This spring, Kent Koch will hit behind the runner and preside over city council meetings. He’ll turn two and determine whether his small town should contract with major cities for water. The St. Cloud State second baseman is also the mayor of Loretto, Minn., a tiny bedroom community 20 miles west of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
When he was sworn in Jan. 11 for a two-year term, Koch became the first person in the nation to serve as a city mayor while an NCAA student-athlete. The St. Cloud team captain batted .333 last season, helping the Huskies set a school record with 41 wins and come within one game of reaching the Division II College World Series. This year he will juggle studies and baseball while addressing issues important to his constituency.
He has already been dubbed The Mayor by teammates, who asked if he received a key to the city, a parking spot, or perhaps even an office. No, nah and nope. Instead, the part-time position includes a salary that tops out at $2,400 but comes with a to-do list that would fill a lineup card. At the top is whether Loretto should join forces with the Twin Cities for sewage and tap water services, and whether to re-open a compost site where residents disposed of shrubs, brush and wood.
"We'll be working hard on getting that compost site back,” Koch says. “The residents in the community really liked having that because they didn't have to pay for it and they didn't have to travel far to get there.”
Once again: he’s 23.
To understand Koch's interest in becoming mayor at such a young age, one must understand the love he has for his hometown, and one must simply understand Loretto.
Founded in 1886 by German and Dutch immigrants, Loretto was named after a Roman Catholic mission in Italy. One of the first businesses was Koch's Meat Market, which belonged to Kent's great-grandfather's brother.
Koch's interest in the city’s wellbeing began at a young age with the help of his parents, Herb and Shelly. Herb spent 29 years in the local fire department, rising to chief. He has since retired, but both parents remain involved as volunteer firefighters. Kent, meanwhile, was involved in the firefighting operation as a kid, and participated in clubs and community events.
"He's always been pretty active around town and he's really done a nice job of taking charge of things around here at times," Herb Koch says. "Kent has always been a leader and I think he'll do a tremendous job as mayor."
Loretto may sit a short drive from a major metro area, but you'd never know it making the quick drive through the city, pop. 600. There are no stoplights and only a single crosswalk, across Hennepin County Road 19. Originally a railway village and a farming community, Loretto has evolved into a small suburb of commuters.
"I had been thinking about running for mayor for a few years, but everything just seemed to fall right into place at the end of last year," Koch says. "It has been a great experience for my family because I have strong family ties to the area in the past and present, with several cousins and grandparents living in the area."
Koch had contemplated running for mayor for a few years, but there was a big difference between thinking about it and actually going through with it. The decision initially caught apartment roommate and St. Cloud State closer Ryne Schwenke off guard.
"At first when he told me, I kind of looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ Then I could really tell he was being straight up about it," Schwenke says. "Honestly, when he said he was running, it really didn't surprise me that much when I thought about it. He's the captain of our team and he's the type of guy that likes taking charge."
Koch ran unopposed on the ballot, and he didn’t claim a political party. But the attacks came anyway. Through a newspaper story, Koch caught wind that former Loretto mayor Tom Van Beusekom was putting together a write-in campaign to defeat him.
Koch responded with a little hardball of his own, placing yard signs around the community and making his presence felt at local businesses and with residents through face-to-face chats. He also checked with the NCAA to make sure his campaign was not a compliance violation.
"I'm not sure what sparked [Van Buesekom] to do that because he was mayor for 10 years, and he was a guy that I had waved to all the time around town," Koch says. "I got a good taste of small-town politics right away."
The write-in campaign was unsuccessful. On Election Day, Nov. 2, Koch garnered 189 votes while Van Beusekom received 109. The life of the middle infielder and finance major immediately became busier.
He spent the past few weeks meeting with former Loretto mayors and picking the brains of economics and political experts at St. Cloud State. He also attended a newly elected officials’ conference to get a better grasp on governing. And then, of course, there is baseball season, which begins in February.
"The first five months will be very challenging, balancing school, baseball and just the overall job of being the mayor," he says. "I only have three credits left to graduate, so I'm a part-time student. But with the Metrodome roof collapse, we may have to travel around the region to play some of our early games. I can still do things by phone and let my staff do the day-to-day operations."
His staff has three people.
With his role as city mayor becoming official last week, Koch is back at St. Cloud State after a ceremony, and
he's going to class and preparing for the upcoming season. He also is keeping close tabs on the happenings in Loretto, which is a one-hour drive from St. Cloud.
At baseball practice, Koch's teammates continue to joke with him. But beyond his chuckles, it's clear that Koch isn't the mayor of his hometown for publicity or cash. He wants to make a difference with the folks who helped mold his life.
"I was in Loretto for most of my life, I'm so much looking forward to the opportunity to make our town an even better place," he said. "There aren't any major issues that I ran on. It didn't come down to that. It simply came down to me finding yet another way to further serve my community."
No word yet on whether the middle-infield-mayor will throw out the first pitch.