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Koops retires after 14 years with First Reformed

PLATTE -- A staple in the community for his sense of humor, wit, strength and mess of white hair, Harry Koops is a household name in Platte. But on Sunday, Koops, pastor of First Reformed Church in Platte, shed a tear. There was no tragedy or dea...

Harry Koops, pastor of First Reformed Church in Platte, says goodbye to members of the congregation Sunday morning at the church. Koops presided over his final service Sunday, and will be retiring and moving to Michigan this week. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Harry Koops, pastor of First Reformed Church in Platte, says goodbye to members of the congregation Sunday morning at the church. Koops presided over his final service Sunday, and will be retiring and moving to Michigan this week. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

PLATTE - A staple in the community for his sense of humor, wit, strength and mess of white hair, Harry Koops is a household name in Platte.

But on Sunday, Koops, pastor of First Reformed Church in Platte, shed a tear.

There was no tragedy or death, though Koops has been with the town through many, including the Westerhuis murder suicide, in which Scott Westerhuis is believed to have shot and killed his family before setting the family's home on fire and killing himself.

Instead, Koops was overcome with emotion as he prayed his last blessing over the First Reformed Church's congregation, where he served as pastor for 14 years.

"Every job has something you don't like, but there's nothing that I don't like about my job here," Koops said. "When I got into ministry, it was like, this is what God intended me to be."

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With nearly 200 people in attendance, Koops said his final goodbyes on Sunday, as he and his wife, Beth, will move on Wednesday to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Koops will officially enter retirement.

But "retired" will be a loose term, according to Koops. Never one to make plans too far in advance, Koops isn't yet sure what he'll do with his spare time in Michigan, but he is confident it won't be wasted.

"As hard as it is to leave here, we are kind of excited to see what God has in store next," Koops said. "I'm real open to teaching or preaching or whatever it is. We don't plan to do nothing."

Koops hasn't always been a pastor, having spent 14 years as a trucker and 14 years after that as a counselor. Koops then entered the ministry in 2000, and completed seminary in 2003. He spent a 10-week internship with First Reformed Church, then returned in 2004 when he was appointed pastor. The 66-year-old spent his entire career as a pastor in Platte.

Koops, who was born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, encourages people to spend 15 minutes each day reading, studying or listening to God's word, according to Lorrinda Antonsen, a member of the church. And, she said, in his spare time, Koops enjoys reading and playing board games, and he is an avid toy tractor collector.

"We all have our stories with Harry, some that are funny and some that are sad," Antonsen said. "But we all have something to hang on and we went through it together. We are forever in faith, joined as one."

Antonsen added that Beth has also been vital to the church's operations during Koops' tenure. With a much quieter demeanor than her husband, Beth worked in the church office, displayed banners, ran the media operations and did "all of the jobs nobody else wanted to volunteer to do."

And Koops is also quick to credit his wife for his success as a pastor.

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"It would have been really hard to do ministry without her, because she's God-sent and really helps me," Koops said.

In a ceremony laden with tears and members of the congregation's memories shared with Koops throughout the years, one message remained constant: Koops made an impact on them all.

From Koops' ability to help one member through hard times, to his knack for getting into trouble and the time he baked a cake with 200 pennies inside to repay a debt, there was no shortage in stories shared. And for Koops, those memories will be ones that he carries with him, wherever he may go in the future because through all of his ventures, Koops said serving the people of Platte has been his favorite.

Although many people in Platte don't identify as Christian, Koops said the community has a "Christian feel," meaning that being a Christian isn't looked down upon, but rather celebrated, which he said is unique.

"Also, I think what's been neat is there's a strong sense of community here and people really pull together to support and encourage one another. That, and almost everybody seems to be related," Koops joked. "Good things happened before I was here, they happened while I was here and they'll no doubt happen after I leave, and I'm excited to hear all about them. We've really loved this town and they've really loved us. It's been something truly special."

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