Ketchikan’s Wally Kubley remembered for contributions to state, region

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alaskans are remembering Walter “Wally” Kubley, who once represented his hometown of Ketchikan in the Alaska Legislature, but had an impact throughout the region and the state.

Kubley died in Ketchikan in December at age 89. He lived in Juneau as legislative liaison for Gov. Wally Hickel during his first term, and then as Commerce commissioner for Gov. Keith Miller.

Among his notable accomplishments was the birth of the state ferry system for the new state, earning him the moniker “Father of the Alaska Marine Highway System.”

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell called that one of his greatest accomplishments. Kubley, as a member of the second Alaska Legislature after statehood, helped write the legislation that established a Division of Marine Transportation and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“These bedrock contributions to Alaska’s infrastructure opened remote areas to commerce, created jobs, and brought necessary supplies to families,” Treadwell said at a late January wake in Ketchikan.

Treadwell grouped Kubley along with the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Hickel among those who made the state a better place.

“Wally was very instrumental in helping us get the ferry system started,” former Palmer legislator Jay Kerttula told the Ketchikan Daily News. The Republican Kubley and Democrat Kerttula served together in the Legislature, and remained close friends for decades afterward, said Capt. Don Kubley, of Juneau, Wally’s son.

That became a particularly useful relationship after Kubley was made the federal agricultural official in Alaska.

“One of his best friends was Sen. Kerttula, who was one of the state’s experts on agriculture,” he said.

“He helped build the Mat-Su agricultural industry,” said Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, who now represents the city.

After Kubley’s legislative service he worked for Hickel, and as a member of his “kitchen cabinet,”

That group of top advisors to Hickel lived so close to the Governor’s Mansion on Calhoun Avenue that Hickel could summon them by leaning out the mansion window and yelling.

That group of top advisors had lively discussions about the state’s future and how it should be developed, he said.

“Dad was always very proud of having been part of the ‘kitchen cabinet,’” Don Kubley said.

“Wally was never content with the status quo and that drove his leadership and should be an inspiration to us all. He pioneered this country, and we must continue his legacy,” Treadwell said.

Wally Kubley’s job was persuading the Legislature to adopt the governor’s plans. It was a job he was particularly well suited for, Don Kubley said.

“He had great communication skills,” he said. “The best of his communication skills was his ability to listen,” he said. “He’d harp on me all the time about listening to what people were telling me,” Don Kubley said.

Johansen said Wally Kubley used those skills to help win voter approval for funding for state ferries.

“The voters approved the bonding, and he was proud of that to this day,” he said.

Johansen said Kubley was a part of a family that built Ketchikan, including founding local institutions such as the Sourdough Bar and the bowling alley, and would be missed by the community.

Don Kubley said his dad had, during Prohibition, run rum from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan for the bar. He accompanied his father as they went at night to elude the authorities in the days before radar.

“Back in those days, they didn’t have depthfinders, and dad sat in the bow and watched for rocks,” Don Kubley said.

Wally Kubley left college after one semester, joining the U.S. Coast Guard the day after Pearl Harbor.

He went join the Navy, but was sent to the Coast Guard to capitalize on his Alaskan fishing experience, and later captained a subchaser out of Prince Rupert.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or

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