Tumwater mayor retires after 30 years of working in town
On a rainy evening on December 15, dozens of people gathered at South Puget Sound Community College to celebrate and honor Pete Kmet’s 30-year tenure in Tumwater.
While each story is different, they all shared similar feelings about the outgoing mayor: Kmet has become an institution, an encyclopedia, and a mentor for the city.
Born in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, in 1953, Kmet received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Norwich in Vermont. He then obtained a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While working with the Wisconsin DNR, Kmet said he went on vacation to Washington and fell in love.
He started applying for jobs and met one in Washington’s new ecology department. He and his wife moved to Tumwater in 1984, started a family, and haven’t moved since.
Kmet was elected 42nd Mayor of the Town of Tumwater in 2009. Prior to that he served on City Council for 18 years and as Pro Tem Mayor for 14 of those years.
Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser said Kmet’s longevity is something you don’t see often.
“Revenue is the buzzword, longevity is scarce,” he said.
Menser shared a memory he has of Kmet on a sunny morning in October 2019.
The two were working with students at McLane Elementary School on a habitat mitigation project where they planted new oak trees. Menser said he remembered seeing Kmet working with a small group of children to plant their oaks, guiding them to make sure the trees were deep enough, to have the right amount of mulch and soil, and encouraging them as they successfully planted their first tree.
“Putting your hands in the mud, teaching the next generation, and engaging in direct actions that have a long-term impact on the community sums up Pete’s character,” he said. “A true champion of the environment.
Tumwater City Council member Eileen Swarthout said she didn’t know anyone who enjoys campaigning more than Kmet. She said he was always meeting people back home and rallying communities to encourage citizens to vote.
She said her motto “promises made, promises kept” shows her desire to make Tumwater the best place to live. She said she didn’t think there was a better mayor, jokingly apologizing to other Thurston County mayors in the audience.
Swarthout said she shared Menser’s feeling that Kmet got his hands dirty. She said he can often be seen pulling weeds or picking up trash on Tumwater Hill.
“He’s an engineer, he knows everything,” she said. “We will miss you, Mr. Encyclopedia. “
Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck said Kmet won just about every community service award, and rightly so. He said he wanted there to be a public service leadership award named after Kmet and that he left town better than he found it.
“Just about everything that’s happened in Tumwater and sometimes beyond, over the past 30 years, bears Pete’s signature,” he said.
Kmet said that never in his wildest dreams had he expected to run for office, let alone become mayor one day. It happened in his neighborhood activism instead. He said Ralph Osgood, the former mayor of Tumwater, was his neighbor and convinced him to get more involved by running for city council. Osgood later encouraged him to run for mayor.
He said he was happy to have been able to help the Town of Tumwater accomplish so much during his tenure. Many projects have been carried out by Kmet, including the restoration of the Old Brewhouse tower and the launch of the Tumwater FRESH program.
Kmet said the iconic Brewhouse Tower must be saved because of its history and its links to other architectures in the city, including the town hall and the fire station. He saw it as part of the fabric of the community, and he has since learned of its important role in the history of Tumwater and Washington State, as a representation of the early industrial era.
“History has always been one of my interests and this structure represents an important part of the history of this community,” he said.
Kmet once said he was walking through Isabella Bush Park, where there is a small farm and barn. He knew the space was not being used and came up with the idea to revitalize it as an educational opportunity for local schools. From this idea was born the program FRESH, which stands for Farm Rooted Education for Sustainability and Health.
The program, in partnership with the Tumwater School District and GRuB in Olympia, aims to ’empower young people to take control of their lives and be good citizens while creating opportunities for personal growth and building sustainable systems of food production “. according to TSD.
The food that students help grow and cultivate is donated to school cafeterias, students and families in need, food banks, and senior centers.
Kmet said parents contacted him and said the FRESH program had changed their child’s life and put him on the right track.
During the retirement celebration, Kmet said his job was never about himself but the citizens of Tumwater and the support he received from his wife and son.
“There are times when you come home at night and it’s hard to sleep,” he said. “You worry if you said the right thing, if you said something stupid. But I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in Tumwater.
Kmet said he thinks 30 years is ringing right for his retirement. He hopes to continue to volunteer in his community, but feels he has done his fair share of contributing to the community in his role as mayor.
He’s confident that mayor-elect Debbie Sullivan will be able to take care of the city, and the current city council is strong enough to push big plans forward.
From there, he said he had a long list of projects to do at home. He eventually hopes to volunteer with housing groups in Tumwater.
Kmet said he was back at his college in Vermont for a class reunion. Several peers approached him telling him that even the smallest thing he did for them changed their lives for the better. He said he was proud to have been able to touch so many lives, hopefully for the best.
A statement of encouragement now sits on her desk: “We are all destined to change people’s lives in ways that we cannot even imagine today.” Go ahead and do great things.
This story was originally published January 3, 2022 5:00 a.m.