SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Farewell To Some Old Friends


January 22, 2009

Ketchikan, Alaska - It's one of those truisms in the journalism biz that obituaries spike right after the holidays.

It just seems that a lot of people who are not doing so well manage to hang on through the holidays to celebrate one last go round with their families and that's probably just how it should be.

jpg Farewell To Some Old Friends By DAVE KIFFER

Dave Kiffer

So I was taken aback abit when several folks that I knew passed on in the weeks right before Christmas this past year.

Four were the parents of kids who I went to school with many, many moons ago.

That in itself is one of those reminders that we of the late Baby Boomer generation in Ketchikan are not babies anymore. At least not chronologically, but I digress.

I can't say that I knew Ruby Johnson or Celia Bolling all that well, but they were always around during their kids activities growing up and they always seemed to have a "hand in things."

I do know for a fact that the kids they raised turned out pretty darned good and - frankly - it just doesn't get much better than that. I can only hope that I will do as well with Liam as they did with their kids

I did know Barbara Darnell pretty well. She was the mother of the girl who I dated on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off all through high school.

When you are a young man they say that you should always look at your girlfriend's mother to see how your "beloved" will turn out. Mrs. Darnell had a deep Lauren Bacall-ish voice and a pretty devilish - dare I say it - "sexy" laughr. She was a tough, but fair parent with a really good "twinkle."

It was clear that her daughter was going to turn out like her and that's probably one reason why I kept yo-yoing back and forth through all that adolescent "sturm und drang."

Another parent of a classmate, The Rev.. Don Bullock also died in December.

But I really knew Father Don outside of the context of "someone else's parent."

Father Don was about as close to being the physical embodiment of Santa Claus that I have ever known. A big, burley - and in later years - white bearded - man, he never failed to bring the gift of "joy" to me every time we met.

Whether it was at St. John's Church or in his later incarnation with the Alaska branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was a gentle spiritual leader in Ketchikan. And - of course - a bit of a prankster.

I remember being in Sitka for a trip years ago and I ran into Father Don on the street and he - knowing that I have always liked liturgical music - invited me to a vespers service at St. Michaels the next day. I was a little concerned because I didn't have a lot of free time.

"How long could it last," he said with a wink. "We stand up through the whole service!"

The next day, I found out the "how long" was more than two hours of standing. Natch, I couldn't leave early because I wanted to show I was just as "tough" as the little Aleut woman standing next to me for the whole blessed thing. The music was truly lovely, though. But I'm not sure that my knees have ever forgiven me.

I also learned just about all I knew about broadcasting by watching and listening to Father Don on the local airwaves for many years. I don't believe there ever was a smoother, more conversational broadcaster in the history of Alaskan radio than Father Don.

It was a great joy to sit with him in the air room at KRBD many afternoons and watch how he created a whole new community on "Pioneer Rhapsody."

His city of "Vicinity" was just as real to local listeners as "Lake Wobegon" is to national ones.

Finally, a good friend of my mother's - and of the former logging camp side of my family - Sig Liepelt, died as well in December.

I can't say that I knew Sig really, really well, but he was one of those familiar presences that I always saw around town, often walking hither and yon or taking the time to feed popcorn to the pigeons on days sunny or otherwise. He always willing to stop and talk for a bit.

And he was truly a gentle soul, which is one reason that he was so interesting to me.

Sig was born and raised in Germany and served with the German army during World War II. He was "the enemy" before he emigrated to the US after the war.

Now, I grew up on television shows like "Combat" and "Hogan's Heroes" and I remember movies like "Stalag 17" and "The Longest Day."

I don't remember growing up thinking about the Russians as enemies even though it was in the shadow of the Cold War. I just missed out on "duck and cover" but knew all about "détente."

Instead I grew up - thanks to images in the popular culture - thinking the Germans were somehow the "enemy "even though the war had been over for two decades and the Germans - at least the West ones - were now our friends.

That's the lesson of people like Sig.

I know for a fact that in the modern America, there are many people who still see other people as being our "enemy" particularly those in the Middle East or Asia who have a different culture or religion than ours and - somehow - seem to threaten our way of life with their anger towards us.

But one of my enduring images of Sig was at all those Ketchikan Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorations over the years.

While the local veterans would be engaging in their ceremonies, Sig would always be standing off the side, somewhat anonymous, but still taking part, still commemorating the sacrifice of the American soldiers. Possibly thinking about his friends and comrades who had died. Young men like himself, who had fought for a cause. Not enemies. Just other people.

We need to remember that anger and fear and hate don't last over time, no matter how much we want to "vilify" an "enemy" in the heat of the moment.

If they do, we have lost what it means to be human.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2009

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