By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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“It was an absolute shock,” County Assessor Pam Rushton said Friday as she fought back tears. “I'm still in shock.”
Hopf, 61, collapsed while riding his bicycle with a group of friends on the Olympic Discovery Trail near Place Road west of Port Angeles, Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday.
“His death was natural causes,” Benedict said, adding that he didn't want to speculate on what happened.
“He just collapsed while bicycling and died at the scene.”
Rushton said Hopf's wife, Maxine, called her at about 11 p.m. Thursday to tell her Hopf had died.
“Our love and compassion go out to his family,” Rushton said.
Said Hopf's grown daughter, Brianne, who was shocked and grieving Friday: “He was a very great man.”
Hopf also leaves behind a grown son, stepchildren and a grandson who lived with Hopf and his wife.
Hopf loved bicycling and could be seen on local trails most evenings, Rushton said, which made the news of how he died all the more surprising.
“Physically, he was probably in the best shape of anyone in our office,” Rushton said.
Hopf was a 29-year veteran of the county Assessor's Office, a job he came into after a brief stint as a Clallam County sheriff's deputy.
Rushton, who was elected assessor in 2005, said Hopf hired her in 1999 as an appraisal trainee and took her out into the field himself to show her the ropes.
Rushton remembered Hopf as a deep well of institutional knowledge who was always ready to share what he knew with anyone would asked.
“It's going to be a huge loss for this office,” Rushton said.
“He had some niche skills that will almost probably be irreplaceable and [was a] genuinely nice person, too.”
Rushton said a new employee eventually will have to be hired in Hopf's place, though she predicted that finding someone with the myriad skills he possessed will be a challenge.
“We will have to look at a replacement, and I'll also have to approve that through the commissioners,” Rushton said.
“Everybody will just have to take on a little heavier load.”
Hopf, a self-taught computer and database expert, was instrumental in a major overall of the assessor's website software system in 2009, Rushton said.
Other county departments, such as the treasurer's office, also regularly benefited from Hopf's skills when software or database questions arose, Rushton added.
“Mike would take on anything you ever gave him and give it 110 percent,” Rushton said.
“I could always depend on him.”
Rushton said she, Hopf and administrative supervisor Lorrie Kuss were the three who oversaw the 14 employees of the Assessor's Office and worked closely as a team.
Kuss said Friday she came to work for the Assessor's Office not too long after Hopf started.
“He was very welcoming,” Kuss said.
“We just had a really good rapport right off the bat.”
Kuss said her and Hopf's skills blended well as the two took on projects together.
“What one person might miss, the other would catch,” Kuss said.
“We worked really well together.”
Kuss also will remember Hopf as a humble and warm-hearted person.
“Mike wasn't a hugger, but he'd hug you back if you hugged him,” Kuss said.
Mike Chapman, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said Friday that he knew Hopf for all his 14 years as a county commissioner and remembers him as a well-respected employee who carried himself with dignity.
“His loss is a tragic loss, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and co-workers,” Chapman said.
“Mike will be very missed here in the courthouse.”
Hopf ran unsuccessfully for the assessor's position in 2005 against Rushton, though Chapman said the two knew they both would end up working at the Assessor's Office after the election.
Hopf was a man who loved his job and his family, Chapman said, and always had a smile for his co-workers and others at the courthouse.
“That will be my lasting impression of Mike. I always saw him smiling,” Chapman said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.