The more of these Gustavus interviews I do, the more I am amazed at the people who live here. So many of them love to travel, and have been to far-flung parts of the world. Aimee Youmans is no exception, but has done more than her share of seeing and experiencing distant places. It seems to me that there are three kinds of people in this community. One group is content spending their life here. Another group has done their exploring of the planet, and find in Gustavus a quiet place to spend their later years. Many others consider Gustavus a home base, from which they can travel and explore where they will, and when their journeys are completed, they return to the calm, comfort, and familiarity of home. I believe people here are oddly unique, and Aimee fits that description.
Aimee Youmans was born in Seattle on September 6, 1948. The family immediately moved to Sitka, where Aimee lived until she was ten. Her mom, Anne, got a job as a nurse at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home, where she worked for 25 years. For Aimee’s first ten years she lived in Sitka. She says a bit of her heart is still there.
When she was ten, her father already had a job at Glacier Bay Park. He was discovered by the Park Service. He had been prospecting. Though he had done nothing illegal, her dad said they hired him so they could keep track of him. He worked on the Nunatak, the supply boat for the park service, as a deckhand. At the time, there was only a foot path to the park. It was decided to start building a station at Bartlett Cove, and her dad became the foreman. They got the roads in and docks built. When Aimee was five or six she visited her dad, who lived in a wall tent in the summer and a small cabin in the winter.
Then began the annual family exploration of Glacier Bay, for two weeks every summer. Aimee recalls, “My mother would pack the big ham, spam and foodstuffs in the Spindrift, our ‘marine station wagon’ that my dad built from a ‘Kriskraft’ kit. We would set up camp in the Ibach’s old cabin in Reid Inlet, the kitchen and bunks for my brother and me, and a wall tent master bedroom just outside. At this time, Muz Ibach’s trees, rhubarb, and the vestiges of her garden were all the green in the rocky new landscape of the West Arm of Glacier Bay. We rarely saw another boat or plane, and never any animals at all.
One night a berg came into the pothole harbor on the high tide and picked our boat off the hook. What a surprise in the morning! My dad had to row the little punt halfway to Russell Island to retrieve it. Who knows where and when it would have been found had he not spied it far out in the channel!”
Another favorite family jaunt was to take their boat behind Lester Island in the Beardslees to a small island called “Strawberry Island.” Aimee and her family used to go there every year to collect raspberries from prolific bushes at the old fox farm. They also gathered their strawberries from both sides of the road out to the park before there were trees, giving them a plentiful bonanza of berries.
In her tenth year, Aimee and her brother, Ken, came out to live with their dad. Their older brother and sister were just finishing high school in Sitka, so they stayed with their mother until they graduated. The Gustavus School needed eight children to start. Ken and Aimee were number seven and eight, so there were enough to open. The school at the time was held in the former preschool. Over time this building served as a grade school, preschool, and the post office.
Aimee’s mom saved up her days off and flew out from Sitka when she could. She flew the milk run — Angoon; Tenakee; Pelican; finally, to Gustavus. Her plane was a weather plane — a Grumman Goose, which was a World War II plane. To get from Juneau to Sitka she flew on a PBY, another World War II plane, which landed at Merchant’s Wharf in downtown Juneau. In later years, her father would visit Anne via skiff along the Outer Coast. He traveled in a small boat in a big ocean, and the trip took most of the day.
Ken and Aimee were park kids. Then there were homesteaders’ kids (Chase family,) and some children from CAA: (Civil Aeronautics Administration) families who stayed to maintain the emergency airfield. These were pretty mobile families, so the kids “changed” from year to year.
Aimee was in fifth grade when she started school in Gustavus. One teacher instructed all eight students. Aimee says, “The students’ purpose seemed to be to entertain the community. We put on many shows, programs, and music events.” During the winter, Aimee and Ken came to school on the snowplow which their dad drove. He picked up the Chase kids as well, then proceeded to the school.