Col. Kjell Magnus Bakke

1933-2020

Kjell Bakke, known as the “keeper of the ski-jump flame for Leavenworth,” passed on May 28 at Mountain Meadows Assisted Living in Leavenworth, after a long illness. Kjell was 87. Born in 1933 in Merrit, Near Nason Creek, to Norwegian immigrants Inga Dorthea Mork Bakke and Magnus Bakke, Kjell carried on the work begun by his father and his uncle, Hermod Bakke, to promote skiing and ski-jumping in Leavenworth on what became known as Bakke Hill. With its 90-meter ski-jumping hill built in 1933, Bakke Hill once hosted national and international jumping competitions and held a world ski-jump record of 345 feet. The big ski-jump closed in 1978. Kjell recounted that his father was a supervisor in building the Leavenworth Ski Hill Lodge under the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. The Leavenworth Ski Hill continues to operate under a permit from the U.S. Forest service, first granted in 1930.

After learning to ski at the age of three, Kjell went on to compete nationally in downhill, cross-country, and ski-jumping. After graduating from Leavenworth High School, he won a ski scholarship to the University of Washington and skied with the UW ski team. He even competed for a position on the US Olympic team, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Kjell graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1956 and then married Eleanor Loomis in 1957. After ROTC and a brief stint in the regular Army he served 30 years in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1986 with the rank of Bird Colonel. He began his career as a civil engineer with the U.S. Forest Service in the Wenatchee National Forest and later transferred to Oregon, retiring in 1985. He continued to work free-lance as a Value Engineer and then began his body-building career. From his late 50’s to late 60’s he competed in body-building earning 4th place nationally for men over 60.

After his full retirement in 1993, Kjell returned to Leavenworth, where he continued the Bakke ski legacy and served his community. He served on the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club Board; founded the Leavenworth Ski Hill Heritage Foundation with his friend Don White; and secured funding, initiated and oversaw construction of the 15- and 27-meter ski jumps for the training hill to ensure that future generations can enjoy the sport Kjell loved. The annual Bakke Cup, started in his honor, is a Nordic Combined Ski Tournament that fosters competition for community young people in alpine skiing, cross-country and, of course, ski-jumping. Kjell’s protégés remember how he “coached new generations of ski jumpers with knowledge and humor.” Kjell belonged to the Northwest Ancient Skiers Association and, along with his father, Magnus, and uncle Hermod, is an inductee into the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame. He has been most recently active in planning a Mountain Sports Museum and Training Center in Leavenworth that would include the Northwest Ski Museum and Hall of Fame. Kjell continued downhill and cross-country skiing into his early 80’s.

Kjell served his community in other capacities, including the boards of Cascade Medical Foundation, Upper Valley Museum, Barn Beach Reserve, and Leavenworth Seniors.

This ski legend also famously possessed an outstanding tenor voice, which for years graced Leavenworth Village Voices. His performances as the Admiral in Leavenworth Summer Theatre’s Sound of Music are remembered by founders Susan and John Wagner as “the most Admiral-looking Admiral we’ve ever had.” Kjell Bakke is preceded in death by his parents; sisters Marie Johanna Bakke Bremner and Ethel May Bakke Gehring; and brother Knute Aksel Bakke. He is survived by his wife, Georgia Bakke-Tull; daughters Sonja Lahana, Sandra Rome, and Brenda Bakke and their mother, Eleanor Loomis Bakke; four grandchildren; and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and step children Exxene Tull, Karla Tull-Esterbrook, Gavin Tull-Esterbrook, Kendal Tull-Esterbrook and 5 step grandchildren.

Memorials in Kjell Bakke’s name may be sent to the Leavenworth Ski Hill Heritage Foundation, a 501c3, at PO Box 54, Leavenworth, WA. 98826. The LSHHF funnels financial support to LWSC and the NWSM.

A celebration of Kjell Bakke’s life is tentatively set for September 5 at the Leavenworth Ski Hill Lodge.

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