MEET DAVID THOMAS: ENTREPENEUR, KAYAKER, NATURE LOVER

Since his arrival last May, David Thomas has jumped into Gustavus community life with both feet, introducing his own roasted coffee brand, Sentinel Coffee, and initiating a number of new activities here.  He has taken over the editorship of the Strawberry Point Pioneer, our local newspaper, started a “slow food” recurring event, and begun a monthly foreign film showing.  What a great addition to the town!  His energy and ideas add new enjoyment to our lives.  Read on to learn of the niche he is building for himself here.

David moved here because his wife, Louise (known as Lou,) a marine biologist, got a job at Glacier Bay Park.  A Juneau woman, she was hired as a whale ecologist, arriving here in November of 2015.  As David was working for the legislative session, he waited until it was over to move.  The couple found a cabin to rent from Karen and Larry Platt near the Good River, through the recommendation of a friend.

Actually, David had been here before.  Gustavus was the first place in Alaska he visited.  After completing a job in 2001, he returned to his birthplace, Massachusetts, and got a job as a bar manager.  However, he decided he wanted to travel again.  He looked for work on CoolWorks.com, and found a job working as a server at the Bear Track Inn for the summer of 2001.

After leaving Gustavus behind, David started a small coffee shop in Woodstock, Vermont, traveled the country in an RV and finally wound up on the Oregon coast, where he set up another coffee shop.  The Oregon coast taught David surf kayaking, hitchhiking, and pastry-making. It is also where he met his future wife, Lou.  David’s Ye Olde Green Salmon Coffee  is still open to this day, owned and operated by David’s original business partner.  A well-known eccentric hippy joint, David always insisted of the Green Salmon, “We are not hippies!”

In the summer of 2010, he went with Lou to the Pribilof Islands, where she had a job as a biological technician.  That summer he worked as a volunteer.  David and

Which one is the observer?

Lou were married on October 3, 2010, and went to New Zealand for the winter.  In the summer of 2011 they started doing the fur seal count together as part of a “mark and recapture” study with NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) in the Pribilofs.

David has an established coffee business in Juneau.  This business is not his first experience with roasting coffee. His operation is small.  He services six cafes in Juneau, and caters to individual customers on a subscription service.  At present, he returns to Juneau every Monday on the ferry and comes home again on Wednesday.  On his ferry-rides, he does bookkeeping and paperwork.  In Juneau, he does his deliveries with a helper, as there are lots of stops.  They deliver to homes, offices, the six cafes, and Bartlett Regional Hospital.  Besides coffee, David carries 20 different types of tea and a chocolate sauce to die for.

To Stephanie Shor’s satisfaction, David took over the newspaper, the Strawberry Point Pioneer, in November of 2016.  His goal is to make the paper free.  In order to do so, he needs more advertisers and sponsors.  Right now it costs him $2.46 to print each copy, and at a customer cost of $2.00 to put the paper out, he loses money even if every copy is sold.  If he can cover printing costs with advertising consistently, he will make the paper free.

David got his publishing experience just out of high school.  He got involved in something called “zines” — these were self-published, small, not mass-produced booklets, requiring a small printer.  They used to be printed in small batches in bookstores, and included short stories, poetry, and essays.  Those types of magazines tended to be politically charged, though David was often more philosophical in his writing.  He found the experience to be helpful when he started doing the newspaper.

David has started a special food event here.  “Slow Food” was a movement which began in Italy about 15 years ago, as a protest against a McDonald’s moving to the Spanish Steps in Rome.  Started by one man in Italy, it soon became international.  It initially focused on traditional foods and methods, hence “slow.”  The movement had a credo:  To advocate for diversity in ecosystems and society; protect natural resources for future generations; help people and the environment to depend on each other; promote food that is locally, seasonally, and sustainably grown.  As David really likes cultural foods of all different types, these dinners offer him a chance to show his skills.   He likes recreating traditional recipes, and seeing how the way we prepare food has developed over time.

Gustavus “slow food” nights will be announced on Gustavus Buy/Sell/Trade, so watch for these announcements, bring your dish, and attend!  You will enjoy an excellent meal.

For our added community enjoyment, David is now showing foreign films once a month.  Watch the paper for the schedule.  David says he owned a café in Oregon where he did a film series.  He says choosing is hard with subtitles.  He likes to have seen the movie so he knows it is a good one, that does not include any offensive material.

David has been asked to join the Gustavus Community Center board, so he will have yet another place to utilize his talents.

In his spare time, David’s main focus is kayaking.  In Gustavus he has the opportunity to participate in this hobby quite regularly.  Actually, he met Lou while living and kayaking in Newport, Oregon, so it is an activity they enjoy together.

 

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Now that you have learned of David’s activities since he has moved to Gustavus, go on to read “the rest of the story.”  You’ll read something of David’s many travels since he left his family home in Massachusetts, more about how he met his wife, Lou, an interesting look at the Pribilof Islands, and background on how his present business developed.  I believe that you will agree that he is definitely a valuable addition to our community.

David was born in 1979 in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He lived in the small suburb of Holden, living there through high school.  By then he was ready for a change.

His love of the outdoors began in his youth.  Here is a picture of the countryside close to his Massachusetts home.

He says he didn’t have the best time in high school and decided to go into seasonal work rather than college.  He got a job as a food server at Yellowstone National Park.  This job made him realize he could travel through his work.  He liked to work places where he traveled because in this way he could become acquainted with the local people, whereas tourists don’t really fully understand an area.  He lived inside the park so he could see its inner workings, and thoroughly explore the back country.  Being there through every weekend, he could see the seasons progressing and animals changing with their seasonal cycles.  He says you can really get to know a place when you see those changes.

Electric Peak

Immediately upon his arrival in Yellowstone, he decided to hike up Electric Peak.  He had not experienced high-altitude hiking before, so it is not surprising that he got altitude sickness.

Lamar Valley

David’s favorite place to camp while in Yellowstone was the Lamar Valley.  He began camping there after a group of wolves had been relocated in the park, and it was the first time he heard them howl before he moved to Gustavus.

He worked at the winter lodge at Old Faithful and at the Yellowstone Inn, built by a 21-year-old architect.  The Inn has an impressive central fireplace and twisted wood banisters.

For the next winter season, he got a job at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida.  It was a private club for the rich folks.  David hired on as a server and then started bartending at the “clubhouse” for the country club.  The club had three golf courses, but the clubhouse was only for those on the members’ list.  It was very exclusive; no guests were admitted.  David said it gave him a view into another world.

He met several famous people while working there.  One of them also happened to be named David Thomas.  He was the founder of Wendy’s.  When the two were introduced, the David Thomas from Wendy’s said, “I must challenge you to a duel, because there can be only one David Thomas.”

He lived on the grounds at first, but wanted to experience more of the Keys.  He moved in with two other guys who rented an apartment — a dumpy one-bedroom accommodation in town.  He stayed there for a month and a half, and couldn’t handle it any longer.  There were already three people staying in this small apartment, and then another worker from the club moved in.  The next new resident was a 15-year-old homeless girl.  One of the men owned a parrot.  David gave the parrot to friends to deliver to his sister.

Continue reading

VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

Annie and Jim — a playful moment

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 Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: CLIMBING QUESTIONS FOR ANNIE MACKOVJAK

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.

VIVACIOUS & INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: TEACHER, HIKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

Annie “Cricket” Mackovjak tells an amazing story.  She has lived through some great adventures, and has come out of them carrying only the benevolent scars of memory.  Read about this first part of her life journey and see if you don’t agree with me that she must be protected by a very competent guardian angel.

Annie’s story will appear in this blog in two parts.  This first part describes her adventures up to her marriage to Jim Mackovjak in December of 1978.  The second section lists the highlights of her life after moving to Gustavus.

Annie Osgood Mackovjak was born on December 5, 1948, in Lincoln, Maine.  The family home was in Prentiss, a town so small that some people in Maine didn’t know where to find it.  Annie grew up on Maple Grove Farm, a dairy and potato farm.  Annie’s brother tapped maple trees from their farm for Christmas gifts.  A neighboring family tapped the trees for syrup to make their living, using horses to provide labor, doing things the old-fashioned way.

In the 20s and 30s the family sold lots of apples, sending them by train to Boston.  They no longer harvested the orchard by the time Annie came along.  However, her mother still made lots of applesauce.  These days, her brother still lives on the farm, and the deer eat more of the apples than the humans do.

Annie has always loved being outside, and when she was young she was given the nickname of “Cricket,” as they chirped every night in the summer.  (This nickname actually came back to her twice later in her life.)  She earned the nickname from her mom, though she spent many hours outside with her dad, helping with feeding and milking the cattle, getting in the hay, and digging potatoes.  When she was six or seven she had a pony that she rode a great deal.  She didn’t have a bicycle until she reached eighth grade.  Very often after school her dad would have her pony saddled and waiting in the stable so she could ride.

When she was ten, her dad got a sleigh on skis.  They lived on a side road with little traffic, so she could take her brother on rides in the winter.

Annie drove the family tractor starting at about age nine.  She drove the fields to pick up rocks and she also helped with haying.  The family had approximately 600 acres, some in forest, but enough for cattle to graze and to raise oats for them to eat.  They also planted fields of potatoes.  Annie would ride her pony, accompanied by a border collie, to round up the cows and bring them in.  She loved to ride, and one time actually tried riding a pig.  However, she says horses are better.  The farm also had chickens.  One Sunday afternoon when she was outside, she heard a great deal of squawking coming from the chicken coop.  When she went to investigate, she discovered that a scrawny, hungry fox had broken into the pen.  Annie killed the fox.  She says she doesn’t remember what she hit him with, but it was something hard enough to do the job.  She also remembers seeing black bear sitting in the field of oats, raking in the grain.

Annie attended a one-room school from first through fourth grades.  Then a new school district was formed, and she was bused to school in Springfield, Maine.  Annie liked the new school as she could play sports, such as basketball, volleyball, and softball.

She attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Portland, Maine.  This academy was an all-girl Catholic boarding school.  (Now that school has been combined with another and a new school has been built called the Maine Girls’ Academy, but it is no longer a boarding school.)  At that school there were no sports offered, and physical education classes consisted of lessons in such athletic activities as swimming, tennis, or ballet.

When she was a high school freshman, her “big sister” was called Cricket, which reminded Annie that she had shared that name for a long time.  Every Sunday morning she would write home and sign her letter “Cricket.”

One time Annie’s grandfather came to visit and brought a big box of chocolates.  She was in “Seventh Heaven Dorm,” and after lights out, she and two of her friends gathered in the large bathroom and ate all the chocolates.  Of course, their transgression was discovered.  The next morning a nun met them to arrange punishments.  Annie’s was to attend a 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. class in Latin, and another from 9:00 to 10:00 at night, for one month.  Annie continued taking Latin as a class after she completed her month of punishment.  The extra classes paid off later, as Annie took the national Latin exam and got a 96%.

Annie’s aunt and uncle in California gave her a trip to California as a graduation present.  This trip took her further from home than she had ever been before.  She was there for six weeks, and then couldn’t get home because there was an airline strike.  She had to take the bus, which followed the old Route 66, from Los Angeles to Maine.  She made an interesting observation on this trip:  She says that after she crossed the Mississippi, people didn’t have much patience; jostled other passengers and were rude in general.  On the western side of the river, people seemed to be more helpful and accepting.

From 1966 to 1970, Annie went to college at St. Joseph’s in Maine.  She had a full tuition scholarship.  Her degree was in English with a minor in history. Continue reading

WELCOME LOU CACIOPPO: ARTIST, CARPENTER, ATHLETE, SONGWRITER

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 Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: Family is where you find them

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. Continue reading

ELLIE SHARMAN: Musician, Educator, Adventurer, Quilter Extraordinaire

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.

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16-art-quiltEllie 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.

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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. Continue reading

MEET VAN BAKER, CAREER FISHERMAN

vanbaker1Van 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 Continue reading

PART II: JACK LESH, A GUSTAVUS PATRIARCH

jack3When 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, Continue reading

PRESENTING JACK LESH, A GUSTAVUS PATRIARCH

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!

jackcatJack 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 Continue reading