Category Archives: people

Will Rogers & Wiley Post

Barrow0915_men.jpg

Will Rogers & Wiley Post in Alaska

In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska.  Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.

They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow.  Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.

“15 miles from Barrow.”

Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off.  At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon.  The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post.  Rogers was thrown from the plane.  Both men appeared to die instantly.

rogers_plane_crash

The wrecked Lockheed after the crash

Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death.  His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.

Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska.  A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.

IMG_3040.jpeg

Memorial to Rogers & Post at the Pioneer Air Museum

Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.

IMG_3044

The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.

IMG_3043.jpeg

The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.

108516391

A marker and monument that stand near the crash site

 

 


A Tribute:

In all the photos, there you were, right in the middle of the gathering.  Often surrounded by kids, and almost always wearing a huge smile.  My favorite photo of you though, is an old, black & white one, and it’s just you.  A young high school athlete, looking confident, about to go on a date, standing in front of a first car.  A 1950 Ford.

We went through some tough times, the three of us, with you leading the way by example.  Somehow, even working two jobs and extremely long hours, you were always there.  There were dance recitals and football games; you must have rushed through the entire day, but there you were, off to the side, quietly watching.

When you couldn’t be there, you found someone who could.  I often wondered at that sacrifice.  How difficult was it for you to allow someone to stand in for you?  There were camping trips, fishing trips, outdoor adventures that you knew fueled a flame, yet you had the bravery to allow another to strike the match.  I never asked you about that, and I never told you, that I knew all along, that it was you who provided the tinder.

There were a lot of sporting events, however.  Williams Arena, Mariucci, Memorial Stadium, The Met, the Dome.  We ran the gamut. We sat in the rain, in the cold, in the sun.  We saw the first Hobey winner in action.  We tailgated. We watched as the goal posts came down and were carried across the parking lot, but you wouldn’t let me liberate your seats, even though I brought a tiny socket set for the occasion.  You were the one to give me that set in the first place, which I may have reminded you of at the time.

I followed a different trail, and I know it was difficult for you.  Every year, my eyes seemed to search a little further west, and eventually I found my way to Alaska.  That fact did not thrill you, but you tolerated it, as best as you could.  Every year you came up, and every year I hoped you would see what I saw, feel what I felt.  Then one year, we were sitting at the gate, waiting for you to board the airplane for the flight back to civilization.  That one had been a fun visit; we had gone all over the state, and we had met a lot of different people.  You said, “I get it now.  Alaska suits you.  You belong here.”  That was probably the best gift I have ever received.

Our paths have diverged now.  Advice I will have to obtain from the archives.  Luckily for me, the archives are full.  Pictures may be few, but memories run rampant.  Life is a short game, but you played it extremely well.  You taught a lot of people that kindness was a strength, and wisdom something hard earned, tainted by experience.

I do not have any answers.  Mostly there are only questions right now, and a huge empty void.  Over the years, I have shared a poem with a few people that I originally found by reading Ernest Gann.  The poem is often attributed to Henry Van Dyke, or the Rev. Luther F. Beecher.  Take your pick, but for me, it originated with Gann.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze,
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of her destination.
Her diminished size is in me, and not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes that are watching for her coming;
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“There she comes!”

 


Truly, One of a Kind

Flashback Film Friday:


Walter Harper Day

Walter Harper

Today, 7 June, is the first Walter Harper Day. Harper, whom I have written about on here before, is one of my favorite historical Alaskans.

It was on this day in 1913, when Harper became the first known person to stand on the summit of Denali.

Harper tragically died at the age of 25, along with his young bride, Frances Wells Harper, with the sinking of the Princess Sophia in 1918.


Rest in Peace, Senior

97897071_10223060917017896_1333412239591342080_n

Larry Ball Sr; Induction into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame; Photo credit: The Curator

Larry Ball Sr, the father of a good friend of mine, passed away from Covid-19 complications over the weekend.

I spent several months in Iowa in 2007-08, and was lucky enough to get to know Senior, or LBS, as he was known to many of us.  I worked, i.e. volunteered, as a glorified bouncer on the Second Floor of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame during races.  LBS and his family had a suite above, and I would wander up to see them at some point during every race, and Senior was always a most gracious host.  In 2008, LBS was inducted into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, as the successful car owner of Ball Racing.

45253_153355668014565_6688266_n

Photo credit: Ball Racing, Inc; Jeff Tuttle in #3, 1994

The last time I saw LBS in Des Moines, he and Saint Donna, his wife, put me up for a night as I spent some time in DSM.  Senior kept me up half the night arguing a point that was desperately important to him.  The best part of that conversation, was that we were debating something that we were in total agreement on. To this day, I’m not sure if he was hammering the point home because I wasn’t a convincing accomplice, or because he expected me to come up with a plan of attack, because he had already done the hard part by detailing the problem.  It’s a night that I look back on fondly.

LBS was a frequent visitor here between The Circles.  I remember hearing from him one February, because my posts had been very infrequent, and he wanted to know what was up.  When I told him it was February in Fairbanks, and there wasn’t much going on to write about, he was unconvinced and told me to try harder.

Over the course of the years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and the great surprise and reward of travel is not the locations, but the people I have met by chance.  A random hockey game in Fairbanks brought Des Moines back into my orbit, which in turn, brought me into the orbit of Larry Ball, Sr.  What a rewarding hockey game that turned out to be.

Rest in peace, Larry.  You will be missed by many, and East Des Moines will never be the same.

 

 


Rest in Peace

America’s Poet: John Prine

Former Navy mechanic, and self-taught guitarist: Bill Withers

Patriarch of a jazz dynasty: Ellis Marsalis


Rest in Peace Little Bird

Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath passed away this week.  Heath performed on over 100 albums, and wrote over 125 compositions.

Heath’s saxophone play, and slim build, earned him the nickname “Little Bird” by the late 1940’s.

Jimmy Heath was 93.


The Huslia Hustler

Attla on Independent Lens:

For a glimpse into a completely different world, check out the documentary Attla on PBS.

Link:

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/attla/

George Attla was Alaska’s iconic dog musher.  When he flew into Anchorage from the village of Huslia for that first Fur Rendezvous, he took the State completely by storm.


The Wooger

Claimed by South Saint Paul; adopted by the entire State of Hockey.

79540645_2930144420331057_6993237245096361984_o.jpg

Credit: Golden Gopher Hockey

Doug Woog, the former coach of the University of Minnesota Gopher hockey team, passed away this past Saturday.  Woog was 75.

Wooger was the Gopher coach for 14 years, leading the team to 12 consecutive national tournament appearances.  He led the Gophers to the Frozen Four finals in his first four seasons behind the bench, and to six Frozen Fours in all.

At the time of Wooger’s retirement, he led the team in victories as a coach.  Don Lucia has since passed him in wins.  Woog still out paces Lucia in win percentage.  His win percentage at Minnesota is also higher than two legends of the game: John Mariucci and Herb Brooks.

When Woog was coaching the Gophers, it was common knowledge in Minnesota, that if you wanted to complain about the Gopher power play, you didn’t have to go through the University switchboard.  All you had to do was open the Saint Paul phone book:  The Woogs were always listed.

After his coaching career, Woog made an incredibly easy transition into broadcasting Gopher hockey games.  He was a natural, and another generation of fans came to know the Wooger.

davalav1014_1575647474_Sidebar1961-1 DougWoog.jpg

Doug Woog receives a kiss from his goaltender after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Minneapolis Patrick Henry in the 1959 state tournament. Photo: Minnesota Hockey Hub

Doug Woog made the South Saint Paul high school hockey team as a 5’6″, 140 pound freshman.  Woog and the Packers went to four state tournaments in hockey.  Woog was All-State for three years, was named to the State’s All-Tournament team for three years, and led the tournament in scoring in 1962.

For good measure, Woog was also All-State in football as a tailback.

Woog-Gophers.jpg

Doug Woog as a Gopher; Photo credit: Golden Gopher Hockey

Woog would go on to play for the University of Minnesota, under the God Father of Minnesota hockey, John Mariucci.  He won three letters, since freshman were not allowed to play in this era.  In 80 career games, Woog tallied 101 points.  As a junior, he led the team in scoring, and was named First Team All-America.  As a senior, Woog was named Gopher captain, and the team’s MVP.

1576374210_08-102-06112013-10002572A+27063571.jpg

Wooger showing concern over Referee Shepherd’s eyesight 

With all of the high accolades that Woog received as both a hockey player and coach, I think he was really a teacher at heart.

When I was a student at the University of Minnesota, Doug Woog was the hockey coach.  I spent many Friday & Saturday winter nights at the Old Mariucci Arena.  Campus was a lot different back then.  There was no “athlete village”, and running into players and coaches was a common occurrence.  Since I played some rec sports during my time at the “U”, I was often around the sports facilities and I only remember two coaches that gave the time of day to the average student.  One was the still current baseball coach, John Anderson, and the other was Woog.  A quick comment to Woog of “Nice win on Saturday, Coach”, would more often than not get a response about how the transition game wasn’t quite what he was looking for, or the power play left some goals on the ice.

Once, while at Williams Arena, I literally ran into Coach Woog.  I was probably picking up student tickets to the weekend series, and was bundled up to race across campus for a class I shouldn’t be late for.  I bumped into Woog on my way to the door, and he joked about my being in a hurry, then he asked if I was going to the game on Friday.  I said I was, then I said that the Gophers would have a tough time with So-And-So in goal for the opposing team.  Woog then spent the next ten minutes telling me exactly how and why So-And-So would be that tough.  Then he spent ten minutes telling me about their defensive corps.  If I hadn’t stopped him, I think Coach Woog would have given me the run down on their entire line up, as well.  I was young and foolish back then, and I thought that the class was a priority, so I raced off, no doubt leaving Woog chuckling. I was quite late to class anyway, and the professor made sure everyone in the hall knew I was late.  It’s only years later that I realize that the class was the least important thing I did that entire day.

My favorite Woog story comes, of course, from North Dakota, Minnesota’s main rival at the time.  As a student, nothing was better than a bus ride to Grand Forks to see Minnesota play NoDak.  There is just something about youth that longs to be surrounded by people who utterly hate your very existence.  A trip to Madison was second best; hat tip towards Peewaukee.  Back in the day, when NoDak played the Gophers, their fans would throw dead prairie dogs onto the ice when North Dakota scored their first goal.  Woog’s Gophers had one mission: To keep those dead prairie dogs in the NoDak fans’ pockets for as long as possible.  A shutout was an epic victory.  Woog relished the idea of the stinky, dead rodents thawing out inside the NoDak jackets.

I became excited about college hockey as a very young kid, sitting in the stands at Old Mariucci with my Dad, watching Herb Brooks coach the Gophers to national prominence.  That culminated with the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  But there is no doubt that I learned the game of hockey watching the Doug Woog coached Gophers.

Woog was a class act through and through, and he will be missed at rinks all around Minnesota.  His passion and dedication to the sport was infectious, and he passed that on to so many people, that he didn’t even know were watching.

Rest in peace, Wooger.

 

 

 


Freddie the Foot

Fred Cox attempts to put one through the uprights at The Met, Paul Krause holding

Fred Cox, the long time kicker for the Minnesota Vikings, passed away this week. He was 80, just three weeks shy of his 81st birthday.

Cox was drafted by the Cleveland Browns as a fullback out of the University of Pittsburgh. The plan was for Cox to block for the future Hall of Famer, Jim Brown. A back injury had legendary coach Paul Brown telling Cox to switch to kicker. Unfortunately, another Hall of Famer, Lou Groza was still kicking for Cleveland. Cox was traded to Minnesota, and became their full time kicker in 1963.

Cox would play 15 seasons for the Vikings, never missing a game. He retired as the franchise leading scorer with 1365 points. Still the franchise record.

Cox was named All-Pro for the 1969-1971 seasons, playing in the 1970 Pro Bowl. He is one of 11 Vikings to have played in all four of their Super Bowl appearances. Cox was also named to the squad of the Top 50 Vikings when the team hit their 50th Anniversary.

While playing for the Vikings, Cox and Minneapolis resident John Mattox teamed up to invent the NERF football. While Mattox wanted a heavy ball that “kids couldn’t kick out of their yards”, Cox suggested a foam ball to “prevent a bunch of sore legged kids.” After making a mold, and injecting it with foam, Cox & Mattox took the ball to Parker Bros. The rest is back yard history. Not to mention a few living rooms.

As a young kid, my Dad would take me out to the old Met, and I saw Freddie the Foot kick many, many times, and I can’t tell you how many NERF footballs I owned when I was growing up. Rest In Peace, Freddie; you were in the middle of a lot of very good memories.