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

 
 

Smith: A 'rock solid member of greatest generation'

 

Marvin L. "Squeak" Smith

Longtime resident Marvin L. “Squeak” Smith died at home in Haines Oct. 9 of natural causes. He was 87.

The quiet, hardworking retired Department of Transportation foreman was known for his lathe-turned birch bowls. Rhonda Hinson said her gift shop has sold the bowls to travelers from the Lower 48 and abroad and they were popular gifts for locals. “He did beautiful work and it was our privilege to sell them,” she said.

Smith was born Dec. 4, 1925, in Coon Rapids, Iowa, the second of Valley and Selma Smith’s nine children. His father was a Native American who drove a seed truck and his mother was a cook. Surviving the Great Depression and World War II also influenced his lookout on life, daughter Sandy Cook said.

Son Jack Smith Sr. said he always assumed his father had earned the nickname “Squeak” because he was so frugal. “When I was cleaning the basement I found his original garden hose.” Wife Louise Smith said the name was given to Marvin when he was a baby.

Smith was barely out of school when he enlisted in the Army during World War II. He served as a machine-gunner in a tank division with Patton’s Third Army in Europe. His family said he was present for the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in 1945. “He hardly spoke about it, and then only in little bits and pieces,” Cook said.

After the war he returned home to Iowa and worked driving a dump truck for Wayne Alex’s father. When the Alex family moved to Haines in 1948, Smith came, too. Son Jack Smith said, “After what he’d seen over (in the war), he was trying to get as far away from the world as he could.”

Wayne Alex said the friends hunted and slept under the truck on clear nights along the way.  Alex said Smith had “endless amounts of endurance,” was a talented mechanic and was good with heavy equipment. Smith took to Haines right away, Alex said. “Haines was a virtual paradise, with halibut weighing hundreds of pounds and king salmon right off the Port Chilkoot Dock.” Smith worked odd jobs before signing up with the territorial road commission in 1950. He retired 30 years later as a foreman with its successor, the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Roc Ahrens worked with Smith and said he kept the best interests of the community and the state in mind, and was a stickler for tradition. “You had to do it the old way, no matter what,” from filling dump trucks by the shovelful to eating lunch, Ahrens said. “In those days the foreman was responsible for lighting the campfire to toast the crew’s sandwiches. He made sure that happened every, single day.”

On June 14, 1952, Smith married a local girl born at the former Army hospital here. Louise Cranston was raised by “two old bachelors” – town father Erik Oslund and prospector Bill Ange. Smith built their home on Lutak Road in 1959. “He wore out two picks digging the footings by hand,” Jack Smith Sr ., said.

“The Smiths looked after all the neighborhood kids. Squeak was always a quiet, calm presence. He was a wonderful, understated, father figure of a man,” Christy Tengs Fowler said.  

Smith and his wife cultivated a large vegetable garden. He also hunted, fished, and trapped. His first truck was bought with the earnings of his Chilkoot Lake area trapline. He named his favorite rifle “Meat in the Pot.”

In his retirement, Smith taught himself to make birch bowls after restoring rusty lathe he found in a ditch. Louise Smith was her husband’s biggest fan. “He’d say, ‘You better save one for me to sell,’” she said.

“If any man was a rock solid member of the greatest generation, he was definitely one of the very best,” Wayne Alex said.

Along with wife Louise Smith of Haines, Smith leaves children Sandy Cook of Chewelah, Wash ., Diane Stickler of Haines, Robert Smith of Prince of Wales Island, Cindy Dunn of Fort Worth, Texas, and Jack Smith Sr. of Haines; brother Merle Smith of Council Bluffs, Iowa; and sisters Jane Stangl of Arizona and Neva Wilson of Glidden, Iowa.

He also is survived by 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to the Haines Volunteer Ambulance Service, P.O. Box 849, Haines, AK 99827.