Longtime La Grande businessman Thomas Kohr dies at 86

·3 min read

Jul. 8—LA GRANDE — A generous La Grande businessman, who helped keep Union County drivers on the road for more than four decades, died earlier this week.

Thomas E. Kohr, 86, a man as adept at helping stranded motorists in the middle of the night as he was at assisting young people launching automotive careers, died Monday, July 4, at Grande Ronde Hospital.

Kohr owned and operated Kohr's Body Shop in La Grande from 1969 through 2006.

"He was a very successful businessman and a good guy," said Eric Laurence, the owner of Laurence's Auto Body and Paint, La Grande.

Laurence said Kohr enjoyed giving young people the opportunity to learn under him and said his career got off to a good start with Kohr's help. Laurence recalled that after he graduated from college, he asked Kohr if he would hire him once he completed training from an automotive school. Kohr said yes, and Laurence received the training and later worked for him for about three years before opening his own business.

Laurence said Kohr never forgot him, noting that when he was closing the painting portion of his business Kohr offered him his heated painting booth at a big discount. Laurence, who needed the booth, was touched by the gesture.

Kohr, who grew up in Grace City, North Dakota, and served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954, came to La Grande in 1967 from The Dalles with his wife, Jan, and daughter, Rhonda, after being hired by Goss Motors. Jan Kohr said she and her husband felt good about the move to La Grande right away.

"Everything clicked," she said. "This felt like home."

Thomas Kohr started Kohr's Body Shop two years after moving to La Grande and later was involved in many other business ventures, all while still operating his body shop. For example, he was part owner of Blue Mountain Motors, a Chrysler dealership, and later Lynch Motors, which he bought in 1981 and sold to Goss Motors in 2004.

"He had a lot of irons in the fire," Laurence said.

Thomas Kohr provided a towing and wrecking service during a portion of his career in La Grande. Jan Kohr said her husband embraced the challenge of helping motorists in dire situations. The auto body specialist was not one to take many days off, but he never put work before his family and attended almost every sporting event his children, Kevin and Rhonda, and his grandchildren took part in.

"He was always working but he always found time to attend all of our games," said Kevin Kohr, who lives in La Grande.

He said his father was consistently generous when donating to the community. He noted he was a sponsor of Little League, American Legion baseball, the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, the Union County Fair and local high school teams.

"He was always sponsoring anyone who needed help," Kevin Kohr said.

Thomas Kohr retired in 2006 and began focusing on another of his passions, farming, operating a family farm off Hunter Road. Laurence will never forget the time he and his wife, Angela, were on a drive when they saw Kohr on his tractor working a field. They stopped and Kohr gave Angela a ride round the field on his tractor in what proved to be a thrilling experience.

"She had a smile on her face the rest of the day," Laurence said.