Honoring a Colleague and Friend: Steve Koziol Memorial Salmon Derby
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For Cole Gunter, his colleagues aren’t just people he spends an eight-hour workday with; they are a tightknit community of close friends whose commitment to each other extends outside the workplace. For six years, Steve Koziol worked as Cole’s foreman at the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington State, where they were hydromechanics. Steve always told the best jokes and was a skilled craftsman and a true outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing. Steve was in his late fifties, and otherwise healthy, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Following his diagnosis, Steve remarkably continued to work during treatment. He was determined to beat this disease, and his colleagues were there to support him; when he was no longer well enough to take on maintenance projects in his home, a close group of colleagues immediately stepped in to perform the needed repairs. Despite treatment, his condition took a turn for the worse, and he passed away in 2010 shortly after his co-workers took him on one final memorable hunting trip. Steve was only 60 and left behind his devoted family, friends, and many devasted colleagues.
A few years later, Cole reached out to Steve’s family because he was looking for a way for Steve’s colleagues, friends, and family to remember and celebrate him. Steve had loved salmon fishing, and with his family’s blessing, Cole established the annual Steve Koziol Memorial Salmon Derby. Cole didn’t have any experience with fundraising or event planning, but he was determined to hold an event worthy of honoring his friend.
Cole recommends finding someone to assist with event logistics—the way he enlisted the help of his colleague Whitney Fields, who worked with him to organize five derby events. Together, they created flyers and reached out to local vendors who have continued to be very generous with their donations. Since the inaugural event in September 2015, word has spread, and the event now attracts 50+ participants from all over Washington State who enter the competition to catch the biggest salmon in the Columbia River. There are prizes for the winners—and sometimes the value of the donated prizes exceeds how much the event raises! Planning is already underway for the eighth annual event, scheduled for Saturday, September 16, 2023.
Cole discovered the Lustgarten Foundation through online research and immediately wanted to get involved when he learned 100% of all donations fund research—the type of breakthrough research that wasn’t available to help Steve but promises to benefit thousands of future patients. To date, the Steve Koziol Memorial Salmon Derby has raised more than $14,000 for Lustgarten-supported pancreatic cancer research.
“Through Steve’s experience with pancreatic cancer, I’ve learned how fragile life is and how important it is to make the most of every day,” shared Cole. “Events like this help keep Steve’s memory alive and draw attention to pancreatic cancer and the need for more research.” On a personal level, organizing the derby has been a gratifying experience for Cole, as he has connected with others who have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer who have thanked him for shining a spotlight on this often-overlooked disease.
“It is humbling to watch how many people attend this event and pay tribute to Steve,” said Cole. “I will continue to organize the Steve Koziol Memorial Salmon Derby because I would do anything to help someone else not have to go through what Steve did.”