Today would have been WC’s father’s 99th birthday.
He was born on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, in eastern Iowa, the oldest of three kids. He grew up in Iowa, but the Depression and the Dust Bowl sent the family west to the central valley of California in 1939. He joined the Navy Seabees in 1942 rather than be drafted into the Army. A farm boy, the Seabees sent him to the Pacific Theater. He spent the greater part of World War II in Australia, recovering from bouts of malaria. His time with the Seabees gave him a taste for construction, and he made that his career, settling in to Stockton, California.
When the post-war housing boom in California collapsed in the early 1950s, and with it the nascent homebuilding company he’d started, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working as a project manager for the Distant Early Warning (DEW Line) and White Alice systems in southwest Alaska. Which is how WC spent five years in Bethel.
When DEW Line construction wrapped up in 1958, the family briefly moved back to Stockton. But the Central Valley of California felt pretty hot and crowded after Alaska. So he joined a fellow Swede – a distant relative of his mother’s – in Fairbanks, working as an estimator and project manager, until starting his own company in 1964.
That company struggled, too, with a lot of ups and downs over the years. The stress, chain-smoking and a little too much love of booze aged him. When the construction company failed in the 1980s, he went to work for the State of Alaska as a seasonal worker, a field inspector on highway projects. The outdoors and exercise did him some good; he was happier stake-hopping on the Steese Highway improvements in the mid-1980s than any time WC can remember. But a heart attack in the winter of 1986 slowed him down. A further series of heart attacks in 1987 killed him at age 68, a week shy of his 69th birthday. Genes may be a factor; no male in WC’s paternal line has made it to age 70. Or maybe it’s just a tradition of really bad life style habits.
Some of the projects he built or helped build are still around; he was immensely proud of them and saw them as a kind of immortality. Portions of Lathrop High School; a couple of the bridges on Chena Hot Springs Road; the Copper River Bridge at Chitina; some commercial buildings in Fairbanks.
WC supposes a son who reveled in intellect and controversy was a complete mystery to him. We had little in common but the accident of birth. His businesses failed – he had almost no aptitude for management – and those failures ate at him more than they should. That may have increased the bitterness that tainted his view of the world. One of many reasons why WC’s relationship to his father was . . . complicated.
But, hey Pops! 99 years. Another drink can’t hurt you now, so <clink>, here’s to your birthday.