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A Gift of Land and Water

At the Hastings American Legion, diners can sit on a nice stone patio overlooking the Mississippi River. It's the only outdoor seating area here that offers a view of the river.

In 2004, the Legion needed money to get the patio built. Herbert "Bud" Koch stepped to the plate. He was the first contributor, and among the most generous.

In 2005, the patio was built.

Next time you visit the Hastings Area YMCA, stop for a second and look at the wall that honors the donors who helped get the YMCA built.

You'll see Bud Koch's name right near the top of the list.

In the mid-1990s, a baseball team from Hastings won a state VFW championship. Not long after the title, team members and coaches received state championship jackets.

Not many people knew where they came from.

They came from Bud Koch.

Sensing a theme here?

Well, imagine how the people in tiny El Paso, Wis., feel. This spring, members of Koch's family, on his behalf, donated 67 beautiful acres of land along the area's best trout stream, the Rush River, near El Paso, which is seven miles east of Ellsworth.

Koch died in 2005. Ever the businessman, he had things pretty well spelled out for his family. He tasked four people to take his 141 acres along the Rush River and disburse it as they saw fit. There was just one stipulation: He wanted the land available for use by everyone.

So, in April, about 150 people gathered on the land and officially donated 67 acres to the Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsmen's Club. The remaining 74 acres will be donated in the future.

The land is 100 percent open to the public for hiking and fishing. A fishing pier for disabled anglers is being built, and an archery range is in the works. People are all over the place on horseback.

"I think he'd be very happy with all the decisions (we made)," said Koch's nephew, Jim Koch of Hastings.

This past weekend, the Koch family was honored and family members were the grand marshals in the El Paso Days parade. There were 102 entries in the parade, and there were two vehicles full of Koch's relatives. Up and down the small streets of El Paso the family went in a pair of convertibles, handing out candy along the way.

"A lot of people yelled 'Thank you,'" Jim Koch said. "Some people were clapping. It was really nice."

Who was Herb Koch?

In the mid 1980s, Hastings attorney Sam Hertogs was in discussions to buy what is now known as Bent Creek Golf Course in Eden Prairie. But, Hertogs needed an investor to help finalize the transaction. His longtime friend and business partner, Bud Koch, stepped forward, gave Hertogs a big check and shook hands. That was the contract.

"I said to him, 'Now that you're one of the owners of Bent Creek Golf Course, let's go and look at it,'" Hertogs said.

Koch's response?

"Do I have to?"

Few people in Hastings knew Herbert Koch any better than Sam Hertogs. In 1953, Hertogs met Koch and his milk truck driving buddy, Wallace Pettit. A strike in the industry later prompted Koch and Pettit to start looking for work. They decided to buy a couple old milk trucks and go into business themselves.

That turned out to be a pretty good idea.

Polka Dot Dairy, Inc. was soon born. Then, the pair opened a few dairy stores. Soon, they started the Tom Thumb convenience stores. By the 1980s, they had more than 150 stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin and were showing $100 million worth of annual sales.

On Dec. 31, 1986, Koch sold out to Pettit. At 3 p.m. that day, Koch packed up his desk, took his potted plant and walked out of the office.

Polka Dot Dairy is still in business, and still going strong.

And Hertogs still loves talking about his friend.

"I miss him," he said. "Very much so. I can honestly say we had a superb relationship."

Hertogs was with Koch and Pettit in the board room at Polka Dot Dairy and Tom Thumb a lot. The three were the only directors the company had.

Hertogs saw Koch and Pettit make an untold number of great business decisions, and he saw them make a few bad ones. Hertogs laughed Tuesday morning when remembering one of those bad ones.

The duo once bought a night club near Mille Lacs.

"To say it was not a success would be an understatement," Hertogs said. "But they didn't have a lot of failures."

Hertogs remembers his friend as an avid angler who made numerous trips to British Columbia and Alaska. He was also a good cook, especially when it came to halibut and salmon, Hertogs said.

Nowadays, Hertogs stays busy looking after Koch's estate, and taking care of his 18 heirs. Over the years, Koch made countless donations to countless organizations in Hastings and the area. Even after his death, his legacy of giving lives on.

More on the land

Koch initially planned to build his mother a home on the property, but that never happened. So, the 141 acres were undeveloped.

In his will, Koch appointed four people to decide the land's fate. The guidelines were clear: It had to be open to the public, and it had to be donated within a set number of years. Jim Koch, Patty Stoneberg, Herb Koch and Dave Trammell were the four people tasked with giving the land away on the family's behalf. Jim Koch and Patty Stoneberg live in Hastings. They are siblings. Herb Koch lives in Loretto, and Trammell is a family friend who lives in Florida.

After much deliberation, the foursome decided on the sportsmen's club, and the official ceremony was held in April. Many members of the Koch family were on hand to see the land donated.

"When the family got there and got to see it, I think they felt part of it," Jim Koch said.

The family was thanked profusely.

"What we did was something really important to a lot of people," Jim Koch said. "(My uncle) didn't believe in making a big deal out of a lot of these things. Now that he's gone, I want to glorify him."

Mission accomplished.