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Don Drew 1950-2006: Popular DJ, weatherman known for charisma, flair

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

Cowboy weatherman Don Drew, host of the popular Tuesday night KTOO program "Mule Train" since 1981 and a lead forecaster with the Juneau branch of the National Weather Service, died Wednesday at his Juneau home.

He was 56.

Drew was known for his impeccable courtesy, his detailed storytelling and encyclopedic knowledge of traditional country and bluegrass, and his never-ending collection of stylish Western wear.

He owned one of the finest country album collections in the state, according to those who knew him, and he would spend hours a week plotting segues and playlists for each installment of "Mule Train." This March, he was honored for his 1,200th episode.

"Don was the best country-and-western DJ I've ever heard," said KTOO program director Jeff Brown.

"He would wear the hat into work. He would show up with his cowboy hat and his Western shirts," said forecaster Brian Bezenek, who worked with Drew for the last 13 years.

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"It wasn't an act. That was part of his life, and it had been for a number of years."

Drew hosted "Mule Train" Tuesday night but did not show up Wednesday night for his shift at the weather service. Police conducted a welfare check and discovered Drew's body just before 11 p.m. at his home, Sgt. Paul Hatch said. An exact cause of death was not released but police concluded he died of natural causes, Hatch said.

"He was a healthy, spontaneous guy," Bezenek said. "It was a total shock to us at the office."

Services will be held next week at the Glacier Valley Baptist Church. A time and date will be announced. KTOO will air a memorial broadcast of "Mule Train" on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Drew was born in 1950 in New Jersey and grew up in Montclair, where his curiosity about sledding conditions sparked an early interest in forecasting.

He quit listening to pop music in 1962, preferring the storytelling of traditional country, western and bluegrass.

Drew studied meteorology at Rutgers University and began his career with the National Weather Service in 1974 in Auburn, Ala. He was transferred to Memphis, Tenn., later that year and moved to Juneau in March 1976.

He worked with the Juneau branch of the National Weather Service since then. A night owl, he held the midnight shift for the last 18 years.

"Don was a pleasure to work with," Bezenek said. "He was always working to put out the best forecast with all the data that he could gather. I know that we'll miss him here at the office."

Drew trained at KTOO in 1980 and "Mule Train" debuted on March 3, 1981.

He definitely had a plethora of stories that he loved to share with the office.

He was an avid fan of Western square dancing and called and danced with Juneau's Big Dippers for more than 20 years. He played at the Alaska Folk Festival and his six-piece country band, The Wild Pioneers, played Wildflower Court the third Monday of every month and the Juneau Pioneers Home on the last Monday.

"He's been a fixture in the community for years and years," Brown said. "Everywhere he went, he had that joy that he carried with him."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com



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