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

Willard known for good humor and work ethic


Lawrence Willard

Friends and family will hold a celebration of Lawrence Willard's life beginning at 10 a.m. Nov. 19 at the Presbyterian Church, with graveside services and a luncheon at the American Legion following.

Willard, 75, died suddenly Oct. 23 of a heart attack at his home in Lake Havasu, AZ, while watching the Seahawks game with his wife. Shannon Willard said her husband had been enjoying golf and riding his bike in the Arizona sunshine.

This week family and friends praised Willard's gentle good humor and expertise operating heavy equipment. He loved watching local basketball games, trolling for king salmon and riding snowmachines, and was devoted to his family. "Dad kept in touch with everybody," daughter Tammy Piper said. "He'd call every couple of days, if not more often."

Lawrence Willard was born in Klukwan Feb. 5, 1941 to Martha and Johnny Willard in the middle of a family that would grow to 12 children. His father was a fisherman and his mother was a homemaker and worked in the Haines Packing Co. cannery. His father took him out of school in the sixth grade and put him to work.

Lawrence learned to play basketball in the village gym and later played and officiated in Haines city league games. "He had a shot that made everyone hold their breath. He made a rainbow from the half-court line," brother Leonard said. Lawrence also served in the National Guard from 1960 to 1963, along with several other young men from the village.

Willard was introduced to his life work as a boy, driving a forklift at the cannery. "He loved operating machinery," Leonard said, noting that he was quick to help in the yard with dirt work, and that he put in Klukwan's electrical and sewer lines.

Willard was still in his teens when the late John Schnabel of Schnabel Lumber Co. hired him. He went on to work for John's son Roger at Northern Timber loading log trucks using a front-end loader. "It was very difficult," Roger Schnabel said. "Lawrence was second to none. He was so intelligent. He knew where every log was going to go ahead of time. Four or five log trucks would show up and he'd have them all loaded up and out in an hour and a half."

Schnabel praised Willard's integrity, courage, and loyalty during his long tenure at Southeast Roadbuilders (formerly Northern Timber). Willard retired in 2014. "Whatever the issue might be, Lawrence was always honest with you, and he had the courage to take on new equipment and challenges," Schnabel said. "He was very, very loyal to us and that's something you can't purchase."

Willard married Shirley Claridge in Haines on Dec. 10, 1965 and adopted her four young daughters. They added a son Michael to complete the family.

They moved from the village to Haines when the girls became involved in school activities, and Lawrence and Shirley, who was also on the borough assembly for years, were active in the Alcan 200 snowmachine race until her death in 2004. "He raced so many times I can't tell you," organizer Diana Lapham said. "I never saw that man without a smile on his face. He was a good man. He will be greatly missed."

Willard rarely missed a school or city league basketball game, traveled to regional championships and Gold Medal, and enjoyed watching his grandchildren compete in everything from wrestling to cross country. "Lawrence loved his grandchildren so very much. He spoke of them as if it were his life," niece Johanna Hotch said.

On Aug. 4, 2011 Willard married truck driver Shannon DeWitt in Haines. The two old friends fell in love during a road trip to see her brother in Arizona. "We had so much fun. He said, 'Why does it have to end?'" she said. "Lawrence was the sweetest, kind-hearted man I ever met. He was fun to be with." They enjoyed driving around the West, golf, rock concerts, and especially attending NASCAR events. "We did everything together. We even went to the post office together," she said.

Lawrence Willard leaves five surviving siblings; Marvin, Leonard, Arlene Willard, and Rachel Hotch of Klukwan, and Mayme Nickerson of Klawock; wife Shannon Willard of Haines and Lake Havasu; daughters Teresa Albecker, Tina Olsen, Toni Dotson, and Tammy Piper of Haines, and son Michael Willard of South Bend, Indiana; grandchildren Ryan and Christopher Olsen, James, Zander and Xavier Willard, Jason Albecker and Kelsey Taylor, and Corey and Jordan Piper of Haines; two great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.


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