The only person more well-known in retiring state Sen. Bill Stoltze’s, R-Senate District F, legislative district is his mother, Susan Stoltze. She has spent more time stumping for her son than any other political mother and she set for him a fruitful example of getting to know anyone and everyone within the district.
“Everyone knew me not because of me but because of her,” Stoltze said as he took the microphone during the Dec. 19 two-hour long honorary roast featuring a list of who’s who in state politics as well as locals who’ve partnered with Stoltze during his three decades plus career of public service.
On Jan. 17, 2017, when the state legislature begins its next session, it will be the first time in 34 years that Stoltze won’t be on hand either as a staffer for another legislator or as a lawmaker himself sitting in the hot seat.
“I am going to miss it,” Stoltze said. “But I think there are still many things I can right here.”
Current Rep. Shelley Hughes, District 8, is the senator-elect set to take over Stoltze’s position.
“I am going to keep your number close by,” Hughes told Stoltze at the roast held in the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center’s dining room, which was renamed in his honor Monday night.
It was a fitting tribute, according to the center’s executive director, Linda Hendrickson.
“I was looking back today and found out that Bill started his legislative career about the same time that I started here at the center,” Hendrickson told the ECHO News before the program began as guests were greeting Stoltze and snacking on the buffet offerings. “He has been a partner with us all along the way. He has had a part in every major and minor addition or renovation made here and for everything he has done that makes the public eye, there are two more things Bill does for our residents here that he never advertises.”
Several of the evening’s speakers mentioned Stoltze’s wealth of knowledge regarding the district he represented and how other parts of the state affected it and vice versa.
“I don’t think there is another legislator out there that knows his or her district the way that Bill Stoltze knows his,” Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Senate District D, said. Huggins served as the event’s emcee.
Others highlighted Stoltze well-known ability to get things done within the bureaucratic system that characterizes lawmaking.
“He knows process better than anyone,” Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-District 12, said. Tilton succeeded Stoltze in 2015 when he was elected to the state Senate. “I have him on speed dial and I call him all the time.”
Stoltze, a humble, aw-shucks kind of guy, talked the most about his family – including his nephew Konrad Koehler of Konrad’s Workshop situated right next door to Stoltze’s Chugiak office on the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak – when given the opportunity to address the crowd gathered in “his” dining hall.
“I have several nephews and they are all terrific, but Konrad is by far my favorite,” Stoltze of the young adult who sat by him for the bulk of the event and stood by Stoltze holding his hand while Stoltze thanked those in attendance for their kind words and presence at the event. “As most of you know, Konrad has Down’s Syndrome, but even so, he’s a pretty darn good politician.”
Stoltze relationships with Koehler typifies his approach to all people in his district. As per his well-documented track record, Stoltze took as much time shaking hands and swapping stories with senior center residents walking with the assistance of wheelchair as he did with able-bodied community movers and shakers.
“When I come here, I don’t just visit constituents,” Stoltze said. “I visit friends.”
He is a life-long resident of Senate District F. Stoltze was born in 1961 in Anchorage. He is a 1979 graduate of Chugiak High School having represented the Mustangs on the wrestling mat.
Huggins had some fun trolling the dining hall for answers to what weight division Stoltze wrestled in high school.
Larry Wood, a senior center board member, chimed in with 135.
Other numbers circulated the room – 132, 118.
Stoltze’s uncle came close with 112.
It was 113, Huggins said, adding the all too predictable, but welcome anyway, “that was a long time ago,” that generated many laughs.
Stoltze is a 1984 graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science. He spent the next 20 years learning the ropes of Alaska politics as a staff for several local legislators.
In 2003, he began his career as a legislator by winning election to District 11 formerly held by Gretchen Guess. Stoltze remained as the representative from his home district until 2015 when he became senator. During his time in the state house, Stoltze got on the finance committee and “he stayed there,” as Huggins described it. He was its vice chair from 2005 to 2008 and its co-chair from 2008 to 2014 and he effectively steered funding for worthwhile projects within his district – including numerous improvement at the senior center, bridges that needed repair and funds for sports fields including the Tom Huffer Football Stadium at Stoltze’s beloved, CHS.
His work wasn’t just legislatively-oriented.
He was a driving force behind the establishment of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks minor league team. He remains one of its most ardent supports through its booster club. More than just a major fan of all things baseball and rooting for the home team, Stoltze can quote scores and stats from all levels – from Little League to high school to “The Show” as the professionals are called – without even pausing to recall the information.
Thus, it again was fitting that his fellow legislators chipped in to buy him Seattle Mariners tickets. It brought an unmistakable boyish smile across his face as most likely thoughts of fresh hot peanuts and the seventh inning stretch danced in his head.
Stoltze is also a board member for the Alaska Special Olympics, a charter member of the Chugiak Lions Club, Elks Lodge #2682 and a life member of the senior center. He was the volunteer delegation services leader for the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games and he is a member of the National Rifle Association and a supporter of shooting sports.
While he and Koehler enjoyed samplings from the buffet, Stoltze took several phone calls from folks stuck on the Glenn Highway due to several traffic collisions who called to convey congratulations because they wouldn’t make the event. Members of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department on hand at the honorary roast were called out for officials duties and others at the event joked that if it wasn’t being held in his honor, Stoltze might have left with them just so he could help others. With some humility and the dry sense of humor locals have come to expect, Stoltze later commented that had everyone else gotten there, he might have been in trouble with the fire marshal for violating capacity codes.
Editor’s Note: Over the years, I have always found Sen. Bill Stoltze to be willing to answer questions and help clarify convoluted issues. The ECHO News congratulates you on your three-plus decades of service and thanks you for the work you’ve done for Chugiak (and Eagle River).