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Joe Koenig cared about Ketchum

Martha Page is a former Ketchum City Council member who now resides in Indiana. She is a part owner of Express Publishing and serves as chair of the company's board of directors.


Joe Koenig's sudden passing this week is part of the end of an era in Ketchum, as his arrival was part of the end of another 40 years ago.

In the era defined by the Union Pacific Railroad's Sun Valley, the rhythm of the entire valley's economy was set by the opening and closing dates of the resort. Tourists came with the seasons, and the end of slack brought predictable jobs and paychecks. Ketchum was, in essence, a company town in which mining's boom/bust cycle was replaced by the secure, if limited, rewards of railroad paternalism.

In 1965, after the Janss Corp. bought Sun Valley Co., real estate development began its inexorable march across the company landscape. Twenty-somethings flooded into Ketchum, along with "condominiums" and "developers," "land use planning" and the constant sound of construction. Joe Koenig was one of those early visitors. He and his then-partner, Elmar Grabher, and their helper, Udo Jung, moved up from California and built the Tyrolean Lodge. Elmar moved into the booming construction business; Joe stayed with the tourists.

I met Joe in my dad's lumberyard in those early days. I remember being amazed that three guys could build a whole motel all by themselves. He was amazed that my Republican parents had a daughter at Berkeley.

By the mid-1970s, I had finished college and returned to Ketchum. I was a member of the Ketchum City Council when Joe began his first term. We were up to our ears in land-use issues. Joe loved to tease me about being a "communist" with my Berkeley degree, but we usually agreed on the big issues. Joe understood that tourists are the lifeblood of the valley.

In a memorable Joe Koenig governing moment, the council was reviewing a contentious development proposal that had already been turned down by the P&Z. The developer asked that each council member say what objections he or she might have. When Joe's turn came, he looked up and said simply, "It stinks." You pretty much knew where you stood with Joe.

Joe usually saw things from a broad perspective. While public officials debated and most private businesses dithered, Joe dedicated part of his inns as housing for his employees. He started that practice at the Tyrolean and continued it at the Knob Hill Inn, despite the spiraling cost of the space required. In addition, he helped those who were immigrants, like himself, learn the ropes of their new country. He cared about those who needed help, and celebrated their success when they moved on.

During the last 40 years, while most of the country has used houses and businesses as investments to be tracked and accounted for with no more attachment than one has for cash, Joe anchored himself in building a way of life more than a fortune. Legions checked in as visitors and left, I'm sure, feeling like friends. It was nearly impossible to be angry with Joe, even though our politics were probably diametrically opposed and he insisted on calling the Mountain Express "Pravda" as another homage to my alma mater.

Our community is the better for Joe Koenig's having chosen it over Mammoth or Colorado. We will continue to be better if we follow his example of hospitality and service as we relearn how to live with the rhythms of tourist seasons and the value of deep relationships with our visitors.

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.