Knutson loved poetry, skydiving
A memorial service for longtime resident Lowell "Knute" Knutson will be held Thursday, Nov. 13, at 1 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church. He died Nov. 7 at his Officer's Row home. He was 91 and had cancer.
Knutson's wife Lola met the Haines logger, skydiver and wood worker on a visit to Haines in 1978 when he joined Lola and her friends for dinner. "I am a poet, and they said Lowell will recite poetry for us," she said. After dinner, he recited several poems, both Robert Service and numerous favorite poets of those present. He told Lola that he could read fortunes, which, of course, required that he hold her hand. In the course of the fortune telling, "He said, 'I'm going to go home, get cleaned up and then I'm going to come back and marry up wit'cha.' And he did, and we were together 35 good years," Lola said. Her husband could recite Longfellow, Tennyson, and many more classic poets. He studied his poetry books during lunch breaks while logging, she said.
Annette Smith recalled Knutson's dramatic arrival in her life in the mid 1960s. "He literally dropped out of the sky onto the parade grounds right in front of our house. He was on a quest to land in significant places, the Arctic Circle, places like that, and believed the parade grounds was one." Her mother Mimi Gregg sent Smith out to invite the skydiver in. The neighborhood soon became his home base. "He was a logger and away at camps much of the time in those years, but I remember his stories of Paul Bunyan, the bears of Admiralty Island, and he loved to recite Robert Service, so that became a tradition at our house. I can still hear him," she said.
He jumped there often, another neighbor Lee Heinmiller said. "Every time I think of Knute I see Ted Gregg running down to greet him with a glass pitcher with a swivel stick and a martini glass on a tray shouting 'Bravo, Bravo.'"
Lowell William Knutson was born July 27, 1922, to Fred W. Knutson and Ada E. Orr in Orofino, Idaho. His father was a plumber and his mother cooked for a nearby mental institution. He had six siblings. While he was often called Knute, he preferred Lowell. After leaving school at the beginning of the 10th grade, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and later worked in a bakery.
Knutson was working in a Washington shipyard when he fibbed about his age to join the Army. He was a machine gun NCO in the 359th Infantry, Company M, 90th Infantry Division fighting in Europe during World War II and earned a Bronze Star for bravery. Both his legs were injured by German shelling three weeks before the war ended, leaving him without his right kneecap and resulting in considerable crippling. Knutson considered himself fortunate, as his brother spent three years in a Japanese prison camp. In spite of his disability, he left the war behind him. "He was not a grudge holder. He'd say, 'Well, that was then and this is now,'" Lola said.
After the war he used the GI Bill to learn to fly and became a skydiver. He worked in a sawmill until he could return to work as a logger. He married and had two daughters. He and his family lived in Northwest Oregon.
In 1964, Knutson found himself in a logging camp at Berner's Bay. He said Alaska made him feel, "like he'd died and gone to heaven," Lola said. After "dropping in" on the Greggs, Mimi and her husband Ted, who also organized the annual Strawberry Festival, made "Knute the Chute" the headliner for the 1966 Haines event. He also became the first skydiver to land in mission field downtown. A full-page photo of Knutson in the Yukon News announced he would be the "daredevil" star of the Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse and parachute onto the frozen Yukon River.
In Haines, Knute flew inspections of the old pipeline route to Fairbanks with Layton Bennett, married and had a son, and invested in a Fort Seward home. Knutson also earned his G.E.D. studying woodworking and general education at Alaska Indian Arts through the Manpower Development Training Act. Teachers included Nathan Jackson, Gil Smith, Dorothy Fossman and Ted Gregg. The Chilkat Valley News reported "Knutson received the highest score of any MDTA student in the state-98 percent-despite a lapse of twenty years in schooling." Lowell told the paper in a later feature article, "Ted [Gregg] recognized that I had an ability to learn wood, because I loved wood and was good with a chainsaw-I'd been falling timber all my life." The Knutsons sold his Southeast Alaska State Fair award-winning paper-thin wooden goblets, vases, and bowls in Knute's Shop in their home. He guaranteed his products for life. "My lifetime. Which is all I can really guarantee them for," he told the paper.
Knutson performed a popular pre-show Robert Service dramatic recitation in Lynn Canal Community Players' summer melodramas, "The Smell of the Yukon" and "Lust for Dust."
Juge Gregg, Ted and Mimi's grandson who grew up next door to Knutson, said this week, "Knute's ever-present logging suspenders and hickory shirts belied the fact that he was a true gentleman."
His injuries from the war, his occupation and hobbies, took their toll and Knutson left logging and returned to camp cooking at Prudhoe Bay during the pipeline construction. He and Lola were married in the Methodist Church in El Centro, California. In his retirement, they enjoyed winters there in their California desert vacation home, walking, and reading and reciting poetry.
Knutson's 93-year-old sister Verle Grasser, of Orofino, made the trip to Haines last week to say goodbye. "She came Monday and he lived to Thursday," Lola said.
In addition to her, wife Lola and his son Morgan Knutson of Haines, he leaves daughters Lola Pollock of Apache Junction, Arizona, and Karen Brosseth of Aurora, Colorado; step-children Clyde Pritchard and Gayle Pritchard-Royer of Oregon, 10 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.