SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Arrivederci, au revoir, see ya!



July 08, 2013

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- Usually, when you read those words in a headline, it means the column writer is heading on to greener pastures.
jpg Dave Kiffer

No such luck!

I am not going anywhere, at least not this week.

But I digress

What the headline really means is that I have noticed a significant number of folks absconding from Our Fair Salmon City these days and I thought we should take note of it.

In the past, I have often written of prominent locals who have passed on to the Great Rainforest in the Sky, but in this case it’s people who are moving on to greener pastures in the living world.

That is certainly a good thing for them, but for us, as a community, not so much!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, demographers note that most communities in Southeast Alaska are “highly transient.”

In fact, during the height of the timber/fishing era, census gnomes determined that every five years just about 50 percent of the Ketchikan population came and went. That is indeed “highly transient.”

I grew up knowing that many of my playmates would not be around that long. They were logging families, fishing families, Coast Guard families, Forest Service families and “just plain sick of the rain” families

My son has learned a similar lesson as many of his young friends have gone elsewhere. For every “old time” Ketchikan family that has been here for generations, there are three or four or five or six families for whom Ketchikan is just a short blip on their radars. It’s sad, but it’s inevitable.

So, I suppose I am a little surprised that I am surprised by what seems to be a current exodus of folks that I know.

In many cases, people come to Ketchikan and then leave without really making much of a splash. They come here, live here and leave here. They understand Ketchikan is a transition and any roots they put down are fairly shallow.

But then there are others - and these are the ones who interest me -  who during their time here -  be it two years or 20 - who decide to get involved and make Ketchikan a better place.  They do that by adding something to our community rather than simply taking something. And it does surprise and sadden me that these are some of the people we are “losing” this Spring and Summer.

For example, I will miss the outgoing Coast Guard base commander Wade Gesele and his family. Coasties are almost always short timers, but every so often there some who decide to get involved. The best example is the late Henry Keene and his family. They decided to stay here and forty years later, we are all the better for it (yes, even those who found themselves on the wrong side of Judge Keene later on).

At any rate, Cmdr. Gesele and his family were active in a variety of local groups including Boy Scouts and Youth Soccer. They didn’t just mark time in their posting in Ketchikan.

Another example of a government family that was also “involved” was Assistant DA James Scott and his wife and daughter.  Assistant DAs by their nature generally tend to be pretty low key in the community, but that didn’t stop the Scott family from being involved in sports, dance, public radio and a variety of other local fundraising issues and events. Our loss is clearly Juneau’s gain.

Kevin Gadsey has been a tireless advocate for Ketchikan’s physically challenged residents for quite a few years, but in doing so he has reminded us that when any of us are limited by society we are all limited. Kevin is going to Ireland for the next year or so and I’m sure that Galway will be encouraged to improve its own accessibility.

For those of us who are into local history, we are facing the loss of two families. Museum Director Michael Naab and his wife Dianne, who is an artist, are heading south. Both the history and the arts communities will miss them, but they have easily transcended those narrow worlds into the Ketchikan world at large over the past decade and a half.

Richard Van Cleave, the museum curator of collections, and his wife Deb Jepson, a public health nurse, are also leaving after more than two decades in Our Fair Salmon City. They have also been involved in numerous other groups over the years. Those of you who enjoy my occasional forays in local history will never know how important Richard was to them as the keeper of the archives, the room where anything worth knowing about anything Ketchikan is held. If he couldn’t find it for me, then I really didn’t need it!

And last, but certainly not least, my good, good, good friends Bob Bloom and his wife Joann Flora. Both have been here since the 1980s. A short list of their involvements include Big Brothers Big Sisters, KRBD, Rotary, AA and just about every local musical aggregation you can name in the First City. Suffice it to say, the arts community in general would have been a very different place without them over the past 20 years. And it would not have been as good a place. They are also going to Juneau, which seems to be a bit of a trend. At least it is only a short ferry or plane ride away.

I know that I am probably missing a few others who are leaving us and I apologize. I tried to keep a list but after the first few names, it just got too danged depressing.

About the only good thing I can say about “transient Ketchikan” is that all the above mentioned folks did come here from somewhere else. Others who will make Ketchikan a better place will too, eventually.

But just because the ebb and flow of people is the norm here in Ketchikan, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

On the Web:

More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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Dave Kiffer ©2013

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