Photography by Craig Howard
“Lake Life” is an original comic strip by local writer/artist and Gazette contributor Craig Howard featuring Liberty Lake themes, history and characters. It features the adventures of the Liberté family – dad Jake, mom Peg, daughter Claire, son Satchel and dog Dwight. No one is quite sure if they live north or south of Sprague Avenue but they love Liberty Lake.
Cell phones were hardly en vogue when Kevin Stocker found himself among the potential selections in the 1991 Major League Baseball Draft.
Most baseball pundits expected Stocker, who had just finished an impressive junior season as the starting shortstop at the University of Washington, to be taken in one of the early rounds. Yet by the evening of June 3, the first day of the draft, the Spokane Valley native and 1988 Central Valley High grad was still waiting.
“I figured by early afternoon, I’d be getting a phone call if I was taken in one of the first few rounds,” recalls Stocker who was taking finals at the time.
That May, the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs had reached out to Stocker, who was eligible for pro baseball after three years at UW. He had not considered baseball as a career option until after his sophomore season.
Turns out the team who picked the standout infielder had trouble finding his number.
By around 8 that night, Stocker was called to pay phone on the Seattle campus. A representative of the Philadelphia Phillies was on the line, letting him know that he had been picked in the second round, 54th overall.
The team had to go through Kevin’s parents, Chuck and Lu in Spokane Valley, to find out how to reach him. Bill Harper, a regional scout for the Phillies, eventually met with Stocker and his dad to discuss his first contract and signing bonus.
“They offered $100K at first,” Stocker said. “I remember Bill getting on the phone with the Phillies’ scouting department. I wanted $140K to sign. We got to $130K and Bill says, ‘We’ve never paid that much to any second round pick.’”
Stocker took a break from the negotiating table and went for a walk in nearby parking lot. At first, he had no intentions of budging from his request. Finally, he settled for the Phillies’ offer with the rationale that “you make your real money in the big leagues.”
Stocker, now 49, will be the first to tell you that times – and signing bonuses – have changed from his day. While broadcasting the college baseball post-season last week, Stocker was part of coverage that included updates from the 2019 MLB Draft. Oregon State, one of the teams in the super regional Stocker was covering, boasted the No. 1 overall pick in junior catcher Adley Rutschman, who will be paid $8.2 million by the Baltimore Orioles just to sign on the dotted line.
Had Stocker been the 54th selection this year, he could have walked away with a bonus of over $1.3 million.
At 21, Stocker was wise with his signing cash. He was paid in two installments of $65,000 and spent part of the first portion on a two-door Honda Accord. The rest went into savings. These days, his penchant for less-than-flashy but reliable vehicles continues as he can be found behind the wheel of a Honda truck.
Stocker, who has lived in Liberty Lake with his wife Brooke since 1999, has no bitterness about missing out on the big baseball money of today. He played in the major leagues from 1993 to 2000 with the Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Anaheim Angels, posting a career .254 batting average and committing only 116 errors in 3.756 chances at shortstop.
Stocker had a less-than-auspicious start to his pro career after reporting to the Phillies’ low-A farm team in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the first time he had been east of the Mississippi River. Earning a salary of $750 a month, the highly touted pick hit only .220 over his first two months. Still, Stocker’s defense was stellar and he received encouragement in the dugout.
“I think it was just the pressure I was putting on myself,” he said. “As a young player, you think they’re going to release you. On the team’s end, they know you’re going to stay around so they say you’re doing great. They want you to move through the minor leagues as quickly as possible.”
Things improved for Stocker the following year as he adjusted to a wood bat from his aluminum days in college. He rose to the AA-club in Redding, Pennsylvania by the end of 1992, hitting .250 and continuing his defensive handiwork. Later that year, in the Arizona Fall League, his average elevated to over .300.
That winter, while working out at Hec-Ed Pavilion on the UW campus, Stocker got a call from the Phillies, informing him that he would be a non-roster invite to the big league camp the following spring. While he did not make the final cut, Stocker impressed the Phillies’ brass. In early July, while playing at AAA Scranton, he got the call every baseball player hopes for.
Stocker’s first big league game with the Phillies came on July 7, 1993 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Philadelphia. The starting lineup posted in the dugout included the rookie’s name on a patch of tape, not the ornate plates used for veteran players. In a game that went 20 innings, Stocker came up with a critical throw to the plate in the top of the 10th inning, preventing a Dodgers’ run. The Phillies eventually won 7-6.
Stocker would go on to hit .324 in 70 games for the Phillies who won the National League pennant for the first time in a decade. Philadelphia advanced to face the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series, falling in six games. It would be 15 years before the team appeared in another Fall Classic.
These days, Stocker is adjusting to life as an empty nester with Brooke. They are proud parents of three grown kids – McKenna, Logan and Zach – all CV grads. Stocker has established a successful career as a broadcaster with the Phillies, CBS College Sports and PAC-12 Networks.
Looking back 28 years ago this month to his draft day adventure and foray into the majors, Stocker still rings with game-day enthusiasm.
“You’re excited, you’re anxious,” Stocker recalls of breaking into pro ball. “You realize that if you want extra hitting, that’s your problem. You learn to think of it as a career, not just playing baseball.”
It may have been the closest thing Liberty Lake ever came to Bigfoot.
When the Weeping Blue Spruce outside Screen Tek Inc. on Appleway began to take on a life of its own, longtime employees like Emily Synold recall bypassers stopping by to gawk. A co-worker had added a pair of giant googly eyes, transforming the massive shrub into a leafy version of the Abominable Snowman.
“We’d see people in the parking lot, taking pictures,” Synold said.
Screen Tek, a manufacturer of custom-made printed graphics, has called Liberty Lake home since 1988, six years after it was founded. Sybold said the company’s most recognizable plant “just kind of started to weep the wrong way.” A dense, sprawling version of the Evergreen Tree, the Weeping Blue Spruce is known for growing in a narrowly upright and columnar fashion. Screen Tek’s spruce was positioned just to the right of the main entrance, scaling over 10 feet and acting as a foreboding de facto gatekeeper.
“It was a novelty that was fun and kind of cute but you had to walk around it,” said Screen Tek co-owner Scott Mader who purchased the company last year with his wife Miesha. “We had customers that would have to duck to get in.”
Earlier this year, the decision was made to retire Screen Tek’s most famous landscape landmark. Don Nelson of Tree Artistry in Otis Orchards, who trims the foliage around the Screen Tek property, transformed the tree into a carved piece of art featuring two squirrels scrambling for an acorn. The Screen Tek Inc. acronym, in patriotic red, white and blue, is also part of the design.
“It had really become too overgrown,” Mader said. “It had its time. Some folks wanted to keep it, others wanted it to come down. We were just more concerned about our customers scraping their heads.”
Synold, who has worked for Screen Tek since 1997, said the transition from shrub monster to dueling squirrels has been accepted in stride.
“There may have been some people who were a little sad that it went away but there was no protest or anything,” she said.
Mader said Liberty Lake’s rendition of a non-deciduous Sasquatch will be remembered fondly.
“After the eyeballs were added, people were like, ‘What’s the deal with this?’” he said. “It was just kind of this weird company mascot that will always be part of Screen Tek lore.”
Leslie Zilka remembers when the Spokane Symphony made its celebrated premiere at Pavillion Park nearly two decades ago.
Zilka was serving as president of Friends of Pavillion Park (FOPP) at the time, a nonprofit group that has coordinated the community’s popular Summer Festival for the past 22 years. While the local orchestra had appeared at Comstock Park on Spokane’s South Hill for years, bringing brass, wind, string and percussion sections to Liberty Lake’s popular greenspace would prove to be quite the coup.
“The festival was growing but to bring in the symphony made it a bonafide summer event,” said Zilka who served as FOPP president from 2000 through 2001. “It was absolutely fantastic.”
The Labor Day weekend tradition has remained intact ever since. The concert is named after the late Lud Kramer, who served as Washington Secretary of State from 1965 to 1975 and was integral to a number of community causes after moving to Liberty Lake later in life.
Zilka said Kramer was the one who took the initiative to secure the festival’s signature feature.
“It was Lud who pled our case to the symphony,” Zilka said. “I think it cost us $10,000 that first year.”
Over the years, the festival has gained in notoriety while still maintaining its commitment as a free, family-friendly draw. Neighbors whose homes sit near the park joke that they can lounge on their back porch and hear Grammy nominees and winners, live at no cost.
“When we had Robert Cray here a few years ago, I got calls from people who were here from out of town, asking where they could get tickets,” said current FOPP Vice President Dave Himebaugh. “They just couldn’t believe that it was free.”
This year’s Summer Festival kicks off July 3 with a screening of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” at Pavillon Park, starting at dusk. The night after, The Fourth of July Concert will feature the Big Band sounds of headliner Tuxedo Junction with its moniker borrowed from a Glenn Miller song title. Fireworks sponsored by the city of Liberty Lake will follow the music.
Himebaugh said FOPP “saved some money this year by not going with any national acts.” For years, the Holiday Ball at the Davenport Hotel raised critical funds for the festival. With that event shelved, FOPP has been discussing funding scenarios with the city of Liberty Lake, a sponsor of the festival along with STCU and Liberty Lake Kiwanis.
“The city has been very supportive,” Himebaugh said. “We’re still finalizing the funding for the symphony concert.”
In 2007, FOPP rallied to preserve the festival with no deletions despite cancellation of the Holiday Ball the previous December due to scheduling conflicts at the Davenport. Greenstone Homes and surplus funds in the FOPP coffers saved the day.
Debuting this year will be the Liberty Lake Throw Down, set for Aug. 24 at Orchard Park, a new greenspace in the River District that will open in mid-June. Himebaugh said the tournament – featuring the beanbag toss game of cornhole – will generate funds for the festival and consist of registered teams competing for nearly $1,800 in cash prizes.
For the first time since 2004, the symphony’s performance will not include conductor Eckart Preu, who retired after the most recent season and bid a fond farewell to the Pavillion Park crowd last year.
Other favorites returning this summer include the Liberty Lake Loop run (July 13), Montana Shakespeare in the Park (July 28) and the ever-popular and refreshingly affordable park concessions courtesy of Liberty Lake Kiwanis.
“It takes a lot of work to put this on,” said Himebaugh who has been part FOPP since 2004. “It’s getting up Saturday morning and being there all day – but it’s awesome.”
22nd annual Friends of Pavillion Park Summer Festival Schedule
- July 3 – “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- July 4 – The Fourth of July Concert with Twenty Dollar Bill, The Rub and Tuxedo Junction, followed by fireworks – 6 p.m., Pavillion Park
- July 6 – “Ralph Breaks the Internet” – Dusk at Half Moon Park
- July 13 – 22nd annual Liberty Lake Loop – 8 a.m., Pavillion Park
- July 13 – “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- July 20 – “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- July 27 – “The Kid Who Would Be King” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- July 28 – Shakespeare in the Park – “The Merry Wives of Windsor” – 5 p.m. at Pavillion Park
- Aug. 2 – Barefoot in the Park Weekend – Concert featuring Cover 2 Cover – 6-9 p.m., Pavillion Park
- Aug. 3 – Barefoot in the Park Weekend – Concert featuring Angela Marie Project – 6-9 p.m., Pavillion Park
- Aug. 10 – “The Incredibles 2” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- Aug. 16 – “Lego Movie 2” – Dusk at River Rock Park
- Aug. 17 – “Mary Poppins Returns” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- Aug. 24 – Liberty Lake Throw Down – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. – Orchard Park
- Aug. 30 – “Black Panther” – Dusk at Pavillion Park
- Aug. 31 – The Spokane Symphony Lud Kramer Memorial Concert, followed by fireworks presented by the city of Liberty Lake – 6 p.m., Pavillion Park.
For more information, visit www.PavillionPark.org.
Rain or shine, the 18th annual rendition of the Liberty Lake Farmers Market will roll out this Saturday, complete with new features and a lineup of over 50 vendors.
Longtime market manager, Holli Parker, says the opening of the open-air venue at Town Square Park – 1421 N. Meadowwood Lane – signals the beginning of the warm-weather season for many.
“One of my co-workers said to me the other day, ‘Oh, the market’s starting, that must mean that summer’s here,’” Parker said. “For a lot of people, it’s the sign that the weather’s going to get better.”
The market’s 2019 debut on Saturday, May 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include new arrivals selling pies, burgers, pastries, and frozen drinks. Staples like Crepe Café Sisters, Veraci Pizza, and Desserts by Sara will also be part of a vendor array that will number 54 on opening day. Parker said the overall vendor count for the season – which runs through Oct. 12 – stands at 70. The folk stylings of local musician Brad Keeler will also be part of the atmosphere on Saturday.
Market regulars will miss the site of Lenny Munguia’s Jalapeno Heaven truck this year. One of the market’s inaugural vendors from 2002, Munguia has decided to shelf the salsa and burritos for now, although he still serves on the market’s board of directors.
Parker said that while fresh, local produce may not be as abundant early in the season, marketgoers will find plenty of plant and flower starts. There is also a vendor selling “micro-greens,” tasty roughage perfect for healthy salads.
Based on standards established by the Washington State Farmers Market Association, markets throughout the Evergreen state must account for at least half of their sales coming through local farmers. Parker said she and other board members are “observant and thoughtful about who we’re bringing in.”
“We want a good variety,” she said. “We’re not just going to bring in 50 Rice Crispy Treat people.”
Parker can remember the market’s debut on a drizzly Saturday 18 years ago when eight vendors huddled beneath plastic tarps while a paltry crowd wandered by.
“From where we started to where we are now, it’s amazing,” she said. “I’m so proud of this community and these people. I love our vendors and I love our board. We all work so well together.”
Holli’s uncle, Jim Frank and her mother, Susan Parker, first came up with the idea for the Liberty Lake Farmers Market as a way to support local farmers and create a friendly community gathering place. Almost two decades later, those goals and more appear to have been accomplished.
“It’s fun to see it get better every year,” said Frank who is a regular at the market each Saturday. “It is a Liberty Lake institution and really contributes to a strong sense of community.”
Holli said it’s gratifying to see vendors like Veraci’s start from market roots and establish successful brick-and-mortar sites like their restaurant in Kendall Yards. Another recent vendor, Glorious Bakery, found a landing spot over the winter, selling bread and other products at My Fresh Basket.
Market highlights this year include the Italian Festival (July 13), Pie Festival (Aug. 10) and Art at the Market, pared down to one day this September with a date to be announced.
Besides serving as manager in all but two years of the market’s existence, Parker says she relishes the opportunity to shop for groceries, reconnect with old friends and soak up the market’s positive energy.
“I just love going to the market,” she said. “Even though it’s a Saturday, I know I’m not going to sleep in.”
To learn more about the Liberty Lake Farmers Market, visit:
Bill Mogauro may call Boston home – but the project manager with Agility Recovery has sparkling reviews for a building at the corner of Mission Avenue and Molter Road in Liberty Lake that has become a unique home to dozens of businesses.
Agility – which provides resilient recovery for companies facing everything from an earthquake to a break in a water main – has occupied space at the Liberty Lake Portal for over two years. Mogauro credits Portal General Manager Keith Kopelson and his staff for being “extremely intuitive in offering suggestions and going out of their way to help us achieve our goals.”
“Keith has probably been the best business manager I’ve ever worked with,” Mogauro said.
The Portal has been around since 2000 and grown in scope and visibility over the years. Originally known as the TierPoint Building, the site benefits from the TierPoint data center, located in the Portal’s basement. Mogauro first discovered the Portal through Agility’s connection with TierPoint.
“It started with cloud services and our partnership with TierPoint,” he said. “We learned there was office space available here.”
Mogauro says he appreciates the Portal’s centralized location between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, easy access to amenities and convenient features like a loading dock just off Agility’s office space. Expanded parking in the back of the building has also drawn positive reviews from tenants.
Office space at the Portal ranges from 100 square feet up to 4,000 square feet. Agility – which has sites in College Station, Texas and the Boston area, as well as a collection of mobile units – occupies a 1,450-square-foot office that Kopelson has tailored right down to the corporate colors in the break room.
“This is a very modern, well-situated facility,” Mogauro said. “For us, it couldn’t be more perfect in terms of accommodations.”
Kopelson, a former member of the Liberty Lake City Council and a successful entrepreneur, took over as the Portal’s general manager in January 2017. He greets occupants here by their first name and always with a genuine smile.
“I really like working here,” Kopelson says. “I like to make sure people are comfortable, whether it’s adding a wall here or taking a paint swab and adding corporate colors to a room.”
Kopelson’s flexible approach has been apparent recently with new, short-term rental options for conference rooms and executive suites. While Portal tenants still get first dibs on a space like the Mica Peak Room with capacity for 50, outside groups have been utilizing the room for events like a First Aid training. Mica Peak can be leased for $80 per hour at a minimum of two hours or $300 for six hours.
“Tenants get priority but we don’t bump people,” Kopelson said. “Once a space is booked, it’s booked.”
A classy boardroom that comfortably seats a dozen is available for $40 an hour while rentals of traditional office space run $100 for four hours or $150 for eight hours. Two smaller executive suites can be reserved at $25 an hour for a minimum of three hours.
“Because our executive suites did so well, offering a temporary office made sense,” Kopelson said. “These are great if you work out of your home and are meeting a customer. You have people where it doesn’t make sense to have a permanent office, so this works out well.”
The temporary offices are fully furnished and include features like a desktop computer, large monitor and printer.
Kopelson notes that the Portal can be likened to an incubator space with tenants moving up the square footage ladder as their respective operations expand.
“As they grow, we get them into bigger offices,” he said.
Chief Brian Asmus can remember a time when as many as 70 hopefuls would apply for one officer position with the Liberty Lake Police Department (LLPD).
That was over a decade ago.
When two openings emerged recently at the agency, only five qualified applicants stepped up to the plate.
The scarcity of law enforcement recruits is not unique to Liberty Lake. According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Seattle saw a 50-percent drop in applicants last year despite a starting officer salary of $79,000.
“There’s lots of thoughts about it,” said Asmus, who has overseen LLPD since late 2001, the year Liberty Lake was incorporated. “It’s a national issue, not just a local issue or a Washington issue. A lot of it has to do with the negative attention law enforcement has received.”
LLPD did bring on two officers earlier this year — Tuan Nguyen and Stephanie Scheurer. There will be 13 full-time staff after the latest pair of hires join the force.
Asmus said he would like to add one more officer by the fall. Within the past year, two Liberty Lake officers have left for the Cheney Police Department while a third resigned.
Early attrition continues to be a challenge for many agencies across the country, according to research by PERF. A survey of nearly 400 police departments nationwide last year found that 29 percent of officers who left their jobs had been employed less than a year while nearly 40 percent had been on the job less than five years.
Asmus is not ignoring the trends as he works to keep his team stable and emotionally well. He has implemented new programs providing mental health sick leave and conducting regular check-ins with awareness of issues like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
Asmus stepped up to fill gaps after several departures in 2018, covering 12-hour patrol shifts himself. In 2002, the first full year of LLPD, Asmus and three officers patrolled the streets. The city’s population was around 3,500 at the time. It’s now closer to 11,000.
As for the drop-off in resumes, Asmus said he has decided against offering signing bonuses like a number of agencies on the west side of the state.
“You get people just chasing the dollar and we don’t want that,” Asmus said. “I’m looking for people who want to serve this community and be here for the right reasons.”
Asmus notes that recruiting worthy officer candidates these days resembles the work a college coach might do to sign a top recruit.
“Law enforcement is different from when I started back in the 90s,” Asmus said. “Now, you’re not only recruiting the officer, you’re recruiting their family.”
Former City Council Member Judi Owens remembers the discussions about enhancing public safety leading up to the successful incorporation vote in November 2000. She and her husband Charlie have called the community home since 1992.
“Before incorporation, there was just one county patrol car covering this area,” Owens recalls. “They were spread pretty thin. I think people realized we needed more public services, not just law enforcement, but our own road maintenance, library and more. It was a matter of keeping our tax dollars at home and funding those services.”
Owens said the inaugural City Council quickly recognized the importance of funding law enforcement and making public safety a top priority.
“We talked to Spokane County about contracting but it didn’t pan out,” she said. “I’m glad we went the way we did starting our own department. Brian has done a tremendous job and I think we have an outstanding police department.”
Asmus said he has always felt fully supported by the city when it comes to keeping his agency sufficiently staffed and equipped.
“The support has always been there,” he said.
As for the future of LLPD, Owens said there is one eventual vacancy that will be difficult to fill.
“I don’t really want to think about Brian retiring,” she said. “When you think about hiring a chief that fits in and has the community’s respect like he does – it’s going to be challenging.”
In the newsroom, it’s a question as common as the discarded lead paragraph:
“What’s the angle?”
In Liberty Lake, the pitch is one most jaded editors would quickly dismiss as idyllic and improbable as they shuffled the idea off to acquaintances in the field of utopian fiction.
“Communities like that don’t exist anymore,” the editor might say. “People don’t build trails, parks and a city of their own. They don’t start a farmers market, a utility district, magnanimous service clubs and a free festival with concerts, movies and a regular staging of Shakespeare.”
As someone who has covered Liberty Lake since April 2002, I would have a retort for Mr. Cynical that might ring similar to Zag Nation’s response to Jimmy Kimmel when the talk show host speculated on the veracity of Gonzaga University during March Madness.
“Liberty Lake does exist.”
For a decade with the Spokane Valley News Herald, I had the privilege of chronicling the rise of Spokane County’s first new jurisdiction since Airway Heights became a city in 1955.
Long before Liberty Lake established its own police department, library and City Council, dynamic civic leaders like Jim Frank, Leslie Zilka, Tom Specht, Margaret Barnes, Ross Schneidmiller and Lud Kramer were pouring the foundation of a community that would become known for landmarks like Pavillion Park and a world-class network of trails that residents thought was so important they decided to tax themselves to build it.
Since 2012, I’ve had the good fortune to continue telling the story of Liberty Lake in The Splash, a publication founded by Shaun and Nathan Brown in 1999 as they astutely saw the escalating demand for a larger and more detailed quantity of local news that went beyond the daily paper’s limited coverage.
These days, the stories in Liberty Lake are more plentiful than ever. As one of Washington’s fastest growing communities, the area lends itself abundantly to the sort of engaging, personal journalism you probably won’t find on the Associated Press Wire Service but that is distinctive to experiences in the 99019 zip code.
These are the stories of your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. They are stories that keep you in tune with a city, a school district, a police department, volunteer groups and more.
Former Liberty Lake Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Jenkins once told me that living in Liberty Lake was like being a resident of modern-day Mayberry. While the slogan never caught on, I saw his point. It does seem like the gold standard of communities and Chief Brian Asmus could likely pass for Andy Griffith on most days.
Still, like any community, Liberty Lake has its challenges. As one who learned the newspaper’s role as a watchdog years ago in Journalism School, I believe local publications like the Liberty Lake Gazette can shed light on those issues and be a sounding board for solutions.
On with the storytelling.