Al Koetje

June 20, 1930 — October 28, 2019

Alvin Benedict “Al” Koetje passed away peacefully at home in Oak Harbor the evening of Oct. 28, 2019, surrounded by family and friends; he was 89 years old. Al was born in Oak Harbor on June 20, 1930, to Benjamin and Henrietta “Hattie” (Meter) Koetje. Ben was the first Fire Chief for the City of Oak Harbor, appointed in 1930. Hattie passed away when Al was a teenager, Ben then married Margaret Hoekwater.

Al finished grade school in Oak Harbor, then attended Mount Vernon middle and high schools when the family moved there in 1944. He was an avid sports enthusiast, excelling in both baseball and basketball. A few years after high school, Al joined the Air Force and bravely served his country during the Korean War conflict, from 1951 to 1954. He was stationed in Japan for two-and-a-half years, then finished his service at Fairchild AFB in Spokane. He was awarded a basketball scholarship at Whitworth College, attending from 1954 to 1958, playing both baseball and basketball. In 1958, Al was a team captain for the basketball team and was selected as a Small College All American.

The City of Oak Harbor was taken by storm when Al graduated from Whitworth College. Al decided to return to Oak Harbor and join his older brother, Henry “Hank,” in the insurance and real estate business. The Koetje Agency was very successful and is still in business to this day.  Al chose this career in lieu of coaching basketball, although he did receive a coaching offer after college.  Al was very involved with the community; his service in many ways is unprecedented. His extensive list of achievements includes: eight years as Oak Harbor council member, starting in 1964, 24 years as mayor, starting in 1972, president and member of the Navy League, president and member of the Association of Washington Cities, president and member of Rotary International (55 years of continuous attendance) and recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship Award, inducted into the Skagit Valley College Hall of Fame in 1996 (Public Official and Strong Supporter of Education), and Best of Whidbey Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. 

Al was very thankful to the City of Oak Harbor and its constituents; it was with great pleasure he was given the opportunity to serve in this manner. He loved people, knew most by name, and would always exchange greetings, a story and a laugh. In his final days, he wanted to make sure the citizens of Oak Harbor knew how much he appreciated their support and how much he enjoyed the opportunity and journey to lead. City accomplishments under his leadership include: construction of the city marina, partnership for the construction of a new Skagit Valley College Library, the John Vanderzicht Swimming Pool, partnership with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island for construction of a domestic water pipeline, the Oak Harbor Senior Center and successfully keeping the Navy base off the base closure list for decades as committee chair for Save NASWI.

The most important things to Al were God, country, community and family. He was a member of the First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor for over 60 years, serving many years as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. Al loved serving his country and the people of the City of Oak Harbor, this was his greatest joy. Al was a beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was loved by all for his kindness, generosity, quick wit and love of life. He really enjoyed those around him, laughter was always part of the equation.

Al always had a love for sports and bird hunting. He was a fierce competitor at baseball, basketball, tennis and handball. He always wanted to play someone better, to improve himself and hone his skills. Once he stepped on the court, small talk was over, it was time to show no mercy and compete! After the battle was over, he enjoyed discussing the events of the day “over a pop or a glass of milk,” which was anything but. He loomed large amongst his family and friends; he touched many lives in a very positive and uplifting way. Al Koetje was exemplary as a celebration of life. 

So now it is an end to an era, of a life lived to the fullest. Al would be the first to say “thank you” in all circumstances and was very appreciative of the blessings he received in life. He knew the Good Lord is faithful, and that the cornerstone of truth and knowledge is to trust in the Lord. hrist Jesus his Savior has taken home His good and faithful servant.

Al is survived by his loving wife, Cherita; they were married for 40 years. From a previous marriage, Cherita had a daughter Cory (Smith) Russell (husband Bill, son Jason, daughter Oliva and son-in-law Justin, stepson Ryan), who also resides in Oak Harbor. Al was previously married to Janette (van Slageren) Ellis, who preceded him in death in 2017, with whom he had two children: Alana Morris of Seattle (daughter Antje and son Isak), and Randy Koetje of Woodinville (wife Yan, son Timothy, stepson and daughter-in-law Daniel and Brittany Kirk, grandchildren Isla and Arlo and stepson Sean Hu). Al is also survived by his sisters: Burleigh Smith (husband Garry) and Kathy Bos (husband Stan); and brother Jim Koetje (wife Balisa); and also numerous cousins, nephews and nieces. His family loved him very much and always enjoyed spending time with him at the beach cabin on West Beach. Al was preceded in death by his parents, brothers Henry and Lester, and sister Louise.

The family also wishes to express its deepest gratitude to Dr. Douglas Langrock, Hospice of the Northwest and Skagit Valley Hospital for the wonderful and exemplary care and comfort they provided for Al and the family through this difficult time.

A memorial service for Al will be held at First Reformed Church of Oak Harbor Thursday, Nov. 21, at 2:30 p.m., with a reception to follow. Pastor Matt Waite and Chaplain David G. Lura, USN (Ret.) will be co-officiating. Al will be laid to rest at Maple Leaf Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in Al’s name may be made out to The Rotary Club of Oak Harbor Foundation, online at:, or by post to: Rotary Club of Oak Harbor Foundation, P.O. Box 442, Oak Harbor, WA 98277; and WAIF (for pet dogs Alex and Patch) online at:, or by post to: WAIF, P.O. Box 1108, Coupeville, WA 98239.

Arrangements entrusted to Wallin Funeral Home, Oak Harbor, Wash. Please visit Al’s page in our Book of Memories online at to share memories and leave condolences.