September 13, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 37

Lapeyri operated sawmills, stores, motel

Friends and family members gathered at the middle school gymnasium Saturday to honor the memory of Ed Lapeyri, a businessman and former sawmill owner who once employed more than 300 workers, including 145 in Haines.

Ed Lapeyri

Lapeyri died Sept. 3 of complications from a car accident. He had recently undergone surgery for heart bypass and valve replacement, but two weeks ago was given a clean bill of health, said longtime friend Larry Beck.

Lapeyri was 73. At the time of his death, he owned and operated Captain’s Choice Motel and Chilkoot Fish and Caviar.

Electrician Erwin Hertz said he didn’t need the business, but Lapeyri put him on the payroll at three mills anyway. “I always enjoyed Ed. He always kept up his side of the bargain with me. Whenever there was a problem, I’d go. His friendship was worth it,” Hertz said.

Lapeyri was game for new adventures, including swimming in storm swells in Hawaii and skiing at Chilkat Pass with little or no ski skills, Hertz said. “He wasn’t a skier, but he sucked it up.”

Lloyd Edward Lapeyri was born Jan. 5, 1939 at Mary’s Help Hospital in San Francisco to Lorraine Venus and Edward Michelle Lapeyri. He lived in San Francisco until age 12, when his father died and his family moved to Castello, Calif.

He attended high school in Dunsmere, Calif., moving to Fort Jones at the end of his junior year.

For a half-dozen years or more, including two years in high school, Lapeyri played semi-pro baseball with the Scott Valley Stars of the Northern California League. He was a six-time all-star in the league, according to biographical information collected by friend and attorney Fred Triem.

In high school, Lapeyri worked fighting forest fires. After graduation, he found sawmill work in Fort Jones. At 19, he was drafted into the Army and served two years in Germany as a helicopter flight medic.

On his return, he drove across the country and went back to mill jobs in Yreka until 1963. He worked briefly as a policeman before buying a grocery store in Greenview he renamed Eddie’s Market.

In 1962, he married childhood friend Sharon Doyle in Reno, Nevada, and adopted her three children. They had two more children together. After marrying, Lapeyri bought a store in Fort Jones. He also worked at Pine Mountain Lumber Co., a mill in Yreka. In 1969, he moved to Tillamook, Ore., where he partnered in a mill.

While working in Tillamook, he met executives of Dant & Russell, a company that operated the Alaska Forest Products mill at Jones Point in Haines. They hired Lapeyri, who moved here in 1971. In 1976, Lapeyri accepted the position of general manager at Mitkof Lumber Co. in Petersburg. He was promoted to president of the company three years later and eventually became an owner with partner Pat Ford.

Larry Beck said Lapeyri worked to get small-mill set-asides established under Tongass National Forest management and – seeking a deep-water port not available in Petersburg – moved the company to Haines in 1987, purchasing the former Schnabel Lumber Co. mill from the state of Alaska.

Chilkoot Lumber Co. operated around the clock and at peak operation employed 145 people in Haines and more in the woods, Beck said. A wastewood boiler powered the plant and during summer months in the late 1980s also supplied the town’s power. The mill closed in May 1991.

Lapeyri took over the Captain’s Choice in 1994 and operated Chilkoot Fish and Caviar as a processing plant at the former sawmill site from 2004 to 2009.

Cheryl Katzeek, front office manager for the motel for the duration of Lapeyri’s ownership, described her boss as keeping an open door and open wallet for employees.

“He never questioned what we did at the office. He never questioned my judgment. He trained us so we could do things without him at the helm. You knew that whatever you did at the desk, you wouldn’t get bawled out in the back,” Katzeek said.

“He was funny, funny, funny. He always had a joke… He always said, ‘Keep smiling’ no matter what kind of day you had. That was his trademark thing he’d say when he walked out the door at the end of the day: Keep smiling.”

Lapeyri didn’t hesitate to donate a room as a premium for local fund-raisers and always donated the motel’s best one, a Jacuzzi suite, Katzeek said.

Beck, whose jobs for Lapeyri ranged from fixing toilets to talking with attorneys, said Lapeyri was an unafraid businessman who a few weeks ago was still pursuing new opportunities. “That’s how he got the Captain’s Choice. He wasn’t looking to go into the motel business. He was looking for a business to provide for things and he didn’t want to leave Haines.”

When he worked as a filer sharpening saws, Lapeyri would quit a job to find another where he could learn more about filing, Beck said. As a sawyer, Lapeyri drove a steam-driven “shotgun” cylinder that required “100 percent concentration,” he said.

“There’s an awful lot of mental math going on there and you keep those numbers in your head. If you lose concentration, that carriage went out one side of the mill or another and people got hurt.”

Lapeyri is survived by siblings residing around the Yreka area including brother Bob Rowe and sisters Jodeane Lapeyri, Sandy Lamar, and Jackie Sellon; by sons Jon Lapeyri of Haines and Brian Lapeyri of Petersburg; and by daughters Lori Smith of Alabama and Tamara Cook of Pennsylvania.

Lapeyri’s ashes were scattered Saturday at the Kelsall Landing, where he had enjoyed operating an airboat. Cards may be sent care of the family to Box 392, Haines, 99827. Donations in his name can be made to the Wounded Warriors project.