When I moved to Kodiak in 1978, Chuck Mackey was that mentor.
He and his wife, Vickie, lived at Chiniak where he was a power plant operator for the closed-down Air Force tracking satellite station.
When I visited the Mackeys, Chuck gave me a first-class Kodiak history lesson as he showed me World War II bunkers, pill boxes and anti-personnel equipment, which amounted to a glob of nasty barbed wire that could make a mess of the enemy as he rushed to attack.
Chuck was the first to tell me the Golden Rule, Kodiak-style.
He told me about a newcomer who went to the back roads in a vehicle without four-wheel drive (Rule of the Island: Always use a four-wheel drive vehicle when venturing on unmaintained roads.) He got stuck and fortunately a truck driver (with four-wheel drive, of course,) came along and pulled him out. Days later the newcomer passed a motorist in trouble. Word got back to the newcomer that, if he continued to ignore the needs of stranded motorists, he would be passed by too. “Do unto others…” And it always helps if you have a four-wheel drive.
Watching out for one’s neighbor was as one of Kodiak’s most prominent characteristics. That “neighbor” could be in the next apartment, the house across the street, one of the coastal villages or on a fishing boat.
You took care of each other. Chuck taught me that.
This is what I remembered most about him when I attended his memorial service at the Kodiak Bible Chapel early this year.
There was more to Chuck Mackey’s legacy, but being a mentor was at the top.
Through our many conversations, Chuck must have told me about the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave, but I couldn’t remember any details. Fortunately I came across on-line interviews conducted by students in Gary Stevens’ Alaska history class at the Kodiak Community College.
I was not surprised to hear that, once again, neighborliness was an important topic of the conversation.
In those trying days it was “help your neighbor as you could,” Chuck said. “A lot of people lost everything.”
Chuck, who was living on a boat at the time, was helped out by the Ogdens, who lived in a two-bedroom house near today’s Kodiak Inn.
During the upheaval, Sharon Ogden sent her kids, Rick and Cindy, to seek out needy folks. “Those kids brought 17 people to that house,” Chuck said. Most of them were fishermen. That place looked like grand central station.”
Everybody pitched in to ease the pain, hunger and anxiety of that tumultuous time. Chuck brought cans of milk and coffee he had saved up. The milk was given to babies in the neighborhood.
Humanitarian organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross showed up in Kodiak to help out.
The Red Cross gave Chuck a plane ticket to the nearest relative. But as Chuck said, he didn’t come here to get hit between the eyes and go running.
Why should Chuck flee the island that had calmed the restlessness within him?
Chuck described himself as a man infected with “wanderlust.” He didn’t have strong family ties and left his Eastern Washington home when he was 14. He joined the Army a few years later. Most of his duty was spent in Europe.
After his discharge, Chuck went to college, but his education (book-learning, as Chuck would call it) was interrupted by a trip to Alaska in 1960.
Running out of money, Chuck decided to take on various jobs in Anchorage. He cooked on a tramp freighter and did carpentry work. The adventure trail led him to Kodiak where he fished on several boats.
Chuck worked in the cannery and engaged in other forms of manual labor. He helped lay the water line on Mission Road and build the Mecca, Wodlinger Drug (today’s Sun’aq Tribal Council Hall,) Ships Tavern and Henry’s, known then as Solly’s.
He moved to Chiniak to work at the satellite tracking station and, once the plant closed down, stayed on as a caretaker.
By the time I met Chuck, his wanderlust days were behind him. Through the influence of Pastor Clifford Lien and his congregation at the Kodiak Bible Chapel, he found peace with God; he also found a good wife and Ham radio.
I recall sitting with Chuck in his radio room late at night, as he flipped channels. “Do you hear that?” he asked as the sound of garbled voices came over the air. “Russia,” he said. He flipped another channel. “They’re from Japan.” Another channel emitted more familiar words. “Fishermen from Oregon, most likely.”
I recall another late night with Chuck and Vickie in early summer on Rosalyn Beach, waiting for the surf to deposit hordes of silvery needlefish at our feet.
A phalanx of seagulls waited for the same reason.
A seal close to shore, watched us with his curious, deep dark eyes.
Further out in the water a herd of sea lions came to the surface.
We stood for hours in the ever-chilling night.
After midnight, Chuck suggested that we go home since the seagulls and sea lions had already left. Our pail was empty, but we counted the experience worthy of our patient participation.
A good mentor will take you to the places where the best part is in the waiting, even if what you’re waiting for never comes.
The Mackeys moved into town in 1982. I didn’t see much of them. All of those good intentions of stopping by for a cup of coffee were regrettably forgotten. On Thanksgiving 2011 my wife and I invited the Mackeys and other friends to share a meal with us. It was kind of like returning a favor, since I had spent my second Kodiak Thanksgiving at the Mackeys.
About two months later, Vickie died unexpectedly. Many thought Chuck would be the first to go.
A final memory of Chuck: One day he told me that he envied me for my job. How could he? I was a free-lance writer, relying on other seasonable jobs so that I could barely eke out a living.
But Chuck wasn’t talking about salaries. He envied me for writing about the colorful characters of this island. I’d have to say that he was one of them.
Mike Rostad is a freelance writer and longtime Kodiakan who writes a weekly column examining the in-depth stories of Kodiak residents. You can read more about other Kodiak islanders in Rostad’s book, “Close to My Heart-Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island, Alaska.