The resurrection of Ken Nyberg | Nandell Palmer

Ken Nyberg, as seen in this March 31, 1999, issue of the Federal Way Mirror. - Courtesy image
Ken Nyberg, as seen in this March 31, 1999, issue of the Federal Way Mirror.
— image credit: Courtesy image

“No, we can’t live forever, and certainly we can’t take anything with us, but we can leave a bit of ourselves behind, as proof that we made a difference to someone.” — Charles Handy

Dubbed one of the world’s foremost business and social philosophers, Charles Handy would be proud to know that his exhortation didn’t fall on deaf ears among mortals in the Pacific Northwest.

Recently, a subtle change took place at City Hall, but on another front, this could be considered a giant shift on the political and social Richter scales.

The Lakota Room was renamed the Ken Nyberg Room. The new signage also boasts a tagline that reads, “Decisions are made here!”

According to Mayor Skip Priest, Nyberg is very much deserving of this honor. He gave a lot of himself to Federal Way. A former mayor as well in the early 1990s, he and Nyberg spent countless hours working together at City Hall.

Many of the decisions that helped to shape the city took place inside the Lakota — er, Nyberg Room, said the mayor, who masterminded the switch.

Who exactly was Kenneth E. Nyberg, the public figure? A retired army colonel, Nyberg began his career in Federal Way as an assistant city manager and community development director four months after incorporating as a city in 1990.

He succeeded Brent McFall as the second city manager on Jan. 1, 1994 — a position he held until December 1999. He was instrumental in overseeing the nascent stage of the police department and the completion of Celebration Park.

Nyberg died on Nov. 18, 2008, in Bremerton at age 74. Priest was a pallbearer at his friend and colleague’s funeral service, he said.

“Ken was the kind of public servant who wasn’t afraid to make decisions. He had very high integrity,” said Priest. “He worked for the community; the community didn’t work for him.”

Since I didn’t get to meet this nonpareil man whose praises are still sung posthumously, my thought went into overdrive. I yearned to figure out just what made the man tick. How was he able to amass so many favorable comments?

Did he gain fast friends at camps with strangers by making their bonfires and sharing his charred marshmallows with them? Did he weep while listening to the scherzo in one of Stravinsky or Chopin’s symphonies when he was alone?

Did he ever have to change a grandbaby’s diaper without grumbling? Did he prefer archery to badminton? Did he have a penchant for singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” an octave above the rest of us at public events?

Did he like having Eggs Benedict atop toasted English muffins for breakfast? Was he ever violently assaulted by a city dweller? Had he planted a tree and watched it grow?

On a beautiful spring day, was he ever forced to stop while driving along 1st Avenue when a balding of ducks, baby chicks in tow, cross the road? Did he watch a sunset at Redondo Beach as his eyes twinkled into uncontained bliss?

Would he have reversed a decision for which he later had mixed feelings? Did he foresee Federal Way producing Olympians and Jefferson Award winners?

I am not privy to know the answers for any of the aforementioned questions. But I would guess that Federal Way is a better place because Nyberg was here.

For the second largest meeting room at City Hall to be named in his honor is proof that he left a part of himself behind in our fair city.

Nowhere will you find an edict etched in stone compelling elected leaders to erect a monument or rename a landmark for every individual of note that has passed on. Nevertheless, I am glad that the mayor did the right thing, renaming the Lakota Room.

Perhaps we may never find another Ken Nyberg. We need dreamers and prospectors whose leadership will navigate us through good times and bad times long after their guiding lights are extinguished from this life.

Here’s hoping that the name “Nyberg” will become a verb. Look at it this way. His legacy is a reasonable adjunct, which has the power to “nyberg” us into being much better Federal Wayans.

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