SMALL TOWNS: Mishicot man discovers a passion following traumatic brain injury

Steve Koch never had any interest in carving stone until he had a near-death experience
Updated: Jun. 30, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MISHICOT, Wis. (WBAY) - A traumatic brain injury has led a Manitowoc County man on an incredible journey. Seven years later, he considers his near-death experience a blessing.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Mishicot to see the amazing talent this man discovered.

In Steve Koch’s backyard, the sounds of chisels and a stone cutter, along with the sight of dust pouring out of his little workshop area, are a common occurrence every weekend.

Admittedly strange for a man who’s spent decades working at Valders Stone and Marble as a finisher with never any interest in carving stone.

“You work 12 hours a day at work and then you come home, what’s the last thing you want to do, you want to see stone, but I just fell in love with it,” says Steve.

The reason why can be traced back to the spring of 2015.

“Having a little get together up north at a friend’s house, pretty close to our cabin,” recalls Steve.

It’s a day in Northern Wisconsin Steve has no recollection of after he hopped on his ATV to go home.

“I have no idea what was going on when I was there, what happened or even how I got on the quad and I can’t remember anything,” says Steve.

Investigators believe Steve struck a large animal, likely a bear, causing his ATV to overturn.

Fortunately, an ambulance just happened to be responding to a nearby call and came across Steve lying on the road unconscious.

“If that wouldn’t of happened, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, he said he looked at me on the ground, he said he thought I was dead,” explains Steve.

A helicopter rushed Steve to a Green Bay hospital where doctors diagnosed a traumatic brain injury, along with a broken collarbone, ribs and nose.

After seven days in a coma, a moment he remembers vividly.

“A lot of people think I’m crazy when I say it, but I was sitting in the chair in the hospital, not knowing where I was or anything and I remember looking on the wall and I see a cross and I heard the words, ‘love is all that matters’ and I was back,” says Steve.

Back and now ready to face a long road to recovery, along with and a number of harsh realities.

“They told me that you’ll never work again,” recalls Steve.

During his first six months at home, Steve struggled to be around family and friends.

“They know how you used to be before and you don’t act like it now,” says Steve.

He also relied on medication to counter excruciating pain in his head.

“The medication was keeping me alive, but it was also not letting me function, it’s like being drunk all the time, it was, I liked it, the medicine was nice, it kept me alive but I wanted to live,” says Steve.

So Steve stopped taking his medication cold turkey, describing the days after as a bout with hell.

And facing mounting debt, he returned to work.

“I didn’t want to because I wasn’t ready, but when I saw everything disappearing around me and not being able to pay the bills and maybe losing the house, I had to do something,” recalls Steve.

Steve persevered, and in 2017, his work offered to send him to a limestone symposium in Indiana to learn how to carve stone.

A passion was discovered.

“That’s what turned it on, actually work sending me to Indiana, that’s what turned it on,” explains Steve.

When it comes to his carvings, Steve never draws lines or starts with an idea, he keeps an open mind and follows his heart.

“You take a block, you hit it with a chisel and bust it up, you take like 60-percent of it off and you look at it and see if you see anything, and once you see it, you just bring it out, stone tells you what it wants to be,” says Steve.

More than 200 blocks of limestone and granite have directed Steve over the past four years.

The result: amazing pieces of art and one big dose of healing.

“Spiritually and mentally, it helped me get through the hardest time in my life and it brought me back, it keeps me back.”

Seven years after his ATV crash, Steve still struggles with symptoms from his traumatic brain injury.

But he says it made him a better person, more caring, compassionate and less prideful, for which he is grateful.

“It didn’t look like a blessing then, but it does now, it does now. God is great, that’s all I got to say, and I’m not a religious person, but I’m a God person,” says Steve with a smile.

Steve never got into carving stone to make money, but with so many pieces completed, he’s going to start selling some.

He says that way he can buy a few more tools, because after all, he plans to keep carving until his final breath.

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We meet a Mishicot man who had a near-death experience that inspired him to try something new

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