Retiring police officer Mark Koeppe shares a story during his retirement event on Nov. 30. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

On the local police beat full-time for the past 28 years, Mark Koeppe has one of the most recognizable faces in Philomath.

Many folks will always remember him as the police officer who taught Safety Town for more than a quarter century — the program that teaches incoming kindergarten students everything from gun safety to stranger danger.

Inside the police station, his fellow officers, superiors and other co-workers will miss the stories, the sense of humor and perhaps most of all, the man’s calming presence that can mean the world in a high-stress occupation.

Koeppe, who will be 60 later this month, worked his final day on Wednesday. City employees, family and friends gathered for a special retirement event at City Hall to show their appreciation for his accomplishments.

“He’s one of those guys you have to have in your department — someone everybody likes, admires, trusts and gives advice in all different ways,” Philomath Police Chief Ken Rueben said. “And his history and knowledge of the town with issues that have happened and people that we’ve dealt with and their backgrounds — that’s huge.

“He brings happiness to the office, especially during the tough times,” Rueben continued. “That’s a hard trait, you can’t train that. That’s intrinsic — you’re born with it or you’re not.”

Koeppe said he could’ve retired four or five years ago but decided to stick it out.

City Councilor Ruth Causey presents retiring officer Mark Koeppe with a plaque in recognition of his 28 years of service with the police department. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“I wasn’t really ready,” he explained. “I mean, if you’re enjoying it, then stay with it. … But I’m a little too old to be out wrestling young guys.”

Koeppe remembers the moment at age 21 when he first became interested in public safety.

“I was on South 13th Street driving home from my job at Bob’s Hamburgers and they put on a radio ad saying ‘Philomath looking for a few good men to be reserve officers’ and I thought that would be interesting,” Koeppe said. “So, I went down and got an application.”

The police department mentioned that the fire department was also taking applications — and he ended up contributing as a volunteer reserve firefighter for quite a few years.

Koeppe ended up taking classes at Linn-Benton Community College.

“That’s how I got started but I wasn’t really sure that I was going to do it,” he said.

Koeppe came on board at Philomath PD in 1985 as a reserve and in 1993, he was hired in a part-time capacity for a year. The job became a full-time career in 1994.

Koeppe worked under four police chiefs — Richard Raleigh, Russ Hunt, Ken Elwer and Rueben. He received various promotions through the years, reaching senior police officer in 2003, where he worked for the last 19.

Police Chief Ken Rueben and retiring officer Mark Koeppe share a laugh. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Koeppe for many years has been involved with the Philomath school system for events that have included the aforementioned Safety Town, as well as the bike rodeo and hunter safety training programs.

“Every one of my kids knows who Officer Koeppe is,” City Manager Chris Workman said. “And I think that’s true for just about every kid in the community with the extra effort he’s done. … He really sets the tone for these kids growing up — they don’t grow up in fear of the police because they’ve met Officer Koeppe. I think that goes a long way in the community.”

In September 2019, Koeppe received the League of Oregon Cities’ Civic Education Award. Rueben read to the room excerpts from a write-up that had been done on Koeppe from that evening in Bend, which outlined his contributions, including the Safety Town program.

“For years, residents of Philomath have commented that his classes were some of the fondest memories of their childhood,” Rueben said. “You can’t put it any better than that.”

A slideshow with various images of Koeppe from his career in law enforcement were shown on a loop on three monitors in the City Hall’s meeting room. One of them showed Koeppe with an eye swollen shut.

Among the photos included in a slideshow showed Koeppe with an eye swollen shut. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

On that particular call, which occurred at 1 or 2 in the morning, dispatch told him that a naked guy was in a parking lot swinging a tire iron at moving vehicles.

“He wasn’t naked, but I see him and I’m going to talk to him and could tell he was on ‘bath salts,’” Koeppe recalled, describing how the confrontation became physical. “He stands up with me on top of him and I’m thinking ‘that’s not good’ and he head-butts me.”

Bath salts, by the way, is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant.

Koeppe said he’s never been shot at during his years in the uniform but there were times when he thought it might happen.

“There was a domestic one time — I knocked on the door and the guy showed up buck ass naked with a handgun,” he said. “So I dropped to a knee and fortunately, he dropped the gun when I told him to because who knows where that would’ve gone.”

At his retirement event, Koeppe received several gifts, including a Colt 1911 handgun that was made in 1918 that’s believed to have been used in World War I and World War II.

“I’ve wanted one of these for as long as I can remember,” Koeppe said. “But I wouldn’t spend that much money on myself.”

Mark Koeppe said the Colt 1911 pistol presented to him as a retirement gift was a firearm that he had always wanted. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Garry Black, Public Works director, shared kind words for Koeppe’s contributions to the city and presented him with a few gifts, the highlight being a homemade wooden American flag that included a thank you for his service.

The city presented Koeppe — City Councilor Ruth Causey doing the honors — with a plaque in recognition of his service. Workman presented him with his firearm, which retired with him.

Although Koeppe has retired full-time, he will continue to help the police department from time to time as a reserve officer. Rueben did a short swearing-in ceremony to make it official.

“I really wanted him to be a reserve officer so he can continue helping us with firearms training as we need him and for doing some of the community things, especially the hunter safety stuff, which has been so critical in our area for young children,” Rueben said after explaining how Koeppe’s firearms training expertise has been crucial for the department.

Rueben said the police department is fully staffed with replacements hired for the three most-recent vacancies, including Koeppe’s retirement. Two of those are new to law enforcement and the other is a lateral transfer.

The two new officers, however, won’t be able to attend the state’s law enforcement academy until next June to receive required training because of a backlog of recruits. They are scheduled to join the force in mid-December and get started in the local department’s field training program before, instead of after, the academy.

Mark Koeppe seemed to enjoy the wrapping paper that was part of a gift presented to him by Public Works Director Garry Black. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.