Pioneer couple settles in Smith Valley
Jack is self-contained, like Clint Eastwood. Karen, his wife, vibrates with the energy of a tuning fork. Jack is titanium; Karen, quick silver. What a combination.
“Why do you want to interview me?” Karen asks hesitatingly after dance class, one day. “For two reasons. First you’ve lived in Alaska for 25 years, and secondly, you worked for the Teamsters Union. Alaska changes people, and working on the inside of the Teamsters Union reminds me of ‘On The Waterfront,’” I reply.
Karen is from a family of 11 children, and Jack is from a family of 10 kids. Both people have very strong work ethics. Jack was raised on a dairy farm and says, “I still have a curved thumbnail from milking all those years.”
It’s difficult for me to visualize Karen in the rough and tumble world of union labor negotiations. “Karen, what did you do for the Teamsters?” I ask. “I’d listen to the shop steward, and figure out what they really wanted, and then type up and edit a contract. Contracts could be anywhere from 12 to 400 pages long.”
“Jack you said you were in Alaska when it was a territory.” “We just hated the idea of statehood, and having the feds tell us what to do. Then when the pipeline came in, they’d hire anyone. If you could walk, breath and point your finger, you got hired. There was a bar on every corner, and a church on the other, no paved streets, and a dirt runway,” he says.
“Karen, when we toured your garden the other day, it was truly a work of art. Did you say many of the plants came with you from Anchorage?” I ask. With a look of triumph, she says, “I contracted two large containers, put all our furniture, Jack’s three restored cars, and all my garden paraphernalia and plants in them, and here we are,” she says.
Jack was a surveyor and city planner for Anchorage. “We laid out streets, sewers and water lines. We knew where every bush and tree was. When it got to 20 below, we came inside and did desk work,” he recounts.
Sitting in their lovely living room, listening as they relived their life up north, brought back memories for Orllyene and me. I choreographed and directed a revue for the “A-67 Centennial” Celebration in Fairbanks. “Do they still call us the Lower 48?” I ask. “Yes, and they ask ‘are you going outside this year,’ and some people never do,” Karen says. Jack recalls flying to Detroit for a new car.
Two days later, Karen drops by our house to see our gorgeous iris. As she’s about to leave, I ask, “Karen, could you help me move a bench from the garage to the patio?” She jumps at the opportunity to be helpful. “If you ever need any help Ron, just call us, OK?”
Jack and Karen are made of sterner stuff. We’re sure happy to have them down here in the Lower 48, as neighbors.
Ron Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.