Harry A. Koch Jr. was known in business circles for leading the insurance brokerage his father founded in 1916 for more than 40 years. He expanded and modernized it before selling it to another local family-owned company in 2004.
He also was known for his contributions to Omaha civic life. He was a benefactor of two Omaha parks attractions, a shooting range named for his father and a tennis center at Tranquility Park that his children had named to honor him and his wife, Gail. He also had deep roots in the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, which culminated in Koch being named king in 1997.
His family, friends and longtime former employees also remembered him as a thoughtful, down-to-earth man who took care of others. Among the lessons he instilled in his children, said son Daniel Koch of Omaha: “Everybody’s human. Treat everybody with dignity and respect.”
Harry A. Koch Jr. died Sunday at age 89 from complications after a fall in November.
Daniel Koch said he was reminded Monday of his father’s many kind gestures. A man arrived at his door with flowers. The man had worked in private security decades ago and patrolled the family’s former home. Every year on his birthday, the man said, Koch would call him and tell him that there would be something for him at the end of the drive: an envelope with money. When the man told Koch that he was going to become a sheriff’s deputy, his father sent a note congratulating him.
Sharon Miller, an account manager who will mark her 40th year at the Harry A. Koch Co. this year, said Koch sought out another family-owned company when he decided to sell the insurance agency. He wanted to make sure his employees were taken care of.
At the time, Daniel Koch had left the agency for his own business. Koch was stepping down as chairman, and his other son, Harry “Hal,” was retiring as treasurer. Harry Koch sold the firm to the Lauritzen Corp. of Omaha.
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Bruce Lauritzen, chairman of First National of Nebraska Inc., said the families had been friends for a long time and had business relationships dating from about the 1960s.
“We’ve been expanding the agency, and our goal is to see it continue to grow,” Bruce Lauritzen said. “Harry liked that a lot, too. Even though he sold the (company), he definitely was very interested to see it was a continuing success.”
Koch, energetic and with a great sense of humor, continued to stop in for visits.
“He made you feel like you wanted to do your best always for him and the agency ... because of the kind of guy he was, that honesty and integrity,” Miller said.
Marian Gyhra, who’s been with the firm for 40 years, said Koch also took care of his clients.
”He’s going to be sadly missed,” said Gyhra, vice president of personal insurance. “He built a great culture here.”
Jere W. Fonda, former chairman of the John Day Co., was a client, as well as a longtime friend and a competitor on the golf course and tennis court.
“I always held Harry in very high esteem,” Fonda said of Koch. “He always conducted himself very professionally, and he always had somebody else in mind to take care of rather than himself.”
Koch was born in Omaha and graduated from Central High School and Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. After college, he served from 1951 to 1953 in the Korean War, finishing his stint as a first lieutenant in the 204th Field Artillery Battalion.
He returned to Omaha and joined the family insurance and brokerage business. He stepped in as president at age 28 when his father, Harry A. Koch Sr., suffered a heart attack.
In 1995 he was named president of the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, a national group, and helped with efforts to reorganize the staggering industry giant Cigna. Koch was also inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. He was added to the Central High School Hall of Fame last fall.
He is preceded in death by his father and his mother, Katherine Denny Koch; brother, John Koch; and daughter, Katherine Joyce.
A celebration of life will be Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 925 S. 84th St.
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