Landmarks relating to Longview’s history pepper the city: Signs that read “Welcome to Historic Downtown Longview.” A sculpture of R.A. Long sitting on a bench at Broadway and Commerce. Information panels on the Chief Lelooska Totem Pole on Broadway. A sapling that grows in the shadow of the Monticello Convention memorial tree along Tennant Way.
At least some of the credit for these and many other tributes to the city goes to Bill Kasch, 80, who has spent decades of his life promoting Longview and preserving and celebrating is unique history.
“I’m not the sharpest blade in the ... book,” Kasch said. “But I keep pecking at things. I keep working on them.”
After his stroke in December, there’s one final project on Kasch’s list — to complete two monuments in the Civic Circle honoring Longview war veterans.
Kasch is trying to raise money for the project, which would place a memorial to Longview soldiers who died in World War II and another for those who died in America’s conflicts since then. It will cost $10,000, he said. Kasch hopes the monuments will be ready by Veterans Day in November.
Other contributions from Kasch, though, go unnoticed. In his spare time he still fills boxes with weeds that have grown around his downtown signs.
“The people of Longview are wonderful people, but they don’t even bother to pick up a pop can,” Kasch said. “They just leave things the way they are.”
Kasch was born in Longview but didn’t grow up here. Before he moved to to the city permanently in his 50s, he traveled the world teaching history and physical education to middle schools on military bases. He lived in Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain and Turkey. He has traveled to many other nations during that time.
When his mother died, he returned to Longview to care for his failing stepfather. Kasch took over his family home on Nichols Boulevard after his stepfather’s death.
His wife, Donna Kasch, said her husband compares his return here to salmon returning to the streams of their birth. She said when he’s done with the veterans’ monuments, she expects him to come up with another project.
“His mind is always working,” Donna Kasch said. “It never sleeps. He’s always looking for things to do and perfect.”
She became his “traveling mate” after they began dating upon his move to Longview. Photos line the walls of their home: photos of them with the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and — a photo that Donna said “breaks my heart” — the Palmyra temple in Syria, which the Islamic State destroyed last year.
His 13 passports are packed with customs stamps. His house is filled with mementos from his travels — Kurdish plates, Turkish rugs, ornaments that honored Chinese emperors or gods.
“Kind of a strange, weird life we live,” he said. “I figure if one God’s good, they’re all good.”
The couple hasn’t traveled for years. Instead Kasch has poured his time into his city pursuits.
“I’m very happy to have lived in this town,” he said.
He was an active member of the Longview Historic Preservation Commission until his stroke. Kasch spent years on many projects, often paying for some himself. As of 2013, contributions from him and his wife added up to more than $15,000,he estimates.
“I’m running out of steam,” he said.
Mayor Don Jensen said for years Kasch would appear at City Hall almost every week to meet with him, often with project ideas he wished he would have thought of himself.
“He can be really, really pushy at times actually, but in a good way,” Jensen said. “He is a tireless worker for the city.”
And Kasch said he probably has a record for number of “letters to the editor” submitted to The Daily News.
“For 23 years I never missed a month,” he said.
On the morning of his stroke in late December, Kasch was reading the paper when he said, “This doesn’t make any sense.” He told his wife the print looked like Chinese letters, an effect of the stroke.
Doctors prescribed speech therapy. As an alternative, Kasch has diligently read the paper out loud, his wife said. To her, one attribute about her husband stands out: perseverance.
Kasch, in fact, owns a framed quote from President Calvin Coolidge about persistence: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. ... Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
“I want to be remembered,” he said, “as the guy who got things done.”