for eight days in the most rugged terrain I had ever seen. The glaciers, the high peaks and the milky water of the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek were completely awe inspiring. Although I had now become the one who left him very far back, his stamina became heroic to me. We spent an entire day of climbing up and down, sometimes handing packs to one another just to advance a few miles. The forest was thick with large rock moraines and very fresh grizzly sign. When it started getting dark, I was completely exhausted and found a place that we could probably fit a tent. Dad’s rule was that we always had to stay in a place that “had a room with a view.” Somehow Dad had this extra energy and willed us to go a mile to the next lake where we had an excellent campsite.
I, as well as so many people, will mostly remember my father for the sheer joy and enthusiasm he had for life. He always preached that life was about “people and relationships.” He lived his life by that motto. No matter if you were another attorney, a client, the waitress at his daily breakfast stop, or just a passerby, he just couldn’t wait to talk to you. He always smiled and his presence was well known from his outgoing and friendly nature. He was very giving and extremely humble. I’ll have to apologize to him for writing this, because he preferred to deflect all attention. He left us way too soon. As I am about to become an attorney, there are so many questions I want to ask him about his professional career. I am not worried although, because I can never do anything without thinking what he would do. My family, the Public Defenders, the State of Wyoming, his many former scouts and everyone else he met throughout his life will cherish the times we spent with Ken Koski.
Kristopher C. Koski earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in 2005. He is a third-year law student at the University of Wyoming College of Law.
Copyright © 2007 – Wyoming State Bar