Public servant and Willamette Law alumnus Dennis Koho JD’04 dies

by Sarah Bello,

Koho’s law partner Eleanor Beatty JD’04 and alumna Sara Kendrick JD’15 recall the former mayor of Keizer’s generosity and care.

  • Dennis Koho

As a first year, 49-year-old law student in orientation, Dennis Koho JD’04 struck up a conversation with people his age who he assumed to be classmates. They turned out to be parents of a fellow student, remembers Eleanor Beatty JD’04, who went to school with Koho and later worked with him.

Koho, who Beatty says was a “wonderful human being” and someone who was always giving back, passed away June 10, 2019, from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 67.

Koho turned 50 while he was a law student, and his time at Willamette Law fulfilled a lifelong dream, according to his obituary in the Statesman Journal. After graduating, he started his own practice and hired Beatty as an associate, pestering her for months to become a partner until she finally acquiesced a year later. She says they were good business partners because neither was in it for the money.

“He was always interested in giving back to the community and everyone who helped him get to where he was,” Beatty says.

The two worked together for about a decade as the law firm of Koho & Beatty. They both spent time mentoring students at Willamette Law, giving back to the school that made them lawyers. Civil litigator Sara Kendrick JD’15 worked in the office as a student and after she passed the bar. She says Koho was “exceptionally generous and kind,” and she wouldn’t be where she is today without him.

“When I failed the bar exam and had to take it again, I was freaked out because of the money. He just gave me a check for the next exam,” Kendrick says. “When I was crying and upset, he was quiet and sat with me and was just there.”

Beatty and Kendrick say Koho was young at heart and easy to be around. During the holiday season each year, he marked his calendar for “Kringle Day,” the day when his favorite flaky Danish pastries from a bakery in Wisconsin would arrive.

“I don’t know how he initially found out about this bakery,” Beatty explains, “but every year until his doctor absolutely forbid it, he had them delivered to the office.”

After suffering a heart attack and mild stroke in 2016, Koho tried to go back to practicing full-time, but it didn’t work for his health, so he and Beatty ended their partnership. He still stopped by occasionally to catch up, and he kept an office at the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Stadium to practice law part-time. He and Kendrick continued to get lunch on a monthly basis, as well.

In his life before becoming a lawyer, Koho worked as a banker and served as a councilmember and mayor of Keizer, playing a big role in bringing the Volcanoes baseball team to the community. He loved the team and the sport, and with his office at the stadium, combined his roles as fan and public servant.

Koho was an Eagle Scout and stayed involved with the Boy Scouts throughout his life, in addition to many other organizations and his church. He is survived by his wife, Lori, brother, Scott, sister, Karyl, two children, Dara and Dax, and five grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 18, at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Keizer, with a reception to follow. At 9 a.m., Saturday, June 22, at Bend’s First Presbyterian Church, a combined service will be conducted for Dennis and his mother E. Delight Koho Carmichael, with a private burial to follow at Deschutes Memorial Park, Bend.

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