Henry Koetje still at the helm

Feted for his decades in business

Coldwell Banker Koetje Insurance celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Oak Harbor born-and-raised Henry Koetje has been at the helm of the business for the majority of the last 65 years.

The real estate office was opened by Neil Koetje, Henry Koetje’s uncle, in 1942. In 1947 Hank teamed up with him to sell real estate, and expanded to sell insurance in 1948.

Ten years later, Henry opened a real estate and insurance company (the Henry Koetje Agency) and was joined by his brother Al. Neil Koetje retired in 1972 and closed his office, leaving the reins to Henry, Al and George Koetje.

“He hired me right out of college and eventually, three or four years later, I became his partner. I have wonderful memories with him,” said Al, speaking during a celebration sponsored by the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce on July 19.

In 1975 the agency moved to the current Midway Boulevard building. Koetje has seen the island undergo enormous changes, like the building of Deception Pass Bridge in 1936, the arrival of the Navy in 1940, and the growth of Whidbey Island’s population in general.

Population has grown by leaps and bounds from what Henry remembers as 350 people when he was a boy to more than 20,000 at the last census update. He remembers the ferry that transported cars — a maximum of four at a time — across Deception Pass.

Koetje has witnessed Oak Harbor mature into a key source of economic develoment on the island.

“Its kind of unbelievable for me to see that. In 1940 the Navy came in and it changed the whole complexion of the area,” Koetje said.

“Oak Harbor grew in size and population and our office grew right along with it,” said Al Koetje, who became Henry’s partner in 1961. “We got involved in many things in the city, in community service, and we were both very active.” Al served as mayor of Oak Harbor for many years.

Whidbey Island has developed significantly since Henry was a boy, but he wouldn’t change a thing about Oak Harbor. “Gee, I love it here. I was born and raised in Oak Harbor, I have wonderful friends. I graduated in 1941 from Oak Harbor High School.”

Henry Koetje’s love for Oak Harbor is precisely what still draws customers to Koetje Insurance and Real Estate.

“The fact that we’ve been here so long, we’re honest with everyone, and a lot of people who’ve lived here temporarily return to buy homes from us,” Koetje explained as the reason the company has enjoyed such longevity.

The business, built on family and grown by trust, seems in good shape to enjoy many more years of service to Oak Harbor.