Valley Lives - Oswald Koch
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 28, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.
He escaped the war when he leaped from a POW train at age 12. He survived a mine explosion that left him in hospital for an entire year. He recovered from a terrible fall that took out the kneecap in his left leg. He was even struck by lightning on the golf course at Larrimac.
There wasn't much that could have put Oswald Koch down for the count.
"There could have been a whole medical journal written around him," said his wife Andrea, sitting in her Rockhurst Road home, flipping through old photos of her late husband
The room fills with Kochs offspring - from Oswald's oldest son Michael from his first marriage, to his youngest daughter Nicole, now 34, from his second.
Even 26-year-old Rob Farley, Oswald's grandson, is on hand to chat about his grandpa's impressive and somewhat unbelievable life.
Oswald Koch died of colon cancer Nov. 18 at the age of 79 in Wakefield.
Andrea won't soon forget her partner of over 35 years - the man she spent most days with and built over 60 houses throughout the Hills with; the man with whom she raised a daughter in Wakefield; the man she'll miss every day.
"He was a true partner and a real friend," she adds, her eyes filling with tears.
Oswald endured a tough childhood. Growing up in East Germany during the Second World War, he was torn away from his family before reaching his teen years.
After a time incarcerated in a concentration camp, and staging a dramatic escape from a work train traveling through Lithuania, Koch spent six long years searching for his family
Finally, at age 18, he was reunited with his father and six siblings - it's a reunion he rarely spoke of - like many of his incredible stories that only came out once or twice a year during special occasions.
It's those stories that daughter Nicole will miss so much - the tales of her dad as an undefeated boxer before a case of debilitating eczema forced him nto early retirement; or the way he could understand her and her teenaged friends so well or how he could always be counted on to fix things like her Walkman or the squeaky door at her house next door.
"This is as far as I have gone," she says, staring out the kitchen window toward her own nearby white house with tears welling up.
"Now, if the light switch doesn't work, I don't know what to do," she adds, her voice breaking.
"I've got big shoes to fill," adds Phil Gray, Nicole's husband, as they looked into each other's drowning eyes.
Those who didn't know Oswald the man certainly recognize his work.
Anyone who has ever taken a yoga class in the converted barn at La Grange or eaten breakfast at the Alpengruss Restaurant has seen his handiwork. He's done hundreds of construction jobs throughout the region with his wife and son Michael at his side.
When he wasn't pounding nails, Koch could always be found on the golf course, swinging away with his unorthodox slanted stance and winning trophies representing Larrimac at intersectional tournaments. Golf was a hobby - he didn't play until age 50 - that quickly turned into a passion.
"When he started golfing, he changed," says Michael, explaining that his father would suddenly stop and drop everything when his tee time neared.
"He had a new love in his life."
Former club president Larry Dufour remembers Oswald as "Ozzie" - the fanatic golfer with a wacky stance who was so strong that even a stroke of lightning couldn't stop him from finishing a round.
"He didn't think too much about it," said Dufour, recalling the bizarre event from a decade ago.
Koch was struck by a bolt on No. 4, but he finished the round to the amazement of Dufour and other golfing buddies.
It was this never-give-up attitude that left such a lasting impression on anyone who ever swung a club or played a round of cards with Oswald.
Dufour will miss playing golf with his friend of almost 30 years - the guy who "never got angry" and always helped out around the club as much as he could.
"We will all miss him," says Dufour. "He was just an all around, great guy."
The Koch family has announced a celebration of Oswald's life at the Larrimac Golf Club on Dec. 8. The memorial will be held from 2-8 p.m.
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