Yakima loses community icon Ken Messer

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima lost one of its greats Tuesday. It's one that hits the KIMA family close to home. Ken Messer died Tuesday morning after a long struggle with lung cancer.

He recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Ken led this station for more than a decade and his dedication to this community was unparalleled.

On the surface, KIMA was built with brick and mortar. If you ask anyone who's been here long enough, KIMA stands strong because of Ken Messer.

"Ken Messer understood that respect was a gift that you give other people," said KIMA-TV Commercial Producer Bill McCann.

"Ken gave me a second chance in life," said KIMA-TV Sports Director Alan Sillence.

"He comes from a background of strength," said KIMA-TV salesperson Victoria Ives.

"A mentor to so many people," said KIMA-TV National Sales Manager Steve Crow.

"We had a good family relationship, a sense of team," said KIMA-TV Chief Engineer Cliff Grady.

Ken Messer came to KIMA in 1972 after working two years for our competitor over at KAPP-TV. Ken started for us in sales and, in the early 90s, moved up to become vice president - general manager for us along with our sister stations, KEPR-TV in the Tri Cities and KLEW-TV in Lewiston, Idaho.

"Powerful position, but you could talk to him just like he was your best friend," said KIMA-TV General Manager David Praga.

"Ken was the boss and to me he was very intimidating, but when you got to know him, I mean he was just a cuddly bear," said Sillence.

His mantra as a leader in local television was clear.

"It's very important that we try to put back in the community more than we take out," Messer said in 2004.

"Ken showed us all a way to live, work and be part of a community that we should all strive for," said KIMA-TV Station Manager Bob Berry.

Ken spearheaded local programs beyond the news.

Shows like "The Making of Washington Wine Country," "Downtown Yakima: A Work In Progress" and "Yakima's Best Kept Secrets" to name a few.

"He really wanted this community to be just a fabulous place to live so he had a lot invested in it," Crow said.

Plenty of faces changed on KIMA over the years while Ken remained constant. He was proud to see them move on to bigger and better things.

"He never wanted the spotlight, never," Praga said. "And, so many times he should have had the spotlight."

Ken still managed to pick his spots. When he felt an issue warranted more attention, Ken delivered a poignant commentary like this one on an upcoming Port Commission election in 2002.

"Why would we want one or two on the commission that would fight every potentially positive move a port could provide?" Messer said in a 2002 commentary.

It's impossible to describe his work for the community and give it justice.

"If somebody asked him to do something to be on a committee or be on a board, I don't think he would turn them down," said KIMA-TV Continuity Director Darlene Johnson

Here's just a sample. He served on the board of directors for the Sundown M. Ranch, The Central Washington State Fair Rodeo Association and the local chapter of the United Way, which recently recognized Ken as its Man of the Year.

"Whatever Ken has done, even though it may be very difficult, he made it look easy," said Jan Luring, Chair of the United Way of Central Washington.

There's more. Ken served as president for groups like Consumer Credit Counseling, The Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau as well as the Southwest Yakima Rotary.

"When you asked Ken to do something, the answer was yes and not I can't do it or I'm too busy," said Joe Falk, past president of the Southwest Yakima Rotary Club. "And, when he did say yes, you never had to worry about it getting done."

He was serious about his commitment, but not always serious. Ken was clearly willing to take one for the team.

"He would play jokes on different team members all the time," Praga said.

"He just loved to stir the pot," Crow said.

"You could hear him coming down the hall," said KIMA-TV Engineer Bob Murgel. "If someone cracked a joke at him or made him laugh, you knew he was coming."

"Ken had this wonderful laugh," McCann said.

"A very infectious laugh," Luring said.

Ken Messer was born in Yakima. He loved Yakima and was a broadcaster to his core, recognized as Broadcaster of the Year by the Washington Association of Broadcasters. Ken retired from KIMA in 2007 after 35 years with the station. He then ran things at KYVE until shortly before his death. It's unlikely we'll see the likes of him again.

"He personified community involvement," Berry said.

"I miss his grin," Grady said.

"He's a true friend," Luring said.

"Priceless," Praga said.

"I didn't do it. We all did it together and it's been a ball. It's been a ball," Messer said at his KIMA retirement party in 2007.

Not only did Ken Messer mean so much to the KIMA family, he has a very strong family of his own. He and his wife, Yakima City Council Member Kathy Coffee, have an extended family of six children, 16 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. We recently dedicated the KIMA studio to Ken to remind us of what he stood for and what we will continue to strive for. A plaque that serves as that reminder is in place a few feet behind the KIMA-TV news set.