Remembering Richard Wojt: Community commemorates former county commissioner, school teacher after his passing

Community commemorates former county commissioner, school teacher after his passing

Posted 11/3/22

Throughout his 85-year life Richard Wojt wore many hats: mountaineer, chemist, mentor, and more.

But perhaps the community cornerstone was best known by locals for his time as a county …

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Remembering Richard Wojt: Community commemorates former county commissioner, school teacher after his passing

Community commemorates former county commissioner, school teacher after his passing

Richard Wojt takes in the mountain views on a backpacking trip in the 1980s.
Richard Wojt takes in the mountain views on a backpacking trip in the 1980s.
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Koan
Posted

Throughout his 85-year life Richard Wojt wore many hats: mountaineer, chemist, mentor, and more.

But perhaps the community cornerstone was best known by locals for his time as a county commissioner and Chimacum High School teacher.

Known as a big and burly guy with a sweet-natured temperament, Wojt’s “teddy bear” personality was loved by many, said his wife, Carolyn Latteier.

“He was a generous and kind husband … a goal-setter, and slowly plotted towards completion,” Latteier added. “He loved Rhody, he just liked being in big groups of people.”

While he was rarely the most talkative in the room, Wojt’s incredible ability to strategize in a determined and methodic manner to complete his grand plans or visions greatly benefitted those around him and the community as a whole.

As county commissioner, Wojt was responsible for bringing forward the county’s first-ever comprehensive plan along with being a key advocate for the Larry Scott Trail.

Beyond just serving as commissioner, Wojt was a part of multiple boards and organizations including the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, Jefferson County Historical Society, Sunrise Rotary Club, and more.

“I think about dad as focused and deliberate. He would set a goal in his mind that you never knew about, and follow it deliberately step by step by step,” said Cynthia Koan, Wojt’s daughter.

Much like the popular “rest-step” hiking technique, Wojt would utilize long-term planning to achieve his professional or personal goals one step at a time, Koan said.

“It’s a very deliberate way to make your way up a mountain; I think of that as a strong metaphor for my father,” Koan added.

The majority of Wojt’s later life was spent on the Olympic Peninsula, but he grew up in Bellingham, discovering his affinity for the great outdoors in the dense Western Washington forests.

He even trekked all of the trails in the Olympic Mountains — more than 900 miles in total — at the age of 50. Beyond that, he hiked all around the world, visiting Nepal, Scotland, and England in his time.

That love for Mother Nature was spread to his students after Wojt joined Chimacum High School as a science teacher, establishing a hiking club for adolescents to find or grow a love for the outdoors.

He even utilized his ingenuity and strategic planning to help fundraise for the club in a unique way.

“He was a man of deep integrity. Once he’d explored a topic and made up his mind, his commitment was granite,” said Scott Wilson, former publisher of The Leader.

“In the face of political adversity, he never blinked. He was mentally tough, and physically tough,” Wilson said, adding that Wojt climbed every trail on the Olympics in his 50th year.

Back in the black-and-white film days, Wojt would pick up donated film fluid from The Leader’s office and bring it to school for a science lesson.

“He would bring that back to his science class, and they would help extract the silver from this fluid, and then, in those days during the late 1970s, he would sell the silver they extracted and put it in the hiking club fund to buy equipment the students could use,” Koan said.

Education was always a central aspect of Wojt’s life, and it’s what brought him out to Port Townsend in the first place in the 1960s to be an educator at the Fort Worden’s former juvenile treatment center.

“He just loved working with kids; the first school day of year he’d put on tuxedo and shake hands with every kid in the class,” Latteier said.

Growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia as a kid, Wojt overcame the odds and proved many wrong by becoming an accomplished scholar, with degrees in chemistry and education from Western Washington University.

After graduating, he earned a fellowship opportunity to attend one of Atlanta, Georgia’s historically Black colleges and universities in the midst of the civil rights movement  during the ’60s.

“That was a formative time for him as well, being exported out the Pacific Northwest and to the South during civil rights history,” Koan said.

When Koan asked him what values he learned from that time Wojt responded, “No one is more than or less than anyone else.” It’s a quote that still sticks with his daughter to this day.

Wojt’s love for education evolved into mentorship later on in life as many of his former students, including current County Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour, reached out to him for advice or just to chat.

“I do remember that he really ignited a sense of curiosity in me and made learning fun,” Eisenhour said. “He was also a really steady person; a constant in my life.”

Eisenhour’s first start in local government came after Wojt appointed her to the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

“He just had a way of knowing when it was the right time for a person to be involved in something,” Eisenhour said, adding, “Our last conversation, I said, ‘Richard you really were an inspiration for almost my entire life … I think that he really set the stage for me to decide to run [for county commissioner].’”

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