Church volunteer Bieleski dies at 99
Friends and family last week eulogized Versia Bieleski as a devoted mother and church volunteer. Bieleski, 99, died April 19 at her Piedad Road home, from complications of a fall she suffered in January.
"Besides being a strong and independent woman, she had a beauty and grace about her with no sharp edges. That was something she taught me and a way I wanted to be more like her," said longtime friend Edi Buttram, who said Bieleski was like a mother to her.
Versia May Swink was born July 26, 1914 in rural Morganton, N.C. Her mother died when she was a young child and she was raised by an aunt. While working as a waitress, she met and married Harry Bieleski, a Pennsylvania tank welder, in 1936.
In 1952, Harry and Versia packed up their young children and made a cross-country trek westward to Seattle, eventually making their way to Ketchikan, where he worked two years helping build the pulp mill there.
In 1954, Harry Bieleski landed a job on the Haines-Fairbanks fuel pipeline, working on sections in both cities. The family moved to Fort Seward and in 1960, built a home on Piedad Road.
Bieleski was a devout Catholic who walked her sons to Sunday Mass in storms when the roads weren't safe for driving, family members said. According to son Tom Bieleski, she once shooed a brown bear from her vegetable garden, hitting its rump with a broom. On another occasion, she shot a lynx that was raiding her chicken coop. She was also a successful moose hunter and subsistence fished with the late Hilma White.
Helen Streu met Bieleski when she arrived in Haines in 1964. Bieleski hosted meetings of the Catholic Women's Group in her home and was a faithful volunteer in the church's burger booth at the Southeast state fair, Streu said. "She would be flipping the hamburgers all day. I always had nothing but admiration for her. She was a very strong woman who dealt with life as it came along."
Bieleski was a member of the local bridge club for decades and also enjoyed travel, visiting the East Coast and Hawaii. As recently as last fall, Bieleski was still cooking pies for Thanksgiving meals for her family, said Buttram.
"I never heard her complain about her pains and sufferings," Buttram said. "She was adamant about not wanting any help. I asked her once the secret to a long life and she said, 'I pray every day, do my housework and chores, and I eat and drink what I want – in moderation,'" Buttram said. "She was an amazing lady. I miss her very much."
Survivors include sons Tom Bieleski and Harold Bieleski, both of Haines, and by grandchildren John Bausch and Lisa Morse.
She was to be buried at Jones Point beside her husband Harry, who died in 1986.