For Kooy, time spent as mayor of George was a ‘journey’
GEORGE — Looking back on his time as mayor of the city of George, Elliot Kooy said he didn’t have any big plans when he stepped up to fill the role 24 years ago.
That’s a good thing, because he quickly learned his job as mayor was to serve in whatever capacity became necessary.
“I didn’t go into becoming mayor looking to accomplish anything,” said Elliot. “It just was a journey.”
Last month, Elliot officially stepped down from his position when the new mayor, Gerene Nelson, took office. Nelson defeated Elliot in the November election. In the small farming community where there are less than 100 registered voters, the race was decided by only 37 voters.
Elliot leaves the position after serving as the face of the George community for more than two decades. He is only the fifth mayor to serve George since the town was dedicated on July 4, 1957.
Elliot had a knack for dealing with the public during city council meetings, even when things got heated at times, said Councilman Clay Richmond, who’s been in his position for 28 years. The former mayor also has done an excellent job of keeping things running smoothly at city hall, Richmond added.
“He’s been a really good mayor – levelheaded. He can keep his cool,” the councilman said. “I respect him very much and what he’s done.”
Friend Ed Field described Elliot as a “quiet, solid leader” who is a great “community servant.”
“Elliot is one of the most honest and trustworthy men I have ever met,” Field said. “(He’s) the kind of guy you would follow.”
The Kooy family has been living in the area since 1961, when Elliot’s father, Ralph, moved here from Canada to farm. Elliot was 10 years old. Only 14 years later, Ralph started Kooy’s Irrigation. Ralph laid the foundation for what would become one of the most successful irrigation supply businesses in the area.
In 1980, Elliot and his wife, Debby, were living in Colorado, where Elliot worked as a mechanical engineer, when Ralph called to say the business was getting too big for him to operate. Elliot and his five brothers all would return home to help their father.
When Elliot and Debby returned to George, the couple and their four children moved into a house across from the George Community Hall. The home, appropriately, sits at the heart of the community.
In 1988, Elliot began serving on the George City Council. Only four years later, he was appointed to the mayor’s position after former Mayor Pete Van Komen stepped down. Elliot volunteered for the position out of a sense of duty to the community.
“I just felt there was some responsibility to the town,” Elliot said.
In his time as mayor, Elliot is proud of the municipal infrastructure improvements made to improve the quality of life in George. By 1997, the city, faced with failing sewer systems, had a new municipal sewer system, an updated water system and streets that were in good condition.
Former public works director Joe Schons said it has been a privilege to work under Elliot.
“You can explain a fairly technical issue to him concerning water or wastewater and he understands it immediately and asks all the right questions,” Schons said. “We may be a small city, but we have all the legal and scientific complexities of a city 10 times our size. Elliot understands this and has gone to great lengths to ensure that not only does he understand the issues but also the city council.”
Elliot has only one piece of advice for the incoming mayor: “You just have to do it the way it comes to you.”
Elliot and Debby have wished Nelson good luck, and Elliot has offered to be available if Nelson has any questions. After all, the former mayor and new mayor live on the same street.
“We promised her we wouldn’t hover,” Debby said.
Elliot admits he feels a little weight off of his shoulders. He will have more time to spend with grandchildren and on playing the banjo, which he took up about six years ago. He will remain on the board of the George Community Hall as well as the George Community CoffeeHouse.
Looking back on his journey, the former mayor said among the experiences he enjoyed the most was meeting leaders from small towns across the state.
“It has always been fun when we travel to say, ‘We’re from George, Washington, and this is the mayor,’” Debby joked.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org