Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


'Auntie Vi' Buel, 96, thrived on humor, hard work


Viola "Auntie Vi" Buel

Viola “Auntie Vi” Buel, a fixture at butcher counters for more than 40 years, died Nov. 28 at the home she shared with her son, Ted Buel. She was 96 and had been bedbound since July. A celebration of her life will be held 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the American Legion.

  Butcher and former Haines resident Clint Amox, who worked with Buel about 25 years, praised her work ethic, noting Buel was still stocking a meat counter at age 90. “I got in trouble once when I looked at these young girls they hired at the store and said, ‘If I could take Auntie Vi’s head off her poor old body and put it on you kids, then we’d get some work done.”

  Amox and Buel celebrated their birthdays with cake and practical jokes. One year Buel elaborately frosted a flotation cushion for Amox. “The knife bounced off and she said, ‘It’s a sponge cake,’” Amox said. Another year she baked him a walnut cake. “It looked so fine, but then I cut into it and she’d left the walnuts all in their shells and baked them right in.”

  Mostly, though, there were no tricks in Buel’s treats. Each night after work, she baked sticky buns, breads, cakes, and cookies for friends, family and co-workers. “Her little apartment always smelled so good,” Amox said.

  Amox said Buel was a skilled butcher. “Her work was always so neat and clean, and she could lift anything if it was waist-high. Butchering is hard work, and she was a little thing, but she was strong and never asked for help if she could lift it herself.”

  Her real strength was the way she cared for people, Amox said. “One of the first days I worked with Auntie Vi, there was a guy who had just bought a turkey ham. ‘Just a minute,’ Vi calls and runs around the counter, ‘Let me slice that up for you.’ He’d already bought it, and was leaving the store, but she knew he was raising two kids by himself and making their lunches for school. She did little things like that all day long.”

  Viola Loraine was born in Amity, Ore., on March 16, 1916, to farmers Robert and Delora Prater. Her mother died when she was 12 and she quit school to help with siblings and work. She married Orville Buel on June 14, 1934. They settled in Camas Valley, where Vi raised their two sons, Ted and Terry, and worked in a general store.

She and Orville had been married 31 years when he died. She joined nephew Byron Baker and his family at a logging camp near Sitka, where Buel cooked for the crew. In 1968 they moved to Haines where Buel and her nephew’s wife, the late Phyllis Martin, opened the B & B Bakery. When it closed, Buel went to work at the Food Center.

  After the Food Center and its replacement, Alaskan & Proud, closed, Buel worked at Olerud’s grocery store.  Doug Olerud said that when the meat department was under construction, she’d say, “Hurry up and get that done, I’m tired of sitting at home doing nothing.” Once it was open, Buel, who was in her 80s, didn’t do much butchering. “She wrapped meat, made sandwiches, and harassed Clint,” Olerud said.

  Co-worker Timi Katzeek said Buel always called customers “Dear” and often told them what to make for dinner. “She’d say, ‘You’d be stupid not to buy that. It’s that good.’”

  “Auntie Vi’s” sausage is still popular at Olerud’s. Its name was a practical joke by Amox. “Everybody loved Auntie Vi, so Clint figured it would sell, and then everyone was always asking her for the recipe, and she’d say ‘I don’t know’ and Clint would joke she was a mean old woman who wouldn’t share. It was just something they always did.”

  “Auntie Vi loved to give people a bad time, but underneath it all she was the sweetest lady you’d ever meet,” Olerud said.

 Lisa Baker will remember her great-aunt as stubborn, opinionated, honest, selfless, loving and devoted to her family. “She was a constant, dependable part of our lives. You always knew that she loved you and that her door was always open.”

  Buel played bingo and cards, liked to read, tend her flower garden, and rode her snowmobile into her 80s. She was a member of the American Legion where she cooked and baked for fundraisers. She enjoyed “watching whatever sports her nieces and nephews were playing,” Baker said.

  Family members include son Ted Buel of Haines, sister Hazel Zigler of Oregon and several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by husband Orville Buel, son Terry Buel, grandson Dale Buel, sisters Amy Baker and Hilda Waterman and brother Roy Prater.