THE END

Nicknamed Ally Cat, he loved hunting and fishing— and and the daughter whose cancer he helped battle

NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 3 2007
THE END

Nicknamed Ally Cat, he loved hunting and fishing— and and the daughter whose cancer he helped battle

NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 3 2007

Nicknamed Ally Cat, he loved hunting and fishing— and and the daughter whose cancer he helped battle

THE END

ALLISON ‘AL’ KOCH

1955 2007

Allison Koch was born in Provost, Alta., just west of the Saskatchewan border, on Feb. 7, 1955, to Peter and Marie Koch (pronounced "Cook"). The second of seven, Al, or Ally, as he came to be known, drew some early bad luck: his parents named their eldest, Emerson, for an engine manufacturer; Ally, named after the Allison Engine Company, received similar treatment. "If you called him that, you better be able to run," says Emerson. "Through time and history, he's had a few lives. That's how he got his nickname-Ally

part of a seismography crew, dragged the family through summer oil exploration jaunts across southern Saskatchewan. Winters, he left them behind in Provost for northern work. It was only with the purchase of a farming equipment dealership in Claybank, Sask., south ofMoose Jaw, that the Kochs knew stability. Ally preferred football, hockey and deer hunting to books and, with Grade 12 completed, took to carpentry. Work brought him to Coronach, near the U.S. border, where he helped build a power station. “Young, full of piss and vinegar, all those boys would do was carouse,” says Emerson. Soon, a car accident left Ally, a passenger in the vehicle, near death and with a shattered left leg. “I

guess that’s one of his lives,” says Emerson. On a fishing trip, father and son talked of what to do with Ally, who due to his injuries couldn’t return to construction. Emerson hit upon the idea of buying a service station in Tuxford, a village north of Moose Jaw, that Emerson and his family could run alongside Ally. “Maybe,” he thought, “I can settle Ally down.” Ally

soon developed a reputation as a first-class mechanic at Town and Country Gulf, which opened in late 1979 and also boasted a little café that Emerson’s wife, Karen, ran. In the early 1980s, with Karen expecting a third child, Emerson leased the café to Betty Ann Kuntz, a young woman who set about preparing soups and other daily specials. Ally became a regular. “I guess my cooking was good enough,” Betty Ann says. “The way to a man’s heart, you know?” Chief among his charms was “his smile—he had these nice little dimples.” They married a year later. Two daughters followed—Jessica in 1987 and Jennifer in 1990. A year later, Ally left the service station and began work at Simplot Canada, a fertilizer manufacturer. He also became mayor of Tuxford, a post Emerson had held previously; Ally’s

chief duty was maintaining the water treatment plant. Ally,

in his constant blue coveralls, loved old-time radio on 800 CHAB in Moose Jaw, collecting farmer’s caps, drinking Labatt Blue, hunting and making his own bread and deer sausages. He had a way of uttering incomplete curses—“SON-OF-A-,” he’d cry—that encouraged family members to stage impromptu impersonation contests. Recently, when Betty Ann went looking for him at his father’s cattle farm,

she spotted Ally “sitting down by the corral with the truck windows open and the music blasting; he was playing Frank Mills, Music Box Dancer,” she says. “The cows were standing there. They were all just relaxed.” But life wasn’t always easy. In 2000, doctors discovered a cancerous tumour in his left leg— the very one he’d broken years before. Surgery arrested the cancer but left the limb weak. During a visit to the West Edmonton Mall, when he slipped coming out of the hot tub, he snapped the femur, requiring a steel rod in his leg. Then,

in February, Jennifer, his youngest, was diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg. Ally, the residents of Tuxford and their extended family had soon organized fundraising events—steak dinners and street hockey tournaments—to help defray the costs of seeking treatment in B.C. Last summer, doctors in Vancouver removed a good portion of her femur and several tumours from her lungs, calling the intervention a tentative success. That prognosis was clouded some weeks ago, however, when a CT scan spotted what may be a new spot on her right lung. None of this impeded Ally’s frantic work schedule as he put up new street signs, maintained the roads and took care of garbage disposal. But it was little comfort to him that just earlier this year he’d been declared cancer-free. On

Sunday, Nov. 11, he and Betty Ann sat down to watch the Calgary Stampeders (his favourite team) battle it out with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (hers) when the Stampeders faltered. Ally, disgusted, left home to deliver paperwork in advance of a work promotion. He never did return. Betty Ann searched through the night but did not think to look at one untravelled spot where rumours had spoken of a big white-tailed buck; almost certainly, Ally went spotting for deer. Police found his truck overturned not far from there. Uncharacteristically, Ally had not been wearing his seat belt. “He used up his ninth life, I guess,” says Emerson.

NICHOLAS KÖHLER