Barbara Jo Sawyer-Koch
1948 - 2021
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Barbara Jo Sawyer-Koch

Okemos - Barbara Jo Sawyer-Koch, 72, passed away peacefully at home with family by her side on March 6 following a short but mighty fight with pancreatic cancer. Barb was born in Menominee, MI on December 7, 1948 to Richard and Muriel Sawyer. She graduated from Menominee High School in 1967.

Barb began her lifelong love for education, politics and travel when she attended Alma College where she earned a degree in Political Science. She later earned a Master's of Public Administration from Michigan State University. She also spent a year at the University of Vienna while at Alma.

Barb served as Menominee County Treasure and then moved on to become the Director of Strategic Planning, Department of Treasury for the State of Michigan, retiring in 2000. She also served as a trustee for Michigan State University. In 1993 Barb met and married Donald Koch, a Professor of Philosophy at MSU. Together they shared a love of jazz and travel. In their retirement they traveled around the world and visited all the continents. They witnessed the impact of climate change. They committed their resources to creating multiple endowments at MSU supporting global sustainability. Their love for MSU knew no bounds as they endowed scholarships, built a music practice room for the music department and worked tirelessly for other campus projects.

Barb impacted many, many lives. From her arrival in East Lansing she hosted international students seeking advance degrees. She worked for the international students on campus through the MSU Community Volunteers for International Programs. She helped run a lending center for international students that provided them with basic necessities after their arrival. She was also a founder of the Age Alive program for senior citizens, a part of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Barb was active in the Zonta Club of East Lansing, the Torch Club as well as the MSU Alumni association.

Barb is survived by her son Will (Anna) Koch, daughter Leah (Mike) Ransom, granddaughter Ava Koch, brother Chip (Susan) Sawyer, sister Susan Plimpton and many nieces and nephews. She will be missed by her extended international family, especially JaeMin Cha and James Kim and their daughters SeoHee and SaeAh.

A celebration of Barb's life will be held at a later date. Donations to the Department of Human Medicine for Alzheimer's research or the Department of Music honoring Barb can be made to Michigan State University, 535 Chestnut Rd. Room 300, East Lansing, MI 48824

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Sawyer-Koch family.

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Published in Lansing State Journal from Mar. 7 to Mar. 14, 2021.
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
Memories & Condolences
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3 entries
March 11, 2021
I remember Barbara as a caring and compassionate person. Working with her on a committee at the Michigan Department of Treasury, she was one of a few that I felt actually had the best interest of all people. God didn’t let you continue suffering through your illness, and now you can Rest In Peace in the arms of Jesus, my indirect co-worker and FB friend! My prayers of comfort are lifted for the family.
Rev. LaSandra Jones
March 9, 2021
For Barb’s Family — Barb was the MSU Board Chair when I met her as an undergraduate student in the early-80s. As a student representative to the Board, it would have been easy for her to be dismissive or express “faux interest” in a student’s view — especially during what were turbulent and difficult times for the University given various budget challenges. But she always treated me with civility and respectful consideration and you could tell that she deeply wanted only what was best for MSU and the people of Michigan, difficult as it often could be to determine just what that “best” would be. It was a credit to her that she seemed always to regard her path to determining what was best by first listening to those around her. On a more personal level, I later had much to thank Barb for. She agreed to write a letter in my support for graduate scholarship applications, including supporting my successful candidacy for a Rhodes Scholarship. I’m sure her endorsement — as a Board of Trustees leader who had taken the time to know a bit about me personally — was a major factor in that success. In short, she didn’t let her obligation to understand and address the University’s big picture policy problems deter her from getting to know and do right by those most immediately around her. I hope that your memories of a wonderful spouse, mother and public leader will ease some of the loss you must now feel.
Ronald Tenpas
March 8, 2021
Barb was an incredible Spartan and leader. She will be greatly missed by all who knew and felt her kind and generous ways. She was a good friend and was always there to lend supportive words of encouragement. My sincere sympathies.
Marti Heil
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