Oak Harbor Chamber celebrates 50th birthday

Dr. Dawn Keith-Madeiros, left, and Val Bryant strike a pose at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Dr. Dawn Keith-Madeiros, left, and Val Bryant strike a pose at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

In the year 1959, Dwight D. Eisenhower admitted Hawaii and Alaska to the Union, Fidel Castro seized power of Cuba, the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 landed on the moon, “Rawhide” premiered on CBS TV, Walt Disney released “Sleeping Beauty,” Barbie dolls debuted on toy store shelve, and Oak Harbor incorporated the Chamber of Commerce.

In honor of the chamber’s golden anniversary, members gathered for the Annual Awards Banquet last Saturday evening. Storyboards prepared by local businesses lined the walls of the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge, serving as an visual reminder of the community’s past achievements.

In a video-ode to Oak Harbor, island old-timers shared their memories of what the rock was like “way back when.”

“We wanted an event that would celebrate our history, showcase our local business and chamber leaders and, most importantly be fun,” Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director Jill Johnson said.

And celebrate they did.

Applause erupted from the crowd as Wallie Funk, former publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, showed on screen.

Established island-clans, including members of the Fruend, Krieg and Koetje families brought on laughter and expressions of nostalgia from attendees with their local anecdotes.

Juanita Anderson reminisced of afternoons at Kow Korner, a bygone island drive-in, where 10 burgers cost a whopping $1.

“Life hasn’t been the same without a good old Kow Korner burger,” Oak Harbor City Councilman Bob Severns said.

In honor of the good old days, chamber members dined on hamburgers with all the fixings, corn dogs, fries and onion rings amid 1950’s style decorations.

The Annual Awards Banquet is the Chamber’s biggest fundraiser for the 4th of July fireworks, a time to celebrate the best of Chamber businesses. In honor of the chamber’s golden anniversary, Hank and Al Koetje received lifetime achievement awards.

“It’s hard to talk about the development of the Oak Harbor community without mentioning the names of tonight’s Lifetime Achievement Award winners,” Chamber board member Linda Haddon said.

According to a press release from the chamber, Hank Koetje has been one of the premier Oak Harbor business leaders for more than 50 years. He founded the Koetje Insurance Agency, co-founded Island

Savings and Loan, now Interwest Bank, and also co-founded Island Title, now Chicago Title.

“Hank’s steady hand has helped to shape the business community we know and love today,” Johnson said.

In addition to Al’s role as former mayor, he served on the board of directors for Olympic Bank, was a past president of the Chamber of Commerce, and played a key role in the Save NAS Whidbey Task Force, which secured the economic future of Oak Harbor for generations to come, according to the release.

“As we look back over 50 years of business, we could think of no better recipients from the Lifetime Achievement Award than two of Oak Harbor’s finest leaders, Hank and Al Koetje,” Johnson said.

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