Last Frontier Cafe


Get that second cup of coffee and join us in ongoing conversations about life in Alaska.  This fun virtual coffee shop is a place we can get together and share our Alaska experiences.  If you just want to contribute a few memories and photos rather than being a frequent contributor, this is the place for you!  Send me an e-mail with what you want to post and your photos and I’ll see that it gets here.  (Appropriate content, of course!)

Obit of James Rearick,  Sr.

from Randy Montbriand in a comment on the

Ahhh …. Snowmachines story posted by

John Barber on January 13, 2017.


The Class Ring


Mike Gordon


Mike recovering from injury, Sept. 2015. © Shelli and Mike Gordon

Mike recovering from injury, Sept. 2015. © Shelli and Mike Gordon

In the fall of 2010, I returned to the University of San Francisco to finish off the seventeen credits I needed to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. After five jobs, eight businesses, three marriages, two children and seven grandchildren, I found myself back in college. Graduating in the spring of 2011—48 years late—the first-ever directed studies graduate from USF, I walked at the head of the class across the stage of the gorgeous St. Ignatius Church on USF’s campus followed by a room full of young adults. Watching from the crowd were my wife, Shelli, my daughter, Michele, my son-in-law, Jerry, two of my college roommates, Jim and Rick, and Rosie, the widow of Jerry, the third.

To say that I was proud would be the understatement of my entire life so, of course, I had to have a class ring. On the ring I had imprinted Political Science on one side and Philosophy on other, with a chunk of topaz, my birthstone, set in the middle. For the year of graduation I had 2011 stamped on one side instead of the year I should have graduated—1964. It was a beautiful ring and I wore it all the time instead of the Chilkoot Charlie’s gold nugget ring I had been accustomed to wearing for many years.

Last September I was wearing that class ring on my right ring finger and my wedding ring on my left ring finger as I pulled my 25-foot Bayweld, the Ruth Isabel, up to our floating dock in Halibut Cove—something I’ve done by myself too many times to count. It was a nice afternoon. There was no weather with which to contend. The tide wasn’t roaring in or out. I wasn’t in a hurry, and I had not been drinking.

As usual, I approached the floating dock at an angle with the port side of the boat’s bow, reversing and goosing the engines to swing the stern in to align the boat with the dock. I put the engines in neutral, rushed to the stern and grabbed the port stern line with my left hand while I grabbed the waist-high railing on the port side of the cabin to steady myself with my right. Then I stood up on the port transom to leap over about two feet of water onto the floating dock. There was a 4’ by 8’ piece of 1/2” treated plywood laying upright on its long side between the port transom railing and the cabin that I was bringing over to replace one of two that covered our hot tub in winter that had been used as building material, so it had been necessary for me to reach around and behind the plywood to grab the railing. The slightly awkward circumstances created by that plywood had manifestly profound consequences.

The Tonight Show host and comedian, Jimmy Fallon, was forced to cancel his June 26, 2015 program taping because of a ring avulsion injury. He tripped over a braided rug, he said, “that my wife loves and I can’t wait to burn.” Catching his wedding ring on a counter as he tried to prevent his fall the late-night host wound up in New York’s Bellevue Hospital undergoing six hours of surgery and 10 days in the ICU. He was able to regain feeling and movement in his finger only because a microsurgeon implanted a vein from his foot into his hand. Fallon warned his television audience not to Google ring avulsion, and I can attest. It’s not a pretty picture. The less precise, but more descriptive, name of the injury is degloving.

Back in Halibut Cove, I leaped from the transom to the floating dock with first my left foot, followed immediately by my right, at which point, my school ring being stuck to the inside of the waist-high railing, I was jerked back forcefully onto the port transom, breaking ribs eight, nine and ten. My right leg was now dangling in the ice-cold water of Kachemak Bay, the Ruth Isabel slowly drifting seaward as I writhed on the transom, reaching out frantically with my left foot to hook the tie-off beam running along the edge of the floating dock. I’d prefer not to consider the consequences had I not been able to do so. It was my first lucky break of the day.

Having pulled myself and the Ruth Isabel back to the dock with my left foot, I detached myself from the cabin railing and got off the boat, suddenly realizing the extent of my hand injury. I had what can best be described as a “Terminator finger,” but unlike Terminators, which have no feelings or emotions, I went immediately into shock. Though I was reeling and staggering, holding onto my injured hand and unable to fasten the boat to the dock, I did have the amazing wherewithal to slip the ring from the degloved portion of my ring finger back over the flesh at its base. I really don’t know why I did it, other than that it looked unseemly rolling around the bared bone and sinew, but it probably prevented more bleeding, which was minimal.

There was no one around so I looked up toward our home a hundred-and-five steps above the boathouse, still weaving about, moaning audibly, while holding to my chest both the stern line and my right hand. In my second lucky break of the day, Shelli, who was in her night robe on her way to the shower, heard my moaning and appeared above, looking down on me from the porch. I said quietly, “Honey, I’m really hurt.” Since it was calm and I was on the water, she heard me plainly, hollered for me to sit down because she was afraid I was going to fall the way I was weaving around. I felt better standing up, which I was still doing when she got to the dock with towels and two bags of frozen corn to put on the wound. I’m not sure what I’d have done had she already gotten in the shower and not heard me.

Shelli immediately tied the bow of the boat to the floating dock, but after seeing my injury, went into shock herself and couldn’t manage tying off the stern line, the Ruth Isabel now drifting toward a perpendicular angle to the dock. She could barely punch in the numbers on her i-Phone for our neighbors, the Thurstons, only minutes away with a large, fast catamaran named The Far Side tied to their dock. Jim, Jan and their son JT were over in nothing flat. They secured our boat, hustled me into their boat, had me lie down, which I was able to do only briefly because of the pain of the three broken ribs and, abandoning No Wake rules inside the Halibut Cove narrows, roared off toward Homer.

No sooner had we left the narrows when I had to call a halt. The waves in the bay weren’t very large, but at high speed The Far Side was banging jarringly hard upon them and the pain in my right side was excruciating. Slowing down would have taken us too long to cross, so we turned around and headed for the isthmus of Ishmalof Island, tethered the boat and walked up onto the gravel. Shelli got another Halibut Cove neighbor, Dr. Martha Cotton at South Peninsula Hospital on her phone while JT managed to get a helicopter on its way from Homer. Meanwhile I was being driven insane by no-see-ums crawling all over my face and around the brim of my baseball cap, about which I could do nothing, one hand injured and the other holding a bag of frozen corn to it. Last summer was, incidentally, the worst season for bugs that I can recall in Halibut Cove, having been preceded by a very mild winter. In desperation, I finally sprinted for the cover of the boat to wait for the helicopter.

The pilot landed Shelli, Jan Thurston and me in the painted white circle on the roof of the hospital. We exited the helicopter and were rushed into the Emergency Room where there must have been a total of eight physicians and assistants waiting for me.

It seemed to take forever, and in fact did take perhaps half an hour for them to remove my class ring. One doctor sawed through the bottom of the ring with my palm up, bone and sinew clearly visible, then Dr. Cotton stuffed a length of dental floss through one side as Dr. Brent Adcox, an orthopedic surgeon, stuffed another length through the other side. Then they began pulling in opposite directions. It is a big, tough ring, and it did not cooperate readily, but after a number of tries they finally managed to pry it apart far enough to pull it over the diminished circumference of my finger. Meanwhile, I had been injected with some sort of anodyne, could feel no pain, and according to Shelli, was keeping everyone in stitches with my comments on the procedure.

Shelli and I, on a recent trip Outside, gave the ring to her best friend, Deborah Spencer, a goldsmith with a high-end jewelry store in Lake Oswego, Oregon, to get it repaired. Not that I’ll ever be able to wear it again because my finger is now too misshapen to accommodate it. Deborah suggested it would have been much easier to remove, and to repair, the ring had the doctors cut it on either side and just taken it apart. Her assessment seemed so logical and obvious, though it had never occurred to me, Shelli or any of the doctors. I am looking forward to passing her comments on to Dr. Cotton when I see her so the next person visiting ER in Homer with a ring avulsion doesn’t have to experience my ordeal.

After a little over an hour in surgery, I awoke in my hospital bed with Shelli by my side. Doctor Adcox kept me in the hospital for two nights, worried about an onset of pneumonia because my broken ribs had bruised my lungs and my kidneys, the latter not functioning one hundred percent. I was unhappy about the extra night because of the cost and because I felt fine except for my broken ribs, which required me to sleep on my back, partake regularly of pain pills and avoid coughing or laughing at all costs. I was still taking half doses and a full one before bed ten days later when we visited the doctor in his clinic just below the hospital. I was goofy all the time and couldn’t finish a sentence half the time, but I was in excellent spirits.

A nurse ushered Shelli and me into Dr. Adcox’s office, where he had us both sit down before preparing us for the worst. He said, “It’s going to be ugly. The skin will be black around the edges of the wound.” Then he began unwrapping the bandages. When the finger was uncovered he was visibly shocked and said emphatically, “You’re a good healer! Most deglovings require amputation, even after surgery.” Now let me tell you; that was the first time I had heard that word used in reference to my injury, though it was obviously something that had been discussed behind my back.

Fortunately, I had closed down the guest cottage before the accident, which requires crawling around in the dirt under the building among other things, but both Shelli and I were worried I would be unable to complete the rest of the closing without major assistance. I was, however, able to accomplish the rest of the work, including draining and winterizing the hot tub with a plastic bag covering my hand, held in place by a big rubber band. Again, my ribs were more of a problem than my finger.

In retrospect I am grateful, in spite of my severe injury, that I was able to hook my dock with my left foot; that my boat didn’t drift away from the dock, as I would almost certainly have fallen in the water minus a finger and possibly my life; that Shelli hadn’t entered the shower; that Jim, Jan and JT Thurston were home; that the ring removed the flesh of my finger all the way out to the tip, but did not take veins, or tendons with it; that the finger was able to be reconstructed, albeit misshapen and stiff, numb and too big in the middle, tingly on the end; and—most importantly—as Dr. Adcox exclaimed, I’m a “good healer!”




Robert Carpenter:


For those of us who came of age in the ‘60s the draft had an impact on our lives. In my case it started when I reached age 18 in 1964. That was the time for me to register for the draft at Selective Service Local Board #1, Anchorage, AK. If memory serves, something I can’t vouch for much anymore, it was at the Draft Board where I first met Bernadette G. She was then the registration clerk.

Fast forward to June 1968 and I am age 22, single, finished college and very eligible for the draft. I had been accepted into graduate school and had been awarded a fellowship. Graduate student deferments were then officially banned but a person could still ask for an exception. I figured I might as well ask so I requested a hearing before the board. By then Bernadett was the Chair of the Local Board so I went to see her beforehand.

She greeted me with great warmth and affection even though I had only met her once before at the time I registered. But she told me we were all “her boys.” She acted like I was part of her family. “So far so good” I remember thinking but as I sat down beside her desk I saw it: her nameplate.

This may sound a bit like a fish story with the fish getting bigger every year but not so. It was made of mahogany, at least 30 inches long, 6 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick with beveled edges and many coats of varnish. On one end was a raised brass insignia of the United States Army and on the other end a raised brass version of the “Liberty Bell” insignia of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. In between them was an unsheathed bayonet and scabbard and the name plate: “Bernadette G. – Honorary U.S. Army Recruiter”.

I knew then it was all over. I recall attending the scheduled hearing but did not wait for the result. The next day I visited my “friendly local recruiter” looking for something to sign up for. I enlisted and served my three years, mostly at Fort Richardson of all places.

P.S.   If you are wondering: the draft lottery system was not in place until December 1969 when my birthday would have given me #214.


Rich Andrews:

“Heaven is a wink away”


We each travel life, goals come and go, people pass through

like molecules of water we connect in these encounters

yet roll on our way to each new day like rain drops on a tin roof

All make sounds as they tap their way to destinations

which change in such a whimsical way

such was our meeting

yet we return to one another for knowledge to share

truths sought in so many words that seem to fall on deaf ears

but resonate within the spirit of each being

these simple profound truths we begin seeing

Love is the greatest of all.

It has been the subject of many speeches, many cultures, many men

but none conveyed more truly that those women to brought us to know

it is not the words, but our actions that show, love so expressed

It is that coat of many colors in which the beloved is dressed,

the flight that shines from any child’s face

laughter that burst forth in uncontrolled peel

These are treasures so truly real

They make our hearts dance and tears flow

For you my friends

I’m sure you know

Forgive my words, they fall so short of the artesian well of water within

In short, I thank you for your friendship, teachings and guidance

all have not landed on me in vain

they touched my thoughts, actions and performance as a living being

opened my eyes to giving, being the answer to living.

Be not afraid, heaven is but a wink away

We step from this garment into a new one faster than the blink of an eagles eye

to begin anew with just one last sigh

Heaven is a wink away!

Richard C. Andrews 9/11/2016C



Julianne Elliott:


After learning my sweetheart’s somewhat vague birth legend involving an Anchorage movie theater, I  decided to do some digging in search of specifics.  As far as I have been able to piece things together, his parents H. W./Bill  (Howard William) and Malbea were homesteading in Anchorage in 1954.  They already had a son, Mark, who was one.   Bill and Malbea had gone to the movies one weekend, when Malbea went into labor with Child Number 2,   Their son John was born a short while later.  (I learned through new online friends in Anchorage that his birth probably occurred at Providence Hospital, although that is uncertain until I can get my hands on his birth certificate.  

 My first question to John and his 5 siblings upon learning this delightful snippet was, “What movie were Bill and Malbea watching?”  No one had a clue.  My interest in finding out was met with a combination of “You go girl” and “Good luck finding THAT out.” 

So I began visiting websites and emailing and writing to every address I could find up in AK in hopes of getting my answer.  I live in Southern California, near Palm Springs, and was not in a position to conduct Anchorage research in person.  

I received many communiques and photos about movie theaters, The Quake, the hospitals, newspapers, Austin Lathrop who built the 4th Avenue extravaganza, and possible libraries and historical societies to contact.  

Then…Last night I got an email from Charlotte  Pendleton of the Anchorage Public Library containing an attachment – a copy of a page  from the Anchorage Daily Times – with exactly what I  needed to know.  

The movies showing that night – 10/17/54 – were Dragnet (a feature length version of the TV series) at the 4th Avenue; The Student Prince at the Denali; and a double feature of Indiscretion of an American Wife and Prisoner in Korea at the Empress.  There’s no one left to ask which theater it was, but I’m thrilled to have 4 flicks to contemplate and to add to John’s history.  

Thanks to Ms. Pendleton for sending me images of the Anchorage Daily Times for 10/16/54 (the 10/17 edition was mysteriously nowhere to be found…) that showed the theaters, the selection for both the 16th and the next day, and even show times.   And thanks to everyone else who taught me about Anchorage in the 1950’s and provided assistance and encouragement along the way.




Mike Gordon



Halibut Cove Gothic. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

Halibut Cove Gothic. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

The name charley horse, describing an involuntary muscle cramp—usually in an athlete—derived from the game of baseball in the 1880s, soon becoming widespread in baseball jargon. Some say it had to do with a lame horse that pulled the lawn roller at the White Sox stadium. Others insist that it came about when pitcher Charley Radbourne, whose nickname was Old Hoss, suffered the condition during a game.

“Ahh! Ahh! Ahhhhh!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “I’ve got a charley horse in my right leg!” It was November, 2003. We were in our Ford 250 approaching Tern Lake at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways on our way home to Anchorage. I was using my left leg for both gas and brake pedal, holding my right leg out as straight as possible.

My wife, Shelli, and I had just finished a brutal eighteen-hour day closing down our Halibut Cove summer home, later in the season than normal. It was freezing. There was snow on the ground. And it was practically dark when we motored away from our dock for a far- less-than-placid crossing of Kachemak Bay heading for Homer.

Shelli has always claimed there are one hundred and five steps up to our home after climbing the aluminum ramp from the floating dock to the boat house level. The ramp itself, depending on the tides, can vary from horizontal at the highest tides to practically vertical at the lowest. Someone said recently that there were one hundred and ten steps. I count only in segments: eleven steps, then thirteen, thirteen again, then eight, seven, six, and so on. I’m not enough of a masochist to total them. Who cares if it’s one hundred and five or one hundred and ten? It is, though, helpful to know how many are in the different segments when carrying heavy loads and footing, visibility or both are substandard.

“Ahhhh! I can’t drive,” I screamed again as I pulled awkwardly into the Tern Lake parking lot. I managed to struggle out of the truck, drinking water and pacing around for a few minutes to subdue the spasms in my leg. After ten minutes or so I attempted to reenter the truck.

“Ahhhhhhh!” “Ahhhhhh!” I had reached up for the handhold above the open door and bent my right leg, placing it on the running board. Now I had a charley horse in both my right leg and my right arm. “Ahhhhh!” I’m frantically stamping straight-legged around the gravel parking area while flailing my arm, holding it straight out from my body. I looked and sounded like a shell-shocked madman or a zombie in the throes of a maniacal outburst.

Shelli said, “You’re going to have to let me drive.” That was becoming apparent even to the madman. The problem was how he was going to get back into the truck. Shelli has a reconstructed ankle from an auto accident in high school and, having had to resort to the method a time or two, suggested I back myself into the passenger seat, keeping my legs straight while pulling myself in with my arms. Managing it with considerable difficulty and a few more outbursts of agony, I was now seated with both legs and both arms straight out in front of me like a car crash dummy anticipating a head-on impact with a brick wall. Tears streaming down her face, stifling laughter, Shelli drove off into the night, turning left, headed north on the Seward Highway.

The proximate cause of all this drama was sitting in the back of the truck under the canopy. Amongst our load of personal effects were at least sixty cases of jams and jellies in four, six and twelve ounce jars: Shelli Jelly.

We have what is best described as a compound in Halibut Cove. It’s two acres and mostly landscaped. To say that Shelli is a gardener understates the fact that she is more accurately a farmer. It all starts with the compost piles, scientifically managed with tender loving care—turning in the proper amounts of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water. Nothing goes to waste on our property—not even the brush. We have a chipper/shredder for that and the resultant material makes a great layer in the compost pile. If we have too much we use it for fill to expand the perimeters of the property. I am a pescatarian, eating seafood, eggs, cheese, vegetables and fruits, but not meat or fowl. Education about composting wasn’t the cause my dietary choice, but it was the confirmation of it being the right choice—that and the fate of a college roommate’s wife. When you put any kind of seafood in a compost pile it heats it up and burns like an oven. When you put meat or fowl in a compost pile it putrefies. Think about it.

The college roommate was in England on an extended road trip with his wife. They stopped at a bed and breakfast for the night. In the morning they were offered an English breakfast of eggs with blood sausage. Rick’s wife accepted the offer. Rick declined. She died a horrible, untimely death from Mad Cow Disease. I’ll never have to worry about that.

Yellow Transparent Apples. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

Yellow Transparent Apples. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

On the compound we have rolling lawns, a lot of beautiful deciduous trees, rock gardens, shade gardens, a vegetable garden and an herb garden, as well as a lot of decorative annuals around the main house and guest cottage. We have apple trees and cherry trees, but mostly we have berries. We’ve got the world’s most prolific red currant bushes. We also have white currants, Swedish black currants and indigenous black currants. We have huckleberries, low-bush cranberries and high-bush cranberries; two varieties of gooseberries and salmon berries galore. There are mountain ash (a member of the apple family bearing pommes), elderberries, Evans cherries, choke cherries on the May Day trees, Saskatoons and honey berries. And finally, there are scads of red and golden raspberries. Importantly, we have enough varieties that Shelli can make up a twelve-jar gift pack with a different berry or cherry variety in each jar, all grown on our property, and bestowed with names like Blu-Saska-Rhu, Toasted Gold, Razapeno, Christmas Consort, Ginger-Rhu and Polka Dot Jelly. Get in line!

Fall season is when we tend to visit more with Halibut Cove locals. Most of the tourists and guests are gone. Mornings in October are spent shrinking the perimeter—closing down the guest house and hot tub, raking leaves, composting annuals, cutting down perennials and covering their beds with the raked leaves and cut stalks. Noisy flocks of crows descend onto the mountain ash trees and elderberry bushes in front of the house. The berries have fermented, so the birds get sloshed, hang upside down, clown-around, clumsily squawking bawdy barroom crow songs. Seals and sea otters, knowing we’re leaving soon, start taking over the floating docks. They’re not potty-trained, so you have to start being careful where you step down there. Afternoons and evenings, with the absence of guests, are spent talking, reading, listening to music and stirring jams and jellies on the stove while the barrel fireplace crackles away, keeping the dining room and kitchen toasty warm.

Lingon Berries. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

Lingon Berries. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

But preliminary to all this the cases of several sizes of empty jars have to be purchased and hauled to Halibut Cove—from the store into the truck, from the truck down the ramp and onto the boat, from the boat up the ramp to the tram, which didn’t exist at the time of this story, from the tram, up more stairs to the house. They fill a space large enough for a living room sofa. And let’s not forget the seemingly endless twenty-five-pound bags of C & H Sugar; ditto—from the store into the truck, ramp, boat, ramp, tram, stairs, house.

In any photo of hunters and gatherers, I’m with the hunters—every time. I love hunting and fishing but when it comes to picking berries, I’ll be honest; I’d rather watch televised golf, paint drying, or listen to college students at Yale screaming obscenities while wining about their latest perceived mistreatment. Shelli, though, never tires of asking me with an irrepressible grin on her face if I’d like to pick berries with her. Sometimes I actually agree to do it, but I’m thrilled when a female friend arrives excited to venture forth into the bushes with her. This fall I drove to Soldotna with Shelli, attended a Daughters of the America Revolution luncheon at which I was the only guy, got up the next morning, drove to the Johnson Campground area and picked high-bush and low-bush cranberries all afternoon. Now that’s true love. It’s not that we actually needed them. We had two freezers chock-full of berries in Homer and two more in Halibut Cove.

The 2003 season produced a bumper crop of berries. We stayed late and made lots of jams and jellies, as mentioned earlier, sixty to seventy cases. We invented several great new recipes. But then I had to carry all those cases, not to mention the loads of leftover food, house plants, clothing and gear down to the boat over the slippery, snow-covered lawn and the stairs that only reached halfway to the house then. One case of twelve, twelve-ounce jars of jam or jelly is heavy, and there was no one to help me.

I tried to make light of my misery by making up berry jokes and would report to Shelli while picking up the next load, “I’m berry nearly done!”

“Do you know the way to [San Jose] Saskatoon? Bumpatabumpbumpbumppadadabump! I’ve been away so long!”

When our 25-foot Bay Weld, generally a stable boat, was fully loaded it was top-heavy and listing drunkenly from side to side.

I said, “What ever happened to Mike and Shelli?”

Answering myself, “Oh, they overloaded their boat with jams and jellies, ran into a Swedish black currant, and jelly-rolled ‘er!”

What else could I do?

Anyway, Shelli wound up driving all the way to Anchorage. After using the facilities in Girdwood and thinking I was back to normal I volunteered to drive the rest of the way home, but it was not to be. I was instantly and painfully cramped as soon as I bent any extremity.

Fall 2008; Wild Black Currant. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

Fall 2008; Wild Black Currant. © Mike and Shelli Gordon

Arriving in Anchorage less than two months before Christmas, we now spent many evening hours wrapping case after case, mailing them to friends and relatives all across America and labeling many more for the dozens of employees of Chilkoot Charlie’s, the nightclub we owned and operated at the time. People loved it. Some recipients wrote extensive e-mails and dutifully cleaned and returned the empty jars hoping for future deliveries.

We still go through the same routine every year though it’s not as crazy as it used to be. Thank God, because I’m not getting any younger. Now the stairs go all the way to the house and we have a boom as well as a tram. We tend to make more juice and liqueurs than jams and jellies. I even put my foot down, demanding we leave Halibut Cove before Halloween. We still deal with stairs, ramp, boat, ramp, truck, house and we’ve planted even more berry bushes, yearly harvesting more than we can use. No matter, because there’s a double standard for berries. Around our house when you’ve caught too many fish you stop fishing, but when you’ve picked too many berries you buy another freezer.

Alaskans Reunited!

Kathleen Wilson


Alaska Flag: "Eight Stars of Gold on a Field of Blue ..." ©Kathleen Wilson

Alaska Flag: “Eight Stars of Gold on a Field of Blue …” ©Kathleen Wilson

Like many of you, I will always be an Alaskan!  I lived in Anchorage through my childhood, graduated from AHS in 1960, worked for the Alaska State Police (State Troopers) until I was 26, and lived afterward for many years in Europe and Asia.  Now I live in Florida near my two kids who both settled near Orlando.  I live in an unusual paradise of 120,000; a paradise to me because everyone here came from all over the world and all walks of life.  I relate! Imagine my surprise when I read an article in our newspaper about two women who had become friends here and after some time they found they’d been friends many years before when both had lived in Alaska!  I was stunned! Especially since I knew my neighbors came from all over yet it had never occurred to me that I wasn’t the only Alaskan here!

Our new phone book came out and I found it has separate sections listing residents by name, by which village they live in and “voila”, by their home state. There are now 94 Villagers who claim Alaskan home towns!  I had become friends with Jean A. who was one of the two women I met through that original newspaper article (yes, I had hunted her down😊).  Jean graduated from Lathrop High in Fairbanks and had married an Alaska State Trooper and lived in Eagle River.  Over dinner we considered the possibility of forming an Alaska Club (there are clubs here from many states) but there are also over 2000 other activities every week and we all lead very busy active lives, so quickly nixed that idea. Then I heard from Ruth Ann W-S who had read one of my stories on this blog and discovered she lives just 30 miles away by Disney World, and graduated from AHS before I did!  The three of us met and decided to send invitations to all who had listed Alaskan hometowns in the phone book to a get together.  Ruth Ann designed and printed unique Alaskan invitations, Jean wrote the letters, and I mailed them😏!  We rented a community hall and invited people to bring any Alaskan memorabilia and a dish to share on November 11, 2015.   We thought a few might show up!  

©Kathleen Wilson

©Kathleen Wilson

Oh my gosh!!!!  How wrong we were!  The place was packed!   It was a rousing success; we had tables full of mukluks, baleen, “Eskimo” yo-yos, photos, all kinds of memories, all brought by some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met anywhere! Every one of them has a unique history and wonderful memories to share. From the Kodiak disc jockey, the Anchorage attorney, the teachers who hadn’t known they both lived here now, to the couple who own an art gallery in Fairbanks and still live there part of the year.  We shared stories, we laughed, we ate, and we shared our love for our memories. It didn’t matter where in Alaska we lived, what years we were there, or what we’d done for a living, or whether we were Cheechakos or Sourdoughs; we still had so much we shared! We had thought it would be a one time event to celebrate our time in Alaska, but no one wanted it to end!

©Kathleen Wilson

©Kathleen Wilson

So in January we did it again,  We all met in a private room of a restaurant on the town square.  It was a raucous gathering as we became more familiar with each other.  One man went to get something from his car and brought back another man. He said, “Look what I found when I noticed this guy has an Alaska license plate!”  

So that was how we discovered there are even more Alaskans; those who didn’t identify an Alaskan home town, but lived there then or now.  

©Kathleen Wilson

©Kathleen Wilson

In May of this year we once again met, this time in my home.  Thank the powers that be that the weather was perfect so we could flow out into the lanai. Everyone brought fantastic food, but most of all everyone enjoyed each other! Many expressed a desire to get together more often, so during our “chilling out” time afterward we decided we will do it every quarter.

Soooooo….AUGUST HERE WE COME!   Our August get together will be at another Alaskan’s home and we WILL take, and share, pictures.  The experience of sharing our pasts in such a unique state, much like this wonderful blog, has enriched all our lives.  We’ve all lived in other places but have not shared that “connection” that we former Alaskans enjoy.  

©Kathleen Wilson

©Kathleen Wilson


Sad news today.  Our beloved author, Joanna, passed away recently.

Joanna Cravey Hutt

Born: August 11, 1943

Died: May 17, 2016


From friend and classmate, Joel Wight:

Joanna passed away peacefully during the evening of May 17, 2016, surrounded by her loving family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was unable to recover from the effects of an aneurysm suffered while attending a performance of Cirque d’ Soleil with family members in Atlanta, Georgia in March.

Joanna was dearly beloved by her high school classmates and (along with Ron Berg, our student body president our senior year [he passed in 2013]) was voted “Most Popular” by the AHS Class of ’61.  In her own words, Joanna was an Air Force  “military brat” who had arrived in Anchorage by her sophomore year of high school.  She quickly grew in the affections of her classmates.  She was a student leader and cheerleader known for her kindness, infectious enthusiasm and sparkling personality.

Following graduation she attended the University of Alabama, married her sweetheart, Joe Lee Hutt, and entered the field of education where she distinguished herself at her college alma mater as a professor in the areas of English and creative writing. 

Her high school class looked to her for her presence, personality and writing skills in support of many reunions following graduation.  I remember her grabbing me, giving me a big hug and yelling “Joel!” in the elevator of the Captain Cook hotel on the way up to the ice breaker at our 20th reunion.  She afterwards wrote an article about the reunion which was published in a 1981 issue of the Alaska Airlines magazine.  Joanna considered her time in Anchorage as formative for her life-long values and relationships. 

In later years, Joanna and her husband adopted their granddaughter Joanna Leigh, who is now 9.  Their daughter, tragically, has suffered from chronic drug problems which necessitated the adoption.  These events caused Joanna to begin a blog titled “Spittin’ Grits” which is still available on-line and fully reveals Joanna’s wonderful personality and remarkable writing talent in both words and pictures.  I encourage you to visit the site and read about Joanna’s life.

In recent years, Joanna became aware of information regarding the crash site of her father’s P-51 Mustang in the Italian Alps near the end of World War II.  She took Joanna Leigh two years ago to visit Munich (where she attended grade school) and the crash site. 

Joanna lived life fully.  My last correspondence with her was related to her disappointment at being unable to attend our class’s 55th reunion in Las Vegas because of other commitments (I’ll forward that to you separately).  The vibrancy of her being was with her until the end.  We were blessed to know her, will always remember her, and are soothed by the knowledge that she is now cradled in the arms of her loving creator.  We miss her.

Joanna Cravey Hutt

Joanna Cravey Hutt

(Tuscaloosa Memorial Chapel Funeral Home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will announce complete arrangements later.)

From Danny Griffin:

This is a letter from Stan Mccutcheon, Speaker of the Alaska House, written in 1959 about Rev. Griffin who worked with Stan and Ernest Gruening on the Statehood Commission.  

Felton Griffin Stan McCutcheon.pdf

Felton Griffin Stan McCutcheon 2

Felton Griffin Stan McCucheon3

Carolyn French:

Remembering the 1964 Earthquake


One thing for sure…all Alaskans, former or current residents remember where they were or exactly what they were doing when the shake started. I was in California visiting my brother Roger and when he came home that evening he casually mentioned an earthquake in Alaska. Hmmm…another one, no big deal, right? Of course it didn’t take long for us to find out from the news that it was indeed a very big deal!

We kept trying to call, without success and I wanted so badly to talk to an operator as the telephone company was just across the street. Surely, all they had to do was look out the window and tell us if the house was still standing! Not realistic, even under the best of circumstances. We finally received a call the next morning from my aunt in Seattle who had heard from a “ham” radio operator asking she let us know that the folks were well and safe. Our house is/was on the corner of 14th and E street and Mom told me later that she rode the quake out standing in the hall doorway looking out the dining room window. She swore seeing 14th Avenue rise and fall from that vantage point. My Dad was at his service station out on International and the Old Seward and they ultimately ended up finding each other in the middle of E Street. She said later it was like a scene from a movie.

With help from the folks there was a vehicle located in California (a repossession that needed returned to Anchorage). In very short order there were six of us headed north!

A few days ago there was a photo posted on Facebook by Laurel Bill (author of Aunt Phil’s Trunk-lots of Alaskana) showing the aftermath that was 4th Avenue. I will never forget driving in that day, several weeks after the quake and seeing all the damage. Heartbreaking – so many familiar landmarks gone forever. Though the memories surely were not. Saturday afternoons, having a root beer and tuna sandwich ($.75) at Hewitts Drug, being allowed to go to a matinee at the Denali Theatre and feeling so bold walking by the bars, hearing the country and western music and stepping up our pace a bit if someone who seemed less than sober happened out. Never bothered by any one though. The beautiful 4th Avenue Theatre and the Federal building across the street where we would sit and people watch on warm summer days. I feel so lucky to have grown up in Anchorage and do treasure many memories. I’m very grateful.




Interesting article on Fairbanks women from 106 years ago.  You will need to enlarge it on your screen when you click the link below.  There are buttons on the right side of the screen to enlarge:

Alaska Citizen May 14, 1910 Fairbanks – on copy


From Rich Andrews:



The harvest is on going

No season exempt

Spirits arrive to life

Leave to join the one

None can know when it is time to leave

Those left to adjust, adapt, overcome

Now we see, the world go insane once more

Prejudice, hate, envy drive terror on the innocent

Cowards prey on the unsuspecting distracted

Leaders ask for surrender of rights

Excused by threats, only to glean more control

For power

Though no power is real

Value placed on it is

Those who pursue same

Deluded, seduced by greed for more

Their vacuous existence

Never to be filled by empty promise

Conquer yourself with love and discovery of identity

Simply value yourself and others

Use what you need

Give what you don’t

Life is not a game

It is to experience

The moment

The now

From Randy Montbriand:






the peaks etch the greying of this frozen dawn


silently guarding the crystal light of the full-blown moon

A rear guard,

holding back the heightening glory of a blazing, cold sun.

A shaft strikes,

fleshing the uppermost – tingeing the cold blue with life


the arrows suffuse the peaks with deceptive warmth.

(Class assignment East Anchorage High School

Creative Writing 1971)




Red-orange burn the mountains,

Snow fleshing in sunset splendor

Catching the fire as it streaks across a twilight sky.

Glowing live, embers die with sudden spurts of gold

Slowly blue-purpling the mountains with dusk.

Then Night reigns, cool, quiet, supreme.

(13 May 1979)

More from Rich Andrews:



Night and day

Dark, white

Eternally chasing

To never touch

Embrace, envelope

Wrap the other

They sweep the other ahead

In twilight saga blend

Connected in a perpetual


The chase

Man, woman spiritual



Slaves to creation

Each a sunrise, sunset

Realize the pursuit

Is the dance

Of life

Find yourself within

You exist, integral to this

Rhythmic pulse

To ride this, life’s purpose

Life’s passion

Impose your embrace

Within this dance

Compelled to participate

Silent audible song

Sweeps us each along

Join the performance

Enjoy your dance

From Rich Andrews:



Mother natures touch paints the trees with flame color

before they drop their gowns of green to favor gold

paths fill with their yellow petals as if painting the way

for winters sleep

The white gowns dress all in purity for the long rest

Yet in this time, insects continue to gather, birds dine, furry creatures

begin to nest for their sleep

The birch limbs lichen spotted black with turquoise life surrender

to this cool breath of fall

soon to return too soon, too soon

seasons here change quickly

mountain peaks dusted with powder become prominent in their

splendid gowns, robes of red

berries abundantly appear to signal winter is near

all life scurries to gather

Another of life’s lessons begins

From Richard Lee:

Fourteen Months in Alaska


In 1953, my father Chris worked for a general contractor in Rapid City, SD who bid and won a contract to construct an office building on the Fort Richardson Army Base in Anchorage.

Chris was assigned to be the construction superintendent. Thus in March of 1953 a convoy left Rapid City headed for Anchorage. Chris and Loretta and their 4 children started out in a new Plymouth station wagon. The second vehicle was a GMC pickup loaded with construction supply and driven by an older carpenter named Lem. Often he had one or two of Chris’s children riding with him. The third vehicle was a two and a half ton International truck loaded with a hoist and other equipment driven by Elmer with his wife Betty and a baby.

It was a great adventure with snow storms, temperatures down to the minus thirties and billowing clouds of snow stirred up by approaching and/or passing trucks. All were relieved to reach Anchorage.

Sadly we students had to enroll and complete the school year. I went to 10th grade class at the High School in downtown Anchorage where the administration had split the school day into an early and late shift. Here is where I met black kids for the first time and had several black friends.

That summer I answered an ad and wound up working with 3 other high school kids clearing land near Kenai for a Real Estate developer. We slept in tents and had to pay for our own meals at a café in Kenai.

We were living near Otis Lake Parkway and Tudor Road on Campbell Creek when Mt. Spurr erupted and the ash cloud turned day into absolute black. I have a jar of the ash yet. Living way out there in 1953 was great. We could hike anywhere and tried a couple of abortive attempts to reach the lakes up in the Chugach range. We fished for salmon and dollies Campbell Creek. Ice skating on Campbell Creek was an adventure as we often broke through the ice and had to dash for home. Many days the sun on the Chugach would cause the creek to rise and in the morning a new coat of frozen ice would cover the old ice.

I, Richard, tried out and got a position on the Anchorage Basketball Team. What a great year. We traveled by train to Fairbanks several times and to Seward once or twice. In the winter, the trips are a fairy land.

We won the Western Alaska tourney in Fairbanks. The all Alaska tourney was held at Sitka, best two out of three games. We were flown to Juneau in a DC3 and transferred to two amphibious planes for the trip to Sitka. A dream trip for a SD boy. We lost the playoff but fortunately they flew us home.

My father finished the project in June of 1954 and we left for SD. It was sad for the older two boys to leave.

However in 1981 my wife Vonda and I were pleased to be told that our oldest daughter Debra was going to Anchorage to work in accounting. She and two sons and two granddaughters live there yet. We take great pleasure in visiting Alaska and our family.

© Connie Osbon

© Connie Osbon

Connie took this great photo of Anchorage from her Dad’s airplane while flying to Lake Lucille in 1966.


From Mike Byers:


My Great-Great-Grandfather was Fred Vaughan who owned a roadhouse and hotel in Valdez Alaska, and he faked his own death to get away from a mean ill-tempered wife.

Fred and Maude were from Canada. They moved to Oregon in the 1880’s so they could get a piece of the American dream. They settled near Portland and had a daughter named Evangeline. One day Fred told his wife, Maude, he was going to Alaska for some business reasons.  His business dealings brought him to Valdez and after spending some time there Fred did not want to go home.

One day Fred was sitting around a bar and was talking about how awful his wife was and that he did not want to go back to Oregon.  A reporter for the local newspaper said that for $50.00 he would write a story about how Fred had drowned in a boating accident. Fred paid the money happily and the reporter wrote the story and then made sure that copies of the paper were sent to Portland, Oregon.

Now that Maude was widowed and Evangeline orphaned, Maude saw no reason to stay in the United States and wanted to go back to Canada. Evangeline did not want to go; she wanted to stay in the USA. Maude gave Evangeline two options; she could get married or go back to Canada.  Evangeline chose to get married, so they found some guy and she married at sixteen years old.  Well of course the guy was a real jerk and would get drunk and beat her.

By this time they were living in Seattle.  Evangeline had a job selling sandwiches to the dockworkers at lunch time. She met a guy who offered her a job on a steamer heading to Valdez, Alaska.  One day Evangeline just never came home ever again. She worked as a kitchen helper and cabin maid on the steamer.

When she got to Valdez she went to the local paper and asked to talk to the reporter who had written the story of her father’s death.  Evangeline never thought that her father was dead.  When she asked where his grave was the reporter hummed and hawed and she finally asked where he was and the reporter told her he owned a roadhouse and hotel in town.

When she walked in the door of Fred’s roadhouse his chin almost hit the floor.

The first thing Evangeline said was  “You bastard, how could you run off and leave me with that awful woman?”

Fred and Evangeline were very close and they ran the roadhouse together for years. Later Evangeline became a teacher and remarried and became my Great- Grandmother.

Many thanks to Loretta and Loraine Andress for sharing their photos from North Star Elementary during the 1950’s.  Enjoy!




North Star Elementary, 1954, Compliments of Loretta Andress


North Star Elementary, 1957. Compliments of Loraine Andress

North Star Elementary, 1957. Compliments of Loraine Andress



North Star Elementary, 1958. Compliments of Loraine Andress

North Star Elementary, 1958. Compliments of Loraine Andress


North Star Elementary, 1958. Compliments of Loretta Andress

North Star Elementary, 1958. Compliments of Loretta Andress


North Star Elementary, 1959. Compliments of Loraine Andress

North Star Elementary, 1959. Compliments of Loraine Andress

My Weekly Reader, compliments of Loretta Andress

My Weekly Reader, compliments of Loretta Andress

North Star Elementary, 1959. Compliments of Andress

North Star Elementary, 1959. Compliments of Loraine Andress


 From Louis Garcia:


Gene’s story on the AHS band’s trip to L.A. was EXCELLENT!  It brought back wonderful and exciting memories that will live in our hearts forever.

The AHS band was invited to attend a taping of the Lawrence Welk Show and we even got to dance on the show.  You know in the show, audience members participate by taking over the dancing floor.  Well, we were given the opportunity to take over the dancing floor by ourselves and we had a FANTASTIC TIME!

One evening some of us were invited to meet the well known trumpet player Ray Anthony who was appearing at the World Famous Hollywood Palladium.  In the attached photo, along with Ray Anthony are Elaine Stolt, Marjorie Parkins, Carolyn Roop, Louis Garcia and Richard Radke.

All the band members also enjoyed a visit and dinner at Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town,as well as viewing the Cinerama film “Seven Wonders of the World” at the Warner Theatre.



AHS Band & Ray Anthony, © Louis Garcia

AHS Band with Ray Anthony, © The Palladium, compliments of Louis Garcia



AHS Band and Lawrence Welk, © Louis Garcia

AHS Band and Lawrence Welk, © The Anchorage Times, compliments of Louis Garcia




PAULINE REED, 1942 - 2013

Pauline Reed, 1942 – 2013


Pauline REED Celebration of Life

Sunday, October 6th, 5:00 pm
Mercer Island Beach Club
8326 Avalon Drive
Mercer Island, WA 98040


All are Welcome!
Questions: 206-713-8146

Regretfully, Pauline Reed passed away on Sunday, August 4th, following an 18-month battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Pauline, who was born in Anchorage in 1942, was well known to our classmates at Anchorage High School, and especially to the graduating class of 1960.

Perhaps we can share some stories of Pauline in the comments section below.

She will be sorely missed, and remembered for living life well and to the fullest.

Below is the obituary which ran in the Anchorage Daily News, as well as the AHS 1960 Reunion website:


Obituary: published Anchorage Daily News, 8/17/13


Pauline Reed of Mercer Island passed away Sunday, August 4th, after an 18-month battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A fourth generation Alaskan and proud of it, Pauline was a small town girl from Anchorage born in 1942 in the territory of Alaska. She was the daughter of Alaskan pioneers Frank and Maxine Reed, and a woman who possessed a true pioneering spirit. She was the first Alaskan to attend Wellesley College outside Boston, followed by UC Berkeley. She broke down many boundaries during her life because of her fierce determination and positive attitude together with her remarkable ability to turn obstacles into opportunities. Pauline lived her 70 years with an incredible strength of character.

Pauline was so many things to so many people. She was, above all else, an unconditionally loving and supportive mother and grandmother. Though at times a crazy and embarrassing mother for her children, she was always unfailingly generous with her time and encouragement. She was always ready to do anything to help her children pursue their dreams. Pauline felt that the hardest part of her ALS diagnosis was that she would not be able to watch her grandchildren become adults, and would miss meeting her future great-grandchildren.

Pauline met her former husband, Don, an airline pilot in Alaska, while taking flight lessons. After earning her pilot’s license, she and Don would perform unexpected stunts such as buzzing her in-laws house-party while flying upside-down in an open cockpit bi-plane. Pauline also learned to pilot hot air balloons with her brother, Frank Jr., and enjoyed scuba diving with her friends from the Mercer Island Police Department.

Pauline was a social activist, accomplishing things most mothers and women of her time did not do: In 1973, fulfilling one childhood dream, she became King County’s first female fire fighter.

Pauline was a State Farm Insurance Agent for 30 years with her office on Mercer Island. She was known to her clients as the “go to” person when any home, car or other insurance issue would arise. She was always ready and willing to fight the bureaucracy in her client’s behalf.

Pauline wanted to keep her children too busy to get into mischief so she insisted they have a sport for every season. As part of this plan she spent 30 years as a ski patroller at Ski Acres and Alpental (every weekend come snow or rain). She became a National Patroller and was the first in the family to try snowboarding! In her extra time, she became an Emergency Medical Technician, a member of the Cascade Mountain Rescue team (looking for people lost in the mountains and setting explosives to cause controlled avalanches) and also joined the Mercer Island Public Safety Department Dive Team that was responsible for retrieving cars that flipped over the I-90 bridge into Lake Washington. She was definitely everyone’s favorite at “bring your parent to school” day.

She volunteered each summer at countless swim meets and hauled boats each fall to her children’s crew regattas. And she did not stop there. She believed education was all-important both inside and outside the classroom so she hauled her family around the globe and to rural parts of the USA, usually with backpacks, tents, and Youth Hostel cards. Itineraries were always loose and money often limited, which led to unexpected surprises like camping on park benches at Greek Police stations, sleeping in roadside fields or beaches, and leaving a lifetime of incredible memories. A few of her favorites included Denny Creek, Russia (while it was still the USSR), East Berlin (living out Glasnost by hat-trading with Soviet soldiers while camping on the shore of Lake Baikal, just north of Mongolia), Idaho’s Snake River, Ross Lake, the Greek islands, and Mount McKinley National Park (where she woke up the entire campground at 5 AM because the clouds had finally parted to display the sunrise over North America’s tallest mountain).

Pauline was an adoring grandmother and a friend and neighbor to many. She approached life with a simple and powerful philosophy: “One must NEVER put off the important moments, because they might not happen again. So pause to take time, even if it is inconvenient, to be with those you love, and make memories that last, for they are, what in life, can never be taken away.” Her presence will be missed greatly, but the wonderful memories she made while she was here will be forever cherished by her children, grandchildren, extended family, and many friends.

Pauline is survived by her three children, Shelley Elizabeth Reed Buhler (Frank), D. Scott Reed Mackay (of Sydney Australia), and Carrie Reed Scull (Grant); four grandchildren, Elizabeth and Stephanos Buhler, Samantha and Sophia Scull, and former husband, Donald Mackay. Her greatest joys in her life were her grandchildren who have said, “our biggest fan is gone and we will miss her.”

A celebration of Pauline’s life will be held at a later date. Please consider one of the following charities if you wish to make a donation in her name:

The ALS Association Evergreen Chapter
19115 68th Ave S Suite #H-105
Kent, WA 98032

Medic One Foundation
Mail Stop 359747
325 Ninth Ave.
Seattle, WA, 98104-2420

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
1100 Fairview Ave. N.
PO. Box 19024
Seattle, WA 98109-1024

From Kathleen:


Jeanne’s great story of working as a reporter brought back great memories of my own six years after high school working for the Alaska State Troopers in the courthouse on Fourth Avenue.  As a young mother with a husband in Viet Nam I found working with the attorneys, judges, and law enforcement in the wild and wooly days of our new state exciting.  It was also a thriving educational environment that prepared me for living a multicultural existence around the world.

Some of the most memorable experiences included the aftermath of the earthquake of 1964.  The building had developed a crack that was worrisome.  Like many offices of those days, we put a hangar on the office coat rack and when the floor began to tremble all eyes went to the coat rack.  If the hangar was still moving we were all out the door.  Many hours were spent sharing “earthquake stories” as we all integrated that unique and traumatic event into our own life history.

Trials provided constant variety to our workdays.  Each week it seemed there was another surprise for me in the education of my life. There was the political dilemma of the Russians who were caught fishing in Alaskan waters; the transgender person who had hit someone over the head with a coffee cup in response to being bullied; and the commitment of the physicist who had come down to the lobby of Anchorage’s largest hotel naked to announce a man’s home was his castle.  He thought since he was living in the hotel it was his home and he should be allowed to dress, or undress, as it were, as he would in his home.  Each and every one added to the fabric of the tapestry of my life.

And most important of all was that it all occurred among the camaraderie and support of the Alaskans who shared the life and times of Anchorage in the sixties.

Sitting before the computer at my bedroom desk my eyes travel up to my personal “glory wall” filled with a lifetime of those personal accomplishments that made me “me” – awards and college degrees all topped by my children’s pictures and birth certificates.  At the very top is our framed marriage certificate and I notice that Judge Fitzgerald, the judge of Jeanne’s story, signed it. I didn’t know Jeanne in school but we lived parallel lives in a special time and place, and I am extremely grateful.


From MaryJo:  Fired Up


“MaryJo, it isn’t working out.”

When Jill, office manager at the Anchorage law firm where I was afternoon receptionist, asked me to stop by before leaving work that day, I knew what it was about.  My feelings were a mix of relief and regret.

“Everyone likes you in person,” she said, frowning as though puzzled.  She pursed her still-red lips even though it was 6 pm, looked down at her tidy desk blotter, and shook her head slightly, jiggling her short brown curls.  “You’re very good at one-on-one contact and I tried to find a place for you to help the paralegals with their writing projects.  Now, an important client has said you sound rude, harsh, and abrupt on the phone.  We have to let you go.”

Briefly, I thought she might cry.  I reached out to pat her hand resting on the corner of the desk between us before I realized I had just been fired for the first time in my life.  I pulled my hand back and studied my fingernails.  Then I raised my eyes and looked beyond Jill out the window at the steel and glass buildings standing where I remembered a bog of blueberry bushes around a lake long ago.  I wondered how many of those office workers knew what was beneath them.

My attention shifted back to the present moment.

I had made one attitude adjustment after another and nothing changed the fact that I didn’t feel satisfied or fulfilled answering phones and taking messages for people who were doing work they clearly loved and valued.  I felt leashed to the desk by a telephone cord, watching attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, and clients briskly walking back and forth in front of me, on and off of the elevator, talking in huddled whispers or laughing at some joke I couldn’t hear.  Then there were the Friday afternoon parties when all staff who hadn’t left for the day would gather at the far end of one hallway in one of the attorneys’ office for their private “happy hour.”  The attorneys’ wives would call and the party office of the week would have its phone on “do not disturb,” which meant I couldn’t call them.  The wife calling would be angry with me for not leaving my desk and dragging her spouse to the phone.  As much as I tried to fit in, my basic unhappiness had come through.

This afternoon, Jill wasn’t finished.  “Jessica wants to come back, so August 31 will be your last day.  That gives you three weeks to find something else.”

Ah ha!  So that was it.  I had been hired eight months earlier to replace Jessica who left to have a baby.  Now she wanted her old job back and they found a way to give it to her at my expense.

Rejection hits hard, with reality hot on its heels.  How would I pay my rent?  With so many folks out of work, where would I find another job?  And my parents!  They already worried about me after my divorce.  What would I tell them?

Two years earlier, I heard the facilitator of a prosperity workshop say, “Do what you love and the Universe will support you.”  Now the phrase reverberated in my mind.  Since that workshop, I had wallowed in wondering what it was I loved to do.  Now was my chance to do it.

Okay, what did I love to do?  Last winter I played Martha Brewster in a community theater production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”  Fun, but not career material.

During the play, I had lamented to another cast member that I wanted to find people to write with.  She suggested I offer to teach a journal writing class at the community school down the hill from my house.  I had loved creating and teaching that class.  In fact, I was scheduled to teach it again that very month.  Bingo!

I decided to contact the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and see what credentials I needed to offer it through them.

“You need a Master’s Degree to teach any university course for credit,” said the English Department receptionist.  I had a BA in English and three weeks wasn’t enough time to earn a Master’s, so I called the Community and Continuing Education Department and described my class.

“It sounds like just what I want,” said Alice, the Director.

When we met, Alice eagerly showed me the workbook she had in mind for the new class.

“That book is about autobiography writing,” I said.  “My proposed course is journal writing.”  I showed her my materials.

“Oh,” she said, “I really want to offer autobiography.  Would you be willing to create an outline for this class to present to the curriculum committee?”

“Sure,” I said.  What did I have to lose?

“Your journaling class is more appropriate for our Personal Growth and Development Department.  I’ll schedule an appointment for you to present that course to them.”

I was elated at how easy it had been to attract not one, but two courses of great interest to myself.  In a little over a week, I was committed to teaching two non-credit courses for UAA.  They wouldn’t begin until January and that worried me slightly, since that was almost five months after my last day at the law firm.  But, hey, the Universe was supporting me, right?

A friend of mine had recently died of complications related to AIDS, so I suspended my job search to attend an AIDS awareness workshop and see what service I could offer the community.  During lunch at that workshop, I told a woman next to me about my exciting opportunities arising after being fired from the law firm.

“Have you considered submitting your resume to Alaska Junior College?” she asked.  “Your BA qualifies you to teach there.”  As it turned out, she was their Director.

When I delivered my resume to Glenn, the Academic Dean, on Monday morning, I mentioned that the school’s director Shirley had suggested I bring it in.  Glenn studied my resume.

“We’re in the process of creating a schedule for next trimester,” he said.  “There’s a good chance we can use you for an English class or two.  How many are you willing to accept?”

I tried to look casual.  “I’ve never taught in a traditional setting before.  What do you think?”

He said, “Let’s just see what’s available and then decide.”


The junior college classes wouldn’t start until the first week in October, which meant no work in September, but this Universal support thing seemed to be working.  I decided to give myself the week after Labor Day to relax, and then consider how to supplement whatever teaching offers I might get.

August 30, the day before my last afternoon at the law firm, I was downtown before going in to work.  I decided to stop by the bank where I had enjoyed temporary work the year before and say, “Hi” to Jan, the branch manager.

“Hi!” Jan cried as I walked in.  “You’re not interested in a job, are you?  Ida’s on maternity leave and I really could use someone afternoons for a while.”

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “my job at the law firm ends tomorrow.  I’m going to teach classes for UAA and Alaska Junior College, but they will all be either mornings or evenings.”

“Could you start Tuesday?”  Jan asked.

“You’d have to pay me more than when I left.”  This new evidence of Universal support gave me courage as I silently canceled my plan to not work the week after Labor Day.  We negotiated a salary and I left the law firm the next day, not only without missing a paycheck, but supported in doing work that I loved.




In March of 2010, my wife, Shelli, and I traveled South , visiting my son, Michael, in Bellingham, Washington, an artist friend in Seattle and Shelli’s best friend, Deborah, in Portland on our way to visit Jim and Maureen McCartin in Bend, Oregon.  Jim had been one of my three roommates my junior year at the University of San Francisco and I had discovered that he had contracted prostate cancer.  It was a surprise visit engineered by Maureen and me that had to be postponed once because of the passing of my mother.   I had tied the visit to a ski trip to Utah, but I went to visit mom at the hospital the night before I was to depart and made a decision to cancel my plans because it was apparent to me that mom would not last until my return.  She died the next morning.

The postponement itself actually worked out for the best because when the trip was rescheduled, Shelli was able to join me and we were able to incorporate the other stops as well.  Our visit caught Jim completely by surprise.  I rang the doorbell of their lovely home above Bend and Jim promptly arrived, gazing through the cut-glass side-panels of the door to see who the unexpected visitors were.  It took him a moment to figure out who was standing on his threshold and then he blurted out, “Mike, Shelli.  What are you doing here?”  I said, “We’re visiting.”  He said, “But, where are you staying?”  I replied, “We’re staying here.”  Deer in the headlights!  Maureen, who had of course known about our imminent arrival, now appeared and the cat was out of the bag—laughs all around with Jim’s acknowledgement that he had been completely “had.”

Shelli and I visited Jim and Maureen years earlier when they resided in Tiburon, California and they subsequently visited us in Alaska, staying with us at our summer residence in Halibut Cove.  They had also been present for our reaffirmation of wedding vows in England on our tenth anniversary.  It had, though been awhile since we had seen each other and I confess I was taken aback by Jim’s appearance.  I actually had a hard time maintaining my composure because he had lost so much weight.  Once over the initial shock it was never thereafter a problem because in every other respect Jim was exactly the person I had always known, loved and admired.

The week we all spent together in Bend was as good as it gets.  As two couples we could not have gotten along better.  From the hot tub Jim and I shared in the mornings, to the rambling about Bend, to the Rotary luncheon he and I jointly attended, to the cocktail hours at the end of the day and the conversations that followed, the visit was thoroughly enjoyable.

Several days into the visit Jim and I were talking and I happened to mention that a couple of years previously I had written the University of San Francisco to inquire about how I might go about completing my degree and was disappointed because I had gotten no reply.  Jim said, “What’s your middle initial?”  I said, “W.”  Shelli volunteered that my middle name was William, the sole purpose of a middle name being that mothers can get the attention of their children without swearing or raising their voices.  That was the end of the conversation.

Jim had graduated from USF in 1964, when I should have graduated, and he went on to spend twenty years in the U. S. Coast Guard.  Upon retirement from the Coast Guard, Jim returned to USF for a Masters in Business Administration and started a whole new career with American Presidents Lines.  He had spent many of those years living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Jim knew people at USF and had been a loyal and generous alumnus.  I did not give any of this much thought, but when I returned to Alaska there was an e-mail from the University of San Francisco waiting for me.

The university, at Jim’s urging, had embraced my needs!  He had explained to the school, unbeknownst to me, that they should accommodate my desire to graduate and that they needed me as an alumnus.  In response, I was provided with a liaison at the school named Tonya Miller, who was given the daunting task of finding my records, which were hidden somewhere in the dusty archives of the university, not conveniently accessible on a computer screen, and stored in a different location from the records of students who had graduated.  Amazingly though, they had them, and were reviewing them.  I cried and I was so proud of and grateful to both my school and Jim McCartin.

The task now for Tonya was converting my credits from the anachronistic three unit system to the present four unit system.  It occurs to me that this progression from a three to four unit system might be a form of inflation, but I digress.  The end result was that I was told I needed only seventeen credits to graduate.  In school I had always taken full loads, including nineteen my first semester and eighteen and a half my second during my freshman year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, immediately before transferring to USF.  Two years of French, one at UAA and one at USF, had completed my language requirement.  My lab requirement had been fulfilled at UAA with two semesters of Geology.

The reason I had not graduated in 1964 was that I met Lilla, my first wife at a school dance and fell in love my sophomore year at USF.  Returning to the city my junior year I reconnected with Lilla and we were married in San Francisco.  I completed my junior year, we moved to Alaska, where I worked moving furniture during the summer for Allied Van Lines and in the fall our daughter, Michele, was born.  We did not have enough money to return to San Francisco for the fall semester, so I took a class in Business Law at Anchorage Community College and my wife and daughter later flew to San Francisco and I drove there from Anchorage with the intention of enrolling in the spring semester, however, financial exigencies prevailed.  I ended up going to work instead of school and it took me over three years just to get back to Alaska.

I created a successful life for myself in spite of my lack of a university degree, but it always bothered me that I had not graduated.  I had regular dreams, or nightmares, about being back in school.  In the dreams I would be on campus at USF, but I would always be behind on my studies and I could never find my classrooms.  Whenever the subject of education came up in a conversation and I would respond to where I attended college the question of what year I had graduated would inevitably follow and I would have to go into the story of why I had not done so.  “I was on the Dean’s Honor Roll.  I was a good student.  I got married my junior year, my wife got pregnant the night of our wedding and I moved on with life.”

Tonya Miller now went to the department heads of USF to discuss the courses they felt I needed to take in order to complete my graduate requirements.  Meanwhile, she directed me to the school website and suggested I select classes in Political Science and Philosophy that interested me.  A Philosophy course is required each semester at Jesuit universities and in order to complete a Major in Political Science and a Minor in Philosophy the department heads decided I needed two four unit courses in Political Science and two four unit courses in Philosophy plus one unit.  I chose, among others, two Political Science courses and a few Philosophy courses in which I had an interest.  The Philosophy of Art sounded so interesting that my wife said she wanted to enroll also.  I had a couple of other interesting classes selected as well but word came back from on high that I needed a five unit Ethics course and a four unit Applied Ethics course, taken sequentially.  Oh, my God!

There were two problems with the proposed requirements.  One was that I was terrified of taking seventeen units in one semester, even without the five unit Ethics course and the four unit Applied Ethics course, while running my business and not having been to college in forty-eight years and the other was that the only reason I was jamming it all into one semester was that I wanted to walk the stage in May in San Francisco, and I wanted Jim to be there because without Jim none of this would have happened!

Though I did resign myself to having to take a class during summer school it soon became apparent that would be unnecessary.  I was contacted by e-mail by my Philosophy professor, Marvin Brown, more than a month before the semester started.  Professor Brown was not lecturing the two required Ethics courses that semester, so he provided me with a syllabus for each class, as well as reading requirements and writing assignments, and there was no mention of sequential anything!  Elated, at this point I made a wise decision.  I decided to apply myself to the five unit Ethics class and finish it before the semester started, which is all I did during that month and did I finish it, literally the day the semester began.  Marvin called me from San Francisco to personally inform me of my grade.

Now the lectures began twice a week for each of my two Political Science classes, which were American Foreign Policy and Governments and Politics of the Middle East.  Incidentally, this was a very interesting time to be taking these classes from Stephen Zunes, the Chair for Middle Eastern Studies at USF since it was immediately following the self-immolation by Mohamed Bouazizi, the twenty-six year old street vendor in Tunisia, which kick-started the momentous events in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East now known as the “Arab Spring,” and currently erupting in Syria.

Tonya Miller arranged for a student to take a recorder to each class and the recordings were forwarded to me on Google Documents.  Initially it did not appear the system was going to work because there was too much class background noise.  We were in a learning curve for the university, the professor, my liaison and me.  At my wife, Shelli’s suggestion, Tonya asked Professor Zunes if he would wear the microphone, which he agreed to do.  It worked nicely, but I still could not decipher student questions and comments though I could hear the professor’s answers.  The lectures, which I found fascinating, were clearly audible and I was able to replay them during transcription, so I never missed any part of a lecture.

During the early part of the semester I was able to finish the Applied Ethics class by focusing on it as I had the Ethics course, which was fortuitous because the amount of reading, and book report and term paper requirements for Professor Zunes were daunting.  Stephen gave bi-weekly objective quizzes to his students and, since I could not participate, he told me to “just write a page or a page and a half single-spaced” on the reading material assigned each week.  I ended up writing as many as fifteen to twenty pages because there was so much reading that I could have filled up that much space by just typing the chapter headings and sub-headings.  It was killing me!  I jokingly said to Shelli one day, “Honey, these college professors don’t seem to think you have anything else to do!”  After a couple of weeks I called Stephen to complain.  He had not even received the result of my efforts, having suffered a computer problem and explained that the only reason he gave the quizzes was to make sure the students were completing the readings and that he obviously did not have to be concerned about me doing so.  Thank God!  After writing my mid-term papers I listened as my classmates were told of their scores, but had to wait two nervous weeks, pestering Tonya Miller regularly, to hear how I had done.  It was a busy time for Stephen, giving interviews on radio and television, writing articles, traveling to Washington, DC, much less having to deal with his distant student in Alaska.

I was eventually rewarded for my efforts with an A in all four of my classes!  As previously mentioned, I had made the Dean’s Honor Roll while at USF as a kid but I never earned a 4.0.  Discussing my grade with Professor Brown by phone he asked if I would be attending graduation ceremonies in May.  I said I would be, to which he replied, “I don’t generally attend graduation ceremonies, but I’ll be around,” which I took to be an invitation to contact him.

I phoned my daughter, Michele, and son-in-law, Jerry and coordinated arrangements with Jim and Maureen for all of us to stay Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in the same hotel, the Queen Anne, next to Japan Town, not far from the USF campus, where Jim and Maureen had stayed previously.  The Queen Anne is a charming old hotel and, being on the National Registry, there are tours through the lobby in the afternoons.

Having settled into our rooms in the hotel, we all began preparing for our event that evening, which was created around a reunion of a group Shelli and I had spent three weeks with in China, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand the previous October.  The group had been orchestrated by Dick and Ann Grace of Grace Family Vineyards, St. Helena, in Napa Valley.  Grace Family Vineyard produces a small amount of exceptional cabernet sauvignon available only to people on their mailing list and affords Dick the ability to maintain his network of humanitarian missions mostly located in Tibet and Nepal.  Dick and Ann travel to Tibet and Nepal several times a year and frequently take friends along to visit the clinics, schools and monasteries they generously support.  In October of 2010, the group consisted of Marsha Williams, Robin’s ex-wife; Peter Coyote, the actor and author and his wife, Stefanie; Mike and Soek D’Allesandro, a young couple from the Seattle area; Pat Murray, Dick’s cousin; John Harper, the travel agent who came along for the Tibetan portion of the trip; Shelli and me.

Tour members at the reunion at Marsha’s home, which is stupendously located all the way out on the avenues of San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and filled to the brim with the most tasteful and eclectic private modern art collection I have seen, were Dick and Ann, Marsha, Peter and Stef and Shelli and me.  The rest of the tour group was unable to attend, but there were several Tibetan friends of Dick and Marsha in attendance.  Then there were, of course, Jim and Maureen and my daughter Michele and son-in-law, Jerry.  We enjoyed a festive evening of conversation accompanied by a wonderful meal and fine wines prepared and presented by Marsha’s personal chef.

The graduation ceremony was scheduled for noon on Saturday, so Friday morning Jim and Maureen, Michele and Jerry, and Shelli and I drove out to USF to pick up my cap and gown and to meet Tonya Miller, my steadfast liaison.  While procuring my graduation attire the lady assisting me volunteered that she had worked with Tonya for a couple of weeks “bringing your school records into the 21st century.”  She went on to explain that the school’s computer did not want to accept the ancient course descriptions, numbers or credit hours.

Next I called Professor Brown, who said he would meet us in front of the school book store at 1:00 PM.  In the meantime Jim and Maureen wandered off, Jerry and Michele relaxed and Shelli and I purchased an entire wardrobe of USF clothing.  Marvin arrived promptly at 1:00 PM and asked if we wanted to have a cup of coffee of walk down the street for a beer.  We opted for the latter and found ourselves in a once seedy location known as the Fulton Inn in the early 60s that had been nicely remodeled.  We spent a wonderful couple of hours conversing with Marvin, now my all-time favorite professor.  At one point in the visit I said, “Marvin, I hope you didn’t drive all the way over here from Berkeley just to meet me,” and he replied, “I did.”  What an honor!

That Friday night the three couples enjoyed a sushi dinner at a nearby sushi bar and retired early.  Walking into the hotel restaurant Saturday morning for breakfast a man approached me and asked, “Are you Mike Gordon?”  I said, “Are you Rick Fischer?”  I had three roommates my junior year at USF until I married and moved out on my own.  Jim was one.  Rick, who later earned a Masters at USF and a law degree from Hastings and lives in Washington, DC, was another.  Rick lost his wife a few years ago and had flown to San Francisco with his friend, Anne, for my graduation ceremony.  A moment later I turned around and there was Rosie, the widow of the fourth roommate, Jerry Lombardi, a gentle soul who had recently succumbed to cancer.

What an unimaginable surprise!  We were all lodged at the Queen Anne Hotel.  Jim had not only managed to make it to my graduation, but had secretly arranged for Rick and Rosie to attend!  I was overwhelmed by emotional gratitude.  Forty-eight years later and there we were all together again in body and spirit.

Two hours before the scheduled ceremony we all drove out to the USF campus.  It was a gorgeous day in the city.  After locating where I was to queue up everyone else walked over to St. Ignatius Cathedral, where the ceremony was to be held.  I hung out, feeling somewhat conspicuous, with the hundreds of kids, all of us in graduation garb.  There were proctors in the crowd that were helping the young graduates fix their outfits and I thought, from looking around, that my hood was improper, so I got the attention of one and asked if she could assist me.  She said, “Sure.”  And then, “I know who you are.  You’re that famous guy.  Fifteen minutes before we depart for St. Ignatius I want you over there by that door because I’m putting you in the front of the procession.”

At the appointed time I was where I had been directed and, in fact, was put at the head of the procession.  We walked across the campus grounds, entered the stunningly beautiful cathedral and I walked all the way to the front row, far right seat.  Right across the aisle to my right were seated my friends and family.  After the national anthem, during which I was the only person I could see that removed my cap, and the speeches, I was first to walk across the stage and receive my diploma.

I had been informed by the USF public relations people that I was to be interviewed by Channel 5 television after the ceremony, so after we filed out of the cathedral I located the camera man and soon friends and family arrived on the scene.  The guy from Channel 5 interviewed me and Jim and we took some wonderful photos of family, friends and “the roommates.”  The clip “Mike Gordon graduates from the University of San Francisco, 48 years late.” was played in San Francisco that night, picked up by CBS affiliates and played all over the country, including in Anchorage.  Overall, the University of San Francisco received the equivalent of $250,000.00 in free publicity.

There was also a photo of me and an article for which both Tonya and I had been interviewed by the school public relations department in the alumni newsletter that occupied a prominent location on the school’s website.  I had been pleased with what Tonya had been quoted as saying and for the fact that she was being given some well-deserved recognition for her efforts on my behalf.  In the end, the school administration removed all her comments, I was told, because they did not want to shine a light on the fact that they had bent the rules in order to accommodate me.  I was unhappy about this development and made my feelings known to the public relations people, who agreed with me.  We felt the school should be proud of bending the rules in this case.  Whatever bending they did certainly did not diminish the amount of work that was required of me to graduate.  So what if there is no such a thing as a five unit Ethics course and my transcript shows four units and one unit.  I asked Professor Brown how he had gone about fashioning the five unit class and he chuckled and said he had just added in some “graduate stuff.”

Now Jim walked up to me and said, “We have one last surprise.  I promise. (Yuk.Yuk.) We’re going to have lunch with Father Lo Schiavo, the school chancellor, in his private dining room atop Lone Mountain.”  The location overlooks the city and bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge.  Now it was my turn to be the deer in the headlights.

“Father Lo” is the only guy still alive at USF from the days that Jim, Rick, Jerry and I were there, priest or lay.  He referred to himself as the “last of the Mohicans.”  During a delicious meal, accompanied by wines and prepared by his private chef, we discussed my last semester and encouraged him to have the university reach out and accommodate others like me that might like to take advantage of classes offered electronically in order to earn their degrees.

The last night in the city Marsha got the eight of us a reservation for dinner at Jardinier, a restaurant on Grove Street in which she has an interest and without whose assistance we would not have gotten one, day of, on a Saturday night.  It was the perfect end to a perfect adventure.  The next day everyone went home, including the college graduate and his wife.

When I realized the University of San Francisco was going to bat for me I was so grateful I cried and cried.  In fact, I became emotional about what was happening throughout the entire experience, from beginning to end.  And it is happening to me right now, as I type.  There are simply no words to express my gratitude to both USF and to Jim McCartin, who succumbed to cancer on July 12, 2012, but not before Rick, Anne, Shelli and I got to visit him one last time in Bend.  My gratitude also extends to my wife, Shelli, for her moral support and for filling the role of editor while otherwise being ignored for months during my studies.  I am very pleased that my daughter, Michele and her husband, Jerry could attend such a milepost in my life and grateful to Marsha for opening her lovely home for us– and then there is Rick and Anne and Rosie–the fact that they thought enough of me to expend the time and effort to be there for my graduation humbles me.  Lastly, I am also very proud of myself for doing what I did and doing it well.  I would not trade the experience for having made the last 1,500 feet on Mt. Everest on my third attempt, after having completed the other six summits on the other six continents, and I no longer have nightmares about being back in school!



On February 3, 2013, Bill wrote:

A friend from childhood died yesterday.  He died of emphysema.  Tony smoked since childhood, grade school in fact.  I liked Tony.  He was a good guy.  He’s the first person I ever hitchhiked with, along with our friend Jimmy.  We were only in 6th grade, at North Star School in Anchorage.  I can still see it, thumbs out on Northern Lights Boulevard. It’s like it was just yesterday.  I was scared.  He just took it in stride.

Tony was a bit of a hood.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.  In Alaska, back in the 50’s and 60’s, everybody was pretty much accepted—-the hoods, the street fighters, the dudes, the fat kids, the retarded.  You just were what you were. Nobody worried about it.  The hoods didn’t pick on regular kids.  They just fought each other and smoked cigarettes.  Most of the time they had dads who beat them.   Most every body had dads back in those days.  But some beat their kids.  Their kids in turn went out and beat up others.

It was a complex social order.  Those guys didn’t have to take anger management classes.  They only beat up each other. It’s just how it was.  There were no “victims”, even the kids that we teased.  In an awkward way, it was a manner of accepting those kids as well.  Parents didn’t lock up their guns, and there were no violent video games.  We didn’t shoot each other. Instead we built forts up in trees, played sandlot baseball, and occasionally bloodied someone’s nose.  We were rarely inside.  There was no Ritalin, no therapists.  We worked things out between ourselves.  And everyone was ultimately accepted and looked out for.


Bravo to our very own Glenn Allen, author of the new book The ALASKA VIRUS To Kill Cocaine.

This suspenseful and well written story weaves a web of intrigue and keeps you guessing to the end.  Professor Matt Lynx, expert on human viruses, has Alaskan native blood and skills as a bush pilot and adventurer.  He has been engaged by DARPA to help Dr. Kiren Moore, a turbo-charged plant virologist with short bright hair and an attractive frame.  For reasons of personal revenge, she is determined to engineer a new virus to eradicate the coca plant from which cocaine is produced.  The work begins in North Carolina but moves to the slopes of Mt. McKinley, Alaska providing long summer sun and greater secrecy.  In spite of this, the drug cartel learns of the project.  A deadly game of hide and seek follows including Matt, Kiren, and Vitz, a Delta force agent, against the cartel group and their scientist bent on finding the three and halting the work at any cost.   The story weaves together molecular biology, Alaskan geography, and bush planes.

Get your copy today at

Mike Gordon’s 70th Birthday

  • Friday, November 30, 2012

  • Hosted by Shelli Gordon & Chilkoot Charlie’s

  • 2435 Spenard Road

  • Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Swing Bar

Champagne & Appetizer Reception

6:30 p.m.

followed by

Tommy Rocker Live!

on the North Side

Donations, in lieu of gifts, to benefit

Rotary International Youth Exchange

Cards and Messages for the Birthday Boy

Mike Gordon

P. O. Box 2939

Homer, Alaska 99603-2939


Curl up With a Good Book


Cold River Spirits: Whispers from a Family’s Forgotten Past

Jan Harper-Haines has written wonderful stories of her proud Alaska Native family struggling to survive in two worlds. Sam and Louise Harper and their ten children make a soul-grinding transition into a modern white-dominated society where they face bigotry, poverty, and illness. Yet, Louise, the Athabascan matriarch, remains in touch with centuries-old traditions of healing, honoring nature’s spirits, and a belief that the spirits of all Athabascans one day will return to the waters of the Yukon River.

Jan’s first edition, Cold River Spirits: The Legacy of an Athabascan-Irish Family from Alaska’s Yukon River, was first published in 2000. It was recently released in a new edition with an added page of readers’ group discussion points.

Connie’s memories of dance classes and scary movies

I had to tell you I too did Gretl and her sister’s ballet and tap classes. My Godmother was very good friends with those gals and I was reminded with each visit to her about my dancing experience with the sisterseven long into my adulthood.  I only wanted to take tap not ballet. Maybe that was a requirement of theirs. I was tubby tuba then so delicate I was not. I must have been a real laugh.

AlsoI remember the North Star skate rink and performances.  My father gave me a photo yrs later in my tutu that Mr. Norton took of a preperformance pose. A tutu in freezing weather! Course in high school, Mr. McGuin didn’t mind us pancing down 5th Ave in those skimpy majorette outfits in March and April. Then I did Job’s Daughters drill team too. How come they never did summer parades???

I remember the far distant movie theater on 4th or 5th too. The Empress was by the Anch. Times bldg. on the same side of 4th as the 4th Ave. theater.  So maybe that was the Denaliway down there?  The scary brain removaland device alteration zombie  movies are the most unforgettable. I think of them oftenand maybe because of that early inappropriate content exposure, I refuse to watch them even now.

But the very unforgettable occurred when my birthday party group (about 8 of us) went to the Denalifor one such movie.  When my father came to pick us up later, I must have been in the loo or something because he forgot to countall the celebrants and LEFT me there, his own daughter. Wow! I consider(now) myself so lucky some weirdo didn’t get ahold of me during the wait time!. That was definitely a childhood nightmare moment.

Kathleen Remembers Her Dad and His Dahl Sheep

Dad was an outdoorsman; he loved to hunt and fish and Alaska was his nirvana.  Our diet contained a lot of moose, caribou, and salmon.  My uncle and Dad would fly far and wide to hunt and one year they decided to go for Dahl sheep.  Dad bought a new scope for his rifle for this venture and packed lots of tin cans.  They were tied to their ankles so as they climbed the mountain bears would hear them and leave them alone.  I don’t know if that worked or if they were just lucky.

On this particular hunt they climbed for two days before they reached a crag from which they saw Dahl sheep on another crag.  Dad used his rifle with the new scope to successfully bring down the sheep.  This called for a trek down the mountain and back up the next mountain to reach the felled animal.  They dressed the animal and hauled it all down the mountain, totally exhausted, to find the game warden waiting at their plane.

He asked Dad if it was a “three quarter curl” to which Dad replied it was. The warden took out a tape measure and found it to be a quarter inch short, told Dad that he could keep the meat but that the state would have to confiscate the trophy.  My father was incensed and became obsessed with getting another trophy after that. He often ranted that he just knew that game warden had hung Dad’s trophy on his own den wall.

It took him several years before he got another, and that trophy became the prize in our home.  Dad brought everyone in to see it, decorated it with the seasons of the year: ornaments at Christmas, palms on Palm Sunday, colored eggs at Easter, flags from the horns on the Fourth of July.

The trophy followed through Mom and Dad’s moves to Eagle River, then to Colorado, and finally to Arizona.  Where one day a man walked by their window and stopped to admire the trophy.  He began to “visit” the trophy often and took such a hankering to it that Dad gave him the trophy, telling us it was time to pass on the noble animal.  Somewhere in Arizona I hope he’s still bringing all the pleasure he brought to my Dad.

 Bill Swisher’s Anchorage Memories

I think, repeat think, we drove into town around December of 1951 and left in December of 53, left via ship from either Whittier or Seward.  I just remember the train ride and moose standing along the track in the snow.  I started the 1st grade at Talkeetna Elementary, burned down now, in Mountain View.

The house is at the NE corner of Klondike Ct. and S. Lane St.  My dad built it in the evenings/weekends while stationed at Elmendorf.  There were no streets so he brought all the building materials in with the Jeep; the lot was found via surveyor’s stakes.  My mother told me they were chased by a cow moose while trying to find the lot on foot, her running carrying me and my dad carrying my older brother.

First wall going up!


We moved into the kitchen, first room built, while he finished it a room at a time.  When built, the house had a flat roof, easier to build, and my mother used a ladder to take frozen things up there and bury in the snow (ravens you know).

I have no idea where the shack was, but that’s our Jeep parked in front of it.

Our jeep in front of shack

I have no idea where the shack was, but that’s our Jeep parked in front of it.

I was a little kid, do remember a volcano popping off (Spurr) and my brother agreed there was 6-9″ on ash in a cardboard box outside.  We found a wing tank somebody had left, purposely or accidentally, chopped a hole in it, nailed some 2X4’s to it and built an outrigger.  Paddled around in the gravel pits where the Northway Mall is now, neither my brother or I could swim and the tank leaked so one paddled and the other bailed water.

As an aside, we found that house by going back through Anchorage School District records.  The phone/utility records are all microfiched and stored somewhere after a certain age.  But by getting an address from ASD we could then look up the tax record and get the current street address. ASD had it down as lot something in trailer park something, even though it was a house.  Unfortunately almost all the photos and motion picture film my parents took was destroyed in a barn fire down in Texas in the 80’s.  They had a roll of film where my mother sat on top of the Jeep and they drove up and over into Willow Creek; it was a dead end road back then.  Because my dad was in the USAF we lived in Alaska when it was a territory, and moved to Hawaii when it was also.  While in Hawaii it became a state.  I like to threaten people by telling them I’ve been to Puerto Rico also.

Elmendorf AFB, early 1950

Elmendorf AFB, early 1950’s




Jan Harper-Haines suggested that we write a joint bio on our friend, Susan.  It is below, in both our voices.  I encourage any of you who knew Susan to use the comment form below this text to share your own memories of this dear woman.  I’m sure there are many more stories to tell about her!


Jana Ariane:

Susan was my best friend until our age difference became a chasm that we could no longer cross.  It happened the fall I moved to Junior High School, 7th Grade at Central, and she stayed in 6th at North Star Elementary.  And then I met Patty, as eager as I to move beyond dolls into a new world of makeup and boys.  Not that I was allowed to wear makeup OR date boys, but Patty and I certainly spent hours ruminating over these subjects.  And then there was the change in my body that immediately catapulted me into the world of approaching womanhood, and further away from Susan.

Until then, Susan and I were pretty much joined at the hip as far as neighborhood activities went.  I’m not sure which one of us qualified for the role of the leading “tomboy”.  It was probably me:  “NO, I want to be Horatio Hornblower”, I’d say when she wanted her turn at the helm, which never came.  “You can be Virginia Mayo!”  And she never argued.  Now I wish she would have.

Jack, Susan, Jana


Oh how I miss those years we played on the hill, dressed up in grungy old castoff clothing gathered up from God knows where and brought to us by a peculiar man named Junt.  Whether we were playing with our “Tony” dolls, or the puppet stage, or cowboys and Indians, or dressing up, or turning Dad’s two-wheeled trailer into a ship, spinning on our spinning wheel, or reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books, Susan was my constant companion in crime.  And there wasn’t much of that, crime, that is.  We were really pretty good girls, all in all.

Susan in a Hat from Junt’s Stash

Both Susan’s parents were first generation Americans from Finnish immigrants.  Her father, Gus, served in the Navy during World War II, and during that time Susan and her mother, Linda, lived with Linda’s Finnish-speaking parents where Susan spoke Finnish as her first language.  But she “tuned it off” and her Finnish was long gone before they moved to Alaska.  In 1947 the family arrived in Anchorage, and by the time I met Susan, she was five.  Like all precocious youngsters, she mastered English without a blink, or even the smallest trace of a Finnish accent.  There was just a hint of Minnesotan, however, an odd inflection in speech that designates a person as being from a state close to Canada.  I’ve often wondered why Alaskans, who have a longer border with Canada than any state, don’t say “oot” rather than “out”.

Perhaps my authoritarian insistence on always being Horatio Hornblower moved Susan early towards the Left.  More likely that was just a small straw, however.  Susan’s family was also responsible. Her immigrant grandparents were part of the working-class labor movement occurring in the mid-west in the 1930’s.  Coming from this background, Susan’s parents, civil to a “T”, and in the nicest tone of voice, often referred to the Right in not so gracious terms.  Susan, being much more studious than I, eventually focused her attention on a major in International Affairs at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.


Jan Harper-Haines:

“Don’t you just love TIME Magazine?” Susan said one morning when she got to work. I was perched on a stool at a drafting table at the Bureau of Land Management where I was cartographic aid. I was terrible at it.

Susan and I hadn’t known each other at Anchorage High School where we’d shared no classes and where we had graduated with over 500 other seniors. She went on to Lewis and Clark in Oregon and I went to UA Fairbanks. We got acquainted a few summers later working for BLM located in a square beige stucco building on the east end of Fifth Avenue.

Except when the summer survey crews came in for reassignments – a thrilling time when cute college guys like Bing C. appeared in mass — the offices were occupied by gray-suited, middle-aged men and older women in cotton dresses. So it was natural that Sue and I got together.

It was Tuesday and the weekly news magazine arrived the night before. It was always a full week plus a day late, but in Alaska, we were used to late mail delivery. “I can hardly wait for it to arrive. I read it cover to cover.” Sue wore a huge smile.

My chief interests in those days were clothes and guys. Nonetheless, I did my best to look interested. But I knew she was smart, studied all the time, a brainiac. (A description I privately – and completely without merit — applied to myself.) It was her assumption that I too found world events fascinating that forced me to grind my teeth and delve into TIME’S tissuey pages. So imagine my surprise to discover that what was happening in our nation as well as other parts of the world was not only interesting, but  – whoa, addictive!

Another benefit of my sudden interest is it gave my father — an avid TIME reader – and me something to talk about. This went a long way toward softening the edges of our fractious relationship – one my long-suffering mother referred to as “stubborn meets stubborn.”

Today, it is with gratitude and pleasure that I think of Sue and that summer in Anchorage.


Susan, Jack, Jana

Jana Ariane:

It was in Oregon that Susan later found her “voice” and joined the Trojan Decommissioning Alliance where she trained in non-violent civil disobedience.  The Alliance staged the nation’s first occupation of an operating nuclear power plant (Trojan) in August 1977.  A member of the Alliance, Susan participated in at least one occupation of the Trojan nuclear site on the Columbia River, and was one of many arrested.  “Susan just grazed jail time”, her brother remembers.  Since it was a first offence, she was released along with a warning that it would be more severe a second time.  But she wore that event like a badge from then on.


Susan Linda Gustafson Iles passed away in Portland on June 28, 2007.


  1. Ron Carpenter — I enjoyed the humor in your story! Fort Rich didn’t sound so bad after all.

  2. Bill Zersen says:

    I was a member of the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron, U.S. Air Force (Tactical Airlift Squadron at the time?)when we moved from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas to Elmendorf in 1964. I lived in Anchorage from 1964-1968 and have fond memories of the city.

    At the time of the earthquake, I was in Squadron Officer’s School in Alabama and wondered if the quake would change anything regarding our move. One of the things I remembered was on a flight to Elmendorf the previous year, some of us ate at the German Deli Restaurant on 3rd (?) Street. The next time we saw the area it had dropped some 20-30 feet – the whole side of the street!

    During the quake, my future wife, an Alaskan Airline Stewardess, was in a super-connie inbound to Anchorage when the plane lost all contact with Anchorage. The plane turned around and went back to McGrath and they stayed there the night. The next day the plane took off for Anchorage without any communications (I don’t know if they had any communications with Elmendorf or not). They arrived at Anchorage and made a low pass on the field. Seeing that the runway looked to be OK for landing, they landed.

    It was a scarry time in Anchorage when I arrived in the summer as earthquakes were still happening. One morning as I was going to work, as I turned the knob on my door to leave my apartment, an earthquake hit (a big jolt) and I was buckled to my knees.

    A great part about being in Alaska was to be able to see most of the outlying sites in Alaska as we flew into many of them delivering supplies and even USO shows. It was a wonderful 4 years of my Air Force career where I found my wife and even had our first son in Anchorage.

  3. Jean McLane says:

    Discovered an album of 1950 photos of Alaska, including a charming but unidentified teenage girl with her cabbage garden in Anchorage — who might she be? Take a look:

  4. Jan Petri Haines says:

    Mike Byers’ story sounds like the basis for terrific longer piece. Fascinating characters.
    Kadus, Mike!

  5. Jan Petri Haines says:

    Great photograph of Joe Montgomery with Kay A., Donna B.. and David D. (I didn’t know the other student)l next to Lawrence Welk.

  6. Judy Mueller Jett says:

    Pauline always knew who she was and what she wanted. Not many of us can say that. She would tackle problems and obstacles with out-of-the-box solutions. I discovered this while working with her during our numerous high school reunions. Pauline’s zest for life never faltered…she was a driving force in high school and that energy and enthusiasm followed her through life. I will miss seeing her jitterbug at our next high school reunion.

  7. Mike Gordon says:

    Pauline Reed was a terrific classmate–always a go-getter. What a shame to have lost her. I used to enjoy seeing her on her trips to Anchorage to visit with her family. She came from one with more money and prestige than most around here, but she never let it go to her head. She was a kind, sincere and generous soul. I shall miss her.

  8. Connie Walker says:

    I found this tribute to an old friend very touching. 

    I too lived in Anchorage for 18 years, but as an adult.  I raised my to children there in the 1970’s – 1980’s.

    Connie Walker

  9. Anonymous says:

    BTW, Jeanne posted some really great pics of the snow on Facebook.  They are probably on her website, as well:

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jim,

    Nice return from your vacation!   Yes, I remember shoveling really well!  Once, when I was a young woman, I had to drag a full garbage can out back to the alley, and by the time I got back into the house, my heart was pounding so loud I could practically hear it!  Luckily it settled down to a dull roar.  LOL  
    Where is Peoria, BTW?   Are you up where it is cold or down in the sweltering heat?
    We are getting some rain here FINALLY … but it’s still too dry and I worry about all my trees when summer comes.  

  11. Jlstelling says:

    I think it was the winter of 56/57. We had rented our house while we took a vacation in the South 48. We returned in Dec to find our house mutilated, then the snow started. About 100 inches over a few days. We had an extra long driveway (about 100 feet to the garge). Much shoveling. Then the wind came, can’t remember if it started late Dec. or early Jan. but it blew the control tower over at the new International Airport. The snow packed so hard against our south doorway we could not budge it. Went out the east doorway with picks and shovels for 3 days work to get our cars out. I belive it was that Jan. when the Asiatic Flu hi us real hard and a 3rd. of the students and teachers were out for a few days at a time for about 2 or 3 weeks.
    Alas, I don’t think we’ve had an inch of rain here in Peoria, AZ this winter.

  12. Gene says:

    Jana – I don’t have time to think about the bad weather in Anchorage: I’m too busy complaining about the 1/4″ of rain we got in Seattle today !!!    (:->    g

  13. Jana Ariane says:

    I remember a year sometime in the early or mid 50’s when we got a lot of snow and then it suddenly cleared up.  And got windy.  Very windy.  And the wind wasn’t gusting, it was just blowing straight in one direction.  All the snow packed down so hard you could walk on it and the roads were all drifted shut.  It was the only time I ever remember schools being closed.  Course, we kids loved it!  🙂

  14. Janaariane says:

    I remember a year sometime in the early or mid 50’s when we got a lot of snow and then it suddenly cleared up.  And got windy.  Very windy.  And the wind wasn’t gusting, it was just blowing straight in one direction.  All the snow packed down so hard you could walk on it and the roads were all drifted shut.  It was the only time I ever remember schools being closed.  Course, we kids loved it!  🙂

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