Laughs, tears at Oke ceremony

In a ceremony full of hugs, humor and heartfelt words of gratitude and admiration, the Kitsap County commissioners on Monday dedicated the newly named “Bob Oke Community Center” at Long Lake County Park.

“In honor of his unwavering dedication to the community and for his work securing long-term funding for the cleanup of the lake, we are pleased to name this building for Sen. Oke,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, after unveiling the new sign hanging outside with her fellow commissioners Chris Endresen and Patty Lent.

“Hopefully, my name on the door will keep away any vandalism,” Oke quipped, referencing the trash can fire set by vandals that gutted the center two summers ago.

It was just one of the many light-hearted moments that followed as, one-by-one, the audience full of neighbors, friends and colleagues praised Oke’s commitment to both his job and his community.

“The city can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done,” said Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel, while many of the other officials present thanked Oke for being an inspiration both personally and professionally.

“You embody everything that every public official should strive for — honesty, integrity and dedication,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Endresen, explaining that while she and Oke “belong to different parties,” he was always both “honest and polite” whenever they have disagreed.

“I don’t know anyone who’s worked harder for our community,” said Melode Sapp, executive director of the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce. “I hate to let you go into retirement.”

Oke, still recovering from a grueling stem-cell treatment for a rare blood cancer, has one more year to serve on his fourth — and, most likely, final — term as a 26th District senator.

Oke talked openly about his illness and even cracked a few jokes about his recovery, some of which elicited the loudest laughs and applause.

After Endresen noted it seemed especially appropriate to be naming that particular building after Oke, since both had endured a “bump (in the road) or illness,” the senator jumped right in with, “I am just thankful that I am here with (my wife) Judy, rather than her alone, talking about me.”

Angel agreed, saying all too often such honors are given after someone has passed on, but “Today we are doing what we should be doing, which is honoring him, with him sitting right here.”

Finally, before breaking into his cake, Oke took to the podium.

“I have been blessed with the opportunity to make things happen — that’s the core of this job,” he said. “I thank God every day that I’m part of this community.”

Oke has been working with the Citizens for Improving Long Lake (CILL) for years, supporting their efforts to create and implement a clean-up plan to rid the lake of invasive plants and toxic algae blooms.

CILL, which includes President Ken Spohn and other homeowners concerned about the health of the lake, spent the past three years researching and discussing options before formulating the plan, which is to pay an environmental engineering company $1.1 million dollars to not only rid the lake of its three main problem plants, but to implement a 10-year management plan.

This year, Oke helped secure two streams of funding for the lake — a Capital Budget request submitted by him that will put at least $750,000 toward the lake’s clean-up, along with his SB 5699, which will help rid state lakes of toxic algae blooms and nuisance weeds, especially freshwater one like Long Lake.

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