KODIAK — For the past 20 years, Marsha Galloway has been trying to create a memorial to her father.
On Dec. 13, the state of Alaska will decide whether or not to name an unlabeled creek near Chiniak School in honor of Richard Weisser. If approved, Weisser Creek would immortalize the name of a 32-year Kodiak Island resident who fought to open Chiniak land to settlement.
Galloway and the rest of her brothers and sisters no longer live in Kodiak, but they still feel a connection. “We were all born and grew up there, and we go back as much as we can,” Galloway said. “There’s just no place as pretty as that.”
Richard Weisser died in 2001, but his name may be familiar to longtime Chiniak and Kodiak residents. He and his wife arrived in Kodiak in 1946 in response to a job advertisement seeking workers for Naval Station Kodiak.
He started out in the base’s plumbing shop and was promoted repeatedly, eventually heading the station’s public works department. Vice president of the Kodiak Conservation Club, he was a board member of Community Baptist Church and volunteered with the Masons.
In 1947, he and his wife began repairing an abandoned military cabin on the Chiniak Highway at Mile 40.5 and started trying to gain ownership of the cabin. Between 1948 and 1960, he repeatedly lobbied the Bureau of Land Management to open land for private ownership in the area.
That effort was successful after statehood in 1959.
Galloway, now 60, said her quest to name the creek has been hampered by the fact that so many years have gone by since her father moved away from Kodiak in 1978. “It just happens that each time we go back, there are fewer and fewer faces of people we knew,” she said.
Those who do remember the Weissers have submitted letters of support, and a few even signed a petition in favor of the renaming.
According to state rules, a person must be dead at least five years before a landmark can be named in his or her honor. A request to name a landmark then must go through a rigorous vetting process that includes historical research.
Joan Antonson, the state’s deputy state historic preservation officer, said the state receives about a dozen requests to name a landmark each year. “Most are commemorative, and we have special guidelines,” she said.
If the naming is approved by the Alaska Historical Commission, it would be forwarded to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. If approved by that board, it would appear on all federal maps. Even if the federal board turns down the proposal, passage by the historical commission would mean Weisser’s name will appear on state maps of the area.