January 23, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 3

Piper was painter, outdoorsman

Jim Piper, a commercial painter and gillnetter who moved his family to Alaska in 1979, died Jan. 15 at his home in Haines following a respiratory illness. He was 72.

Jim Piper

James Clarence Piper was born in Highland Park, Mich., one of three sons of Clarence and Stella Piper. He grew up in Alpena, Mich., working for years as a laborer in a machine parts factory.

Piper was an avid sportsman. His family enjoyed fishing and hunting and raised beagles for hunting, a tradition Piper continued here.

Piper fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Alaska after making three trips to the state with his family in the mid-1970s. They moved to Sitka in 1979, where Piper went into business as an independent painter, operating Piper and Sons. The family relocated to Haines two years later.

According to family friend Ted Buel, Piper bought a lift truck he used for the painting business and drove it from Michigan to Haines at 35 mph. The company worked jobs all over town, said son Robert Piper. "We did the Chilkat Center, the post office, Howsers. We pretty much painted every other building in Haines, it seems like."

About 12 years ago, Piper became a commercial gillnetter. He also harvested shrimp. Piper and wife Nancy were regular participants in the king salmon derby that Nancy won several times. "He just liked being out on the water," Robert Piper said.

Buel described Piper as a "stay-at-home" person who also ran a trapline and subsistence fished and hunted for deer and moose. He was passionate about his garden, raising a variety of vegetables and keeping a greenhouse for tomatoes and peppers, Buel said.

"He loved flowers and gardening. He probably had 20 or 30 tomato plants," Buel said. Piper knew birds and built a large feeder atop a piece of plywood to attract them. He wasn't fond of ravens, which would snatch potatoes from boxes he raised them in, he said.

Buel said Piper was also handy and often built things he needed instead of buying them. "He was a nice guy and a great neighbor," Buel said.

Piper is survived by his mother Stella Piper and daughter Jennifer McClanaghan of Essexville, Mich., by brother Tom Piper of Alpena, and by sons Robert Piper and Gary Piper of Haines and many loving grandchildren and extended family members. He was preceded in death by his father and by brother Melvin Piper of Alpena.

His wife Nancy died in 2007.

The family is planning a memorial service in the summer.