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Columbia County supervisor Kirk Konkel dies at 74

December 18, 2018
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Just before the August 18 dedication of Columbia County's new buildings, Kirk Konkel, center, who had been chairman of the County Board's Ad Hoc Building Committee, chats with former Supervisor Teresa Sumnicht of Columbus, who had been a member of the committee, and Supervisor Henry St. Maurice of Columbus. Konkel was found dead Friday in his Portage home.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors has lost an influential member, with the unexpected death last week of Supervisor Kirk Konkel of Portage.

County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage said Konkel, 74, was found dead in his home Friday.

A county supervisor since 2010, Konkel was best known in recent years for his chairmanship of the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee, which oversaw the design and construction of the largest building project in county history — a project whose cost exceeded $46 million, and included new administration and health and human services buildings and a remodeled courthouse.

Gove appointed that panel, and tabbed Konkel as its chairman shortly after the County Board voted in November 2014 to borrow no more than $45.51 million for the project. The committee was dissolved in July.

“He was smart,” Gove said. “That’s why I supported him as chairman of the building committee.”

Konkel represented District 6 on the Columbia County Board, which encompasses wards 5 and 8 in the city of Portage. Gove said Konkel’s predecessor, Dr. J. Robert “Doc” Curtis of Portage, suggested Konkel run for the seat.

For Gove, a friendship with Konkel went back decades. When Gove was a detective lieutenant in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (he retired in 2000), he was chairman of what was then called the highway safety commission – and Konkel, an engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, was the state agency’s representative on the panel. Now called the traffic safety commission, the panel meets quarterly to discuss various road safety issues.

Konkel retired from the Department of Transportation in 2002 after more than 30 years on the job.

But his public service was just beginning.

Konkel had been chairman of the city of the Portage Parks and Recreation Board, and was a member of the city’s plan commission, said City Clerk Marie Moe.

It was the background with the city planning body that made Konkel valuable as a member of the Columbia County Board’s Planning and Zoning Committee, said Supervisor Kevin Kessler of the town of West Point, chairman of the planning and zoning committee.

“I think he brought a good deal of experience from the city of Portage, and from his work for the state of Wisconsin,” Kessler said. “I’ve found him always to be very thoughtful and reasonable. We didn’t always agree, but his opinions were always reasoned. I considered him a friend.”

Konkel’s other current committee assignment was to the highway committee, where he was vice chairman.

Over his years on the county board, he’d had numerous other committee assignments, including the chairmanship of the public safety committee and membership on the executive committee.

Both Gove and Kessler noted that Konkel had a straight-to-the-point communications style that some people might have considered blunt.

But Gove said Konkel had a “soft-hearted” side, as evidenced by his donation of all his county board pay to charities.

Funeral arrangements are not yet known, Gove said. He noted Konkel had no immediate family in Portage, and that he’d hailed originally from Marion, a community of about 1,200 that straddles Waupaca and Shawano counties.

Konkel’s passing will be remembered with a moment of silence, Gove said, when the county board convenes at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday for its monthly meeting.

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