Stigen: Pilot, 'poetic working man'
Keith Stigen, a "poetic working man" who had careers in military and civilian aviation, died Jan. 28 in McLean, Va. of complications of Parkinson's disease.
Including Air Force service and commercial flying, Stigen logged nearly 30,000 hours of flight time, family members said.
Stigen was born on Jan. 30, 1928 in rural Belfield, N.D., to Alf and Edith Stigen. "He told me that from when he was 6 years old, (flying) was what he wanted to do," son Gary Stigen of Haines said this week. "That was a thing farmboys did to get off the farm."
The family included Keith and three sisters and later moved to Moses Lake, Wash.
At age 17, Stigen entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served in the military more than 23 years. His service as a flight engineer spanned World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Friend John Newton of Haines said he understood Stigen possessed special clearances and flew classified missions behind enemy lines in Korea. A ceremony to honor Stigen's service was held in May 2011 at the Elks Lodge.
Upon retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a master sergeant, Stigen earned his private pilot's license, commercial pilot and flight instructor licenses. He was very passionate about flying and taught his wife Irene to fly, family members said.
Following visits to Alaska during his military career, Stigen moved to Alaska in 1970, finding work as a commuter airline pilot in Ketchikan. Stigen piloted for several regional airlines in Southeast and lived in Wrangell and Klawock.
He retired at age 70 and moved to Haines, where he enjoyed time aboard his sailboat Meander. He was a member of the American Legion and Port Chilkoot Bible Church and enjoyed reading and photography. He lived here until July.
"His family was proud of what he made of his life, his experiences, and what he gave to us – a sense of adventure, love of travel, love of learning, and the faith that we could be anything that we wanted to be," daughter Ginger Wierzbanowski said this week.
Pastor Bill Diggins of Port Chilkoot Bible Church said Stigen was steadfast in his faith, making every effort to get to church even after Parkinson's disease made that difficult for him. "He always had a pleasant attitude about things. He was quiet, but thoughtful."
Stigen is survived by his wife, Irene Stigen of Virginia; by sons Gene Stigen of Tacoma, Wash., Gary Stigen of Haines and Greg Stigen of Wasilla, and by daughters Gail Stigen Harper of Portland, Ore. and Ginger Stigen Wierzbanowski of Arlington, Va. He also leaves behind 17 grandchildren.
Stigen also is survived by sisters Darlene Grieb, Lyla Dean and Gwenith Schultz of Ekalaka, Mont.
A memorial is planned for April in Washington. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Port Chilkoot Bible Church to support missions.