Memorial For Ken Hughes Of Gakona

  Ken Arden Hughes, Jr.  June 25, 1930 - April 13, 2021 Born on June 25th, 1930 in a small town in northern Maine, Ken Hughes had been, by h...

 

Ken Arden Hughes, Jr. 
June 25, 1930 - April 13, 2021


Born on June 25th, 1930 in a small town in northern Maine, Ken Hughes had been, by his own admission, a boisterous and out of control New England teen. He enjoyed telling a story about tipping over an outhouse for fun when he was a kid and scampering off – to the shouts of the person who was inside. 

Then, one day, Ken's life turned around. He ran across a lovely young schoolteacher from a French Canadian-influenced Maine potato-growing town. Her name was Althea. 

Ken vowed immediately to marry her – and he did. 

Ken Hughes, fishing the Gulkana. (Photo, Jeremy Weld) 

Eventually, the two came to Alaska and taught in Teller, on the coast. Then they moved to Gakona, where they teamed up with another couple, Fred and Betty Lappi, and built the Glenn-Rich Hotel right at the end of the Tok Cutoff where it intersects with the Richardson. 

At the time, the hotel’s location was very valuable. The Parks Highway was yet to be built, and the route through Gakona Junction was only 50 miles south of Paxson, the entrance to the Denali Highway, which was the road to the Park. 

The hotel that the Lappis and Hugheses built was, in essence, the last nice hotel on the way to McKinley. (Later called "Gakona Junction Village" it has joined the many lodging places in the Copper Valley that have since burned down.) 


The Hugheses were a mainstay in the Gakona community. They were generous to others in a way you seldom see. They shared their house, their resources and their lives. And they were fun to visit. 

Althea has always been busy: baking, volunteering, inviting people over, offering support to others, taking care of visiting grandchildren, sewing decorative pillows, potholders and tablecloths as gifts for the neighbors, gardening and birding…

Ken was always busy, too. 

He built an elaborate cement bathtub-sized birdbath for Althea right beside the front door that mainly attracted mosquitoes and eventually had to be later filled in with dirt. He also built her a big greenhouse, and an outdoor rocking bench. 

Althea was a moderating influence on Ken. She is everything Ken was not: controlled, well-mannered, gracious, perfectly groomed and orderly. You couldn't visit the Hugheses without taking home a little baggie of homemade cookies, readily available on the sideboard in case anybody came by (and many people did.)  

Ken walked on the wild side, when compared to his pulled-together and ladylike wife. He seemed to wear his long winter underwear year round. He had his well-worn favorite hats, and baggy hunting trousers. He was up for any adventure, especially if it involved a raft, or driving, or the outdoors. One summer, when the bugs were bad, he covered himself, head-to-foot in protective gear. 

Both of the Hugheses constantly made gifts for friends and family members. In his spare time, Ken ran a home woodworking shop, where he handcrafted birdhouses, bird feeders and little caches for sale or gifts to the neighbors — along with wooden napkin holders and other knickknacks, such as keychain hooks. 

He loved to crochet, and made dozens of bright, custom macrame caps as gifts.  He fashioned cards on his computer for Christmas. He liked birding as much as Althea does, and went birding with Althea, and took photos of the birds, for her to share with others. He cooked up elaborate, country-style breakfasts. He could also make classic, fluffy, New England-style roadhouse buns. 

For awhile, he kept bees. And for years he tinkered at printing, and even ran a printshop where he made brochures for local companies. 

Ken had worked at the Gulkana Airport, and went through a phase where he carefully built numerous motorized model airplanes of balsa wood, which he ceremoniously launched into the woods of Gakona – sometimes to crash almost immediately into the dense black spruce thicket, never to be seen again.

And every time the fish were in on the Gulkana, or at Tangle Lakes, Ken Hughes was out there with his line, expertly thrashing the water.

Always practical, he would stay at the river as long as the line was hot. When the fish stopped biting, he didn’t hang around. He’d pack up his flies and go back home — to take up yet another project. 

Ken Hughes, who had lived for decades in Gakona, died in Wasilla on April 13th, 2021 after a long illness. 

He is survived by his wife, Althea, and his children and grandchildren.

The Hugheses had moved to Wasilla over a year ago, to be nearer to family. 

As it becomes available, a family obituary will follow. This is not a formal obituary, but a memory, written from the perspective of a neighbor of 45 years in the small community where Ken Hughes, and his wife, Althea, took on the informal roles of surrogate parents and grandparents to those living far from their own families.  -- Linda Weld, Copper River Country Journal 

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