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

Seabee Bieleski traveled widely


June 15, 2017

Tom Bieleski

A rosary is scheduled 7 p.m. Friday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church for lifelong resident Tom Bieleski, 71, who died of cancer in Juneau on June 8.

A funeral will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by a graveside service.

Bieleski was born Sept. 5, 1945 in Morganton, N.C. to Harry and Versia Bieleski. His father was a welder and fisherman who built his own metal boat. The family moved to Ketchikan in 1953 and to Haines in 1954. Tom graduated from Haines High School in 1964, where he managed the basketball team.

He attended Gaston College in Gastonia, N.C. for a year studying civil engineering before joining the Navy Seabees.

He served in Vietnam, Cuba, Kodiak, and New Orleans before an honorable discharge in 1974.

On returning home, he bought a concrete and roofing business. "Tom was the only guy I knew who knew how to use a slide rule," said friend Bill Thomas. "He'd measure cubic feet of cement with it."

Tom married teacher Colleen Korte, and they had two children. The marriage ended in divorce.

He also worked at Long Island for Klukwan, Inc. as a sawyer, fished commercially, bartended, and owned a painting business.

He traveled extensively, said brother Harold Bieleski.

"He's been to every country in South America, to Africa. He chartered a fishing boat and went around Cape Horn, took an elephant trek through the jungle in Thailand, he bungee-jumped off this huge bridge in New Zealand," and spent a month each year at his two time-shares in Mexico and Puerto Rico, his brother said.

Tom kept photo albums of his adventures and collected souvenirs, including swords from Spain and Japan. In Haines, he walked a circuit.

"He'd make the rounds to see Jeff Haisler, Paul Nelson at Bigfoot, the Bamboo, the Legion, Haines Home Building. He loved to talk and shoot the breeze and he'd go anywhere he'd get free coffee," Harold said.

Two years ago, 13 of Tom's model bridges were exhibited at the Sheldon Museum. "Long winters" is how he explained why he built them all, including a model of Australia's Sydney Harbor Bridge that's over 10 feet long, with 5,000 pieces.  "It must have taken him 1,000 hours," said Harold Bieleski.

"He was not a fast moving guy," said Bill Thomas. "I've never seen him run in my life... and he "picked his words very slowly."

Tom told the Chilkat Valley News he took up model bridge building after buying his first train set at age 50. Some of the bridges were part of 125-plus feet of "HO" scale train tracks that circled his living room and kitchen. His fascination with bridges began back in college.

"The professor was describing vectors and lines of compression and lines of tension, and he said, 'If you can't see those lines, you should drop out of the class.' I could see them in my mind. I aced the course. That's what got me interested in bridges," Bieleski said.

Museum operations coordinator Blythe Carter said the exhibit, "Bridges by Bieleski," stunned residents because it was so much more than they expected. "It's beautiful," she said at the time. "It's really an art form."

In addition to his brother Harold in Haines, Tom leaves son John Bausch in Washington and daughter Lisa Morse in Idaho, and one grandson.

Harold Bieleski is looking for a home for his brother's bridges.


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