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Hoonah loses a 'Windy' icon

2-term mayor brought growth and leadership to Southeast town

Posted: February 2, 2012 - 1:14am

Two-term Hoonah Mayor, Alf Robert Skaflestad, known all his life as Windy Skaflestad died at home on Jan. 28 of prostate cancer. He was 75 years old.

Windy was born in a little cabin in Hoonah on Sept. 20, 1936 to Matilda Greenewald and Alf Skaflestad. The cabin once stood not more than 100 feet from the location of his home where he died. His family was of Norwegian, German, English and Tlingit heritage.

Windy was T’akdeintaan (Raven) clan, Mt. Fairweather House (Snail House). His Tlingit name was Kaa Taa Woo, carrying the name of J.C. Johnson, the father of Mrs. Lily White.

Windy started life early as a talkative and outgoing youngster.

Joyce Skaflestad recounts a story from Windy’s mother, Matilda, about how Alf got his nickname.

“Tillie gave me his baby book. She showed me a page in the book and explained in a little more detail where the name came from,” Joyce said. The page was captioned "First Conscious Wrong-Doing" and Windy’s mother wrote "Swearing and telling Windy story and trying to be big and tuff."

Joyce said Windy’s aunt told her when Windy was first learning to talk he would run in the room “and start sputtering words and she would say to Windy's mother, ‘Oh, sounds like another windy story.‘ It was about the time he was 2 years old, he became known as Windy,” Joyce said.

Windy attended grade school in Hoonah and high school in Juneau. His early work experience began when he was 11 years old when he ran Caterpillar equipment in his father’s logging camp. He would later leave high school to run the camp after his father was injured in a logging accident.

Windy took engineering courses through correspondence studies. This paid off later when he was hired into the field of construction.

Windy was a lead operator with the company that built the North Cascade Highway in Washington. Upon completion of that project he and his family moved back to Alaska.

Long-time friend Jim Crum encouraged him to apply for work with the U.S. Public Health Service, Alaska Area Native Health, Sanitation Construction Services. He worked 27 years with Public Health as a construction supervisor installing water, sewer, outfall lines, lagoons, water and sewer treatment plants, dams and roads in villages from Saxman to Kotzebue.

He worked a few more years in this field with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, primarily in the Southeast District communities of Saxman, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Craig, Klawock, Kake, Angoon, Hoonah, Pelican, Skagway, and Yakutat.

Windy was well liked in the communities where he worked, Windy’s friend Clarence Jackson said.

“He would plant daisies wherever he could and every year when I see them growing along the road in Kake, I think of Windy. It makes me smile because my mother’s name was Daisy and now I will think of both of them when I see them growing,” Jackson said.

After retiring from construction, Windy was elected mayor of Hoonah. During his tenure he worked tirelessly to develop economic opportunities, reduce power costs, and obtain upgrades for the infrastructure of Hoonah, including the clinic, airport, harbor and roads. 

Windy dreamt big and kept his hand in the workings of the community right up to the end. He envisioned a road to Pelican, a collaborative project between the two communities that would also benefit Elfin Cove. His concept would reduce electrical costs to Hoonah by utilizing Pelican’s excess hydroelectric power.

Windy’s oldest son Ken Skaflestad said he was close to his father.

“Dad was real family oriented and his kids were always on his mind to the point of being a worry-wart, even when he was busy doing other things,” Ken said.

Gus Skaflestad said he could always go to his dad to find answers

“Dad was a go-to-guy, it didn’t matter whether I was having trouble with equipment, my boat, my vehicles or my home, I could go to him with the problem and he always had the answer,” Gus said.

Windy helped Hoonah through the difficult time of dealing with the shooting deaths of two of the city’s police officers in 2010.

Steve Brown is a Hoonah City Council member and served as Windy’s vice mayor during the tragedy.

It was a very traumatic and trying time for Hoonah, Brown said.

“Windy knew everybody and knew the seriousness and the tragedy of it,” Brown said. It was a tense situation that went on for days, he said.

”What he did best was just to keep the community together,” Brown said. “People were in shock and didn't know what to do. He just helped keep the pieces together.”

Brown said he enjoyed his time working with Windy.

“He was always energetic and always had the best interest of Hoonah in mind. Windy's biggest legacy, during those two terms he did an outstanding job of bringing in projects,” Brown said. “He was able to communicate with almost anybody. He knew people and was able to get things done, just a ton of things. Millions of state and federal funds to get these wonderful things for Hoonah. All testimony for his ability to get things started and rolling.”

Joel Niemeyer, federal co-chairman of the Denali Commission worked with Windy for years.

“He’d probably laugh and not argue with me if he heard me say this, but I was the snot-nosed kid right out of college, that was back when I weighed 30 pounds less, and didn’t have any gray hair,” Niemeyer said of when he first met Windy. This was back when the grizzled, seasoned foremen would teach the young fresh college grads the ropes, he said. “The real world compared to book learning.”

Niemeyer said Windy was typical of superintendents he worked with at the time. “He was good working with community and had strong engineering skills,” Niemeyer said, and he put up with the lack of experience of the young workers.

“Forgiving, shall we say,” he said.

Windy had a very gentle calming voice, Niemeyer said, “very understanding.” And gave his young workers the boosts in confidence they needed.

“He encouraged me that I can do it, that I can be successful,” Niemeyer said. “It is just sad that he wont be there to offer me those words of encouragement, making me laugh, telling me to go back to work.”

Niemeyer said Windy’s influence goes back through several generations of young engineers in Alaska. Jim Crum, a senior engineer entered the business 15 or 16 years before Niemeyer, he said.

“And guess who was there, helping him out, telling him that he can do great things with his career,” Niemeyer asked rhetorically.

“He lived a full life and Hoonah benefitted,” Niemeyer said. “What he contributed to the state of Alaska it is just extraordinary. He will be missed.

“There is a whole generation ofus engineers that he helped out. He like a lot of his fellow superintendents, they taught us. We learned some valuable basics.”

Mike Morrison worked with Windy for 17 years at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “He was a good friend. We are going to miss him around here,” said Morrison, Hoonah’s Public Works director.

Crum started working in the public health service in Southeast Alaska in 1967. He’s been semi-retired for the last 15 years.

Crum said he knew all the Skaflestad boys. “Windy was the builder out of the bunch,” Crum said.

Crum said he could always count on Windy to come up with a novel solution to a problem of construction out in rural Alaska. At one point, the two were building a lagoon for a sewage treatment facility and they had no heavy equipment on hand. So Windy found an old dragline, took out the engine and fixed it up “and pretty soon he had a dragline going out there,” Crum said. “It’s beyond my imagination how a guy could dream that up.” They soon had a lagoon that is working today, he said.

Crum relates a story about how Windy got started in the construction industry.

When Windy was young, he applied to be foreman of a job. Crum helped Windy fill out the paperwork and send it in, but he didn’t have experience that would stand out in a pile of applications. So Crum helped Windy sum up his work as whistle punk for his father’s logging business. Windy, his brother Erling and their father, Alf, would log yellow cedar for pilings.

“They’d find a spot and put up a spar pole,” Crum said. “Windy was the whistle punk and Erling was the choker setter. Their dad would point out a tree and then they’d drag the donkey engine up the hill and run the logs back to the ocean where they would float,” Crum said. So Crum wrote on Windy’s application “designer and operator of aerial log transmission systems.”

“It came back that he was classified as a mix-gang foreman,” Crum said. “He and his brother were basically just kids and they’d rig this thing up and away they’d go.”

Windy was working right up to the end, Crum said, on hydroelectric or geothermal power for the town.

“He was still dreaming, he just ran out of steam,” Crum said.

Windy is survived by his wife Joyce Skaflestad, four children, five step-children, 12 grandchildren and numerous other family members.

Windy’s life will be celebrated with a memorial service at 3 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall in Hoonah. His cremated remains will be scattered over his favorite place in Port Frederick, also known as “Heaven’s Gate” later this year.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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