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WIU alumnus Stephen Koch
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WIU Alumnus Returns to Macomb as Part of Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization

October 24, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – The connection between Western Illinois University and the local Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) chapter has grown into a strong one over the years, but it was enhanced recently when a Western alumnus, with strong ties to BBBS, returned to Macomb.

Stephen Koch, a 1977 political science graduate, is the president and chief executive officer of BBBS of Tampa Bay (FL). He returned to Macomb to speak at the annual awards ceremony for BBBS of Warren and McDonough Counties after an invitation from its director, Pete Tarantola, who received his master's degree from Western in recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) in 2014. Koch and Tarantola met at the June BBBS national convention in St. Louis, MO, and learned of their connection to WIU and to Macomb during a conversation.

Koch came to WIU in the 1970s from his family's farm in Mt. Sterling, IL, after being inspired by several of his high school teachers, who were also Western graduates.

"I am so proud of where I grew up and where I went to college," said Koch. "For me, being at WIU was always about the people; I met so many outstanding people that mentored me and helped me grow from a rather naive teenager to a young adult here."

Koch also made several long-term friends at the University, including retired Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Nell Koester. He said they remained friends until her passing in 1989.

"We became best friends and she was a huge influence on me in the years to come," he said.

As a WIU student, Koch was president of the University Union Board and helped bring numerous entertainers to campus. Within that organization, Koch remembers helping the WIU Hoof and Horn Club bring a rodeo to campus and working with a campaign to keep the football field covered in real grass.

Koch's mother, Rosalee Koch, had been a student at Western prior to WW II, but left before graduation. When Koch began studying at WIU his mother, who had raised six children, made the decision to come back to campus and finish her home economics degree.

"Her teachers quickly recognized that she was very intelligent and encouraged her to take classes in organic chemistry and microbiology, which led to a degree in food and nutrition," he said. She went on to become a registered dietitian and was, for years, the head dietician at Passavant Hospital in Jacksonville (IL). This all occurred because of the influence of people at Western, who gave her the confidence to do more than she ever thought possible."

Rosalee finished her degree in 1975. Koch's brother, Joe is a 1981 WIU agriculture graduate, who went on to become a veterinarian.

"I recruited him and one of his friends to come to WIU," he said. "At the time, there was a program to recruit siblings."

After his time at WIU, Koch went on to graduate from law school at the University of Dayton in 1980. He was a practicing attorney in Ohio, before moving later to Colorado and eventually Florida to continue the practice of law.

Koch also was extensively involved in volunteer work including an organization that provided spiritual support to the HIV community in Tampa Bay.

"There was still a lot of fear and discrimination surrounding HIV at that time, and I served on the board of that organization and helped with fundraising," he said. "I really enjoyed that work."

It was because of that experience that Koch said he was recruited by the BBBS of Tampa Bay organization to become a Big Brother in a program that was focused on working with youth who were HIV infected, or affected, called Project Care. Through that experience he was matched with Paul, who was born HIV-positive. The pair were matched from when Paul was age 7 to when he passed away at age 18.

Koch, who was the national Big Brother of the Year in 1999, took over as director of the organization in August 2002.

"This was not something I planned to do – I had left corporate America to start my own law firm and we were really doing well," he said. "At the same time, I had friends on the BBBS board as well as others who approached me and asked me to take over as CEO when the prior CEO retired. They encouraged me to do what makes me happy and I realized that was my volunteer work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. My philosophy is that you never know what's going to happen in life, so it's important to take advantage of every day."

The national BBBS office is also in Tampa Bay, so Koch's chapter works cooperatively with the national staff on numerous projects.

Koch was in Macomb Oct. 18 to serve as the featured speaker at the local BBBS annual banquet. He spoke about growing up in Western Illinois and going to college here, his time with the organization and his time as a Big Brother. He said he was very impressed with the work of the local BBBS team in Macomb, who serve approximately 100 youth annually.

During the ceremony, the second annual Bryce Dexter Impact Award was presented to Retired WIU RPTA Chair Dan Yoder, who serves on the BBBS Board. Dexter, the development director for the WIU College of Arts and Sciences, passed away in September 2017. He also served as a BBBS board member and as a Big Brother at least twice.

"He was the most sympathetic Big Brother," Tarantola said of Dexter. "He did so much for the kids and really contributed to our success.

For more information on BBBS, visit

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