Shirley LeMaster, 84, Of Gakona Junction Passes Away

Shirley LeMaster at home in Gakona – July, 2023. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal)  SHIRLEY LEMASTER  SPRING, 2024  Tribute By Heidi J...

Shirley LeMaster at home in Gakona – July, 2023. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal) 

SPRING, 2024 

Tribute By Heidi Jacobsen 

Shirley was doing well and was her usual spunky self until she fell and broke her arm in mid-February.  She began living in town with Mickayla while awaiting surgery since it was hard for her to care for herself with a broken arm.  Her surgery was delayed, and her health deteriorated.  Karen Hoeft took her in for a bit, but she ended up having a stroke and being medivaced to Anchorage again.  Although it looked like she was recovering from the stroke, her blood oxygen levels were not stable, and she eventually became unconscious and shortly thereafter passed from this life.  Shirley will be remembered for her gracious hospitality and entertaining, up-beat personality.

Shirley LeMaster at home. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal) 

Remembering Shirley LeMaster
Copper River Country Journal 

Shirley LeMaster of Gakona died recently at the age of 84. She had been living in her little cabin in Gakona, which she loved.

But it was not an easy place for a widow. Several years ago she told the Journal: "I can't get wood. The well house is jammed. I had to wait for someone to come from Anchorage. The drain is freezing. I'm trying to find people to fix something. I finally gone one of the drains undone 2 days ago. I put a hose down the drain... It's just a long, long process."

Shirley had options, though. "I could go to Alan's sister's house in Texas. I could go to Michelle's house in Washington." 

But she wasn't about to do that. She liked living in her cabin in Gakona.  "i just couldn't just up and leave." She valued the friends who came by to look in on her. 

But it had been hard after her go-getter husband, Alan, died. "I haven't been off the property since Alan died, and that was about 2.5 years ago," she recalled.

Yet it was hard, soldiering on after her husband's death, she said. Just last summer she said: "I haven't bought a pair of socks since Alan died 4 years ago. When Alan had the business property up for sale -- it's been on the market for four years now -- you have to get a probate. I didn't even know what probate meant..."

Shirley was running the Gakona community well, as usual, at the Gakona Junction. But it wasn't working out, for someone on a fixed income. 

"Every single year, for the last 6 years, I can remember back, every single winter. The electric has gone sky-high. I mean, and it's happened the last 5 or 6 years I can remember. Well, I've been trying to keep the water open for the people who get it here. But it definitely does not pay for the electricity or the fuel that I have put in that well house down there. I seriously considered getting the well off. I got my bill, and it's $200 for that little tiny well house. A quarter of the size of the cabin...

"They said, Your bill is coming more this month. And I said, How much more. And they hemmed and they hawed and they couldn't find how much it is on the computer. The house is up $160. Everything has been so frozen up. We hardly turn a light on if we can help it. I say to myself, year after year after year... And this is the answer that you get: Where the dam is frozen over and we have to go to a generator, and the gas for the generator is really high. And they say that. Year after year after year.

"And they said 4 years ago they were buying power from the solar panels at the gas station. And at the same time, every single year, gas prices go up, even before there was a war in the Ukraine. I remember that one year we were paying $4 a gallon during the winter. And it would go down a bit in summer until it hit October. And then it starts going up every single year, you would think they would figure out a solution because they live in an area where it freezes..."


Lewis Alan LeMaster of Gakona Junction Village died at home on August 25th, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. He was 82 years old.

A Christian, he was born on June 15th, 1937 in Cheyenne Wyoming, to Clarence and Elizabeth LeMaster. He had an exciting life, following many paths. He graduated from Eatonville Elementary School in Washington.

Then, in 1955, he graduated from Bellevue High School, attended Pepperdine College in California and then graduated from San Diego State in Telecommunications.

During the height of the Cold War, while living in Seattle, Alan entered the Air National Guard Reserve and was in the Guard for 8 years.

While working in Seattle in an off-Broadway play, he ran into his future wife, Shirley, backstage. She was a professional clothes fashion designer. They got married in Seattle in 1962.

Through the early years of their marriage, Alan had a number of different careers which took him from place to place. He developed a production company named Datco Productions at NBC. Perhaps the most unusual activity he was involved with was a stint working undercover for the FBI. Alan infiltrated Communist cell meetings and reported back to the agency.

The family lived in Bakersfield, California where Alan worked for a loan company, and their daughter, Michelle was born. They also lived in San Francisco, Bellingham, Washington, and Anaheim, California, where, as a loan officer, Alan negotiated funding a hotel near Disneyland -- and their second daughter, Yvette, was born.

Then they went back to Seattle, where Alan managed a Sea Galley restaurant. During the next two years, he became influenced by family and friends to look into the many exciting job openings in Alaska. He was immediately offered an all-expense paid interview in Anchorage from the Sheffield Corporation.

With one daughter just out of high school and the other 12 years old, the family moved to Anchorage, where Alan managed the Sheffield (now the Westmark.) Then he was transferred to Kodiak, and managed the Sheffield Hotel there for two years.

He was hired to come to the Copper Valley to run the Ahtna Lodge. At that time, the building now known as "The Ahtna Building" was actually a hotel and restaurant.

Meanwhile, one of the other larger hotels in the Copper Valley was the Glenn Rich, at Gakona Junction, where the Richardson Highway branches into the Tok Cutoff. It was owned by two local couples: Ken and Althea Hughes and Fred and Betty Lappi. The Glenn Rich was renamed "Gakona Junction Village," and Alan LeMaster began working with Stan Stephens and others outside of the region to beef up bus tours, and to provide lodging and exciting activities to bus tourists.

On June 15th, 1997 -- Alan's 60th birthday -- the 23-room hotel tragically burned to the ground. Local people in surrounding businesses kept the bus tours going that summer.

Alan LeMaster was a born showman. Even in the Copper Valley, he continued working on plays and musical events at Glennallen High School. Always full of big ideas, before the hotel burned down he ran hay rides with large Percheron horses. After the hotel and restaurant were gone, the family built some attractive tourist cabins on the property, to bolster their convenience store and gas station. 

He ran a number of different businesses, even then. The most lucrative was Copper River Salmon Charters -- the family's main source of income. But he also developed a statewide company called Northern Brochure Distribution, which distributed brochures along the highway system, with an emphasis on tourism and local business promotion.

For years, Alan LeMaster was heavily involved in the Greater Copper Valley Chamber. He helped develop and implement the chamber's unique system of promoting individual businesses with large-scale displays. He worked 
for decades with the Alaska Travel Industry Association, a statewide tourism organization. 

Alan LeMaster was survived by Shirley, his wife of 56 years. He was also survived by his daughter, Michelle Cocchi, her spouse John, and their son, Jache, all of Algier Washington -- and his daughter Yvette LeMaster and granddaughter Mickayla.  


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