Joe Heersink

Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Former Juneau resident Joe Heersink died Jan. 29, 2009, at the University of Washington Hospital with his wife, DeEtte Heersink, by his side. He was 71.

In the end, it was his heart and not his cancer that caused his death, his family said.

Born Sept. 16, 1937, in Puyallup, Wash., he was a high school chemistry teacher and coach in Juneau, Glennallen and Kodiak and a commercial fisherman in Southeast Alaska and Bristol Bay.

According to family and friends, he was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago and told to put his affairs in order as he had only weeks to live.

Driving to Kenai for one last fishing trip, he realized he had wanted to learn to play the mandolin before he died. So he turned around, bought a mandolin in Anchorage and went to his cabin on the Kenai and taught himself to play.

"But he forgot to die like the doctor had told him," his family wrote. "The music, family, friends, a healthy diet of fish and a strong will to live brought him through to a new era of cancer treatments by an amazing medical team lead by Dr. Latha Subramanian. Joe credits her and the medical teams in Anchorage and Seattle with extending his life for 11 years.

"Joe took advantage of those years by surrounding himself with musical friends at his Arctic Rainbow Music store. He sold and repaired instruments and gave lessons to hundreds of Alaskan families. Each time one of his students dropped by to play him the latest song they had learned, it added another day to his life.

"He is best remembered not as a great player but as The Great Enabler - the man who provided the instruments and inspiration that brought out the music in all who knew him."

He is survived by his wife and their boys, Heinrich "Ric" and Haakon Heersink, all of Anchorage.

A memorial service was held at Muldoon Community Assembly. A celebration of life was held March 1 at the Anchorage Senior Center.

In lieu of flowers, please visit a friend.

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