A photo posted during her remembrance ceremony in August showed a teenage Harriett Jurgeleit and her younger sister hiking on a ridge of Mount Ripinsky, windswept yet cheery, not unlike the photos of young “adventurers” who grace the cover of Patagonia and Title 9 catalogs these days.
But Harriett’s picture was no photo shoot. It’s from the 1930s, decades before polar fleece and frequent-flier miles, and even before the Alaska Highway. Just getting to Alaska then was a several-day journey, typically on a small vessel.
By all accounts, Harriett was enamored of the North. In the early 1940s, she spent a winter in Barrow learning Native ways, including how to sew skin clothing. She returned to Southeast Alaska, married, raised a family and helped establish the Southeast Alaska State Fair, our town’s biggest event.
A few years after Jurgeleit’s arrival, Hilma White moved here. Through decades of hard work, Hilma and her husband Clarence established the Halsingland Hotel, which stands today as the town’s grandest commercial edifice.
Hilma and Harriett helped build and shape their corners of this town. Their contributions and recent passing come to mind as winter sets in, when so many of our promising young people have gone south, where weather is mild and Alaska wages stretch a distance.
The great writer of the American West, Wallace Stegner, said places like Haines aren’t changed by the “boomers” who come and go with the good times, but by the “stickers,” those who stay and put down roots.
It’s similar for our “summer people.” We treasure the enthusiasm and camaraderie they bring. But credit for building up the town, and for moving it forward, belongs to those who dig in and stick around. They’re the ones who run our businesses and organizations. They serve on local boards, put on events for youths in the middle of winter and hash out the budgets that keep the town afloat.
Their contributions don’t make Outside magazine and can’t be seen on reality TV shows. They’re more important than that. And they’re too often overlooked.
It seems remarkable that 40 years ago our nation had already put a dozen men on the moon. The Apollo program ranks as the biggest big thing in the history of human exploration, taking us 239,000 miles into outer space and back.
How far away is the moon? Standing on the lunar surface in 1969, Neil Armstrong extended his arm, and using just his thumb, concealed the Earth.
Moonwalker Edgar Mitchell, lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, spoke here Saturday, articulating a futuristic vision every bit as audacious as a moonshot was in the early 1960s.
Mitchell is clearly a free-thinker and a pilgrim in search of answers. In that regard, he’s perhaps a quintessential American and an honorary Alaskan. Open minds and adventurous spirits are our legacy.
Thanks to Steve Kroschel and the bald eagle festival for arranging Mitchell’s talk. It was an exercise in big ideas that we don’t always get in a small town.
-- Tom Morphet