Hodnik: Schoolteacher, hunter traveled in Alaska
Jack Hodnik, an English teacher who worked and hunted at locations around Alaska and recounted his experiences in a book after retiring to Haines, died Aug. 23 at his Senior Village apartment. He was 65 and had been suffering heart problems.
“I taught for 22 years, learning what Native culture could teach, hunted all Alaska’s land mammals, trapped and fished, started and operated two businesses, and worked in every geographical corner of this marvelous state to enrich myself,” Hodnik wrote in his 2010 memoir “Lessons from Alaska.”
Hodnik held strong opinions, and was known locally for letters to the editor he penned on topics ranging from sport fishing regulations, smoking prohibitions and the need for a state-owned oil refinery.
“He was full of amazing stories and opinions. It certainly won’t be the same without Jack,” said Anne Hanssen, manager of Haines Senior Village, where Hodnik lived the past five years.
Hodnik was born Oct. 28, 1947, in Virginia, Minn., the oldest of four children born to an electric utility operator and a housewife. He graduated from Aurora-Hoyt Lakes High School, earned a teaching degree from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and taught school in Crookston, Minn.
Following a family tradition of hunting and fishing, he made trips to the nearby Boundary Waters as a youth and, as an adult, to Montana, where he considered relocating. “He was looking for the wilder side of life. First, he went out to Montana, but that’s not anything like Alaska. When he wound up in Alaska, he had a dream fulfilled,” said brother Alan Hodnik of Hermantown, Minn.
Hodnik came to Alaska in 1974 with his wife, a 5-year-old son, $1,000 cash and a Ford pickup with a camper top. He was down to his last $250 when, using a family connection, he landed a job teaching at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks. “Alaska was booming and I had my ticket to ride,” he wrote.
Working side jobs to supplement his teaching salary and borrowing money from a family member, he bought a five-acre lot 31 miles out the Parks Highway “without having nailed together two two-by-fours.” He built his three-bedroom house using materials he gleaned from a salvage job.
Hodnik’s luck didn’t hold. His marriage dissolved, he had trouble finding a teaching job, and he seriously injured his back at a time when he was operating a firewood logging company, leaving him with medical bills that made him destitute. Longtime friend Bob Jensen helped him land remote construction jobs before he found short-term teaching jobs in the western Alaska villages of Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay.
Hodnik – who described his life in Alaska as a series of booms and busts – found his paydirt teaching school on Adak in the Aleutian Islands, what he called “the most blindly lucrative and adventurous experience in my life. With salary and other financial rewards, I was making nearly $60,000 a year hunting, trapping, fishing and teaching in the paradise called ‘the birthplace of the winds,’” he wrote.
In 1995, after closure of the Navy base at Adak, Hodnik joined Jensen in Haines. He built a cabin at Chilkat Lake and started a local taxidermy business.
According to his brother, Hodnik hunted Dall sheep in the Alaska and Brooks ranges, musk oxen in Nome, and deer in Southeast. His account of an African hunting safari, “Blue Kanga Woman or Hunting Elephant by Committee,” was published in African Hunting Gazette, his brother said. In his book, Hodnik recounts shooting 12 bears in one summer at his home outside Fairbanks when he was keeping chickens there.
But Hodnik also was concerned about conservation and opposed mechanized hunting. “Nineteenth century thinking is still alive amongst some Alaskans… so we have already overharvested the king crab in the Aleutians, and heavier restrictions have been imposed on the commercial user groups of Pacific halibut and the Yukon River king salmon populations remain in dire straits year after year,” he wrote.
Bob Jensen this week described Hodnik as “a hard man, but a good man,” who spent considerable time during the African safari learning about the indigenous people. “He studied everything.”
“Jack was very loyal friend but he had few close friends as he demanded a lot from people. He wanted to see good things about how you worked and dedication to what people stood for. Jack had little tolerance for people he considered lazy or were not truthful about all things,” Jensen said.
Hodnik is survived by brother Alan Hodnik of Hermantown, Minn.; sisters Carol Ferris of Hoyt Lakes, Minn. and Margaret Hodnik of Duluth, Minn. and by sons Andrew Hodnik and Frank Hodnik, both of Alaska.
His family will be holding a private service, with committal of his remains at a special spot in the Interior, Alan Hodnik said.