Baars, Koehler jointly earn CTA’s highest honor, 2017 ICS Award

By: Travis Estvold
5 January 2018

CTA’s Integrity and Client Service (ICS) Award is easily the most important honor bestowed internally upon any team member. “The Geno,” named after 50-year-tenured Gene Kolstad, is presented each December to the winner of the Integrity and Client Service (ICS) Award, alongside a cash prize. Nominees from across the firm are graded in three categories — honesty, compassion, and responsiveness — and the award committee (dubbed the “Posse”) makes a determination.

Back in 2008, CTA constructed a vision statement to help govern firm goals in the following five years. The effort was driven — and much of the language was crafted — by principal and project manager/architect Gene Kolstad out of CTA’s Billings office. The list of seven goals dealt largely with issues of integrity, character, and client service. With visions of the Academy Awards and Oscar statuettes dancing in their heads, the ratifying committee dreamed up an annual award to present to the CTA employee most exemplifying these ideals.

The accompanying trophy, “The Geno” (after Kolstad, who is noted for his commitment to the principles the award celebrates) was inspired by one of Kolstad’s passions: masonry. Hence, the large, heavy, traveling trophy features Montana-sourced travertine (from the original installation at a longtime Kolstad client, Billings Clinic) with one of Kolstad’s trowels partially embedded — an homage to the Arthurian legend of the sword in the stone. Staff in the Great Falls office built a “mini Fort Knox” (exceptionally secure) traveling case that safely moves the award from recipient-to-recipient each year.

“Half the fun of bestowing the award is discretely delivering the award case, early, to the respective office, and keeping it under wraps!” former committee member (now-retired) Ken Richardson once said.

The Geno is now presented each December to the winner of the Integrity and Client Service (ICS) Award, alongside a cash prize. A selection committee — dubbed “the Posse” — which always includes the previous year’s recipient, convenes annually to select the winner. Nominees from across the company are listed in an evaluation tabulation spreadsheet and graded in three categories: honesty, compassion, and responsiveness. The highest score for each category is 30, 50, and 40, respectively, with a total possible high score of 120. Fellow CTA team members complete ICS nomination forms, some with attached letters of appreciation from internal and external clients, and send them to the Posse. Their spreadsheet is then populated and the scoring begins.

CTA Great Falls mechanical project engineer Gary Morris was the initial recipient at the end of 2010, and the ICS Award has been presented each year since.

The presentation of the 2017 ICS was unique in the eight-year history of the award. For the first time, TWO team members simultaneously shared the honor — mechanical designer Richard Baars of CTA Kalispell and architect/PM/office manager Laura Koehler of CTA Denver!

Coleen Baars (center, holding frame) snapped this photo with the CTA Kalispell team following the award presentation.


Sadly, Rich passed away in July 2017, so the award was accepted on his behalf by his wife, Coleen. Architect Shane Jacobs shares the story of what happened following the presentation:

“Coleen Baars said she was humbled by her CTA Kalispell family and extended CTA family for recognizing Rich as one of this year’s ICS Award recipients. A giving and loving individual, after receiving the award, Coleen wanted to return the cash portion of the award to CTA to be given to another employee or even a project in need. We refused, and in turn, she decided to set up a scholarship in the Baars family name at nearby Flathead Valley Community College, where Coleen happens to be employed. FVCC has an Occupational Trades program that is the breeding ground for a future Rich protégé. What a beautiful gesture to give someone the same opportunity as Rich, and to promote another renaissance from Rich and Coleen, both of whom are renaissance people themselves. The legend of Rich continues.”

The following are excerpts from Rich’s ICS Award nomination form, submitted by several of his colleagues:

“In many ways, Rich was the glue to our office. He welcomed colleagues and clients alike with a smile and often a ribbing — a reminder not to take life too seriously.”

“Integrity is what you do when you make a mistake. Rich didn’t make many mistakes, but he was the first to admit when he did and went above and beyond to make it right.”

“You need a ride to a repair garage… Rich. You need a custom built fire pit… Rich. You need help around the house… Rich. The printer runs out of toner… Rich. You need a cheesy ‘dad joke’… Rich.”

“He was accountable like no other, whether taking a task head-on, meeting a tough deadline, or owning up to and fixing a mistake.”

“Regardless of the situation, you could always depend on him to state his feelings, even if it was not what someone wanted to hear.”

“If there was an issue/struggle in the field, Rich would drop everything and head to the site to solve it. He always wanted to make things right.”

“He’d never let anyone down; that would’ve meant letting himself down, and he was far too stubborn/driven (call it what you will) to let that happen!”

“He ALWAYS put the burdens of others before his own, and even if they weren’t his to carry, he’d offer to help shoulder them anyway.”

Laura Koehler (center) reacts -- in typical Laura fashion -- to being presented with the ICS Award by CTA President Scott Wilson.


Meanwhile, at the Denver office, Laura was presented with The Geno, as CTA President Scott Wilson read off highlights of the submittal form completed by her colleagues. The following are but a fraction of what they had to say about Laura:

“She is what I refer to as ‘the 10’ — as in, the 10% of the people making 90% of the action happen.”

“Laura has an admirable grasp of the human condition, the ability to understand the needs of those around her.”

“She always speaks what is true, not just what is desirable.”

“Laura is an advocate for both the client and CTA. She offers up fair and honest feedback to both parties, which sometimes may not be the easiest path to follow.”

“She seeks solutions and tackles obstacles with optimism.”

“She cares about the happiness of each employee and does what she can to support their growth and happiness within CTA.”

“She listens to all ideas with an open and strategic mind. She checks in constantly with the team to make sure things are working correctly and efficiently. If they are not, she immediately acts on those.”

“She is a strong advocate for women’s involvement in the workplace, and she opens doors and presents opportunities to do so.”

Laura, herself, answered a few questions in regards to the experience…


This award represents both validation and a challenge. It sets a high bar and challenges me to do more because this is confirmation that CTA values caring, hard work, and personal responsibility. It’s the award I immediately wanted to tell my parents and my children about because I knew they’d be proud. I described it as the “good human” award because that’s what it represents to me.


There are few things that render me speechless — and receiving this award was one of those rare occurrences. I am deeply honored to be selected amongst an incredible group of nominees, and I am especially moved to share the award with Rich Baars. I had the pleasure of working with Rich on a very challenging project; I saw Rich’s indomitable positivity first-hand and couldn’t be more proud to have my name engraved next to his on the Geno. I attribute the award to “kindred spirits” and to the culture CTA has grown and fostered. My nominators embody the ICS ideals themselves, making it easier to recognize those traits in me (AKA: “It takes one to know one”).


The award clearly spells out the criteria, but I am interested in the intangibles: Who is making a difference? Who is positively impacting those around them? Whose absence is felt beyond basic work tasks?


“Nominees for the annual ICS Award represent team members that thoroughly do right by their clients, their colleagues, the firm, the community, and the industry. Laura and Rich both personify what this award stands for. We now soldier on without Rich (in person, but very much in spirit), yet the example he set in both his personal and professional lives is a beacon for all who remember him, and others who will follow in his footsteps. Similarly, Laura continues to espouse CTA’s core value of the Golden Rule, while enriching the lives of all around her.

Congratulations to both of our 2017 Integrity and Client Service Award winners!”

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