After I finished the article on Annie, I realized I had more questions about the climbs she made.  Perhaps some of you do, too.  So, for this column, I will do something a bit different.  I’ve asked Annie four  questions about the climb.  Read on to learn her answers.  After you have read them, if you have further questions, please send them in the comments section at the end of this column, and I will get answers from Annie and print them here, as well.

Here’s what I asked her:

  1.  Were you ever scared during your climbs?  “There were times I got worried, but very rarely scared.  I was scared when I was awakened and thought a crevasse was going to open and swallow me when the ice groaned and cracked deep below my tent on Denali.  Also, fear gripped me when the first climber on my rope team fell into a crevasse and I hoped we’d be able to hold him from not going too far.  Luckily, we did, though we had to do a real crevasse rescue to get him out.  Otherwise, I was most scared rock climbing.  I never did it very much but it was always free climbing, and I was always afraid I was going to fall and break bones, whether I was 10 feet up or 25 inches.  I always thought of a friend who was a Swiss mountain guide.  He fell in the Alps and broke 15 bones in his feet.  He had to walk 5 miles out after that happened.  I don’t know how he did it
  2. Was it hard to learn how to walk in snowshoes?  I don’t remember anyone having any trouble using snowshoes.  Although some of the people could ski well, we used the snowshoes to have a level playing field with all the expedition members.  Snowshoes were also a help for crevasses as, at that time, the snowshoes were longer and would more easily help wedge a climber into the sides of the crevasse, preventing a deep fall.  I remember reading about a McKinley climb in the early 80s with Jim Wickwire.  His climbing partner fell into a crevasse.  The fellow was lodged head down and Jim could not get him out.
  3. Did you use ropes, pitons, or other climbing gear at all while climbing the mountain?  We were always roped up on the mountain — lower down for the possibility of crevasses and higher up, where it was steeper, for falls.  There was a fixed line on Denali’s Headwall from about 15,500 feet to the ridge at 16,200 feet.  We would use our jumars (mechanical ascenders attaching us to the fixed line) to go up that one 45 to 50 degree section, the steepest part of the climb.  Then, hiking from 16,200 feet to the bowl at 17,200 feet was the most dramatic part of the climb because the ridge occasionally narrows to perhaps 2 to 3 feet across, and drops off dramatically on both sides.  You are totally exposed and many climbers have lost gear here, which has tumbled down to the Peters Glacier far below.  I’ve read that there are now fixed lines around Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.  We always had our ice axe, as well.  We practiced doing belays, self-arrests, and crevasse rescues before every climb.

Did you have to rappel from anything during the climb?  No, we didn’t do any rappels on Denali or Aconcagua.  The only rappels I’ve done have been totally for fun and practice, both off cliffs and into crevasses.

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn.  If you have further climbing questions for Annie, please post them at the bottom of this article.  Hoping to hear from some of you.


After Annie and Jim got married in Maine, they returned to Talkeetna to run dogs.  Later in January they drove the 800 miles from Talkeetna to Haines to catch the ferry to Juneau.  They had a little yellow VW bug which Annie had bought brand new in Anchorage in 1972.  Annie had driven about every road possible in the area at that time.  Jim had hit a moose with it near Talkeetna so he had to put in a Plexiglas windshield with a plywood frame.

They drove toward Tok during a big snowstorm.  Jim was wearing his Arctic parka and Annie was wrapped in a down sleeping bag to stay warm.  On their feet they wore “Bunny” boots (vapor barrier boots made for the military to stay warm in extreme cold) so their feet were toasty.  The snow blew and drifted.  They would have to gain speed on the bare stretches of road in order to bust through the drifts.  On one straight stretch where it was hard to tell where the road ran, they actually went off the road, throwing up snow all around them so they couldn’t see anything.  Amazingly, there were no trees; only a few low bushes, so they ended up almost back on the road.  Luckily, another car came along within an hour and helped push them back on the highway.

In Canada, several miles beyond Dezadeash, they traveled in a line of three cars following the plow truck.  As they gained elevation, the visibility became almost zero and the snow got so deep that the plow had to turn around.  Fortunately, they had enough money to get a room at the Dezadeash Lodge for the night.

The original cabin

Finally they arrived in Gustavus.  They left their little bug in Juneau and flew home.  Fred Rose picked them up at the airport and gave them a ride to Four Corners.  No one lived on Wilson Road or at Rink Creek in the winter then, so they had not plowed the road.  Annie and Jim had to walk carrying packs all the way home through the snow.  Leaving Four Corners at 4:00 p.m., they finally made it to their cabin at 7:00 p.m.  It was a clear moonlit night, so they were able to navigate easily, though slowly,  through the 16 inches of snow.  Jim had to do a return trip that night to get more of their gear and food supplies.

Gustavus had less than 100 residents during the winter then, and the mail plane only came twice a week, making for a big social gathering at the post office while awaiting the mail.  They started clearing more land and building a big shop.  Annie spent a lot of time taking out stumps with shovel, axe, and mattock.  The wood for the building came from DeRosier’s sawmill at Excursion Inlet.  Sometimes he brought the wood over on a barge, and Jim and Annie walked the planks out to the barge to unload it at the boat harbor.  Once Jim went to Excursion Inlet in his skiff and pulled a raft of lumber home, going about 3 knots..

Annie and Jim interrupted their building with trips into Glacier Bay, hikes around the Point and up Excursion Ridge, visits from Maine friends, and community potlucks, especially crab feeds.  Being a small community still in the early stages of growth, most everyone had an outhouse.  Few people had phones.  Annie always had to ride her bike to the post office, where there was a pay phone to make calls.  However, in 1982, Jim was able to use abandoned phone line to lay a line along Wilson Road and hook them up.

Even though homes were spread out, there was always a strong sense of community.  Gustavus had no formal government; only the Gustavus Community Association.  You became a member by writing your name in the GCA book.  Then, just as now, the community functioned on volunteers.  For example, the city had an Arts Council that arranged for artists to come to Gustavus for performances, and Larry Tong helped organize volunteer fire fighters.

In the fall of 1979, Ray Genet, after exhausting his body by leading four expeditions on McKinley that summer, climbed as a member of an international expedition on Mount Everest led by Gerhard Schmatz, a German.  Genet and a New Zealand climber arrived late in Nepal and had to walk in to the 18,000-foot base camp on their own.  Moreover, Genet was ill from an unknown affliction when he arrived at the camp.  Seeking treatment, he walked slowly down 15 miles to the Khunde Hospital, near 14,000 feet.  (Sir Edmund Hillary built the hospital in 1966.)  One source said Genet was treated for an infection from a leech bite.  Genet was not one to quit:  he returned to camp and became the eighth American to reach the 29,029-foot summit.

Descending from the summit, he traveled on the last rope team.  It was getting late, and Genet and the expedition leader’s wife, Hannelore Schmatz, and Sherpa Sundare decided to stop for the night at 27,500 feet, where they dug in.  By morning, Genet was dead and Hannelore collapsed and died soon after.  Sundare had frozen feet and snow blindness, but after his rescue he eventually recovered.  Annie had received letters from Genet from base camp and the hospital and she was not prepared for the news of his death.  He had incredible strength and stamina and could outlast almost anyone.  It was hard to believe he had reached his limit.

Later that fall, the yellow VW again took to the road, heading down the West coast.  They drove to Texas and then took a bus to Mexico City.  One day in a taxi, Annie found herself part of a Mexican standoff.  About eight lanes of traffic went in multiple directions, with not a traffic light in sight.  When drivers decided that the two cross lanes had been going long enough, the other two lanes would start inching their way out and finally block off the traffic flow, allowing those two lanes to go until drivers in competing lanes repeated the strategy.  It looked like chaos, and the drivers who braved the flow of traffic and eventually cut it off seemed to take their life in their own hands.  But, somehow, it worked.

Annie atop Popocatepetl

Jim and Annie wanted to climb two Mexican volcanos.  Their first goal, Popocatépetl, a 17,800-foot active volcano, also happened to be the second-highest volcano in North America.  They decided to do the Ruta Ventorrillo and climbed the first day to a hut just before the snow and ice line.  The next morning, they headed for the summit.  En route, they had to traverse a 45-degree ice-covered slope, so they roped up.  Annie remembers being scared, as the trail followed along the edge of a cliff with a huge drop-off just below.  They had to firmly plant each crampon step.  Upon reaching the volcano’s rim, they became nauseated by the strong sulfur fumes emanating from below.  To descend, they chose the Ruta Normal, mostly a cinder-covered slope where you would take one step, but slide about two.

They stopped next at Orizaba to climb Pico de Orizaba, a dormant volcano and the third highest peak in North America.  In Pre-Columbian times it had a name meaning “the ground that reaches the clouds.”  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  For the three days they waited to climb, Orizaba was enshrouded in fog.

Returning to Texas, they drove the bug  to the East Coast.  While in Boston, they visited the Museum of Science.  Annie had corresponded with Bradford Washburn several times when he had written Genet for information about McKinley.  Washburn had helped establish this museum and been its director in addition to being an avid mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer.  On a climb of McKinley in 1947, his wife Barbara accompanied him and became the first woman to climb to the summit.

When Annie asked at the museum’s front desk if she could see Mr. Washburn, they looked at her as if she had asked to see the Wizard of Oz.  Quickly, they told her “no.”  Being persistent, Annie kept pestering and finally they agreed they would call him.  He immediately said to send them up, and visited with them in his office on the museum’s top floor for almost an hour.

As they headed back to Seattle, Annie realized it was Super Bowl Sunday, and the best day to drive.  They met hardly another car on the road.  As they traveled on a very tight budget, most nights they slept in the car.  Annie wedged herself in a sleeping bag on top of all their gear in the back seat while Jim curled up on the front seats.  It helped to be very tired.

Annie and Jim spent all their summers in Gustavus and traveled in the winter, working in the spring and fall.  They often worked in Petersburg, as one could arrive in town on one day and usually have a job by the next.  Jim would often write reports for Petersburg Fisheries or do carpentry work, and Annie would work at the cannery or the daycare.  They spent the spring of 1981, however, at Fir Island on the Skagit River near LaConner, Washington, helping friends refurbish a small house.  To earn some extra money, Annie joined migrant workers to pick daffodils and tulips.

Annie’s daughter, Anya, was born in September of that year. Shortly before Anya’s birth, they journeyed to Petersburg.  Friends had a place for them to stay, and they liked the doctor there.  The hospital at that time was basically a long-term care facility.  Although they spent most of the day at the hospital when Annie went into labor, they were the only ones there other than long-term care patients.  On Sunday, the doctor checked in several times during the day and finally arrived for business about 5:00 p.m., after a day of chopping wood.  As they still had a couple of hours to wait, he settled down to read the newspaper.  The whole event seemed more like a home birth.

In the summer of 1984, the family made a five-week trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park in the Brooks Range.  With them went Bob Howe, Bill Brown, Carolyn Elder, and Bill and Carolyn’s son, Danny.  They flew by float-plane from Bettles to the Kugrak River, near its confluence with the Noatak.  They established a routine of setting up camp and having one person stay in the camp with the two to three-year-olds, while the rest of the group hiked.  One day while Carolyn watched the kids, a strong gust of wind blew her tent over with the children napping in it, and sent it rolling along the tundra.  When she overtook it, Anya was crying, but Danny still slept.

The runaway tent

Tent camp

Annie says they had one unnerving grizzly bear encounter.  She and Jim took the kids onto a sandbar of the Kugrak, where they did laundry and made lunch while the kids played in the water.  A relatively small grizzly — perhaps 250 pounds — came around the bend and began heading toward them.  Jim had a rifle with three bullets in the magazine.  He tried to chamber one, but it was gritty and wouldn’t chamber.  Yelling and throwing stones at the bear, Jim put bullets in his mouth to clean them.  It worked.  He shot in front of the bear, and it jumped back. It went into the brush, but came out again soon after at the west side of the sandbar where Annie had taken the kids.  It started slowly advancing.  Jim fired two more times, with the same results.  With only two bullets remaining, Jim decided his next shot would be in the middle of the bear’s chest.  The bear went behind a low rise and Jim expected it to come after him.  By this time, Annie and the kids had headed up the hillside.  Finally, the bear crossed the river, but paced on the other side.  Jim sat for several hours watching the bear, ready to shoot if it decided to come back.  Fortunately, the bear apparently figured making a meal of Jim wasn’t worth the trouble and ambled off.

When they flew out to Bettles at the end of the trip, a message waited for Annie — her mother had been killed in a car accident in Maine.  When they reached Fairbanks, Anya and Annie got on a plane for Maine in their camping clothes.

Pregnant Annie taking out stump

That fall, the couple started Pt. Adolphus Seafoods in Gustavus, which primarily sold live Dungeness crab and fresh halibut and salmon purchased from local fishermen for West Coast markets.  The business operated until 2002.

In 1986, Chris was born at home in Douglas, and the Mackovjaks decided they needed more room in their house.  They put on an addition, doubling its size.

Seth was born in 1990, and slept in a little trundle bed that his parents pulled out each night from under their bed.

Annie’s Sherpa

In 1994, Annie went to Kathmandu, a trip celebrating the 50th birthday of Susan Clark, a Gustavus/Juneau resident.  In Kathmandu, Susan and her eight woman friends trekked with a Nepali woman guide, five Sherpas, five cook-staff members, and 21 porters.

From Gustavus, Annie’s flight led to Juneau, Los Angeles, Seoul, Bangkok, and at last, Kaathmandu.  The city is close to the same latitude as Miami, but at an elevation of 4,000 feet.  Annie describes this “Kaleidoscope City” well:

Nepali children

For me, the most impressive part of this city was its openness.  There were no closed doors, so to speak.  All of life was before your eyes.  You could watch 14 sacred cows eating garbage in the street, a mother nursing her child, a man bathing on his little balcony, a woman cooking, people spitting, worshipers performing religious rituals, the dead being cremated on the pyres in front of a Hindu temple, a yogi dressed mostly in his thick ground-length hair teaching those gathered about him, ragged street children or sightless beggars seeking rupees, young Buddhist monks in their maroon robes laughing together, tailors sewing, buffalo being slaughtered, monkeys swinging along the prayer wheels of a temple, women washing dishes or clothes in the brown waters of a river. No one could possibly be bored here–amazed, enthralled, grossed out, sickened, but never bored.

The group began their trek at Jiri, an eight-hour bus ride east of Kathmandu.  They then hiked to Phapu, a three to four-day trip east of Jiri by direct route, and 16 days by the groups’ circuitous wanderings.

Stupa (Meditation spot)

In the past, Annie’s hikes had concentrated on the natural beauty of an area and an avoidance of civilization.  Here, she found herself walking through the everyday lives of the Nepali people — past their homes of wood and stone, dark-eyed, black-haired children, goats and chickens, small terraced fields, prayer flags and mani stones (carved prayer stones). As the group wove through the countryside they realized these people’s lives were as open as in Kathmandu, and despite the poverty (by Western standards,) they were non-complaining, happy people, deeply religious, as their life and religion are one.  Annie observes that we could learn a great deal from them.

She says that the food was delicious, with lots of ginger, garlic, and chili peppers.  A common meal was daal bhat, which was white rice with a lentil sauce, usually served with a couple of vegetables, such as potatoes or cauliflower.  Momos — a favorite — were made with vegetables or meat and resembled a pot sticker.

The head Lama

The group visited several Buddhist monasteries.  At Thubten Chholing Gomba, an active monastery with 150 monks and nuns, they were privileged to have an audience with the head Lama, Tulshig Rimpoche.  His monastery had been on the northern slopes of Mt. Everest in Tibet.  He took refuge in Nepal after the Chinese takeover in 1959.

Annie says, I loved watching the monks and nuns during their day-long pujar — they would sit cross-legged on mats and chant their prayers.  If a couple of monks were talking and laughing, or another falling asleep, it didn’t disturb the concentration of the others nor was anything said to them.  It seemed a peaceful, respectful, accepting atmosphere — our only stress came from trying to down the yak butter tea they kept giving us.

In Phaplu the group met Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander who, along with Sherpa Tenzig Norgay, was the first to climb Everest in 1953.  Hillary’s Himalayan Trust has helped to build and support schools, health clinics and two hospitals in Nepal, one here at Phaplu and one by Everest.  The trekking group was allowed to attend a dinner hosted by the hospital in which the Sherpa people honored Hillary for his generosity.

The Hillary Group

Many of the Sherpas placed a khata, a ceremonial white scarf, around Hillary’s neck as a symbol of their respect and regard.  It is said that the scarves are white to symbolize the pure heart of the giver.  Hillary must have been wearing about 30 scarves by the end of the evening.  Dancing and singing by the Sherpa people lasted until late that night.

At a shop in Phaplu Annie bought material for a skirt which a tailor made up for her in one hour, for the charge of 80 cents.  She also bought material for a sari and, when she wore it, the Nepali women smiled and called out didi, meaning sister, to her.

Annie says Nepal lived up to all her expectations.  She remarked that everything looked like a National Geographic photograph, and she wishes she could say the same for her photos.

Farmer and his yakeverything looked like a National Geographic photograph, and she wishes she could say the same for her photos.

In 1997, Jim and Annie began building their new house about 150 feet away from the one they were living in.  They designed the house, and Jim hired Gary Martell to help build it.  Actually, Gary really knew what he was doing, and Jim mostly assisted him.  According to Jim, they hung 300 sheets of sheet rock, and made only one bad cut in the process.  Guess how many pieces Jim cut?  One.  And the bad cut?  We won’t go there…The house is 2,600 square feet and heavily insulated.  (The walls are ten inches thick.)  Almost all the wood used in the houses’s construction was Tongass wood.  It is framed with Sitka spruce, sided with beveled red cedar, and has floors of western hemlock.  The Mackovjak family moved into the house in 1999 but, like most Gustavus houses, there are a few details that remain unfinished.

In March, 2001, Annie took a trip with four women friends to White Sulphur Hot Springs, on the outer coast of Chichagof Island.  Accessible mainly by boat, the Forest Service cabin is nestled among spruce and hemlock trees.  The nearby bathhouse has a huge tub with the hot springs water continuously pouring in.  You can open the full-length sliding doors on the front to view the open Pacific, waves often crashing on the rocks below.  Although a 50th birthday gift, things didn’t come together until Annie turned 52.  The women read, hiked, soaked, and explored, naming many spots that they thought were unique, such as Five Fairy Pond, Whittle Trap Beach, and Otter Outlook.  One day they experienced almost every weather system imaginable — hail, sleet, rain, sun, snow, lightning, and thunder.  Heading home on Doug Ogilvy’s boat, weather was pretty good and they stopped at the Hobbit Hole for a visit.  While they visited, it began to snow and the wind came up, but Doug said they’d give it a go.  Though it was rough, they rode out the waves by laughing and singing oldies all the way to Gustavus.

For Gustavus friend Mossy Mead’s 50th birthday, Annie, along with six other women, rafted the Tatshenshini/Alsek Rivers.  Flying to Whitehorse, they signed on to a twelve-day expedition with Nahinni River Adventures.  The three rafts put in at Dalton Post on the Haines Highway in the Yukon Territory and began their 140-mile journey through the Coastal Range to Dry Bay and the Gulf of Alaska.  They donned their helmets for the Class III whitewater encountered early on while passing through a lengthy sheer-walled canyon, though most of the float was Class II.  At one point on the trip, over 20 glaciers were visible from one spot.  Day hikes took them high in the hills to overlook the river, as well as onto Walker Glacier.

Teri and the singing bowl

Annie shared a tent with her friend, Susan Clark.  Every morning Susan would rise at 5:00 a.m. and take her bucket down to the cold glacier-fed river to get water to take a cold shower.  Annie shivered in her sleeping bag just thinking about it.

One of the women was Teri Rofkar, Tlingit weaver and basket maker.  She taught the group how to gather spruce roots and prepare them to weave a tiny thimble-sized basket.  Everyone helped make it; then it was tucked into a dwarf fireweed by the river before they pushed off in their rafts.

Seventy-seven miles into the trip, the Tat joins the mighty Alsek, forming an even more powerful waterway.  Near the end, many icebergs from Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers filled Alsek Lake, and the rafters floated in a cold mist, finally camping on an island. Taking out at Dry Bay, they were met by Chuck Schroth, who flew them back to Gustavus as they gazed at the incredible wild scenery of the outer coast.

Thimble basket

Teaching became a big part of Annie’s life when long-time Gustavus teacher George Jensen retired, and Annie received a contract as head teacher at Gustavus School for the 2002-2003 school year.  The following fall, however, the family moved to Eugene, Oregon, so all the kids could be together.  While Anya finished school at the University of Oregon, Chris lived in Ashland, Oregon, with Bill and Carolyn so he could play high school basketball.  Seth  was the only child at home.  Jim wanted to write a book on the Tongass, and there were rich resources at the University of Oregon’s library. The Mackovjak family spent five school years in Eugene, returning to Gustavus each summer.  Annie subbed, volunteered for Hospice, the Red Cross, and at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.  She hiked a lot and attended many basketball games, cheering Chris on. He played first on the varsity team at Churchill High School and then on the Southern Oregon University team.

While Annie taught students, Jim lived his own interesting story. Now one of Gustavus’ well-known authors, he began his writing career with a local history, Hope & Hard Work:  The Early Settlers at Gustavus, Alaska, which was published in 1988.  Always interested in forestry, Jim became involved in Tongass National Forest issues starting in the early 1980s.  In 1997, Alaska Governor Tony Knowles appointed him to the Southeast Alaska Timber Task Force, and in 2003, Jim began researching the history of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.  Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska was published in 2010, followed that same year by Navigating Troubled Waters: A History of Commercial Fishing in Glacier Bay, Alaska, which was written for the National Park Service.  Aleutian Freighter:  A History of Shipping in the Aleutian Islands, for which he won an Independent Book Publisher’s Award, was published in 2012.  Alaska Salmon Traps, a book designed and published by Gustavus resident Bill Eichenlaub, came out in 2013.  That same year, Jim received the Alaska Historical Society’s Pathfinder Award “for important reference works on timber, freighting, and salmon traps.”  An administrative history of Lake Clark National Park & Preserve that Jim wrote several years ago for the National Park Service should be published in the not-too-distant future.  His current project is a history of Alaska’ Pacific cod fishery, which is the state’s oldest commercial fishery and presently its second-largest.

Annie and Jim returned to Gustavus in 2008, as Annie had a contract to teach 6th through 12th English and history, plus electives.  She will be forever remembered by her students for her favorite sayings: Yippee Skippee and Sugarbeets.

Retirement party, 2015

In May, 2015, Annie’s students, their parents, and community members gave her a retirement party.  Two flowing chocolate fountains dominated the food table.  Ellie Sharman emceed an evening of reminiscing, poems read by students and  singing by Kate Boesser, Ellie Sharman, and Artemis BonaDea of “You Are My Sunshine,” rewritten for Annie.  The students presented her with a Lego trophy they had made and filled with chocolate.  They also gave her a memory book filled with cards,  student art and writing.  The finale was the gift of a duffle bag, organized by Deb Woodruff, and filled with all manner of treasures which Annie took out and enjoyed, including her new attire — sunglasses, hats, scarf, leis, and a Chinese robe.

As Annie’s son, Chris, was in Gustavus at the time, he attended the Wednesday evening party.  Anya and Seth had not known about the event in advance.  On the following evening Annie was in her classroom, grading and preparing for the end-of-the-year program the following day.  At about 5:00 p.m., Chris stopped by to visit.  Though surprised to see him at that time of day, Annie was happy he’d come in.  About five  minutes later, in through the classroom door walked Anya.  Annie had no idea she was coming to surprise her for her retirement.  As Annie recovered from the shock, in the door walked Seth!  All her kids had shown up to wish her well.  They had even bribed the airlines not to breathe a word about their incoming flight.  Then, on Friday evening, having completed her last day of school, Annie went home about 4:00 p.m. and fell asleep on the couch for about an hour.  When she awoke, there sitting in front of her she found a gold retirement bike.  Life doesn’t get much sweeter!

Annie states that retirement has been wonderful.  She’s traveled back east to visit family, done road trips in Washington with Carolyn Elder, had a wonderful trip through the Salish Sea on Kimber Owens’ Sea Wolfrode on the Katy bike trail in Missouri with JoAnn Lesh, had a family reunion in Las Vegas, and visited her children in Oregon.  She might be retired, but she is still going strong.

Annie believes in taking risks and getting outside one’s comfort zone.  She also loves quotes.  One of her favorites is by Eleanor Roosevelt:  “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  Annie claims she would not have had the grand life she’s had without just jumping in and doing things.  That’s our Annie, and we are so glad she is doing things here in Gustavus.

The family


I received an introduction to Lou Cacioppo’s art before I ever met the artist.  I first saw one of his masks, and as the saying goes, I was “blown away.”  Delighted that he lived in Gustavus, I looked forward to seeing more of his work.  Then I met Lou, and, once he opened the Outpost, enjoyed several music nights in his place, surrounded by his marvelous inspirations.  Now I have the pleasure of telling a little of his story and showing you a bit of his art.  I’m sure you will agree that he has a great deal of talent. As his story shows, he has worked at perfecting his skills his entire life, and the results are reflected in all he has created.

Lou Cacioppo was born on November 28, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York.  Both his mother and father were Sicilians.  Lou reassures us there were no mafia connections. Lou’s mother came from this country, while his dad was born in Palermo, Italy.  Lou’s grandparents on both sides immigrated from Italy.  They spoke Italian and English.  The family lived in Brooklyn  in a section of town called “little Italy.”

After Lou’s kindergarten in a parochial school, the family moved from Brooklyn.  They first moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, where 50 to 60% of the people were Italian or Jewish.  His parents enrolled him in a Catholic school.

Lou was the “wise guy” in class, so he got in trouble with the teachers a lot.  When he was a 4th grader, he became involved in a fight with a 6th grader, and ended up in Mother Superior’s office.  She smacked him with a large paddle with holes in it.  Lou swears she hit him so hard that her feet came off the ground.  After the incident, at Lou’s insistence, his parents took him out of Catholic school and enrolled him in the regular school.

Lou’s parents had totally different views on his fighting.  Lou’s mother would smack him for losing a fight.  Lou’s father would hit him for fighting.  Lou decided winning a fight was better — he didn’t have to suffer so many smacks from the other guy, or from his mother.

Around 1954, the family moved from Valley Stream to South Farmingdale, a suburban area with ranch houses and a nearby creek.  The area still had trees.  Lou played in the woods, either Tarzan or army, with sticks and fingers, nothing that looked real.

Lou drew constantly.  He had paper bags filled with sketches.  Comic books were his first texts for art.  Teachers always volunteered Lou for school art projects, such as murals.  Lou loved doing these projects.

South Farmingdale had a junior high — seventh and eighth grades — in a separate school.  His years there were uneventful.  Though not in sports, he was an avid weight lifter.  Of course, he always did a lot of art.  He says that he had art teachers all through junior high and high school.  Lou says the art teachers were fantastic.  His three greatest teachers were Mr. Denali, who was a big influence and took Lou under his wing; Mr. Cole, a great watercolor artist; and Mr. Schaffer.  Lou made his first sale of a piece of his artwork to Mr. Schaffer.  It was a wood sculpture, and he sold it for $15.00.  He bought a pair of pants with that $15.00 — his first purchase of his own clothes.

Lou went to high school in South Farmingdale.  He says it was a great school.  From junior high through high school, his favorite academic subjects were biology and geology.  In biological science lab, dissecting mice and frogs sparked a never-ending quest of how things are put together.  He liked geology for the same reason:  He liked  learning how the earth was made.  He also really liked literature, but not grammer.  His teachers forced him to read, and he was glad of it.  The stories he read also stirred his imagination.

Lou took extra art classes, doing two classes a day.  His art background paid off — in his sophomore year, he designed the school flag.  It is still the school flag to this day.  Instead of taking study hall, he took two gym classes.  He weighed 130 pounds and was in good shape.  He took freshman track and field, and also played football, playing halfback, defense and offence, for the whole game.  He says he was as fast as a little rocket, and tough — he didn’t get tackled too much.

Lou’s mother, who was in charge (the matriarch) decided the family needed to move to California.  So, after Lou finished 10th grade, they moved.  Though it was his mother’s idea, when they got there she hated it  So, the family came back to Valley Stream.

For the school year at Valley Stream, Lou stayed with his godfather (considered family but not family.)  He went through 11th grade there.  He remembers sitting in class when JFK was shot.  It was really painful.  Though  he was young, it affected him strongly.  How could someone shoot the President?

Lou’s home life was a bit rocky.  His parents were always arguing about money.  His mother dominated the arguments and his father took the role of sheep.  His father was very docile toward his mother, but Lou became the victim of physical abuse.  His dad would hit Lou with anything available.  Lou was afraid of him.  Lou says it made him tough because his dad was the scariest guy he knew.

In 1964, the summer after 11th grade, Lou went back to South Farmingdale.  He took part in Track and Field that year, and at the first county meet, he got a varsity letter, setting the school record for the running broad jump:  20′ 10 1/2″.  (That record was broken long after he left that school, by a 21-foot jump.)  At the meet he received a gold medal for the running broad jump.  He won a gold medal for the triple jump and ran on the relay team for the 880.  He won a silver medal for the relay.

Lou was very excited about the day, and couldn’t wait to tell his parents. It was getting dark when he got off the bus, and he ran all the way down the street to his house.  The door was locked, so he knocked.  His father opened the door, grabbed him by the shirt, and punched him.  His dad was going to hit him again.  By then, Lou was standing on the stairs, and told his dad, “Go ahead; hit me.”  His dad put his arm down and Lou went to his bedroom.  He took down all his trophies, ribbons, letters, and paintings he was working on, and put them in the trash.  He took everything outside to the big trashcan.  When the garbage man came in the morning and took it all away, Lou knew he had to go in a different direction at that moment.  He told his parents he was going to go into the navy and would need them to give their approval, as he was only 17.  He convinced them to sign or he would run away.

When Lou dropped out of school to join the navy, his counselors were shocked.  He was an honor student, and in line for an art scholarship.  However, he needed to get away from his parents.  He loved them, but couldn’t concentrate on himself.

The navy appeared to have been a good choice.  Lou was voted by Company 117 as Honor Man of the whole company, and received a letter of commendation from the admiral.

His 1964 tour of duty took him to Meridian, Mississippi.  At that time, the navy base and the military looked for three civil rights protesters.  The search was for two black students and one Caucasian student. Later reports of the incident say that the three were killed by a KKK lynch mob.  The FBI came in to investigate and found the bodies, buried in a concrete dam.  When Mississippi refused to prosecute the assailants in a state court, the federal government stepped in and charged 18 men with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the three men.

On a sailor’s first tour, Lou sidestepped the normal duties, such as peeling potatoes, cleaning, or doing maintenance painting jobs.  He interviewed for the position of yeoman (clerk).  To be chosen, he had to be able to type 50 words per minute.  He took a typewriter home and practiced all weekend.  By Monday morning he could type 45 words a minute.

Lou still did artwork whenever possible while in the service.  He was volunteered to paint a mural of the new cloverleaf for the Chamber of Commerce.

Then he started drinking,  as a kind of self-medication.  He would get so drunk at times he didn’t know how he got back to the base.  Along with the drinking went chasing women.  Lou says he was wild and immature at that time.

He was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida on the USS Yellowstone, where he served as a yeoman, spending about a year there.  Then he went to San Diego, California, again as a yeoman.  His duties included handling discharge papers, passes, and transfer papers — any administrative tasks for the base.  Lou got his G.E.D. while in the navy.  In 1966, he received an honorable discharge.

Lou migrated to his parents’ in North Massapequa, Long Island.  He bounced around from job to job, still drinking.  He took a job at the Minneola Community Hospital and started training as an Inhalation Therapist (involves positive pressure breathing with medications, such as dilators, antibiotics, etc.)  He worked for Dr. Frank, who headed a practicing team working on perfecting the process of transferring hearts.

In the children’s ward, there was a little Italian boy around 4 years old who was dying of cancer.  He wasn’t one of Lou’s patients.  The nurses were outside the door; they couldn’t figure out what the boy wanted.  He was asking for his shoes in Italian.  Lou told the nurses what the child asked for.  He made the mistake of going into the room.  The child asked him if he was going to die.  He can’t remember what he said; he just remembered that he hugged the little boy.  Then Lou said, “We all die, even me.”  He left, depressed, and quit the job shortly after.

He still drank pretty heavily and went from job to job.  He met his first wife, Beverly, during that period, and they had a son named Paul.  When holding the baby in his arms, he realized he was holding a little person, and wanted to do a good job with him.  His drinking slowed down a lot.

Lou got a job as a technical illustrator for Weber and Stevens Tech Publications.  He started working on the day shift and went to community college at night.  He took advertising and three-dimensional drawing classes.  These taught him to develop patience.  Then, he was offered the opportunity to be the art director for the night crew.  He made good money and enjoyed the job.  As the art director, he gave the jobs that came in to the artists that worked there, according to their expertise.  He had to prioritize the work according to its importance.  It was his responsibility to see that all work got completed by pre-set deadlines.  It was also necessary that Lou and several other artists be vetted for a security clearance because they did a specs manual for the first space shuttle.

Lou’s uncle passed away, leaving an empty house in Lakewood, California, where he had lived.  So, Lou and his wife moved there.  Bev’s brother, Brian, and his wife, Louise, decided they would come to California too.  There were two bedrooms and they split the rent  Lou was on Public Assistance until he could find a job.  The first job he found was at a carwash for $3.50 per hour.  There was a garden supply place in town where Lou wanted to work.  He asked the owner if he could work for them for a week for free.  “If you like my work, you can hire me,” Lou promised.  The owner said he would love to, but he couldn’t afford to hire anyone else.

During that period he did pen and inks that were published in the Hollywood Free Press.

Lou’s wife got a good job with TRW, which was one of the first companies in California to do computer chips.  His brother-in-law convinced him to go to school on the G.I. bill.  He attended Northrup University at Inglewood, California.  He graduated and got an Airframe and Power Plant licence and an associate degree in aircraft maintenance technology (a two-year program.)  He was hired to work right out of school by Temsco Helicoptors, based in Ketchikan.  Thanks to his reading of Jack London, Lou had no problem accepting.

In 1974, he moved with his family to Ketchikan.  He had $350.00 to his name.  The company had a small trailer near the office, and that became their first Alaskan home.  They spent one year there, then bought a trailer in a park.  Lou did free-lance mechanic work with his brother-in-law, Brian, for a variety of airlines.  Brian got Lou interested in a veteran’s sale of land, so the two bought two acres above Totem Bight in Ketchikan.  They leased a sawmill and logged the trees on the two acres, and sold the trailer, which paid for Lou’s property.  Using classic hand-logging and milling techniques, they cut enough lumber to build two houses.

Lou decided to open a commercial art studio called “Muskeg Magic.”  The company did logo designs, signs, advertising, and brochures.  Lou, Terry Pyles, and Don Dawson worked together.  They did the logo for the city of Ketchikan, and countless logos for businesses in town.  They created many artistic signs and helped businesses with basic advertising.  During this time, he was also doing art shows — one-man shows; groups; art festivals.  He was selling art.  However, Lou says he was a terrible businessman.  He just didn’t have any business sense at all; he just knew to work hard and fast.  Unfortunately, Muskeg Magic closed in about a year.

In Ketchikan, Lou started boxing as a junior welterweight, earning the nickname of “The Hammer.” (1979-1981)  He boxed in the Frontier Saloon, the room filled with smoke, but Lou loved it.  He felt that, in the ring, “I’m representing me, no one else.”  His goal was not to hurt anyone; he just wanted to win.  He got booed one time…he had a guy on the ropes; hit him twice in the head and backed off.  The crowd booed.  When the guy slid down the ropes, they cheered at his decision to stop hitting.

A position came up in the Ketchikan City Fire Department for a firefighter.  Lou did the physical fitness test (he was 35; the oldest candidate, and the only one who wasn’t a volunteer fire fighter.)  He did well on the fitness test and the written test.  On the oral quiz with the council and fire chief, one question stood out.  He was asked, “If you see your fellow fire fighter take money found during a fire, what would you do?”  Lou answered, “He’s my friend, and I think the first thing I would do would be to ask him, ‘What’s the deal?  Do you have a money problem?  If you need money at any time I will lend it to you.  I saw you take the money, and you have to do something about making it right.’”

Lou said, “They liked the answer.  It helped me get the job.  I was the first non-volunteer fire fighter they ever hired.  I loved the training and did well.  I found firefighters to be definitely a brotherhood.  Everybody has their life on the line and they pull together.”

Ancient One

Lou went into EMT training as well.  During this whole time, he was also doing art and building a home.  Lou and others from the class were the first Firefighter Is and EMT IIs in the state.  He says it was rewarding.  He loved firefighting.  He had to stop in 1987 because of two on-the-job knee injuries on top of prior sports injuries.

While in the fire department, Lou and a couple of buddies went to the Northwest Policemen’s and Firemen’s Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.  Lou won three medals:  A gold medal in running broad jump; silver in hop, skip, and jump, and third place in handball.  As Lou only worked 11 days a month, he had lots of time left over to finish his house and work on art.  He started self-employment carpentry and placed his art in galleries.

After 23 good years with Bev, things started to change.  The couple divorced in 1990, though Lou says he still cared for her.  As part of their settlement, Lou gave Bev the house.

During the period following the divorce, Lou met Cam and fell in love, and she became his second wife.  They married in 1994.  They moved to Toledo, Washington for a short time.  Lou insisted they come back to Alaska.  They came right to Juneau because Cam had a sister there.  Though Lou was still doing art, he got a job at Don Abel’s as a salesperson.  He soon decided he’d better get back into carpentry.  He started Louigi’s Carpenter Service, while designing his next house.  Lou and Cam pooled their money, Cam being the biggest contributor, and bought 1/2 acre.  He designed and built a three-story beautiful home viewing Thunder Mountain.  He took a jewelry class in lost wax casting when the house was finished.  Cam worked as a dental assistant.  She loved that job and was good at it.  Her working gave Lou leeway for more time for artwork.

Juneau was on a five-year plan; then Lou wanted to move someplace where he could do artwork full-time.  They sold the house in Juneau to pay for land and building money.    They visited Haines and Skagway.  Real estate in Skagway was ridiculously expensive, and they wanted a smaller community.  Haines was the same way, though they looked at some property there.  They came back to Juneau, and saw an ad in the paper for Gustavus.  Gary Scott, a friend and fellow artist and builder, had land for sale.  They came to look and bought the land.  It had trees that would supply lumber for building.  Lou built their house, which was totally done in about three months.  He had help several times from one other guy, though he did 95% of the work himself.  When it was done, he started building the Camalou Art Gallery on Sockeye Road, with living quarters above.  The upstairs started as Cam’s sewing room.  It had a bathroom and Lou put in a kitchen.  Downstairs contained the art gallery and shop.

Lou gave up this shop building for family needs and started construction on the present gallery on Humpy Road in 2011.  This project took the longest because he put in a lot of time on acoustics and maximizing usable space.  All the interior lumber was hand-milled and hand-sanded.  Dimensions of the new building were 24′ wide by 50′ long.  He finished it in 2013.  It turned out to be more than he envisioned, because of the people who came in.  Lou says, “A lot of people leave part of their souls in here; therefore, when they are not here, I still feel the energy.”

Lou has a great mission statement for the “Outpost,” his name for his studio/music stage:  “A non-profit music venue dedicated to building community and providing pioneering musicians with quality stage time in a nurturing atmosphere.”  The Outpost is a long room, with an elevated stage at one end.  It has lights and a good sound system.  The rest of the room is filled with chairs for the audience on music nights.  Lou’s artwork adorns the walls and available 






table space in the room.

The stage at the back offers an incredible potential tool for performers to hone and be conscious of their skills.   They perform in an art gallery and have a good time.  There is no admission charge.  People leave donations to cover overhead.  Lou’s policy regarding alcoholic beverages is that you bring your own drinks, but drink only in moderation.  Lou explains, “The Outpost is a quiet venue, not a party house, and is meant to be filled with great music, great people, and thought-provoking art.”

Lou says since the Outpost opened, he has collected enough extra money from peoples’ donations to buy a keyboard.  This instrument will be a permanent fixture onstage, so anyone, such as Kim Heacox, who always hauls in his keyboard, won’t have to go to the extra trouble to bring such a large piece of equipment.

Lou has done carpentry work here in Gustavus, too.  Here, he has had the pleasure of picking and choosing jobs.  Lou enjoys making rustic furniture, playing music, meeting new people and making friends.

Lou works in many mediums.  They include:  paintings in oil and acrylics, pen and ink drawings, pencil drawings, lost wax jewelry, stone sculptures, wood sculptures (including masks, some of which are articulated,) papier Mâché, bone, and Celluclay (a product name.)  Lou believes that artists should open up to new things.  He says many artists stick to just one venue.  He feels such a practice limits one’s creativity.  Perhaps a commercial artist might out of necessity allow repetition in his work for marketing purposes, but Lou feels that art is important as a means of expression, so selling is not his main goal.  It is his belief that the artist expands his scope and his talent by working with different mediums.

Lou likes carving  and sculpting.  He enjoys working with stone, though he doesn’t do a lot of it.  Carving and sculpting take a lot of time, and Lou considers it a form of meditation.  The piece might use a mask format, but sculpturing is a part of it.  His masks are wood or mixed media.  He likes using discarded items in his pieces.

Lou started carving masks in 1974.  He met Jack Hudson, a Native Tsimshian carver, one of the best ever.  At an exhibit, as Lou looked at his pieces, the artist introduced himself.  He talked about his methods and tools and said, “Come to Metlakatla and let me teach you how to make tools.”  Lou took him up on the offer, and made an incredible advancement in his carving.  He learned how to make any specialized tool he needed.

Guido Chigi

Lou met a man in Ketchikan who became another of his mentors.  Guido Chigi taught art in college and was a great artist in his own right.  His work travelled the world, and he even had some of his art displayed at the Louvre in Paris, France.  He used all kinds of mediums, but his expertise was in oil painting.  He was also an industrial designer:  a true working artist.  One day he passed the window of “Muskeg Magic,” came in and told Lou, “These pieces are fantastic — keep up the good work.”

Ninety percent of the wood Lou uses to make masks is red alder.  He prefers it because it is easy to use.  He also uses yellow cedar, red cedar, ash, and cottonwood, all woods found here in Southeast Alaska.  He bucks up the wood, cuts it into mask-sized shapes, and keeps them soaking in water so they remain usable.  Lou does not kill trees when not necessary.  In Juneau, the city cleared the red alder from along the road.  Lou picked them up and used them for carving.  Alder dries to a hardwood and finishes beautifully.

Lou has won countless awards for his art.  A few of these include “Best of Show in Haines and “People’s Choice” at the Ketchikan Armory show.  He has won this award and “Best of Show” there several times.  “Raven’s Nightmare” toured the state for one year.  Throughout his career from school years on, he has won awards.

“Raven’s Nightmare,” by Louis Cacioppo, is among the pieces to be displayed in the exhibit “Earth, Fire and Fibre,” which opens Friday, March 7, at the Alaska State Museum.
Photo by Chris Arend.

In Ketchikan, for a number of years spanning nearly the whole time he was there, he took part in the Artist in Residence program in the schools.  He taught children of all ages, including special needs kids.  He also taught mask carving at the University of Alaska Southeast.

He can’t say that he has a favorite piece, but he hates to sell his art.  He considers it serous art because it means something to him or he wouldn’t create it.  As he gets older, his least favorites are the pieces that represent realism.  He likes sparking an emotion in someone and feels that there is a better avenue for doing so through contemporary surrealism.  The impressionist style of painting, such as the works of Van Gogh and Sargent, are among his favorite artists.  He admires their technique.

His work has travelled throughout the U.S.  In Alaska, people from all over the world see it because of the cruise ships.  Some of the countries where he knows his art has travelled, include Fiji, Australia, Germany, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, and England.

Lou gains ideas through social events, historical events, and personal experience.  He can feel the clash of humanity between the modern technical age and the heritages of the past.  He says that the development of contemporary electronics and computers has reduced our ability to interact and to realize the importance of fine art.  He also feels that music is a tool useful in reaching out to more people.

When he was young, Lou got a guitar and learned three songs.  He didn’t really play much until he came here in 2004.  At the “Bear’s Nest,” once a Gustavus B & B, he listened and watched as the owners, Phil Riddle and Lynn Marrow, played music there.  The music inspired him to start practicing and playing.  He says, “I am self-taught, unfortunately.”  He first sang at the Bear’s Nest in 2008.  From that time forward, he started writing and singing what he wrote.  He performed for three years at the the Alaska Folk Festival.  By this time, he has written around 70 songs.  At music nights at the Outpost, it’s the custom for Lou to start the evening with two or three of his songs, and to end the evening when all other entertainers are finished.

If you would like to see more of Lou’s creations, visit his very nice website at  Some of the photos in this article are taken from the website.  However, there are many more pictures of Lou’s amazing artwork on the site, so be sure to take a look.

Lou’s impressive talent gives him a prominent place in the ranks of the many creative people found in this small town.  However, his contribution to the community goes well beyond art.  He has found a way to give back something unique to the rest of us who live here, by providing a venue where residents can gather to encourage, share, and enjoy the musical talent that is so plentiful here.  Keep up the good work, Lou — we are glad you ended up in our town.


peddlerSeveral people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog.  It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content.  However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.

It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely.  Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell.  Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.”  So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so.  Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.

Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place.  First of all, I love small towns.  Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness.  In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words:  More personal freedom.  Because it is a small town where everyone knows and for the most part gets along with other residents, the community is close-knit.  People care about each other and watch out for each other.  I do believe this is the place for which I have been searching, and have found it, thanks to my son, who found it first and brought me here to see for myself.

Many years ago while I lived in Kodiak, my husband, Les Kelso, got a job in the cannery in the village of Ouzinkie on nearby Spruce Island,  We claimed a piece of land there through the last BLM land trustee, and moved.  When Les and I separated, he went to Hawaii and I garnered help from my friends and built a cabin on my homesite claim.  I lived there for 20 years.

I became the GED teacher for the community, found fellow musicians and played music regularly, both for ourselves and for the village, and started a group involved in locating, identifying, and using wild plants, either for medicine or food.  I became known as the Weird White Woman in the Woods, teaching village adults and learning from them as well.

I observed their lifestyle with interest.  Ouzinkie, population of about 250 at that time, Native except for 10 people, had originally been settled by 3 major families.  Husbands or wives might come from another Alaskan town, slowly building the population.  However, family ties remained very strong.  I was envious of the closeness of village families.  In times of need or of celebration, they came together and joined forces from a position of strength.  If crisis hit, they were there for each other.

As a white person not married to a villager I was on the outside looking in.  More than once I suggested to a village friend that they should adopt me.  In my youth I had a large family, but now had almost no one, and certainly no one close at hand.  I longed for a community of people who were like-minded and who felt like family.

Then, in 2011, I came to Gustavus.  My original motivation was to be nearer to my Juneau-based son, as he was my closest remaining relative.  I had trouble adjusting to the new place, as I missed beautiful Kodiak.  Granted, the land here was flat, though surrounded by mountains.  The lack of hills made it much easier for me to get around, as age was sneaking up on me.  As I started becoming involved with the community — playing music; writing; selling at our Saturday market in summer — I realized I’d found a place where I no longer had to be on the outside, looking in.  As I developed more close relationships I could see that I may just have found the place I’d been looking for.  Here are friends who welcome me into their homes and lives.  Here are people who come together to present a united front in times of crisis.  Here are people who will be there, should tragedy or tribulation try to take us down.  In times of adversity they will help their neighbors in any way they can, and in return, I will do the same for them.  Gustavus artist Lou Cacioppo says that Gustavus is a tribe.  Many small Alaskan settlements are tribal in nature.  As such, these “tribes” preserve a sense of community that takes precedence over personal desires.  In these troubled times I feel fortunate to live in a small community of like-minded souls who will band together to care for each other.  Gustavus, you have become my family — may we move forward into the future together.


ellie-fiddleWhen Ellie Sharman looked at the list of descriptors included in the title to her story — Musician, educator, quilter extraordinaire — she said, “Add adventurer!  I’m an adventurer!  I thought to myself, “that is the perfect descriptive word for this woman.”  Now you can read the article yourself and discover why Ellie defines herself in such a way.  She is a woman who has followed dreams.

Ellie was born in 1960 in Pasadena, CA.  In 1972, the family moved to Palo Alto, CA.  Ellie graduated from high school in 1978, then went to college at the University of California in Davis.

The roots of Ellie’s life passions and her adventurous spirit began with her childhood experiences.  She started playing violin in 1967 at age seven.  She learned using the Suzuki Violin Method, a teaching method developed by Dr. Suzuki in Japan.  This teaching method was new in the United States at the time.  The first-violinstudents learned totokyo-concert play by  ear.  They listened, then played what they heard.

When she was 11 years old, Ellie went to Japan and took a lesson from Dr. Suzuki.  She toured Japan with other American students playing violin.  They all participated in a big concert in Tokyo.  As Dr. Suzuki’s students all learned from the same books, they knew the same songs and could play together.

Ellie’s love of travel also got a start in her youth.  Before and after the trip to Japan, she went to Mexico as an exchange student.  One trip was for a couple of weeks, and when she returned from Japan, her second trip to Mexico was for a month.  After her return, a Mexican student would arrive to stay with her family in California.

Ellie’s parents met through folk dancing, so Ellie and her brother and sister went to all the dances while growing up.  When she was older, she discovered contra dancing.  Nowadays, if Ellie is at a contra dance, when she is not playing in the band she is dancing.


Ellie has been quilting for about 20 years.  She has made bed quilts, but prefers small art quilts.  These can be colorful and creative representations of the artist’s talent.  The charming art quilt pictured here was inspired by a photo of big-leaf maples that Ellie took when hiking in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.


At the University of California, Davis, Ellie earned a degree in design.  It was a broad major, covering interior design, fabric design, ethnic clothing and furniture design.  Students made furniture and wearable art items.  In fabric design they learned about the qualities of fabric, why a particular fabric could be used for the job, and world clothing design.  Ellie wove these strands into her own designs.  (An example:  including swatches of Guatemalan fabric in contemporary fashions.)  Students designed solar houses.  A large community of solar houses in Davis gave them design ideas and inspiration.  They made chairs, beds, and interior designs for houses.  (Much later, after her son, Rowan, was born, Ellie drew house plans for their own home while staying home to care for the baby.)  As Ellie had been sewing since she was quite young, she already had valuable sewing skills that were helpful in her chosen major.

While attending U of CA, Davis, Ellie took three winters off and went to school in the summer.  During the winter, she worked at a ski area in Tahoe.  She ended up managing a cross-country ski shop, and she taught cross-country skiing to youngsters.  Ellie had a car — a little VW “bug” — but while she was in school the car was parked, as everyone rode bikes.  The only reason for the car was to get back and forth to the ski area.  The Davis campus is the biggest biking campus in the country.  The parking lots would be full of bikes.  Cars weren’t really needed; everyone just rode bikes everywhere.  Ellie got lots of practice, so after riding bikes to school and college, she began doing bike tours around the world.

Her college roommate had a poster of Denali on the wall of their room.  Ellie looked at that picture for many years, and decided she would have to go to Alaska.  She had no money for a ticket, until the road grader ran into her “bug.”  Ellie got it repaired with the help of a friend.  The state of California gave her $800.00 for car repairs, which she used to buy a one-way ticket to Anchorage.  Upon arrival in Anchorage, she took the train to Denali, found the hiring office, and got a job.  That summer she washed buses for the Denali National Park concessions.

She loved that summer in Denali.  When the season was over, she hitchhiked from Denali to Whitehorse; took the train from Whitehorse to Skagway; then took the ferry in September down the Inside Passage. When she saw the mountains, trees, and ocean in Southeast Alaska, she said, “This is where I am moving.”  Since she had now worked for a national park, she applied to Glacier Bay for the next summer.  She returned to U.CA Davis to finish her senior year.  She graduated in 1983.

An active Girl Scout from second grade through high school, Ellie became a First-Class Girl Scout. The summer after her freshman year in college, she was hired as a Girl Scout camp counselor. Her high school scout leader gave a slide show on kayaking at Glacier Bay.  Ellie said, “I’m going there!”  So in the summer of 1983, Ellie worked at Glacier Bay Lodge, washing dishes and working as a maid.  Then she graduated to working on the tour boats as a hostess.

She was hired as a boat person.  For her first and second years with the Marine Department, she worked as a steward on the “Thunder Bay,” a day boat, and on the “Glacier Bay Explorer,” which took overnight trips.

In the fall of 1984, her adventurous spirit led her on a backpacking trip to Europe.  She visited her sister in Italy, then went to Morocco.  She used a Eurail pass to visit Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain. The Eurail pass gave her an excellent means to travel through Europe and see a bit of several countries.  Ellie did not care much for France because she didn’t speak the language, and the French were not at all interested in speaking English.  She tended to gravitate toward mountainous countries in her travels, so it was perhaps natural that she would like Austria and Switzerland.  Austria was her favorite.  Coincidentally, when she was staying ellie-cousinat an Austrian hostel, seated at a long table for a meal, she overheard the comment of a fellow down the table from her.  The man said he was from Wisconsin, and Ellie turned to look at him.  Much to her astonishment, she saw her first cousin, Howard Metzenberg.

After an enthusiastic reunion, Ellie agreed to take a train to Howard’s destination for the next day, and the two spent the day together.  Just this year, Rowan found a copy of their picture with the caption, “Remember when” on Facebook.


Whirling Fiddle BowsThis art quilt is an “intuitive” abstract design.  Ellie started sewing it without a plan, making design decisions along the way instead of following a pattern.  When she finished sewing, she realized the white radiating shapes looked like fiddle bows.


For her next tour, Ellie  and a girlfriend went to New Zealand, hitchhiking with  backpacks. She describes the people of New Zealand as very welcoming.  She chose New Zealand partly because they spoke English.  The two went to both North and South Islands, as Ellie wanted to visit all the national parks.  She says she felt safe hitchhiking there, though her parents would have been appalled.

She likes to have either a specific reason to visit a country or a planned destination.  On this trip, visiting national parks gave her a reason to go there.  As an added benefit, she met other travelers from around the world, as well as Kiwis (New Zealand residents.)
sheep-stationEllie and her girlfriend worked at a sheep station for a few weeks.  They visited the family of a friend from Glacier Bay.  Their travels took place during our winter months, which was actually the summer season in New Zealand, so they visited the friends for Christmas.  Flowers bloomed, and the temperature was in the 80s.

The pair ended up staying because it was sheep shearing time and all hands were needed for the job.  So the two young women took care of the little daughter, giving the family a respite and a chance to complete the shearing job, uninterrupted.apricots

Next, the two girls tried working in an apricot cannery.  They had to wear white uniforms and white hats, and they slept in a bunk room in a dorm for workers.  They worked in the canning lines.  Unfortunately, they had to leave because Ellie’s friend got sick.


They backpacked on this New Zealand trip, hitchhiking to the next park on the list.  For one of their park visits, they had penguinto fly to Stewart Island, which is off the southern tip of the South Island.  They spent 10 days there, hiking, and viewing many penguins.  They also watched for kiwis, the flightless birds of New Zealand, but never saw one.

In the summer of ’85, she was back at Glacier Bay, where she worked as a dispatcher for the National Park Service.  She worked at the Visitor’s Center, run by interpretation at that time.  The Center had three employees.  Ellie was hired because she knew the Bay.  She gave out boat permits and supplied camper orientations.

While giving some violin lessons during the summer, she met Kate Boesser, a vibrant Gustavus woman who plays banjo and sings.  Kate introduced her to local musicians.  Soon music nights followed.

As a seasonal National Park Service interpreter, Ellie went on the cruise ships and gave talks.  Her favorite duty was on the smaller boats, that sometimes did overnight trips.  The groups were much smaller and the vessels were able to get closer to wildlife.  The visitors had a lot of questions about what Ellie did in the winter.  They were interested in her life as a Ranger.

In 1988, Ellie made a solo bike trip to New Zealand and Tasmania.  On this trip, she took her fiddle.  She visited people she had met on earlier travels and went to folk festivals.  There was a lot of Irish music.  Ellie made the front page of a paper in Tasmania.  It showed a picture of her on her bike, playing fiddle.  During this trip, she played at the Longford Folk Festival. She also did some busking, and made enough in tips to pay for her hostel and meals.

From Hobart in Tasmania, she took her bike on a six-week road trip from south to north, travelling from Hobart to the north coast, through the center of Tasmania.  She stopped at Cradle Mountain National Park for a week-long backpacking trip into the mountains.  She climbed to the summit of Cradle Mountain.

According to Ellie, Tasmania could be called the “Alaska of Australia.”  The countryside is rugged and rural.  People are friendly and helpful.  She says the Tasmanians remind her of Alaskans because of their “small-town attitudes” where residents help each other.

Before that summer in Tasmania, Ellie had started dating Lewis.  They had met in Glacier Bay while working for the park.  Lewis was doing intertidal research for the university in Fairbanks.  His major was marine ecology.  After the Tasmania trip, they decided to live together in Fairbanks, so Lewis could continue working on his degree.  So Ellie moved to Fairbanks, took a class or two, then got a job at Apocalypse Design, doing pattern drafting for a wilderness sewing company.  This was her first design job.  She learned more about commercial sewing.  Since Ellie has loved to sew since junior high, working on outdoor gear supplied a good niche for her because of her interests.

During the winters of ’89 and ’90, Ellie enrolled in a two-year program to get her elementary teaching certificate.  She and Lewis lived in a dry cabin, (no running water) located in Gold Stream Valley, the coldest place in town because it was in a hole and the cold air stayed there.  Winters were very cold (40 to 50 below.)


Ellie and Kathy Hocker have recently started collaborating on art quilt designs.  Kathy draws a wild animal or bird and Ellie incorporates the drawing into the quilt.  Using a light table, Ellie traces the shape onto batiks, to which she has applied a fusable backing.  The piece can then be permanently ironed onto the quilt.  Ellie then machine quilts the entire creation.  Here are two examples of their quilt collaborations.


The summer of 1990, Ellie went to Ireland.  Lewis lent her the money for the trip because he had money from working on the oil spill cleanup.  Ellie took Irish fiddle lessons at two places.  She met up with friends from New Zealand  and took classes from the fiddle masters.  They traveled around Ireland on bikes and played music together.  When she returned home, Lewis proposed.  Since they got married, she never had to pay back the loan.

Both Ellie and Lewis really liked the Gustavus area and people, and both really wanted to settle here.  As each of them wanted to live in Gustavus, they shared a dream.  Ellie went to the Anchorage job fair and filled out many applications.  Chatham School District wouldn’t interview her, and she really wanted to work in that district, since that is where Gustavus is located.  That June, Ellie and Lewis got married, and a week before the wedding, she got a call informing her she had gotten the job in Gustavus.  She didn’t even know she was in the running.  Kate Boesser and Ellie both got jobs at the school at the same time.  She started working full-time, so Lewis went to Fairbanks and cleaned out the cabin.  They moved into one of the school rental houses.

Teaching at the school became her life from 1991 to 2015.  For several years, life consisted of teaching, building their house, and raising Rowan, after his birth in 1997.  Ellie started teaching second and third grades, but taught many grades, depending on what was needed.  One year she taught kindergarten through fourth grade by herself.  Sometimes she taught music or sewing for the middle school and high school students.


This block print quilt was done by 12 of Ellie’s second and third graders.  Each student carved a linoleum block of an Alaskan animal.  These images were printed on cards, prayer flags and fabric squares.  Ellie then sewed the fabric squares into the quilt, which was auctioned off on July 4, 2014.  Proceeds went to the Gustavus School.


In 1992, they purchased land for their house.  First, they built a small, simple house that is now the shop.  It was their first home for 10 years, until the new house was finally built.

Designing and building the big house was quite a project.  They started by making a list of everything they wanted to include in their dwelling  This list included south-facing windows, a large pantry, and a sewing room.  They went around to neighbors’ houses and measured rooms to determine the size of rooms they liked.  The list was ongoing for four years.

Ellie drew up plans while Rowan was a baby, and they made a scale model out of cardboard.  They then sent the plans to an engineer.  Ellie and Lewis acted as general contractors.  They ordered everything and hired workers for each job.  The building job took a couple of years.  Their builder was Gary Martel, who died, unfortunately, before all the finish work was done.

The sewing room

The sewing room

However, in September of 2004, they moved into

Batik stash

Batik stash

the new house.  Ellie says they moved into an empty space, and gradually moved in their possessions as they needed them.  After living in cramped quarters for 10 years, it was nice to just spread out and enjoy the room.  When Rowan was in second grade, Ellie’s parents came to visit and helped them move.

In 2009, Ellie was one of four finalists for the Alaska Teacher of the Year.  She was selected as the alternate.  She remarks that she’s glad she didn’t win the award, as the person selected had to travel and speak at various events for a full year.

Ellie says she has certain passions for teaching.  They include teaching drama, art, and music to kids.  With elementary students, she likes to tie music in with math.  She says drama and language arts can be used to get young people interested in learning.  She enjoyed teaching cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities with the youngsters, as she felt that being outdoors with them gives them experiences that they can write about.

Ellie met Kathy Hocker (see blog article) through the Artists in Schools program.  Ellie wrote a grant for that program, and over a six-year period brought guest artists /teachers to Gustavus.  Kathy was the first one brought in.  Five years later, she came back for a second time.  Kathy would get the students to look and write, teaching them to be better observers.  She tied writing, science, and art into one good package.  Ellie tried to continue Kathy’s techniques in her own classes.

As the artists would stay with Ellie, she got to know them well.  Other artists included Sarah Conaro, Yvonne Zerbetz, and Diana Berry.


In July of 2013, three women, Ellie Sharman, Sara McDaniel, and Laura Ekins hiked 33 miles up the Chilkoot Trail — a hike with an upward gain of 3,500 feet.  Known by other hikers they met as “the quilters,” the 3 women worked on quilts commemorating their hike.  Mornings before breaking camp, after lunch, and after setting up camp in the evening they sewed on their art quilts.

The fabric forming the background of their quilts shows a jagged line diagonally across the material.  This line represents the people hiking up the snowy Chilkoot Pass in 1898 during the gold rush.  The trio of women, all over 50 years of age, hiked the same route, known as the “Golden Stairs,” which entailed a four-mile, 45-degree uphill hike to the summit.

To learn more about the hike, go to  Read Sara McDaniel’s story and see her many pictures.  Now, these are dedicated quilters!


Ellie retired from teaching in 2015.  She says she’d been too long without travel and needed to go somewhere.  Rowan had a gap year before starting college, so he and Ellie went bicycle touring in Patagonia.  They traveled for two and a half months.

Ellie wanted to take Rowan someplace he’d never been, as he was tired of travelling on the same Gustavus roads every day.  Rowan wanted to go to South America because he spoke a little Spanish.  Ellie wanted Rowan to have the chance to meet people from around the world, and this trip gave him that opportunity.

She says her greatest fear while trekking on the bike included falling off or getting robbed.  Neither of these disasters occurred, but they added horseflies (called tábanos in Spanish) to their list of dreads.  The creatures would put Alaskan mosquitos to shame!

The travelers flew into Puerto Montt in Chile.  There is a region of the Andes along the Chilean-Argentine border that both countries call Patagonia.  A road now stretches from Puerto Montt south for almost 800 miles.  It is called the Carretera Austral.  Though mostly dirt, parts of it are now paved.  This road connects the tiny towns in Chile that used to be much less accessible.  The coast is dotted with small islands, much like Southeast Alaska.

At the end of the road, they reached Villa O’Higgins (founded in 1966, the village name came from Bernardo O’Higgins, a Chilean independence hero.)  The windy, curvy road led them through mountainous areas and in and out of fjords, and included three ferry crossings.  On an average day they traveled about 40 miles; sometimes a shorter distance, depending on the road conditions.  They would find a good place to camp for the night.  There was no charge for “wild” camping or for some of the ferries.

patagonia-cerro-castilloThey visited the Cerro Castillo, mountains with knife-like spires reaching high into the sky.  The region had many lakes.  They wanted to visit the little town of Tortel, but the roads were really bad, so they hid their bikes in some trees, took just what they needed for the night, and hitchhiked there.  They also wished to see the coast.  Tortel is a coastal boardwalk town, reminding them of the small town of Pelican, here in Southeast.  Two other times, when the wind was so strong it tried to blow them off the road, they hitchhiked with the bikes, getting rides in small trucks.  Ellie said with a sly smile, “I taught Rowan to hitchhike.”

They also visited Los Glaciares National Park, an area reminiscent of our Glacier Bay home.  This park includes mountains, large lakes, and woods.  The name refers to glaciers that are formed as part of the largest continentalpatagonia-parque-nacional-los-glaciares ice extension after Antarctica.  In this area are 47 large glaciers and over 200 smaller ones.

Fortunately for the travelers, Rowan could fix broken bikes, and had brought the necessary tools with him.  The rack on his bike broke three times.  Ellie wasn’t too surprised, since he was carrying more than his share of the load.  Towns in the area were rare, so they were fortunate that Rowan was equipped to do repairs.  He also made many friends by repairing bikes for travelers they met along the way.

After they had traveled 800 miles, they met Lewis in Puerto Natales.  Ellie and Rowan sold their bikes and the family spent two weeks backpacking together, at Torres del Paine.

One of the best things about travelling for Ellie is meeting people with common interests from all over the world.  She says, “I like learning from people about their country, and end up learning more about my own.”  She is not into cities, but prefers small towns.  She says it is easier to get around and easier to meet people in the country.  It is also less expensive if one doesn’t stay in the city.  Ellie doesn’t care to stay at a hotel, because you don’t meet people there.  She enjoys staying in hostels, because there is a common area to share with other guests.  Whenever possible, she would stay in someone’s home.  A low budget trip insures that you will get more from the experience.

Ellie has always loved to sew.  She likes the challenge of problem-solving.  She loves colors and fabrics, especially batiks.  She shops for fabrics whenever she is out of Gustavus, and occasionally orders online.  She started quilting about 20 years ago.   She went through a phase of making fabric bowls, calling her business “Bowled Over.”  She found these bowls to be a good teaching device because each bowl had two to four fabrics.  She could experiment with color.  She spends a lot of time picking out fabrics.  She believes that these choices are very important.  She feels you have to love the fabric that goes into the project.

At one time Gustavus was the home of the Salmon River Smokehouse Gallery of Fine Arts and Crafts, a local co-op.  Several local artists showed their work there.  For a couple of years, Ellie made hundreds of bowls.  She also makes bags and pouches.  She always donates something to local auctions, as she says it puts her name out there and is good for business.


Ellie’s current project is making map quilts, Glacier Bay inspired.  She also collaborates with Kathy Hocker, who now lives in Gustavus.  Kathy draws designs of local wildlife that Ellie then incorporates into the art quilt.

If you have ever taken the tour boat cruise up bay, you have undoubtedly received one of their color brochures, which includes a map of Glacier Bay.  This intricate map quilt by Ellie is her tribute to the bay, and is a re-creation in fabric of the map shown in the brochure.


Ellie’s music has been a big part of her life since childhood.  She has now played fiddle for 50 years.  She also plays five-string banjo, as well as other instruments that she won’t admit to, because she says she does not play them that well.  However, her involvement with music is ongoing.  She went to her first Alaska Folk Festival in 1990 and has not missed one since.  At her first one, she played in a contra dance band.  Over her 30 years of attendance, she has usually participated with a stage group, though sometimes she just goes for the dancing or to jam, often playing music most of the night.

Gustavus is fortunate to have so many talented people living here, and Ellie Sharman is one of our blessings.


Van Baker was born in Gig Harbor, WA, on March 7, 1938.  He and his family lived eight miles away in Olalla.  The town had become mostly residential, as most of it was burned during the depression in the 20s.  If a man needed to get out of a failing business, he set a fire to destroy the buildings.  Van lived in Olalla through high school, then went into the Coast Guard.  He went to boot camp in California and then back to Groton, CT, for diesel engine school.

The diesel engine training supplied the reason to join the Coast Guard.  Everyone on Van’s mother’s side of the family was a fisherman, and the occupation interested him from his youth.  He fished with his uncle in 1954 for the first time, purse seining in Alaska, right here in Icy Strait, between Gustavus and Ketchikan.  He fished here with his uncle each summer until he got out of high school.

When Van first started fishing with his uncle in 1954, there were huge icebergs in Icy Strait, hence the name.  By the time Van started fishing on his own boat, in ’64 and ’65, there was still ice but not a large amount, and not as huge in size.  You could pull up to a small berg (about the size of a 16-foot skiff) and knock off chunks to put in the cooler.  Once he got his own boat, Van found an old refrigerator and laid it on its side to be used for a cooler.  A few chunks of iceberg in there kept things cold.

Van went into the Coast Guard in January, 1957.  After 3 months of boot camp, he completed the diesel engine course in another 4 months.  Then he was sent to Grand Isle, Louisiana, at that time the only place in Louisiana where the road went to the beach. There was no other town or habitation close by.  The shore line was all marshy, with no beach access.   Grand Isle had been a main port for the oil industry, but this function was over by the time he arrived.  At that time, the island was the site of a Coast Guard lifeboat station.

In 1959, Van left Grand Isle and went to Kodiak on the vessel Storis.  This  duty occurred before the Kodiak tidal wave.  From Kodiak he was sent to Seattle for a year, where he served on the Seattle buoy tender, the Fir.  When he got out of the service in 1961, he went back to fishing with his uncle.

Two years later, he bought his first fishing boat from a cannery.  He had married Karla Keene in 1 963 and got the boat in Ketchikan right after the earthquake.  At the time he was still purse seining.  He brought the boat to Blaine, fixed it up, got his own crew and fished the boat until 1966, when he moved to Sitka with his family: his wife, Karla, and two children, Kathy and Todd.  He fished in the summer and worked at the pulp mill in Sitka in the winter.  He and Karla divorced in 1968; that winter Van moved to Ketchikan.

The Peasant

Van’s first boat, which he owned from 1964 to 1969, was called the Peasant.  The Peasant  had a very rotten bottom.  It was so bad no one would buy it.  The cannery had taken it back from a Native family in Ketchikan.  It was the last gas-powered seiner in Southeast.  The boat had not been maintained.  An exhaust pipe leaked engine gas fumes into the foc’sle and a young boy died.  (Foc’sle is the standard abbreviation for “forecastle,” or the fore part of a ship, below deck.  The crew often stayed there.)  The cannery gave the boat to Van for $500.00, so Van flew to Ketchikan to get the boat, sight unseen.  He was told it was a good boat, and had the misfortune to believe he had been told the truth.  When he got to town and inspected the boat, he discovered that nothing would run.  The former owners had gotten the oil stove so hot that the top was melted and the stove was warped and sagging.  There had been a fire in a bunk in the pilot house, burning the wood of the bunk.  The high-water mark in the foc’sle was almost knee high.  The oil mark on the wood was ‘way up the side.  When he looked for parts to buy to fix the engine, store owners would ask him which boat.  One man asked how much money he had in the boat.  Van told him $500.00.  “Write it off and go home,” the man said.

Van wasn’t one to give up.  It took him two weeks to get the engine running.  He finished in such good time because he had a friend with a boat that had a large alternator, which would help keep his batteries charged while he worked.  He put the boat on the grid to clean the bottom off.  On the first high tide that came in while he was on the grid, he discovered that the whole forefront of the boat had so much water in it that he had to recork the entire front end, down into the keel.

Once he got the engine running, it seemed reliable.  He prepared to leave to go fishing.  A watchman at the cannery outfitted the boat with many missing supplies — mattresses, pots, pans, dishes — the boat had nothing on it.  “Anyways,” says Van, “this man was a super-good guy who found everything I needed.”

Van met with the cannery representative who sold him the boat.  This man supplied a good solid anchor, fathometer, power block, and various deck equipment he just happened to have as spares.  He’d had a boat that hit a rock and sunk.  He told the cannery it was a total loss; then enlisted friends to help him strip the boat and store the gear.  Thus he saved the equipment and sold it to Van for a very low price.

Before Van and his wife left to go to Blaine, the watchman gave him a box of boat nails, corking cotton, and oakum, to use in case of leaks.  The watchman didn’t think the boat would make it, but it did.  Van got a net and a crew and started fishing.  Van says, “Everything worked fine as long as you didn’t worry about details too much.”  He fished that boat until 1969.

In the spring of 1969, Van came back to Sitka and bought an island.  He had a friend who lived on a small island close to Sitka, and while Van visited him, he learned that the island next to the one owned by his friend was for sale.  Van agreed to buy the island, called Maude Island.  It was about an acre in size.  He bought it for $25,000; sold it in around 1974 for $38,000.  Islands were just beginning to be choice property when he sold it.  Maude Island had a very nice small house, generator shed, docks, and floats.  Van sold it to two young lawyers.  Says Van, “The wife could live on the island, because she could run an outboard and get a skiff back and forth.  Her husband did not even know how to start the outboard.”  These folks kept it for 1 1/2 to 2 years.  They sold it to a man from Sitka who paid $70,000 for it.  The buyer rented out the house, which was heated by a small oil stove.  The renters didn’t bother to maintain the stove, and about a year later, the place burned down because the stove no longer functioned properly.

Van started trolling in 1969.  Once he started trolling, he always fished alone.  Van’s cousin and good friend, Jeff Pfundt, fished herring in Sitka every spring.  One year, one of his crew members, Fred Fayette, wanted to go trolling, and Jeff asked Van if he would teach him how.  So, after the herring season, Fred and his wife came with their boat.  Van showed him where to fish and helped teach him how it was done.  They ended up running together for at least 35 years.  Fred, though, was an experimenter and tried different methods, often quite successfully.  Van stayed with the same fishing method.

A simplified explanation:  Commercial trolling is like fishing with sports gear, but rather than having just one line, the boat can have multiple lines.  There are two (and in some cases, more than two) poles, port and starboard, amidships, that extend out from the vessel.  At intervals, a line of gear snaps on to the main line coming down from the pole.  Thus, the troller can have multiple lines and as many hooks as the depth of the water allows.

The Little Saga

In 1969, while living on the island, Van took the Peasant back to the cannery to retrieve a net he owned.  The cannery told him they didn’t want the Peasant trolling; they wanted it to purse seine only, and they took the boat away from him.  (Interestingly, it never purse seined again.)  So, Van paid all his bills for the winter and went south to look for another boat.  While visiting cousins in Bellingham, he saw an advertisement for a boat that was back in Ketchikan.  He went to see the owner, who lived in Washington, and bought the craft, called the Saga, for $5,000:  $1,000 down; $1,000 a year, no interest.  Again, he bought a vessel he hadn’t seen, and when he returned to Ketchikan in January to look it over, he discovered that it, too, was rotten.  It was a case of not having much money, and taking what you could get.  As it was the first of two boats named the Saga, it came to be known as “the little Saga.”

Van thought he remembered the Saga, but when he looked for it at the dock, it was a different vessel.  The back half was rotten because it had been closed up for so long.  It wasn’t built right and was rigged badly.  The poles on deck were too tall.  Van said that when you stood on the side of the boat, you thought you would tip over because it was top-heavy.  Van shortened the poles to balance the weight.

The stove was in good shape, and started right up.  The engine started the next day without any real problems.  Van put the boat on the grid and discovered blue mussels three inches thick on the bottom.  Once these were removed, he discovered that the entire bottom of the craft from the water line down was completely sheathed in copper.  Therefore, there were no leaks.  However, parts of the back of the boat above the water line were so soft you could have put your foot through them.  Van fished this vessel for two years and then got rid of it.

In mid-January, on his first trip out of Ketchikan with this new boat, Van headed for Sitka.  The weather was below freezing.  The boat had no radio; only a fathometer.  Van was by himself.

He left Ketchikan and put the stabilizers down when he got into Clarence Straits.  About four hours later, the mast fell down and all the poles fell over to the port side of the boat.  In this crippled condition, he finally got into Meyers Chuck, a small town, arriving just before dark.  It had taken him an additional two to three hours to get there.  People there helped him reset the mast and stabilizers.  He took down the trolling poles so he could get the mast back up.  He straightened up the deck as best he could.

The next morning, he left for Petersburg.  It was snowing very hard, so he had to travel by compass to Snow Pass.  Then the weather cleared so he could see.  Though it was cold, the water was calm.  He visited his cousin, Jeff Pfundt, in Petersburg.

The next leg of the trip he also accomplished in one day.  When he left Petersburg the next morning, it was still clear and cold.  He got all the way to the south end of Admiralty Island.  However, Van says, “being young and foolish, I made a mistake.”  The boat had not been used for several years and the fuel tanks had been left empty.  Rust formed along the bottom, inside.  Van did not bring any extra fuel filters.  In calm waters with no sloshing, he was fine.  However, when he tried to cross Chatham Straits, the wind was blowing northerly at least 20 knots down the Straits.  Fortunately, the boat was a stable one.  Half-way across the Straits, the engine started to quit.  Van switched fuel tanks and was able to get to Baranof Warm Springs.  He tied to the float, cleaned the filter, and blew out the fuel lines until the engine was running okay.

Says Van,”Anyways, next morning Young and Stupid gets up.  It’s blowing at least 25 knots northerly.  He starts going north up Chatham.  Between the hot springs and the turn toward Sitka at Peril Straits, the engine quit 5 times.  Each time Young and Stupid had to clean the lines, getting gasoline in the bilge in the process and hoping the boat wouldn’t blow up when he started the engine…and to think I could have soaked all day in that hot tub and waited for the wind to come down.”

At Poison Cove, Van decided to anchor up.  It was the first time he had anchored the boat.  The next morning when he got up, the bay had almost frozen over during the night.  He tried to start the hydraulic anchor winch and discovered that the hydraulic pump was a “haywire operation.”  The engine, a Chrysler Ace four-cylinder gas engine, did not have a power take-off.  (The power take-off refers to any of several methods used for taking power from a power source, such as a running engine, and transmitting it to an application such as a hydraulic pump.)  All the engine had was a sprocket, or gear, on the front.  The pump was mounted on a piece of plywood that was hinged to the side of the boat.  A loop of chain, like bicycle chain, only heavier, hung on a hook on the wall next to the engine.  To make the hydraulic pump work, this loop was hooked over the gear on the pump and the gear on the engine and had to remain tight.  The tightener was a reasonably heavy spring, but it was not strong enough.  When Van started the engine, the chain would jump off the sprocket on the hydraulic pump.  Part of the reason for this problem was that the former owner had used heavy 30-weight oil in the pump, and the oil was too thick to move until well-heated.

The only way Van could get the hydraulics started was to go up on deck, turn the anchor winch valves on, then go back to the hold, and hook  up the chain between the engine and the pump.  He had to brace himself against the side of the boat, put his foot on the pump to keep enough tension on it so the chain would stay in place, and reach up and turn on the engine.  He could barely reach it.  Once he got the engine started, he could hear the anchor coming up.  However, the engine was going too fast, as he had not adjusted the idle down enough.  He had to judge when he could let go of the chain.

Finally, he was able to move his foot and stood up to shut the engine off.  Just then the anchor came over the bow of the boat and off the roller, where there was no mechanism to check the speed, and headed for the wheelhouse windows.  It stopped short of the windows as it reached the end of its chain, and then was jerked back the other way, and crashed into the winch.  Van shut off the engine to undo the mess.

It took Van another day to get to Sitka.  Fortunately, he was now in calm inside waters, and the rest of the trip went smoothly.

Van met Carole in Sitka on a blind date.  Another island friend was married to a woman who ran the lab in the Public Health Service hospital on Mount Edgecombe.  Carole was working at a temporary position there.  When Van’s friends invited him to dinner, he met Carole.  They were married in 1970.  Carole quit work after their marriage and went fishing with her husband on the little Saga.  Their son, Lee, was born in Sitka in November of 1972.  Carole and fishing didn’t get along together too well, as Carole was often seasick.  After the baby was born, she stopped fishing.

Carole interjected a story about a little cat that they took fishing with them.  On its first trip out in the boat, it jumped overboard and swam to shore.  On its second trip, it jumped overboard again, but they were farther from shore, and had to rescue the cat from the water.  It simply didn’t take to fishing.  Finally, once when they were docked in Tenakee, the cat jumped ship.  The couple stayed in the area for a time, looking for the cat; trying to lure it with food, but never did find it.  Sometime later, when Van went on a hunting trip with some friends, including a man from Tenakee, the man told him that the cat had found some friends of his, moved in, and they adopted him.

Van and Carole came to Gustavus to visit Van’s uncle, Cecil Pfundt.  It was a beautiful day in late August, 1973.  The strawberries were ripe and plentiful and many flowers bloomed.  Carole was impressed by the place.  Van’s uncle said that Fred Matson had land

Under construction

for sale for $750 an acre.  They bought an acre that day, and came back the next week and bought the rest of the piece of land, about 2 1/2 acres total.  They spent their first winter in the house that is now called Aimee’s Guest House.  They lived there while they built their present house.  They started building in the fall and moved in the next spring.  In bountiful Gustavus fashion, it rained over 30 inches when they were trying to close in the house.

They owned their third boat by then.  The second boat, the 32-foot little Saga, Van purchased just after he married Carole.  In 1970, they bought the big Saga, a 40-foot boat.  Because of a fuel shortage at the time, Van couldn’t get another credit card with a different boat name on it.  As they needed the card to buy fuel for the boat, they gave the new boat the same name.

The Big Saga

The big Saga was a 40-foot boat with a navy hull.  It had been made into a yacht by a man in Seattle.  Van bought it in Seattle, loading it with things to bring home.  The fishing hold was full of new purchases.  Van remarked, “Thank goodness it was heavy!  It supplied ballast.  The boat had a narrow bottom and didn’t draw much water.  It rolled a lot.  Carole, their son, Lee, and their friend from the neighboring island in Sitka were with them.  The trip was uneventful all the way from Seattle until they got to an island south of Petersburg.  A north wind was blowing out of the Stikine River and it got really rough going into Wrangell Narrows.  Once into the Narrows, a boat passed them, the first one they had seen on the whole trip.  The Saga was quite a fast boat.  Just as they got into Petersburg, they realized they were going very slowly.  Their reduction gear had gone out when they went into Wrangell Narrows.  They pulled into Petersburg and all flew to Sitka.  Van had to take out a loan to buy the reduction gear.  He then flew back to Petersburg to do the repair work, and then brought the boat to Sitka.

Now that they had another boat, Van stripped all the gear off the little Saga

House and fireweed

and put it on the new boat.  He then sold the little Saga.  The new boat was a good fishing boat, though it was 3/4 living space and 1/4 fishing space.  In Gustavus, mooring was a problem, as there was no real boat harbor.  Van kept it in Bartlett Cove for a couple of years.  Then he had a cradle made for it and hauled it out on the Gustavus side for a couple of years.  Being a wooden boat, it was hard to maintain.

They had the big Saga until 1980.  At that time Van had a brand-new boat built in Port Angeles, the Apex, at 37 feet.  The boat was named the Apex  because Van’s grandfather had a boat with the same name.  Van’s uncle had fished with his father and brother on the original Apex, so the name carried forward a family tradition.

The new boat had no breakdowns or problems the entire time Van had it.  Everything on the boat worked.  It was fiberglass, so was low maintenance.  It remained a good boat for the 30 years that Van fished it.  He sold the boat and permit about four years ago.

The Apex

Van said it was an excellent fishing boat, once you got used to the ride.  There is a big difference between wooden boats and fiberglass vessels.  Wooden boats are slower and heavier.  Fiberglass boats are much quicker to turn and to roll.

The Saga’s steering wheel and pilot house were at the back of the boat.  On the new boat, the wheel and house were right in front, so the navigator would feel the action of the boat in the water a little more.  Van had to make a few adjustments in figuring out how to store things in the boat or how to place the gear.  It took a while to get used to this faster craft, rather than the slower-moving wooden boat.

Other than setting the engine, Van did all the work on the boat himself:  Plumbing; wiring; hydraulics.  It was one of the few boats he’d been on that never had a mechanical problem that stopped him from fishing.  He had dealt with all the problems on his other boats, and knew what to do right.  The only time he ever lost time from fishing was when he finally had to put in a new engine.  The manufacturer had made an error in putting together the new one, and created some maintenance problems.

In the early days, fish were iced, so the boat carried several tons of ice.  Normally the boat fished 7 days, with one day to get out to the fishing grounds and one day to get back.  The rest of the time Van fished, until the boat was loaded.

With the Apex, Van iced the same way the first years.  Then he changed to “slushing” fish.  He made an ice slush for the fish in insulated totes on deck.  This method shortened the trip to three days.  It was much less work than icing fish in the hold, and the fish were better-quality.  Van delivered to one of the cold storage places in Sitka, usually the Sitka Sound Cold Storage.  He could also deliver to tenders on a “buying scow.”  The canneries built 50-foot wooden scows that could be loaded with fish from the fleet, for delivery.  The cold storage company bought some of these scows so they could put them in out-of-the-way places, allowing fishermen to deliver every day if they wished.  The cold storage companies sent regular tenders to pick up the fish once a week from the scows.

When Van first started trolling, the season often ran seven days a week.  Later, when Limited Entry was introduced, the season was shorter, sometimes open for just a few days.  Van mostly fished in summers, starting in April and fishing through September.  Winter was for home projects.  During the season, weather was a determining factor in deciding to fish.  Van didn’t fish if the winds were over 25 knots.  He says it seems that since the late ’60s, the weather has gotten worse than it had been in earlier years.

One of Van’s home projects involved building a fine little shop for Carole’s artwork.  Van says he located it originally behind their house.  It was only half the size of the present shop.  Van constructed the place to teach his son, Lee, how to build a house.  A few years later, when Carole wanted a shop, Van put skids under the structure and Morgan DeBoer came over with his front-loader and dragged it to its present location.  Van says that he had a floor out of another building that was exactly the same size as the one in the little house, too good to throw away, so he placed it next to the small place and added a new addition.

The shop

Out on the grounds, the fisherman could not always tell if he had picked an area where he would find lots of fish, until he put his gear down and checked it out.  One year Fred and Van both anchored up in a bay the day before the season opened on July 1.  Six other boats also lay at anchor in the bay, awaiting the opener.  The next morning, they discovered themselves amidst a fish bonanza.  The fish were so thick they could barely keep up with catching and cleaning.  They got 180 fish the first day.  As soon as the opening started in the morning, one of the boats in the bay, who was a highliner and part of a “code group,” all highliners, called the group, who were scattered up and down the coast, and told them about the fish-filled bay.  These boats would leave their spot and head for the bay, and when they did, the boats nearby would follow them.  By noon there were 65 boats in the bay.  By evening, there were many more.  Van and Fred stayed for two days and were pretty full, so they left, not wanting to work anymore in an area that was so crowded.

Once when Van was out on the Apex, waiting for an opener, he decided to do a little beachcombing.  He pulled into a cove and used his field glasses to search the beach.  Down on one end, he noticed the bright orange color of a survival suit, and left the boat to go and investigate.  The suit appeared to be full of sand, but when Van cut a hole in the leg of the suit, he found denim fabric with a leg still inside.  He called the Coast Guard, who flew over and dug the body up.  He never did find out who it was.

The Apex made two trips a year to Juneau to get groceries and supplies.  On these trips, generally a couple of extra people went along, and everyone loaded up with freight.  For the rest of the time Van took her trolling until he retired four years ago.

Van named his final boat well.  By the time he had the Apex ready to fish, Van had figuratively completed his schooling and built his boat to qualify for his Fisheries PhD.  It might be an imaginary degree, but considering the amount of knowledge he gained, the comparison is apt.  Not only did he know how to fish, but he understood exactly how his boat operated and became well-acquainted with all of its varied gear.  More importantly he knew the proper way to assemble it all.  He knew fishing regulations and had his favorite fishing spots.  He could repair most things and kept a cool head in emergencies.  He held in his memory all the specifics he needed for his chosen career.

Van Baker is one of a vanishing breed of men.  Not that many years ago, it was possible for a man to provide for his family by making fishing his career.  These days the “little guy” who wants to fish as a lifestyle has been largely displaced by big boats fishing for big money.  A few hardy souls still fish by themselves or with a small crew but, sadly, that era may soon be just a memory.  Thank you, Van, for keeping the dream alive for a few years longer.  You are a part of a host of hardy Alaskans who have helped develop the Alaskan fisheries and our way of life


When Jack Lesh and his family moved to Gustavus in 1965, it was quite a different place from today’s community.  Though we are still a small town, the modern world has made its way here, and changed this little place a great deal.

The family got to Juneau in 1960.  In 1961, Jack and Sally came to Gustavus for the first time, and spent a night at the Gustavus Inn.  Later that same year, they came back with the whole family and camped near the river.  They came back every summer after that, until their move.  They wanted to move here, but at that time didn’t know how they would make a living.  Then, in 1965 the owners of the Gustavus Inn decided they wanted to leave, so the Leshes bought the property.

Before they purchased the inn, the family spent four summers visiting Gustavus, and they needed a place to stay while they were here.  In Juneau,they bought a wannigan that sat on a log float on a beach there.  They brought it to Gustavus and got permission from a resident to put it next to the river.  Thus, when they came over in summer after that first year, they had a place to live.  Later they acquired the land where Jack’s present house stands, and moved the wannigan to higher ground.  When they bought the inn, they moved there, to an upstairs apartment with three bedrooms and a bath.  However, the wannigan, fixed as living quarters, furnished a temporary home to a number of people over the years.  The wannigan did not have running water or a bath.  There was an outhouse close by.  They had to haul all their water, but a sink inside allowed them to dump grey water, which ran outside through a pipe.

wanigan(Note:  Out of curiosity, I looked up “wannigan.”  Outside of Alaska, it refers to a wooden box for carrying supplies, such as that carried on a canoeing trip.  In Alaska, it means a small house or bunkhouse mounted on skids, and then towed to where it was needed.)

The Gustavus Inn started because it became a solution to a problem.  After World War  II,  commercial airlines flew between Juneau and Seattle.  At times the weather would be bad, and incoming flights would divert to Gustavus until the weather cleared.  During their wait, passengers walked around to see the community.  They would walk to the inn, which was at the time a private home, and ask for a cup of coffee.  At times the plane would be forced to stay the night.  Then the passengers would stay at the residence.  To accommodate these guests, the owners moved a Quonset to the inn site and attached it to the house.  The Quonset had four rooms on each side of a central hallway.  Each room had two cots and two bureaus.  There was no bath.  Guests could walk into the main part of the house to visit a lady’s or men’s rest room.  Later, a shower room was built.  The accommodations remained that way until Dave Lesh bought the inn in 1980.  Then the Quonset was moved away and Dave added a new section.  He also enlarged the second floor and added a third.  Each room had a private bath.

In 1965, one had to charter a plane to fly to Gustavus.  The original dock was there, now replaced by the modern state-built dock.  A freight boat arrived weekly.  It carried no passengers.  The freight boat in operation when the Leshes first moved here was called “The Forester.”  A later boat, called the “Betty R,” took over the freight hauling duties.  Groceries, fuel and heating oil came on the small freighter.  As the inn was one of a few places in Gustavus with full-time power, they used a great deal of fuel oil.  There was a fuel outlet in Elfin Cove on Chichagof Island, about a 25-30 mile run.  Jack would load 20 empty drums onto the freighter, which would go to Elfin Cove, get them filled, and return.  Then Jack hauled five of them at a time with a tractor and trailer to the inn.

Grocery orders had to be sent to Juneau.  There was no phone at that time, so folks would have to write out their list and mail it to town.  Later, when phones were installed, orders could be called in.

Around 50 people lived in the area when Jack’s family arrived.  Five people lived at the park, and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) accounted for around 25 people, all working at the fully-staffed airport.  Homesteading families made up the rest of the population.

In 1965, there were no phones.  Wires had been strung to 3 or 4 centrally located homesteads; batteries provided power, with an old-fashioned crank phone with a ringer hooked to it.  Each homestead had its own ring pattern, so the homesteader could tell if the call was for him.  Of course, if someone wished to listen in on a neighbor’s conversation, they could just pick up the receiver and hear it all.  Then, for a couple of years, there was one phone in a phone booth installed at the inn.  It could be used for collect calls only.  In the late 60s, the phone booth got moved to the post office.  Then someone in Juneau bought it and put it in their house.  Rumor has it that the Parkers bought it back from the Juneau owner and returned it to Gustavus.  Eventually, it will be on public display with other historical artifacts.

In 1967 or ’68, Alaska Coastal Airways made scheduled runs to Gustavus with a Grumman Goose, an 8-passenger amphibian plane from the ’30s that was used to transport troops during World War II.  A versatile plane, it could land on the water, but then it could motor up onto land, making loading and unloading easier.  The Goose landed at the airport here.  Sally became the Gustavus agent.  To send reservations and to keep up with flight information, the company installed a teletype at the inn.  At night, the Lesh children would play on the teletype, calling their friends in other communities.  Sometimes a message would come through to get off the teletype so a message could be sent.  Oh, well — children will play!

In the 70s the community got its first local airline, Glacier Bay Airways.  This airline was started by a former Juneau pilot, “Gildy” Gildersleeve, who ran things for a couple of years.  Then another man, Art Hayes, took over and piloted for about five years.  All charter flights from Juneau were on float planes.  Sometimes when the Leshes came home with a load of freight, the plane would taxi up the river so they didn’t have to carry things so far.

The first grocery store was started around 1980.  Jesse Buoy, the owner, first lived with her family at Rink Creek before there was a road.  She had to drive the beach at low tide to get home.  Finally, she moved to town and opened the store.  The small establishment started across the river from Jack, and eventually moved to a new location.

Rink Creek’s road started first as a logging road in the 1960s.  Logging started around the time the Leshes arrived.   Then, when settlers began moving in, locals (mostly the Buoy family) started developing the road.

The original homesteaders had gardens.  They also raised beef cattle, fished, and hunted deer, and the land provided.  Before the Lesh’s move, there were numerous fish processors in the area.  As all the fish was hand-packed, these small processors furnished several jobs.  Unfortunately, they were all gone before 1965.  Salaried jobs in Gustavus were scarce.  Some men fished, or hauled freight with their boats.  Small sawmills provided earnings for a few.  People worked at whatever they could find to do.

The community had no paved roads.  The park lodge was built in 1966.  The construction crew lived at the inn for about six months.  Visitors came into the airport in Gustavus and took a bus to the park.  The road in the park in the early days was pretty primitive, with only two dirt tracks.  After the lodge was built, a tour boat started trips up the bay.  Then, construction of the new road began.  During the early years, Ken Youmans, father of present Gustavus resident Aimee Youmans, came here from Sitka to be the park maintenance man.  He lived in a tent for five summer seasons.

Water for the town came from wells.  The only public utility was electricity, which was installed in the mid-70s.  The FAA had

Laundry day

generators at the airport, but they only shared power with the school and the FAA housing, then called the “compound.”

At the time of the Lesh’s arrival, there was a school in town.  That first school consisted of a two-room building, with a classroom on one side and the teacher’s living quarters on the other.  A VW minibus picked up students, driving out to the park to get the children there.  At that time, there were ten students total in the school.

The post office has had a number of homes.  When the Leshes purchased the inn, it was located in a small building across the driveway.  The building was moved at one time, onto Wilson Road close to where the Quonset now stands.  Then for three or four years it lived in a former FAA building, now usually referred to as “the old pre-school building.”  At the end of that period, a new building went up, and the post office moved into its present quarters.

To provide entertainment, people threw dancing parties or potlucks.  A movie came to town quite regularly, and was shown sometimes at the inn and sometimes at a FAA building at the compound.

Jack was instrumental in starting an organization known as the Gustavus Community Association, or GCA, as it was called.  The association focused on the organization of community or cooperative projects.  Then, city government finally arrived.  The original city hall was built as a church camp building, and later moved to its present location.  It housed the library before the city government was established.  Then, in 2004, Gustavus was incorporated, and took over the building.

An original homestead of 160 acres included the land where the inn was built.  On the homestead, around 12 to 15 cattle were raised for meat.  The Lesh children helped with the feeding.  One of the cows would occasionally have a calf, and the calf often went to the children as payment for their labor.  The family ended up with a small “herd” of 4 or 5 cows of their own.  Finally, Sally decided the cows should be sold.  They were sold “on the hoof.”  Buyers came with private planes, slaughtered the cattle, and took them back to Juneau..

The cattle were not the only animals the family had.  They also owned chickens, goats, sheep, and ducks.  Betsy had a horse for a number of years.  The Lesh’s animals would have to have winter feed, so every summer the long grass in the big field next to the inn would be cut.  Once cut and raked, it would be loaded into a large hay wagon and stored in the barn behind the inn.  It often amused the guests to help load the hay wagon, and then ride on it to the barn.

In the old days in Gustavus, everyone knew each other, so it seemed natural to wave at your neighbors when you passed them on the road.  Even though our community is now much larger, people still wave to each other on the road.  Maybe it’s someone you don’t know yet, but if you live here, chances are you will soon meet.  Waving is a nice reminder that we still live in a small town.

Jack has a liking for language and grammar.  He learned Esperanto about the time he came to Gustavus.  He spoke it fluently; in fact, he made three trips to Europe for Esperanto conventions or meetings.  Because these gatherings always took place in the summer, it was hard for Jack to go because he couldn’t easily leave the inn.  This problem led to the end of his Esperanto studies, and he learned Spanish instead, so he could go to Mexico in the winter.

On the first trip to Mexico, Jack and Sally took the two youngest children, Tom and Betsy.  At the time, there was a train from Tijuana into Mexico.  The Leshes traveled on the train to Mazatlan, then took a ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz.  They liked the beaches there, but couldn’t drive to Baja until the road opened a few years later.  For four or five years, they would spend three or four months in Baja, camping on the beaches.  They traveled in a pickup with a camper.  They stayed in a primitive trailer park in La Ribera (between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, on the Sea of Cortez) and got to know the area and the locals.  Then Jack won a drawing in the year 2000 for a free trip anywhere that Alaska Airlines flew, so they went back to Mexico.  At that time, they found a small house in La Ribera that they could rent year-round for a low fee.  They had this place for five years.

Shortly before renting the house in La Ribera, they bought a trailer.  They had become friends with people who raised mangos on an up-country farm, and they got permission to move the trailer there, and stayed in it from time to time.  Unfortunately, they never visited when the mangoes were ripe.

In 1975, Jack sold the inn to his daughter, Sal, and her husband, Tom McLaughlin.  The McLaughlins ran it for four or five years, and then sold it in 1980 to their brother, Dave.  Now that Jack no longer owned the inn, he needed something else to keep him busy.  He went to work for Alaska Discovery, an outfitter organized by Hayden Kaden, who is from our community.  Jack served as a guide on excursions by kayak into Glacier Bay.  They first started with kleppers, collapsible kayaks that folded into bags.  At the beach a float plane would drop them off, the guides put the kayaks together and everyone traveled up-bay and back, camping for seven days.  Then they would be picked up at the same spot where they started the trip.  Later, they used firm-structured kayaks, transporting them and guests to the drop-off spot by tour boat.  The boat would start at Bartlett Cove and travel up the east arm.  Kayaks, guests and guide disembarked, and were then picked up at the same spot a week later.  They hauled all their food and camping supplies with them.  Jack says that the trips were fun, unless it rained all seven days.  This excursion adventure is still ongoing.

Salmon Roe House

In 1980, Jack started building their house.  They had been living in a small cabin on their land, named “Salmon Roe,” and now rented by Connie Edwards.  At the time, it had two little rooms, no electricity, an outhouse, and a pump in the kitchen for water.  Sally grew tired of living there, and told Jack they needed to build a house. Since they didn’t have money to buy building supplies, Sally said she would get a job to pay for it.  She worked for the ferries and also as a chef at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau.  Since she worked to pay for construction materials, Jack said he felt obligated to build her a house.  He built it himself, with help from his sons and his son-

A bend in the river

in-law.  In 1984 they finally moved in.  They named this new house “meandro,” which means “a bend in the river.”

When the owners of the Gusto Building Supply decided to sell in 1986, Jack and his son, Jim, bought the business and ran it until 1992.  The business was not profitable enough to satisfy Jim, who is an excellent finish carpenter.  He found he could make more working as a carpenter, so they sold the business.

The new house

In 1995, Jack went to work for Dave at the inn.  He started as a maintenance man.  “I fixed all the things I did wrong originally,” says Jack.  When he got too old to crawl around under buildings, he ran the office for about five years, doing all the necessary paperwork, including payroll, reservations, and sometimes chauffeuring guests.

In 2008, Jack retired and became a gardener.  He especially likes growing trees and bushes, but has plenty of garden space and a small greenhouse.  His favorite annual is peas.  He grows enough to last him through the winter.  He also likes to grow salad greens and kale.  He has a bed of cultivated strawberries.

Jack Lesh has lived a full and varied life, and has contributed much of value to the community of Gustavus.  Thank you, Jack,, for sharing some high points of your story with us.


This story is the first of two about Jack Lesh, one of our oldest Gustavus residents.  This first part covers his life up to 1965, when he and his family moved to Gustavus. The second part will be about Gustavus, and Jack’s life here.  Read on and enjoy!

Jack Lesh was born in Chicago in 1922, the first-born in his family.  At age two, he moved with his family to Berwyn, IL, a suburb west of Chicago.  He lived there until he graduated from 8th grade.  Then they all moved to Oak Park, IL, because the town had a much better high school.  When it came time for college, his folks didn’t have much money.  Jack enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio for 6 months until he ran out of funds.  He then worked for 6 months and earned enough to go back to college for a year.

Antioch held their school year all year, in 10-week divisions.  The students would go to school for 10 weeks; then to a job for 10 weeks, giving students experience in doing a job in an unfamiliar place.  Personnel would find the jobs for all the students in the program, with the purpose of teaching them to be on their own.  Jack liked having the work experience part of the curriculum.  It gave him a chance, however small, to earn some money while in school.

Jack’s going to Antioch turned out to be a pivotal point in his life.  Of course, one reason was because he met Sally Townsend, who became his lifetime partner, while there.  It also had to do with Antioch itself.  Jack enrolled there because the tuition was more affordable than at other schools.  He did not realize until he spent time there that his core beliefs and developing world view meshed beautifully with Antioch’s philosophy.

The college was founded on the belief in social and gender equality.  The school was the first United States college to designate a woman as full professor.  They fostered independent study and independent thinking.  According to Wikipedia, Antioch believed in the development of the individual as a whole.  Thus, the students’ work/study experience gave them a chance to take care of themselves in a new environment.  Students were expected to achieve educational goals through programs designed to create social change.  They were given a great deal of responsibility for shaping their own education, with course-work being collaborative and experiential.

Jack reminisced to me about Antioch.  He said they did not participate in major sports leagues, nor did they have fancy dress-up dances, such as proms.  The school did participate in sports as part of their physical education program.  Each floor of the dorms was a separate “house.”  Each house had its own team.  Also, as someone had donated a large tract of forest adjacent to the campus, it provided a place for hiking and bicycling.

Academic quality at Antioch was very high, and completely run on a spirit of honesty.  Students took final exams to their rooms to complete.  They were assumed to be honest.  Jack found the spirit of trust in the students to be very refreshing.  A great deal of camaraderie, existed between students and teachers, as there was more fraternizing between them than at other schools.  Students and teachers got to know each other well, so the relationship was comfortable.  A general idea prevailed that we are all searching for something.  We are all equal, with no difference between faculty and student.

As part of his work-study program, Jack did two jobs with Arco Paint Company.  The first one was in the mail room.  Next, he worked as an assistant in the paint lab, which developed special paints, commercially produced for certain kinds of use.  At another  job, he worked half-time at the campus coffee shop, which he managed.  As luck would have it, Sally came to work for Jack.  At closing, they had to clean up, so they would turn on the nickelodeon and dance.  In 1942, they  married, and danced together for many years.

In 1943, Jack got drafted, and took his army basic training.  When this training was completed, the army did not need any more infantry in Europe, so Jack was enrolled in a program that provided aptitude tests, followed by college classes.  Jack attended colleges in New York City for this program, including Fordham and New York University.  At the end of six months, the army again needed infantrymen.  He was sent to an army base in New Jersey, where he worked in a medical dispensary as a Physician’s Assistant.

As testing showed that Jack had an aptitude for medicine, he was sent to medical school for six months.  He attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York.  When the six months ended, the war was over, and Jack was discharged while he was in school.

By this time the couple had two children, Mike and Pete.  Sally worked and Jack got the G.I. bill for money to help with college.  He finished medical school in New York.  For the last two years of school he worked as a med-tech in the hospital.

Jack graduated from medical school in 1949.  By now, he and Sally had their third child, Jonathan.  Jack did his internship at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI.  Interns got paid very little.  Because he had a family to feed, Jack interned at the hospital that paid the most.  He joined the Air Force as a lieutenant.  The Air Force paid for a year of internship in exchange for two years of service.  He did his two years immediately after he graduated, at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, WA.  When he was discharged, his debt was paid.

The Lesh family went to Falmouth, MA.  They liked the West, and would have gone to Sand Point, Idaho, but the doctor there did not welcome them, as his son would be working there soon, so another doctor was not needed.  Jack had heard of an opportunity in Falmouth, which he decided to check out.  He found two other doctors with different specialties, and they started a clinic, called the Falmouth Medical Association.  He worked in this clinic for 10 years.

Jack started at Falmouth as a General Practitioner, but every doctor practicing obstetrics had quit, because Jack said he would do these cases.  Also, the Air Force was short on physicians, so they would pay for dependents to go to a regular doctor.  Consequently, Jack became almost a full-time obstetrician, even though it was not his area of expertise.

Jack had always loved to sail.  In high school, he belonged to the Sea Scouts, who had a powerboat on Lake Michigan.  Through that contact, Jack met a gentleman in Chicago who had a sailboat that he chartered on weekends.  Jack served as a crewman for three summers and learned how to sail on Lake Michigan.

In Falmouth, Jack would rent a sailboat for the day when he had time off.  Sally would accompany him when she could.  One nice, sunny day Jack and Sally went sailing.  Jack asked Sally for a cigarette, and she said, “Didn’t you bring the cigarettes?”  No, Jack didn’t have them, so they went back home to get them.  This incident prompted then to quit smoking.

Jack’s mural

These days, Jack has a special sailing reminder on his living room wall, at the end of the room opposite his favorite chair.  Connie Edwards, our local health aide, had been painting and redecorating Jack’s kitchen.  Connie asked local artist Jess Mulligan to paint some sunflowers above a shelf.  They turned out so well that  Jack asked Jess to do a mural.  She painted a lovely scene showing serene water surrounded by lush nature, and in the center of the water rests a sailboat.  Its name is the “Lesh Go,” which was the name of the traveling school bus that brought the family to Alaska.  Jack says he always wanted to sail around the world, so now he can sit in his chair, look at that beautiful mural, and take an imaginary sail anywhere he wants to go.

Near the end of their 10 years in Falmouth, Jack accepted a patient who was single and pregnant, and who did sketches to support herself.  By then, the Lesh family included eight children.  The young artist, Zada Clark, sketched all eight of the children to pay her obstetrics fee.  Those eight drawings, now mounted in a single frame, hang on one wall of Jack’s living room.  The children in the drawings, from oldest to youngest, were Mike, Pete, Jonathan, James, David, Sally, Betsy, and Tom.

The children

The hospital was 20 miles away from Falmouth, so going to and from work involved a lot of driving.  Being on the beach, the town quadrupled in size in the summer, going from  8,000 to 30,000 residents.  Jack and Sally started thinking about a western move.  They decided Alaska was the Far West, so they planned a trip there.  Of course, they would have to go North for a long way before they went West, and they had to traverse most of Canada first.  They bought a school bus and refurbished it and left for Alaska in 1959.  They had thought about coming earlier, but Sally refused to make the trip until the last baby was out of diapers.  The bus migration included Jack, Sally, and the eight children.

The family traveled in the school bus because it was affordable, and the only solution they could find for moving a big family to Alaska.  No way could they pay to fly 10 people here!  No car was big enough to hold everyone.  So they made a shopping trip to Boston, where they found several buses to choose from in a used car lot.  They bought the used school bus.  Jack’s oldest son, Michael, and Jack remodeled the vehicle for the trip.  They took out most of the seats and built shelving for storage.

The remodelers also made a teepee.  Sally made a cover for it out of canvas.  As the school bus had been used as a “band bus,” it was equipped with a large rack on top for all the musical instruments.  The teepee and poles rode up there, along with the family canoe.  At night, once a camping spot had been selected, the boys would put up the teepee.  They became very good at this job; they would have their bedroom set up in a few minutes.  All 5 of the older boys slept in the teepee.  Sally, Jack, and the baby slept in a small tent.  The two young girls slept in the bus.

They drove the Trans-Canada Highway, the main artery East and West across Canada, from Montreal to Alberta.  This road was paved.  From Alberta to British Columbia, they took the Yellowhead Trail.  This section of road was not paved, and provided an adventurous segment of their journey, as it was a one-lane road, used frequently by logging trucks.  When they met one of these, they would have to back up to one of the frequent turn-outs provided.  There was only one settlement on this entire stretch of road.

The trip took them 60 days, from Falmouth to Juneau.  On the first part of the journey, they made steady progress, but when they got to British Columbia, they would find a place they liked and camp for several days.

On the second or third day of their trip, they were in a state park in Ontario.  A river ran through the park, parallel to the road.  The river drained into a lake where they would camp for the night.  The ranger there assured them that the river was a very calm one, so they took the canoe off the bus, and Jack and Dave, then about 6, took the canoe down the river while Sally drove the bus to the camp.  Jack and Dave had not gone far when they hit some fast-flowing rapids.  The canoe overturned, throwing Jack and little Dave into the water.  Jack grabbed his son and the two made it to safety.  They retrieved the canoe and returned it to the water below the rapids.  However, Jack lost his camera to the river.  When they again saw the ranger, they scolded him for not telling them about the rapids.  “Oh, I forgot about that first little bit,” he said.

On a side trip through a Canadian national park, they saw a sign alongside the road, pointing to an uphill trail.  It said, “Typical Mountain Sheep Habitat.”  They got out and looked up where the sign pointed.  About 20 yards away, a sheep stood on a rock and looked down at them.  Those Canadians sure know how to post accurate signs!

If you would like to read more about the Lesh family trip in the school bus, look for Sally Lesh’s book, Lunch at Toad River.  It’s a good read.  Sally also wrote another book titled  All My Houses, which outlines her history by following the trail of houses she lived in over the years.

When they finally arrived in Alaska, they liked it, and drove almost everywhere they could drive.  Homer appealed to them, except the doctor there had someone else in mind for his clinic, and did not want them there.  They stayed for a while in the Eagle River Campground.  A neighboring family at the campground came from Juneau, and suggested they go there.  The Leshes had read an article in the Alaska Sportsman about Gustavus, showing a picture of the inn and cows in the foreground.  The city of Juneau was not far away.  So Jack flew to Juneau, where he interviewed at two clinics.  Both of them offered him a job, so he took one of them, and the family moved.  While living in Juneau, they visited Gustavus and stayed at the Gustavus Inn.  Jack wanted to work there, but didn’t know how they could afford to live there.  So, he worked at the Juneau clinic for two years.  The doctors at the two clinics had an antipathy toward each other, which created an unpleasant atmosphere.  Jack didn’t want to be part of it, so he quit the clinic.

Then, the Health and Welfare Department in Juneau hired Jack to serve as their medical person for all of Southeast Alaska.  He worked on 2 federal programs:  Maternal and Child Health, and Crippled Children’s Services. Being federal programs, they had a requirement that the employee had to have a Master’s in Public Health.  Jack had to go to Berkeley, CA, for 1 year to get this degree.  The whole family accompanied him.  Jack says that this new job was bureaucratic, requiring him to work in an office most of the time, and doing very little doctoring.

The Gustavus Inn

In 1965, drawn by that article they had read in the Alaska Sportsman, they decided to move to Gustavus.  They bought the Gustavus Inn.  However, they couldn’t survive on what they made from the inn at that time, so Jack spent four days a week at the state health department; then home again to do needed repairs to the inn.  After about four years, he quit working for the state.  For a time he covered the practices of doctors from other Southeastern towns when they went on vacation.  On one of these trips back to Falmouth to cover for a former partner, the whole family went along, and they bought a second school bus.  They wanted it to drive guests at the Gustavus Inn back and forth to the airport. Jack and two of the boys drove the bus back, and Sally and the other children flew home.  Jack quit his clinic work in the early 70s.

When they first bought the Gustavus Inn, it had 8 bedrooms.  Jack set one of them up as an examining room, buying doctor’s furniture from a man in Juneau.  He put out the word that he was open for business.  At the time, Gustavus only had about 50 residents.  After having his office open for three months, Jack had seen only two or three patients.  It turned out to be more lucrative to rent the room as a bedroom.

Jack told me that he loved practicing medicine, but he didn’t want to live in a city to do so.  After the Gustavus move, he drifted out of his medical practice because he had found the place where he wanted to live and a lifestyle that brought him happiness.

“To what do you attribute your long life?” I asked Jack.  “Part of it is because I’ve inherited good genes,” he answered.  “My mother lived to age 93.  I believe your emotional attitude is important, too.  I have a zest for living and I am happy.  I eat a healthy diet and lead a physically active life.”

We are glad you brought your family to Gustavus, Jack.  You are an inspiration to us all!


After asking Kathy Hocker if I could interview her for this blog, I realized that writing about her would be a challenge.  She has so many talents!  How could I do justice to all of them?

Then we did the interview, and I discovered that it would be easy to cover all her talents because she uses them to create the whole of who she is and what she does.

Kathy’s field is science; her college major was forest ecology.  During the interview it became clear that she has her feet firmly planted in the natural world.  Every one of her varied talents — art, writing, editing, teaching — become tools she uses to enhance her commitment to the observation, study, and understanding of the world we live in.  Her singing weaves it all together.

Kathy Hocker was born in Las Cruces, NM in 1968.  After three years the family moved to Edinburgh, Texas, at the very southern tip.  When Kathy was six, they all moved to Juneau.  Kathy has been in Alaska ever since, except for college and a brief time in California.

She went to Harvard, where she majored in forest ecology.  She was interested in biology, and hoped to find her niche there.  She got a bachelor’s from Harvard (they call it an AB.)  She really wasn’t excited about a master’s in science, but she realized that the path that made her happiest was the one that allowed her to share the beauty and poetry of science.  She explains as follows:

1.  She sees science as a way to understand the world, calling it a natural and elegant function of our psyches.  She says that the  fundamentals of science flow in our consciousness.

2.  It is her belief that science reveals beauty.  She says, “Even during field work, you are in the middle of a wonderful opportunity to notice things of beauty.  Being in a very careful state of observing leaves you open to seeing, hearing, and experiencing the beauty around us.  There is beauty in the fundamental nature of the universe.  You can see lovely symmetry, balance, and interconnections between all things.”

In 1992, Kathy went to California, where she taught at an environmental school.  Several counties in the state have outdoor facilities with cabins.  She worked with students who were all from schools in Shasta County.  The program was based in Whiskeytown, California, near Mt. Shasta.  Kathy took these fifth and sixth graders on hikes where she would teach them about natural history.  She worked with each group of students for one week.  There were enough schools in the county to allow her to teach classes for the entire school year.

In the natural history classes, Kathy taught concepts, but, more important, she taught students how to be, out in the natural world:  to look and to listen.  They did hands-on activities.  For example, they would be blindfolded and would go through a section of forest, just using their hands to find the way.  Also, each student would learn one thing, such as the name and use of a plant, and on these hikes, would teach the other students what they had learned.

They took night hikes without flashlights.  The first order of the night would be to overcome their fears.  They would be scared, giggling to cover their nervousness, or very quiet.  Some would say, “I can’t do this.”  In time they would come to the realization that there was nothing out there to “get” them.  They just observed another face of nature.  When the hike was finished, they were proud of themselves for their accomplishment.

Commonly,  foxes, owls, and bats occupied their night world.  Students learned to identify animal sounds.  Listening to the owls was a treat.  The area was inhabited by great-horned owls and long-eared owls, among others.  Grey foxes at night made a bark/screech that was downright spooky at first, until they learned what made the sound.

The only dangerous encounter in the camp was with a rattlesnake that was found in the boys’ bathroom.  They removed it with a snake noose — a pole with a loop at the end.  The loop was guided around the snake and then pulled tight.  The snake could then be lifted and carried someplace far away.

A most important happening occurred while she taught there.  She met Cheryl Cook, who is from the San Diego area and who was also teaching there in 1992.  Cheryl played guitar and sang, and soon the two started singing together.  It didn’t take long for them to gain their first audiences — the students they taught.

When the teaching year was finished, the two returned together to Juneau.  Kathy taught Environmental Education in Juneau in the mid-90s, for a program called Discovery Southeast.  Through this program, she became the resident naturalist at Mendenhall River School, a position she held until 1996.  As naturalist, Kathy had classes of third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  Each season she would do a unit with each class, which included a couple hours of classroom time and field trips.  They studied aquatic animals, insects, birds, animal tracks, and land forms.

In 1994, the couple got an introduction to living in Gustavus by building a cabin.  Kathy’s mother and father owned land here, so Kathy and Cheryl built a cabin on their property.  The groundwork was laid for their eventual move here.

Even though Kathy’s major was science, she never let go of her desire for an involvement with art.  She went to Fish and Game and showed them some of her drawings.  They needed some illustrations for a publication and hired her to draw them.  At a chance meeting with her middle school art teacher, Kathy mentioned that she had just been working on these drawings.  Her teacher mentioned a graduate program in scientific illustration.  Kathy applied to the program at the University of California in Santa Cruz.  She was accepted, and she and Cheryl moved there.  It was a one-year program in Science Communication.  She could choose the science writing or the science illustrating track.  Though she had trouble choosing, she decided the art program would give her more skills and techniques.

After their return to Juneau, Kathy went back to working at Discovery Southeast.  She was still interested in scientific writing.  Internship for that program involved working with an interpretive design company known as Sea Reach, Ltd., based in Sheridan, Oregon.  She started illustrating for them; then she began writing interpretive materials.  Company projects range from making single interpretive signs to creating interpretive plans for parks, national forests, or visitor centers.  A lot of thought goes into what you experience in a visitor center.  An interpretive plan helps lay out what messages are communicated, and how those messages get communicated in an engaging and concise way.  Kathy travels for Sea Reach, maybe 4 times a year, either to their home office in Oregon or to projects already underway.  Just recently she went to Valdez to a Chugach National Forest visitor center to start the process of planning, writing, and designing new exhibits.

In the late 90s she started teaching drawing as a tool for observing and keeping nature journals.  Though she worked mostly with youngsters, she had some adult students as well.  Using drawing as a tool to develop powers of observation ties back to her California classes, which focused on how to draw, but also to learn more and connect more with the natural world.  Her classes in field sketching in California were her favorites, so she decided she wanted to teach the same thing.  Her mission in her classes is to help people understand that you don’t have to feel like an artist.  Far more important than what is on the page is what is inside you when you are drawing.  Kathy says, “There is a human tendency to categorize things, then feel like we’re done with them.  I like to delve deeper and observe what the creature is doing.  It is important not to pigeonhole a creature into a quick category, as you might miss some wonderful or important things.”

Kathy used the wren, a special bird to her, to illustrate how quiet observation of a creature’s activity can provide unexpected pleasure.  If you sit still and watch, very often the tiny wren will run across your feet.  Once Kathy was watching a small bird investigating the snowy landscape nearby.  A stick poked up from the snow, and next to it was a little tunnel where the snow had melted away from it.  The wren found the tunnel and went down it.  Kathy waited for some time for it to reemerge; instead, it popped out of the snow in another place.  It had dug its own tunnel through the snow to the surface.

Kathy likes to demonstrate, especially with kids, but also with adults.  She says, “Get them involved.”  As a standard first lesson, Kathy will draw a feather, then have the students draw one.  While she is drawing, she wants them to participate.  She will say, “Look at the feather.  What do you notice about its shape and color?  Plan out where we will start your drawing.  What should we draw first?”  The group usually says, “Start with the stem.”  Kathy teaches them some vocabulary:  “The stem of a feather is made up of the rachis and calamus. Look at the rachis,” she will say.  “Is it in a straight line?”

“No, the center part is curved.”

“Reach up with your finger and draw that curve in the air.”

Kathy will continue to involve them as she draws.  This technique is useful, because it removes their inhibitions.  The drawing becomes collaborative.  They are now part of the process.  Next they draw the feather on their own.

Her work took her to different places in the state.  She started in Juneau, beginning with community schools and elementary schools.  Finally, she taught courses at the University of Alaska.  From there, she was put on the state teaching artist’s roster, the Artist in Residence program.  She travels a couple of times a year to a different place in the state for this program.  The program gives her the opportunity to see more of Alaska and to experience more of the uniqueness of life here.  She has traveled by snow machine, lugging all her art materials, along frozen rivers.  She has taken a Yupik steam bath.  She has eaten Native foods, such as caribou, herring eggs, and seal oil.

In 2001, Kathy and Cheryl bought a house in Juneau, which they owned until 2015.  Cheryl started working summers at Glacier Bay as “Captain Cook,” running the day boat tour to the glaciers.  The two were in Gustavus just for the summers for a couple of years; then they sold their house in Juneau and moved to Gustavus in 2015.

In 2001, Kathy ran into a scientist, Mary Willson, whom she had worked for right after college, about 10 years previously.  They had not spoken much since that time.  In talking about birds, Mary mentioned that she was doing research on American Dippers — the small gray songbirds that nest along fast-moving streams and dive underwater for insects and little fish.  Kathy volunteered to help Mary out and ended up in a 10-year collaboration with her, working for her and with her during the study.  During the time they worked together, Mary published five scientific papers about dippers with Kathy as co-author, and she and Kathy wrote two books about the birds:  “American Dippers” and “The Singer in the Stream.”  Mary is now a dear friend.

For Kathy, an added bonus to her work is that much of it is done outside.  Working with Mary afforded her some unique adventures.  To get a close view of the nests of the dippers they studied, they often had to scramble around in steep stream canyons.  Once or twice, Kathy even had to rappel down cliffs or swim through streams.

While looking for dipper nests, Kathy and Mary discovered something quite rarely seen:  active nests of marbled murrelets.  These small seabirds are well-known to anyone who spends time on the water in Southeast Alaska, but their nesting habits are still somewhat mysterious.  They’re known to nest in old growth trees, many miles inland from the ocean — but what Kathy and Mary found were three murrelet nests on the ground, at the tops of waterfalls near Juneau.  They returned to the nests periodically to see the chicks as they grew from speckled balls of fuzz to handsome black-and-white juveniles.

A strain of beautiful music weaves its way through all that Kathy does.  She has been involved with music since taking piano lessons as a child, but was never very serious about it, until she met Cheryl.  When they moved back to Juneau, they joined song circles, and began performing in 1995.  Kathy says she learned to harmonize by copying the “Indigo Girls.”  She and Cheryl harmonize well together, partly because they have sung together for so long.  Kathy says she can (usually) hear the harmonies with Cheryl’s voice easily.

In Juneau, they performed at Gold Street Music, an invitational coffeehouse venue founded by a group of Juneau musicians.  One of the group was Elva Bontrager, a wonderful music catalyst who brings musicians together and helps them bring out their best.  Performers did 20-minute sets.  Kathy and Cheryl found the club to be a great musical venue that was available the rest of the year after Folk Fest.  They did sing at Folk Fest, but mostly with other people.  Now the duet sings on Thursday nights with the library band in Gustavus and at Lou Cacciopo’s “Outpost,” which has a musical night every other week.  Lou opened the outpost a couple of years ago — he lengthened his art studio, put in a stage, lights, and a nice sound system, and invited local musicians to perform.  Lou’s Outpost is “a non-profit music venue dedicated to building community and providing pioneering musicians with quality stage time in a nurturing atmosphere.”  (Watch future blog articles — Lou, an excellent artist in several mediums will be featured in one of them.)

Kathy started playing mandolin in early 2000.  Her dad sent her one, as he had started playing fiddle.  (Kathy wonders if perhaps he wanted to start a family band.)  Both Kathy and Cheryl like to perform, though Kathy feels her voice is not strong enough to sing solo.  She’s happy to have Cheryl’s strong voice to sing harmony with.  The duo selects songs or types of songs that suit their voices.  They have found that there is a particular set of vocal characteristics that blend well.  Cheryl has a particularly strong alto, so Kathy sings a high harmony.  They feel the message in the lyrics is important, but they also like to mix in funny songs.  Kathy and Cheryl have been together and creating their lovely music for 24 years now.  Kathy says that their singing together is symbolic:  they listen to each other and hold each other up.

Here’s a special treat:  a YouTube video made by another local Gustavian, Bill Eichenlaub, of Kathy and Cheryl singing at the Outpost.

Kathy’s art grows from her love of the natural world.  She creates cards, mugs, jewelry, sketches or paintings, collaborates with quilter Ellie Sharman of Gustavus, illustrates for children’s books, and writes books.  She also designed the wildlife tables in the Alaska State Ferry vessels, and did some of the illustrations.  Each ferry has the same tables in their dining area, though the Tustumena has a slightly different species assortment appropriate for Southwestern Alaska.

Kathy’s editing skills grew out of her work with Sea Reach, the company that does the interpretive signs.  She had to edit others’ work for the signs, and though not formally trained in editing, she has had quite a bit of experience.  She edited my last book and did a fine job.  She has also edited books for others in our writer’s group.  She feels that while she can be a strong editor (in part due to her experience at Sea Reach where the text gets edited extensively before going on an interpretive sign), she is learning how to balance that with keeping a writer’s unique voice.

For 13 years, Kathy practiced Shotokan (Japanese/Okinawan) karate, which she learned in Juneau.  She had an excellent teacher, Diana Stevens, who was the dojo’s chief instructor.  Diana won an AWARE “woman of distinction” award in 2011.  Kathy advanced in her karate training with a great group of people.  Through this teaching / practice she developed more physical strength and flexibility.  The practice emphasizes character and integrity.

When they can fit it into their busy schedules, Kathy and Cheryl like to travel.  They have been to Hawaii, Europe, South America, Ireland, Holland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Chile.  Their travels have given them some unusual adventures.  In Holland, they bicycled through the Dutch polders (low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes) watching all kinds of fascinating European birds including kievits (lapwings) and gruttos (redshanks.)  Both of these are meadow birds common to that area.  In Hawaii while traveling the Kona Coast, they watched an octopus flash-change color and texture, and while travelling to the island of Innisheer, Ireland, they saw a basking shark.

They took a walking tour in the English Lake District, along the Cumbria Way.  The weather did not cooperate, but they were there and had to continue onward.  They slogged through rain, snow, sleet and wind.  They watched newborn lambs cavorting in the inclement weather, full of life and fun in spite of the unpleasant conditions.  It made the discomfort of the trail a bit easier to handle.

In Chile, they visited their friend, Mary Willson, at a research station she co-founded.  While there, Mary asked Kathy to teach a sketching class to a group of Chilean college students.  Although many of the students spoke better English than Kathy spoke Spanish, she decided to give it a go in Spanish.  She recalls that they were quite good sports about it; they chuckled sometimes at her stumbles but clearly enjoyed the lesson.  She remembers being particularly pleased when she made a joke in Spanish…and they laughed!

In 2012, after spending 20 successful years together, Kathy and Cheryl decided they needed a special celebration.  Cheryl was working on a whale-watching boat, and got the use of it for an afternoon.  They took 18 friends on the boat with them and took a tour around Lynn Canal in Juneau.  The Dall’s porpoises, being social animals, wanted to share the moment, so they joined the party and swam with the boat for a long time.  The couple felt that this moment with the porpoises was an anniversary gift from the Universe.

Kathy has a charming blog.  Visit it to see more of her drawing.  The address is  Also on this site is a link to her Etsy store.

Check it out!

Thank you, Kathy and Cheryl, for moving to Gustavus.  You make such a great addition to our community!


Back by popular demand, here is guest blogger Kim Papaw Warren, to tell you a new moose-hunting adventure.  Hope this story makes you laugh as hard as it did me!

I  went moose hunting again yesterday afternoon. In my area of Southeast Alaska, our season lasts one month and we are allowed one bull.  So far I had seen five bulls but no shooters.  (To be a legal “shooter,” a bull must have a spike or fork on one side or three brow tines on one side, or there must be a 50-inch spread between the extremes of the antler.)  As I approached the willow-covered muskeg I had chosen to hunt, I saw a cow watching me from about 300 yards away.  She continued to watch with mild curiosity as I settled under a spruce tree, levered a round in my Winchester Model 71 and got ready to start calling.  I sat unmoving for about 15 minutes to let things settle down.  The cow lost interest and moved on, grazing on the willow tips.

I started calling, doing my best to mimic a love-sick cow in season.  After the second series of calls, a bull stepped out of the woods on the other side of the clearing, paddles flashing in the late afternoon sun.  He was looking around, trying to locate me, or rather, the cow he thought I was, so I did another series of calls.  Immediately he zeroed in on me.  At over 300 yards away, I couldn’t tell if he was legal, and he couldn’t see me, as I was all decked out in my cammies.

Slowly I picked up my binoculars and watched him as he came around the perimeter of the clearing, moving obliquely in my direction.  When he reached a point closest to me, which put him about 75 yards away, he turned and headed across the clearing straight toward me, never once taking his eyes off me.  By now, I could tell that he wasn’t a legal bull, so I just sat unmoving and watched him come.

At about 100 feet we made eye contact, and he kept right on walking casually toward me making low grunting sounds.  Almost a cooing sound…he was sweet-talking me.  At 50 feet I began to get a little nervous.  At 20 feet I started talking to him.  “That’s far enough.  You don’t want to come any closer.”  I began waving my hands and continuing to talk to him.  “Don’t make me have to shoot you!”  He just kept coming, ignoring my now-frantic waving.  I tried not to be too demonstrative for fear of ruining my hunt, but the situation was now serious.

At less than ten feet he stuck his head under the spruce bough where I sat and stopped.  He just stood there, making low grunting sounds.  Sweet-talking me.   This bull was smitten!  He was in love.  I could have stood up and in two steps kissed him on the nose.  I know he must have thought I was the ugliest cow he had ever seen, but it didn’t seem to matter.  He wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

I started yelling at him and waving my rifle in his face.  This didn’t faze him.  I was the love of his life and he wasn’t going to give me up.  He decided on a different approach.  Slowly he circled around under my spruce tree and came up behind me.  I intensified my yelling and waving.  At this he very reluctantly began to move away.  I know he was thinking, “I’ll let her calm down a little.  I know she’ll come around.”

As he stood watching me from about thirty feet away, I quickly gathered up my stuff and began to walk away.  The bull followed me for a few feet, then stopped, broken-hearted, and watched me leave.  Looking back over my shoulder, I said, “Cheer up!  We’ve both lived to love another day.”