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

Englund starts second century

 


One morning in late August, while she was eating breakfast, two bears appeared in Hazel Englund’s yard, searching for food scraps in the compost.

It was just a month before Englund’s 100th birthday, and if she were younger, she would have gone for her gun.

“She just banged on the window and yelled at them,” said Englund’s daughter, Emily Zimbrich. Her mother had been shooting at bears well into her 90s, Zimbrich said. But even unarmed, Englund was successful—the animals were gone before Zimbrich had a chance to take a picture.

Englund, who turned 100 on Friday, September 16, is believed to be the only living resident to spend a century in Haines. The youngest of seven sisters, Englund was born, she said, “two houses over” from where she lives now, by Mile Two of Haines Highway.

The then-Hazel Vermiere was an adventurous youth. “I didn’t like school,” she said. “I’d rather climb a mountain.” She once bicycled 42 miles from Haines to the Canadian border. When she got older, she worked at what is now the Pioneer Bar, as well as the Coliseum Theater, a job that she reportedly posed as a man to get.

In an article written for Alaska Business Monthly about her grandmother’s upcoming birthday, granddaughter Mikki Chandler wrote that Englund had a lively youth.

“Being a young lady in a small town with an Army base did have its advantages,” Chandler wrote. “There were many dances and plenty of fellas calling on Hazel.” 

“She was quite a firecracker,” said Joann Wells, a family friend who had come from Livingston, Calif., to celebrate Englund’s birthday.

In 1938 Hazel Vermiere got married to Niles Englund, a Swedish immigrant stationed at the Fort Seward Army base, and became Hazel Englund.

The couple built the house she currently lives in, a dollhouse-like, pink-trimmed structure. She and her husband dug out the basement by hand.

One of Hazel’s much-commented on traits is her irreverent and often raunchy sense of humor. After having four children, Englund said, she threatened to cut off her husband’s “snapper.”

“I said, ‘That’s too much,’” she said. “Too many kids.”

But grandchildren and great-grandchildren remember her generosity and kindness.

“Grandma was always very sweet,” said grandson Brett Englund.

Great-grandchildren Kyrstin and Connor O’Daniel recalled spending summers at Englund’s home, when she would accompany them to go fishing, berry-picking, and even four-wheeling. Their great-grandmother, they remember, was always the one to gut the fish.

“She didn’t mind getting dirty,” said Kyrstin O’Daniel. “She did all the grandmother things but she was not your stereotypical grandma.”

These skills—berry-picking and fishing—were more than leisure activities. In hard times, she and her family relied on them for survival—along with hunting, which Hazel Englund was also proficient at, and food from her garden.

Daughter Emily Zimbrich recalls having to work hard in the garden as a child. “We were conscripted labor,” she said. For Englund and her family, a bear eating out of the garden could be a serious threat—hence, her instinct to go for her gun.

In later and less urgent years, though, Englund’s garden became “her sanctuary,” said her family. Great-granddaughter Kyrstin O’Daniel recalled once being invited into Englund’s garden—a great honor.

As a rule, said O’Daniel, “you didn’t go in the garden.”

Asked about her life and hobbies, family members often mentioned another of Englund’s loves: baking.

“She made a mean loaf of bread,” said grandson Darren Englund. Family members described a near-constant stream of breads, pies, cookies, and cakes coming from the house’s wood-fired oven—which she still uses today.

When told that family members spoke highly of her baked goods, Englund said, “They better say that or they’ll get their butts kicked.”

Englund had four children, eight grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

Thirty friends and family members came to visit from five states, including from all over Alaska. On her birthday, family members treated Englund to a visit to Kroschel’s Wildlife Park, and on Saturday hosted a town-wide birthday celebration at Harriett Hall, which attracted more than 100 people.

On her birthday, Englund received a phone call from Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Cards came in the mail from Sen. Dan Sullivan, House Rep. Don Young, Gov. Bill Walker, and President Obama. Mayor Jan Hill issued a proclamation in honor of the occasion.

But, for Englund, the important things in life don’t have to do with receiving attention or going to parties or on outings. When asked about the secret to her long life, Englund wrote out her response: “Working in garden etc.”

Another reason for her longevity: She was, she said, “too ornery to kick the bucket.”

 
 

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