A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. Saturday at Covenant Life Center Tabernacle for Dick Aukerman, a carpenter and handyman who died at home Sunday of undetermined causes. He was 91.
“He just ran it ’til it stopped, kind of like a good old car,” friend Leigh Galinski said. He may have had cancer but he refused to be tested, she said.
Aukerman started attending Covenant Life Center services in 1989 and worked on projects at the Christian community’s farm. He and wife Wanda hosted church gatherings at their home in town.
Aukerman enjoyed working with wood, from splitting it for his stove to turning birch he felled and milled on his property into the 400 spindles for his home’s balcony and stairway railings.
He whistled while he worked, saying it was good for his blood pressure. “Keep a song in your heart, a smile on your lips, and whistle every chance you get. It keeps the tension a far piece away,” he told an interviewer in 2008.
On summer Sundays he’d wear a suit with a bolo tie, polish his cowboy boots and drive Wanda up the highway to church in the pink, 1958 Cadillac Sedan DeVille he gave her for her 41st birthday. They were married 70 years.
“We worked at it. You have to give and take. You can’t have it your own way all the time and he can’t have his,” she said.
Niece Cynthia Aukerman said her uncle lived life as adventure. Wanda never knew how many people Dick might be bringing home for dinner, she said. Once, while on the way to work at 8 Mile Haines Highway, they stopped for a climb on Mount Ripinsky that consumed the rest of the day. “The only rule with Uncle Dick was you had to follow adventure to the end.”
Aukerman cycled regularly until a few months ago. His mother lived to be 102 and his father 98 and he expected to last as long. “Don’t smoke, drink, do drugs or chew, or run around with those who do, because if you take care of your body it will take care of you,” he said.
He updated neighbors with news of what he saw through his spotting scope across Chilkat Inlet.
Richard L. Aukerman was born on a farm near Union City, Ind. to Marshall and Elsie Netzley Aukerman, and was reared there with five siblings. He played basketball at Wayne High School, and worked with his grandfather Netzley, a builder who milled his own lumber, something Aukerman would learn to do himself in Haines years later. He met Wanda Pegg on the town square in Winchester, Ind. and they married when he was 21 and she was 18.
In World War II, Aukerman was a radioman on a ship destroyed at the Battle of Okinawa by a human-guided “baka” bomb. Aukerman told a documentary producer he saw the bomb coming toward them with a Japanese soldier lying on top of it, guiding it with outstretched arms. Seventy-three of Aukerman’s shipmates died. He swam clear and was rescued.
Aukerman worked for the Civil Aviation Administration after the war and was stationed at Umiat, Unalkaleet, and Iliamna before being assigned to Haines in 1948. He bought two and half acres on Mud Bay Road for $100 an acre. When the CAA transferred him, he decided to stay in Haines and built his first home.
When their son Richard was in eighth grade, the Aukermans moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., where Dick spent 20 years working in a cabinet shop and in commercial construction. He returned to Haines in 1972.
“His body left Haines, but his heart never did,” Wanda said. Aukerman continued to work as a carpenter until he wanted more time for his own projects, which included turning bowls and decorative items, maintaining his triplex, and building a newer home next door, where he died.
In addition to Wanda, survivors include son Richard Duane Aukerman of Snoqualmie, Wash.; grandchildren Barbara Ann and Wayne Christopher; three great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren; two sisters, Marylin Price of Union City, Ind., and Martha Hunt, of Coldwater, Ohio, and dozens of nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, an infant daughter, Marsha Arlene; two brothers, Robert and Darrell; and a sister, Lucille Wion.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Haines Volunteer Fire Department ambulance squad, P.O. Box 849, Haines, 99827.