1.  We will begin with a report of an Innovation in Church Education written by a volunteer in mission by the name of Jean Davis. Her words describe the events very well.  I was extremely proud of those who made this happen.  The primary memory is that five women kept thirty street children engaged in activities.



The Juneau United Methodist Church is located in the heart of Juneau, Alaska, which is a community of 13,000 people. The church has a membership of 250. during the 1969-1970 school year, the church Social Room was being used as one of the sites for “OPERATION OATMEAL”, which is a breakfast program for those who would otherwise go to school hungry.  (I would add that it was started by Alice Crosby, a school board member.)  Land is at a premium in the inner city area which is located right next to a mountain, and there are few open spaces, much less adequate indoor recreational space for children. The congregation found that the children from “Oatmeal” were returning after school and, since they were unsupervised, the results were activities not highly desirable within the church building, such as snowball fights in the sanctuary. (As the pastor, I thought their attempts to imitate volleyball was creative, but throwing hymnals was not too cool.)

The choice was between locking the doors to the children or staffing a program in which the children’s energy could be used creatively.


The congregation chose the latter option, and a group of concerned laypersons got the ball rolling in April, 1970. One of those involved lives in the downtown area and knew many of the children involved through her work in the library of the nearest school. Others who were skilled in arts and crafts and another with a background in teaching were invaluable in the early stages of the effort. Initially this was seen as a program of the Juneau United Methodist Church with volunteers recruited by those already participating. In the summer of 1970 some members of an In-Service team from Georgia supplemented the regular staff.

The regular Friday program has continued since its inception, running from 3:30 to 5 p.m. during the school year and from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the summer. In mid-summer a United Methodist volunteer (Fund for Reconciliation) came to Juneau and she was added to the staff. (That was Jean Davis, the author of this report.) As numbers consistently run over 30 and sometimes as high as 50, more volunteers were recruited. In September the other churches in the downtown area were informed about the program and their participation was solicited. However, the staff was still primarily United Methodist in April, 1971.


The goals we operate on are those of providing supplemental learning experiences; allowing the child to express himself or herself individually and in small groups; bridging the racial and cultural gap by providing opportunities for communication; and, making the city of Juneau aware of the need for this type of recreational effort.


The participants are for the most part Native Alaskans (Indian) between the 1st and 6th grades. Few have any active church relationship. Total attendance as of March 12, 1971, was 1,469 with 67^ Indian children. The program attendance peaked in July, 1970, when 53 children participated and then in February and March of 1971, 46 participants were present.


The Friday program consists of several activities from which the child may choose. These include table games, arts and crafts and cooking. Often time persons a child to enjoy more than one of these activities in a single afternoon.

Three men in our church have started a Tuesday evening basketball program, which is moving toward an “outdoors” emphasis, (i.e., camping, hiking, etc.). Plans are being formed to end the program in June, with a hike planned, using some skills learned in the program.

Leadership has been recruited primarily from the local church with interest as the sole criterion. Budget has come from the Juneau United Methodist Church, though the city Parks and Recreation Department is willing to help with supplies. We have been able to employ resources in Juneau, (I. e., the Department of Education film library) for special programs, and we are one block from the city library.


The volunteers recently evaluated the program as they were preparing an application for a SEACAP grant. We agreed that the present program was truly a stop-gap. We would like to see some program every afternoon and several evenings. To make this feasible would require a full-time director to coordinate efforts. We have provided a warm place for the children to go after school where there is something to keep them occupied and where there are adults who care.

We would like to see small interest groups start especially for the older boys. I think we have learned to use volunteer energy effectively but if we want a comprehensive program we recognize that some paid staff will be necessary. One problem has been the difficulty of those volunteers who come in from outside the neighborhood (which constitutes all but one) and try to know the children. There is definitely difficulty in this area. Same group involvement as opposed to larger groups is a critical aspect of the overall program.                    June 16, 1971  (the end)

(John’s memories)

First, this program ended when we lost our building.  There were tears shed over that sad reality. But while it lasted, it was one of the best programs of my ministry. The cooking interest group was a favorite – I got cookies.

Second, at some point in this program, I felt I had to intervene when I observed a young boy beating on a young girl, who turned out to be his sister. As I stopped the behavior, the young boy looked right at me and said:  “You can stop me now, but I will get her later…”  Sadly, that was probably true, but I informed him he would not “get her” on church property.   I provided her with a long head start for home and I never knew the “end of the story”.  Juneau has portions of the town built on a steep hill and their home was two blocks above the church.

Again, this was one of the best church community programs in my memory bank, as several people were willing to get involved in the lives of our neighbors.


11/29/2000  from sermon by John at Stanwood UMC (30 years later)

“The church in Juneau, Alaska, was in a downtown church. There were a few apartment buildings around the church, but most of the members drove to the church. For years the church had been unlocked twenty-four hours a day.

One day we discovered some children who lived about three blocks away playing volleyball in the sanctuary. That didn’t seem appropriate and the trustees considered locking the building.  When the decision to do this was made, we found that we didn’t have a key to the lock.

Meanwhile five women made a commitment to relate to the children in the neighborhood. Soon I was able to say to the children: “While you can’t play in the sanctuary anymore, you are welcome to come at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoons for an after school program. Soon thirty children were coming to participate in five interest centers run by the above mentioned five women. There was a cooking center in the kitchen to produce refreshments for all, a craft center, a reading center, an activity center and one other center that I can’t remember now. Learning the needs of the children, we also started a five day a week breakfast program called “Operation Oatmeal”, organized by a member of the school board. For an entire year these women continued these ministries, until the State of Alaska purchased our church by the right of imminent domain to build a court house.  It was a wonderful witness.”



For whatever reason, my wife and I have several collections of “things” which we find interesting.

Puffin Stuff  (John)  First collection is in the Seward, Alaska, Public Library and the second collection is with the Audubon Puffin Project in Maine.

Musk Ox Art (Barbara)  First collection is at the Musk Ox farm in Palmer, Alaska. You will find most of it in a display case in the back left corner with our names mentioned.

Baskets (Mostly Barbara)  We still have most of this collection, though one Aleut basket is at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, Alaska.

Once we started collecting art, some how we focused on two things: puffins and musk ox.  One woman in Anchorage did a new puffin print nearly every year and John couldn’t resist her work.  Our collection became rather large.  The Internal Revenue Service was changing the rules. We panicked a bit and donated our collections to the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, and the Seward Library in Seward, Alaska.  The rule change was that you could deduct what you paid for a piece of art, not what its value was.  That rule did not last very long, but we had given the collections away.

I had purchased two pieces of art for $.10 each and when they were evaluated at $1500 and $1750 each.  I was anxious to give them away at value, not purchase price.

The amusing thing, from my point of view, is that church members knew of my love of puffins and it wasn’t long before I had a complete collection of puffins again.  Barbara’s second collection is much more modest.

The basket collection is also very modest with one exception.  When we were visiting Navaho country a couple of years ago, I saw Barbara’s eyes light up over one Navaho Basket (with a beautiful butterfly design) and she couldn’t handle the sticker price.  I looked at her and said:  “50th wedding anniversary present to both of us?” and she immediately agreed.

As proof that we are downsizing, our doll collection now lives in Juneau, Alaska, and Barbara’s postcard collection now lives in Sitka, Alaska. My second puffin collection is in Maine. Barbara wants to keep her second musk-ox collection many more years. She has one bronze piece that allowed me to get away with not buying her any presents for five years. Christmas or birthday, I just pointed at the musk-ox. Alas, the five years are now up. She got a rock carving in Zimbabwe. Only good for one year. So much for down-sizing.



My wife and I have had the pattern of giving some unique ivory items, which came into our possession, to the Alaska State Museum. Here is the story of two of the items:

Ivory Ink Pen with totemic designs.

This was given to me in 1972 by a man who stayed (slept) in our Juneau Church for two weeks after we had closed the church to regular usage.  We were obviously doing him a favor, but he was also helpful to us, as it was essentially an abandoned building when he stayed there.  He gave me this history of the item:   “This item was a personal gift from Bessie M. Golze, Phoenix, Arizona, about 1962. She died of cancer in 1964.  She left me 1/2 of the estate.  The item was purchased in Nome about 1920 when she was backtracking her father’s diary to write a book on gold rush days.”

As I researched the item, some had the opinion that it was probably plastic and made in the Orient.

An Indian artist gave me the strong opinion that it was made of ivory. He had read that some Indians from S. E. Alaska had moved to the Nome area in the Gold Rush and perhaps they had combined the two forms of art: totem design and ivory.  In general, Eskimo carvers did not have a history of totemic design.

This piece belongs to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Alaska.

WALRUS TUSK etching.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I went regularly to St. Lawrence Island to relate to the Presbyterian Churches in Savoonga and Gambell.  On one of my trips, I got a phone call from an elderly woman in Nome who wanted me to bring a walrus tusk from the island to her.  I did so, as it fit under the seat, but in delivering it to her, I asked her what she intended to do with it. She was going to do some etching. I asked if I could see it when it was completed.  A few weeks later, she let me know that it was done and I was allowed to see it.

It was different than anything I have ever seen. I was overwhelmed.  1/2 of the tusk was covered with all of the tools and clothing items that she could remember from her childhood. A piece of history in itself. On the other side, she had etched in scenes of a whale hunt.

I asked her what she was doing to do with the etched tusk and she indicated she would be selling it.  I asked her about the price. She indicated it would be $600.  I asked her if I could buy it and the answer was yes.  I wrote out a check immediately. No haggling over price that day.

Eventually we donated the item to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Alaska, where it will be protected and shared for many generations.


For a short period of time, we operated an ivory business, primarily to help some individuals who were not being given full value for their work. One man (William Kaputak) made ivory beads.  He had turned a pedal Singer sewing machine into a lathe.  The Smithsonian Institute purchased one from him to demonstrate his skill in making do with what was at hand.  Then he had to buy another Singer sewing machine and make another lathe.

The first summer I was in Nome a gentleman came from Ohio to help us with building issues and he was always complaining about the fact that I didn’t have this tool or that tool for his work. I took him to see William. When he saw the lathe and the saw William had made from the spring in a clock, the visitor stopped complaining and made do with what he had. William used the saw to cut little cubes from the ivory tusk and then he used the lathe to shape them into round balls. I do not know what he used to drill a hole in the beads.

We paid William 50% more than he could get from local dealers, so we became his sole customer. I think most of the United Methodist clergy wives in Alaska at that time ended up with a beautiful ivory bead necklace.

One of the most unusual pieces we have is two bowhead eardrums stacked on one another and covered with birds. This was a very valuable piece that I didn’t wish to own, but the artist was desperate to get to Anchorage and I purchased his work for a round trip plane ticket to Anchorage. We intend to give this to the Nome Museum eventually.  It is a wonderful example of the creative imagination of many of the carvers in Northwest Alaska.

One of the premier ivory carvers was Floyd Kingeekuk of Savoonga. He often stayed with us when he was in Nome. He shared with me that he was depressed because he had more orders than he could fill. I advised him to double the price and then he would get less orders. I was wrong. He still got orders and he still felt the constant pressure. When I first advised him he was getting $75 for each seal in a four seal set.  Total of $300 for four. The last I checked (he is now deceased) he was getting $300 for each seal and $1200 for a set. People were still buying. He needed money immediately, so I jumped ahead in the line. I own one seal. Make me an offer! And start at something over $300 please.

At one point I tried to collect one piece from each carver that we know personally, thinking it would be a nice gift to the church, but security issues and the knowledge that many people do not value such items, we never made that donation. We arranged for a wonderful piece of art by Merice Richner to be given to a church in Illinois that was supporting my ministry in the 1960’s. Recently (in the 2010’s) I checked with the church and the pastor had just discovered the work of art in a storage room. This is reality. I offered to take it off their hands, but he thought they would rehang it on his watch. We may never know.


Dahlias (a flower) has become an important part of my life.

It all started in Spokane when I saw a dahlia garden at Manito Park, maintained by city personnel.  The stalks were tall and the flowers were beautiful.  So I tried to grow some at the parsonage at least two different years in Spokane.  The tubers did not grow. I assume I planted too early and they rotted.

When I came to Stanwood, I may have mentioned this and Dave Huppert gave me seventeen (17) tubers for the garden at the parsonage. I planted them and they flourished.  The next year I had 34 and I was hooked. I was able to share some of the flowers with residents at Josephine Sunset Home, where I was employed part-time as a chaplain. One woman had lost her short term memory capacity and could not remember my name, but some how she could remember that I was the “dahlia man”. It was a joy to share them with her and others. One young woman liked a specific flower so much that I named it after her.  Nothing official, but that is the name attached to that beautiful tuber.

Eventually some church members learned of my interest in gardening and they donated the use of a plot 50 feet by 50 feet on property owned by members of their family.  Their son operated a u-pick flower garden composed entirely of dahlias.  Then he graduated from high school and his parents operated it for a couple of years. Then they offered the space to me.  One year I had over 400 dahlias.

It was getting out of hand, so I have leveled off at approximately 350 dahlias, both at the “farm” and at our home.

When you plant dahlia tubers, you lay the tubers flat in the six inch hole with the eye up. So far, in the spirit of Dave Huppert, I give away my dahlia tubers, but I can dream.  I divided three dahlia root clumps this past year (Colorado Classic) and got 76 tubers. At $7 per tuber, well, I can see how some companies or individuals make a living selling dahlia tubers. 

One of my traditions, when I am in town, is to enter blooms into the community fair the first weekend in August.  One year I entered a sunflower bloom that impressed me and it got a ribbon for “best in the show”.  Some irony in that fact.

Dahlias also grow well in Alaska, but I never noticed them while living 33 years there. When we returned to visit, I saw some at Girdwood, SE of Anchorage, in front of the Bake Shop. Many items can be grown in the Matanuska Valley, including giant cabbage. I know they grow in the Midwest, but my sister-in-law was not successful growing them in the Arizona heat.

Dahlias come in fall colors (Earth tones): red, orange, yellow and in spring colors (Jewel tones): white, pink, purple. Some of my favorites are mixed colors. And then there is the very unique Rebecca’s World, where every bloom is a different color with degrees of burgundy and white.  No one has explained how that could happen genetically.   

If you want some, indicate size, number and color.



The Time of Trial in Juneau

I am going to write this from memory.  When I find some documentation, I may fine tune the article.

Many people in Juneau wanted to keep the capital in Juneau. There was even a vote to move it to the Anchorage Area, where one-half of the population resided.  But skillful politicians forced another vote on the “cost” of establishing a new capital and that vote was defeated, so the capital move was and is dead for awhile. Under the leadership of some recent governors, many of the functions of government have been moved to Anchorage. Sarah Palin even lived at her home in Wasilla while she was governor, with one exception: she was in Juneau when the legislature was in session. You may have heard of Sarah, she is the person who said she could see Russia from her home, which some how made her an expert on foreign affairs. I have seen Russia (from St. Lawrence Island) and I don’t know the first thing about foreign affairs.

One idea for keeping the capital in Juneau was making heavy investment into buildings. Part of that package was a new court house building and the site picked was the 1/2 block where Juneau Methodist Church had been since 1904. So in the 1970’s, the State of Alaska, using imminent domain, offered us $120,000 for the building and land. As a congregation, we rolled over on the main issue. We decided to fight the price. They used a method of depreciation that made the educational building (formerly parsonage and now Juneau Youth Hostel in the summer time) worth about $4,000.  On the open market, it would have sold for at least $60,000 at that time. That will help you to understand why we got a lawyer as soon as possible.  His name was Dick Folta.

Many members of our church were concerned that if we fought the action, we would be seen as encouraging those who wanted to move the capital. I later learned that if we had stalled, the legislators might have been on our side as far as keeping the building is concerned. I was not informed enough to know that when it would have counted. The deed was done.

We did several things at the same time:

-Started sorting 70 years of paperwork.

-Reflected on what we would do next: build new elsewhere with a massive debt, merge with Douglas Community United Methodist Church or merge with Northern Light United Church.  (this story will be told elsewhere in detail)

-Filed a protest over the price and prepared to go to trial.

Bottom line:  we got 50% more and because of that, the State of Alaska had to pay our $30,000 in legal fees, that included an expert on property values from Iowa.

In the course of the trial, the lawyer for the State of Alaska saw fit to call me a liar while I was on the witness stand. Some mole in the church had given him information that he felt contradicted what I was saying. He had been informed that we were going to tear down the building and rebuilt. The truth was that this had been discussed and we decided not to do what he was accusing us of. However, when a church decides “NOT” to do something, there may not be a paper trial. You just stop having meetings on the subject. And that is what we did.

Bad move on the part of the lawyer. The judge bristled when I was called a liar. The judge was not a member of our church, but he attended from time to time. I didn’t point that out and the State of Alaska and the mole probably didn’t even know it. He was a very good judge, so we were comfortable with him.

Now I mentioned earlier that I had been sorting paperwork for weeks, if not months. Out of all the minutes and reports, I just happened to have in my suit pocked one piece of paper, a letter from the Governor of the State of Alaska promising that we would be able to stay at that spot for a long, long time. It was what tipped the scales to stay put in the older buildings. I was able to prove that I was telling the truth. The letter was submitted as exhibit whatever. Now when people talk about a “guiding hand” in life, that is my best example. Why, of all things, did I have that letter in my pocket when I had no idea what direction the attorney would be going?

That lawyer learned a lesson, but I don’t know if it helped him in the future. I felt he was mean to me! But I left the witness stand with a smile on my face.

Then I had to work with United Methodist officials in New York City who wanted control of the $180,000.  Some at Douglas Community United Methodist Church wanted a cut of the pie. Some one in New York made the mistake of putting in writing that we could keep the money if we reinvested it into property. I don’t know how many hours or days it took for me to invest the money in the Whitehead House, but it was not very many. One thought was to use it as a parsonage, but that never happened. The closet in the master bedroom was lined with cedar wood. At one time it was the nicest home in Juneau. We did use it for the Juneau Youth Hostel and they eventually reimbursed the church for those funds, but long after New York felt they had any claim to it. Sadly, city officials made the Youth Hostel remove the cedar wood because of fire codes. The wood was saved, but I do not know its final fate.

And no, I didn’t have any training in seminary about how to deal with difficult lawyers or difficult church bureaucrats. Perhaps the way I handled it explains why I was not on their “A” list.  I have missed a lot of “A” lists.

But the day the judge made his decision was a very happy day.


Memories of the Juneau Youth Hostel

I was not involved in starting the Juneau Youth Hostel, but I played a large role in saving it.

When I was appointed to the Juneau-Douglas Larger Parish, the Youth Hostel had been established in the Educational Building right next to the church. The church was across the street from the capital building. From the complaining I heard when I arrived, I realized that having a youth hostel in the building had its distractors.

We hired Don and Janet Kussart to be the house parents for the hostel. They came from the background of Church of the Brethren and they were squeaky clean.  After the “incident”, we learned that the young adult community was very careful to protect us and they respected our rules about “no drugs” on church property..

During my second year in Juneau, I was at camp about 28 miles away, when word came to me that the Youth Hostel had been raided with front page coverage of the event, as a local reporter had been allowed to participate in the raid. Early in the morning the   house parents were awakened in their sleeping quarters with police personnel coming into their room without knocking.  No drugs were found on the premises.

Headline in the Juneau Empire read:  “Police Arrest 16 in Drug Raid”.  The only reference to the youth hostel was in this paragraph: “During that two-week period, 14 separate drug sales known to the police took place, including one in front of the Youth Hostel across the street from the capitol at 4:45 p.m. on a workday afternoon, police said.”  The damage was done.  Many believed that drugs had been found in the youth hostel. I asked the reporter why he didn’t say that the sale took place in front of the governor’s office, instead of in front of the youth hostel? And if memory serves me correctly, I may have referred to him as a “cub reporter”. I went on the offensive. I requested (demanded?) a clarification. Three days later, in a small article at the bottom of the front page, headlined with these words: “No Drug Arrests Made At Local Youth Hostel.” But the damage was done.  For years I was informed that exactly the opposite was the case. Some people just read headlines and some people do not read at all.

In fact, flash forward to 1974 and we were involved in a merger with a Presbyterian Church.  The Methodist Church had been taken by the State of Alaska by right of imminent domain to build a court house and the Youth Hostel needed a new home.  When we tried to place it in the Presbyterian Church, objections were raised by many because of this drug raid.  A strong Presbyterian layman was saying that drug arrests had occurred in the Youth Hostel.  I took the newspaper clipping that affirmed that “No Drug Arrests Made At Local Youth Hostel” and he refused to change his mind.  His mind was made up.  I lost respect for this individual in that instance. “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” In spite of the misinformation, the youth hostel was established in the basement of the Presbyterian Church, but I knew that there would be constant friction.

I was able to utilize the money we received from the State of Alaska for the Methodist Church to purchase the Whitehead House and that home was remodeled into usage by the Youth Hostel and it remains operative in that building to this day.  (2014) The church was reimbursed and the Juneau Youth Hostel operates independently from the Methodist Church now.

Our national office in New York City had a staff person that wanted the $180,000 we eventually received for the church property, but he made the mistake of saying we could keep it if we re-invested it in property in Juneau. It didn’t take long for me to make that happen.

But, back to the story, I demanded an apology from the Chief of Police and while I did not get one, I did get the promise that violating the privacy of the house parents would not happen again in future raids.  In the future they would knock.  However, I received the ire of the District Attorney, which I survived quite nicely.  The Chief of Police and I had respectful dialogue on this and other subjects.

The real miracle is all of this is that the church members, even those who had been critical, were now united in support of the youth hostel.  It was amazing to watch. Some of the critics were now the strongest defenders of our sponsorship of the youth hostel.

And even more amazing was the reaction of the community. One woman in particular realized that her young adult children were traveling the world with back packs and she decided to treat the resident of the Youth Hostel just like she would want her own children treated. She started bringing by pies for our guests and then staying to visit with them. She was not alone. Many people started doing this and it changed a lot of attitudes.

Prior to this the police were harassing young adults as they got off the ferry. It was worse in Ketchikan, where police would not allow long-haired youth with backpacks to get off the boat. In Juneau, they just followed them down the street. At some point, I let my hair grow a wee bit longer, as well as letting my beard grow. It was my way of making a statement.

I made a lot of enemies, but I also made some friends. The newspaper reporter was never helpful again and of course, the district attorney had no use for me. I felt good about my advocacy.  Many lay persons who rejected my ministry were much more angry about my criticism of the war in Vietnam than they were about the youth hostel. But that is another story.




-My second year in Kenai, a former pastor (H. Wayne Hull) came back to town, hoping to go on a bear hunt across Cook Inlet.  After many hours of discussion, I agreed to go with him.  We were flown to Oil Bay area and left for 3 days.  I was terrified.  We didn’t see any bears.  We did find a bear skull.  The most vivid memory was of a gigantic beaver dam and pond.  We ate lunch watching them at work.

-When at Kenai, my greatest fishing exploits was accomplished by doing pastoral calling on the beaches of the Cook Inlet with my hands out.  They were often filled.  Especially on Kalifonsky Beach Road.

-Caribou Hunt with Don Sheldon in 1966 (See Post “Do Not believe Every Thing You Read” for the details.)

-During the late 1960’s, while the pastor at Chugiak, I had the opportunity to do a great deal of road hunting, mostly with Leo C. Cramer.  Once, while hunting with several clergy, I was called the “Gentleman Hunter”, as I saw caribou standing under a tree and no one else saw them.  I asked if I could shoot.  They said yes and I shot one right through the head.  Perfect shot.  That may have been my last perfect shot. Another time it was 10 below and Ben Laird shot some caribou just at dusk.  He was lucky we didn’t shoot him.  The novel could have been called “Murder at 10 Below”.   We did obey the law then.  No shooting across the road.  I was waiting for some caribou on my own one time, but it turned out I was on the wrong side of the road.  I could hear them coming (click, click, click), but when I moved to the right side of the road, they saw me and turned around and disappeared.

-I honestly don’t remember when this happened, but two clergy friends shown up at my door, asking for help.  They had killed a moose illegally and they needed help for transportation.  They didn’t realize that they had shot a moose in a closed area.  Best to forget the details!

-While I was the pastor at Chugiak, I had the brilliant idea of thanking the Pittsfield United Methodist Church for their generous financial support through the Advance Special Program by sending them enough moose meat for a dinner.  I paid for a quick moose hunt across Cook Inlet from Anchorage.  It was successful though my guide had to do the shooting.  I missed!  We got the meat and sent some to Illinois.  We also sent them a painting of the Chugach Mountains above Chugiak by Maurice Richner.  It was huge.

-Moose hunting with Tom Dahl and Don Gotschall at the Alsek River near Yakatat . We were legal for three moose and five miles from our cabin, three moose were killed.  All we had to do was pack the meat for five miles.  Don was a skilled butcher, so we didn’t have to pack bones. The first evening we packed meat back to our cabin.  My pack was 90 pounds.  I could not lay down to rest.  I fell down to rest.  When we started that day there was snow cover, but rain had destroyed our tracks. Some of the gullies we crossed were full of water.  I slipped going through one and became completely soaked. Soon I was in danger of hypothermia.  We dropped our meat and soon found our cabin. They stuffed me into my sleeping bag and I had my first task of alcoholic beverages.  A hot toddy. I was in my 30’s.

The next day, a state game protection officer was watching us from his leased airplane.  He was making sure we carried out all of the meat.  We gathered all the meat at a very small runway. At one point the game officer landed and Tom Dahl negotiated a sub-lease of the plane to fly the rest of the meat back to our camp.  The state official agreed and we loaded the plane. Then the pilot asked for more money.  Tom haggled, while I begged him to give in.  Finally, no deal was reached and the pilot said, “Take out the meat”.  Tom said:  “Take it out yourself” and the pilot relented and actually flew our meat the five miles to our camp at the original price. The following day our chartered plane came and got us and the meat.  As we flew by Mt. Fairweather, I got very, very airsick.  No one offered me a hot toddy.

-Moose Hunting at Yakatat with Don Gotschall.  Two highlights: Don went out in the brush to scare up a moose and scared up a gigantic brown bear.  It ran pass me in a clearing (not seeing me nor smelling me, fortunately).  I was calm enough not to shoot.  I carry some pride in that.  First of all, I did not have a bear license and second, I had learned from State Senator Jay Hammond (later Governor Hammond) not to shoot a bear unless I had backup.  He had found dead hunters and dead bears.  One bear had several bullets in its body, but it was still able to kill the hunter.  As I recall, Jay had one collapse just a few feet from where he stood and he had placed several bullets in the bear.  I decided to enjoy the sight and stay calm.  I succeeded.

The other highlight was less dramatic, but my wife had labeled many food items, but rain had destroyed the labels.  One of the hunting rules is that the person who complains about the cooking becomes the cook.  So one night, thinking I was making mashed potatoes, I had made mashed potatoes from flour.  It was awful.  But no one complained!

We were hunting around the toe of Malaspina Glacier, which is said to be the size of Rhode Island.   I am very grateful to Don for allowing me to go along on these wonderful trips.

-Then there was the time I went deer hunting with the choir director of my church. His name was Richard Newton and he was a Tlingit Indian by heritage.  We were dropped off from a hunting boat on a nearby island.  We walked into the woods long a stream.  We hit another stream and followed that for awhile.  As it became time to return, Richard and I disagreed as to where we were.  Arguing with an elder and an Indian elder at that was dicey at best.  But I also wanted to get home.  I won the argument and we got back to the boat.  If we had gone the way Richard wanted to go, we would have been eight miles from the pickup point.  Not good.  Richard was very serious all the time, so I was careful not to tease him, but eventually he told the story on himself.  I was able to say, “You would think you would be safe in the woods with a Native American guide.” And he actually smiled.

-Don Gotschall took me with him to find some Dungeness Crab.  We caught 60.  It took the four of us (Gotschalls and Shaffers) 3 days to process them in Don’s garage.  (At Stanwood, where we lived in retirement, friends kept us supplied with Dungeness Crab during the season.  One filled the two of us, usually hanging over the sink..

-Another deer hunt occurred on a ridge on Admiralty Island.  I hiked to the top and saw a doe and her fawn.  I just enjoyed the beauty of it all.  Trying to get back down was one of the most difficult physical tasks in my memory.  Windfalls across a stream made it very difficult to go downhill, especially while carrying a rifle.i

-Then there was Nome.  On one fishing trip for grayling, a friend borrowed my 30-06 to take a brief walk.  He came back all excited.  I did not interpret his gestures correctly, but eventually we learned that Mike had shot a moose.  I did not shot Mike.  It was 80 degrees and we were a “fer piece” from the highway.  It took us three days to pack it out.  We ate it, but it wasn’t the best meat we ever had.  Afterwards several friends said: “why didn’t you let us know?”  Barbara became very skilled at butchering game animals on the kitchen table.

-Same place, another year, I purchased the right to shoot 3 reindeer “on the hoof” on the road between Nome and Teller.  We found a herd and I did not realize the power of my 30-06 rifle.  On the first shot I killed one animal and wounded another.  I am glad that didn’t happen on my third shot.

-Missed in Nome and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island: going hunting for bowhead whale, walrus and seal.   A genuine outdoorsperson would probably have been invited along.  I skipped that opportunity from learning from individuals like Willie Senungetuk.  Sadly, he made it possible for his children to get advance degrees and he lost some potential hunting companions.  However, when visiting in Gambell, I was invited to a lunch featuring aging walrus meat (covered with a green material) and seagull soup.  I went home thinking I had discovered a new source of protein, only to be reminded by friends that killing seagulls was illegal.  I can report that the seagull soup was delicious.  I passed on the walrus meat.

-During my time in Nome I was visiting in a home where the father was very angry at the church for some reason and he invited me to join him for some aged moose meat.  I accepted his dare and its wasn’t too bad, but it stuck with me for a long, long.  Willie Senungetuk advised me to eat their foods, but only to take a “little bit”.  Good advice.  I should have followed it one spring when a woman invited me to eat some Eskimo Ice Cream – it turned out the berry mixture had fermented.  I took a whole bowl and as God is my witness, I ate the whole bowl.  Never again.

-57 Pound King Salmon in Sitka Sound (See “Fish Story” for the details.  Also got a 70 pound Halibut in my fishing experiences.  (For comparison on King Salmon they used to go 90 plus pounds in the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula.)

-I switched to berry picking in Sitka.  One year I picked so many berries that I was able to sell some for $100 and place that money into the church mission fund.  At Sitka the primary berries were salmonberries and blueberries.  I also found watermelon berries and a neighbor allowed me to pick red currents from his bushes.   I demonstrated my intelligence by planting salmonberries in the parsonage yard.  Not a good idea.  I didn’t have to live with the results.

At Spokane, we utilized blue elderberries.  At Stanwood, there are lots and lots of blackberries, plus a friend has given us quince and red currents and use apples and plums, too.  We enjoy sharing them in various ways.

Don Sheldon: Don’t Believe Everything You Read


The Wall Street Journal, date March 17, 1971

Story on Alaska Bush Pilot Don Sheldon

“Or the time Don hit a stump and broke a ski on takeoff, with three ministers as passengers. To land again, the ministers had to hang out the door, in human-chain fashion in order that one of them could hold that damaged ski in place.”

Wager with the Wind: The Don Sheldon Story” by James Greiner  (In spite of one error, I highly recommend this book.)

Page 249  “Sheldon’s passengers are not always on the receiving end of the service he offers. On a sight-seeing jaunt with three Baptist ministers, he landed amidst several thousand caribou for pictures. On the takeoff, the right ski rigging parted company, causing the front of the ski to point straight down.  ‘I had a minister hanging out the door, standing on the heel of the ski so I could safely land the airplane. It was about 20 below outside in the slipstream and 40 miles back to Talkeetna.'”

What to do?   I was there and I am not a Baptist minister.  So a few people will know the truth of the matter.  There were not three ministers, but only two.  One of the group was an United Methodist layperson by the name of Jim Ekstedt.  The UNITED METHODIST ministers were W. E. Hoover of Ohio and John J. Shaffer of Chugiak, Alaska.  It happened in approximately 1966, when W. E. Hoover was with us to assist in raising money to build at new sanctuary at Chugiak.

We were not sight-seeing.  We were hunting for caribou.  We never saw any the entire flight. They had disappeared.

(Portions of a letter sent to the author James Greiner, dated February 22, 1975)

First of all, it was not three Baptist ministers. It was two United Methodist ministers (myself and W. E. Hoover) and one active United Methodist lay person (James Ekstedt). We were attempting to caribou hunt, but were unable to find any. We had landed for coffee and a visit at a remote lodge, where a young couple were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. (Add-on: at the time they didn’t seem to appreciate our visit, so we didn’t stay long. As we took off, we hit a submerged stump and were flying.  We observed that a bolt on the ski struts came out and the right ski pointed straight down.)   As we headed back to the Talkeetna Airport, we tried to hold the ski level with a gun, but found that it would not work. Then Mr. Hoover volunteered to stand on the rear of the ski for landing. Roberta (Sheldon) came to the main landing field with a fire extinguisher and the fire department was waiting at the end of the field. Don slowed the plane to the point that we stopped almost immediately upon touchdown. He let out a yell of victory and whatever the value of the new plane, Don was grateful. So grateful that he only charged us for 1/2 air time. Then he got some wire and tied down the bolts on parts of his new plane and he was ready to fly the next customer.

I suppose worse things could happen than going down in history as a Baptist minister, but let’s not push that.”

It is my memory that the author promised a correction in future editions, but alas, he died prior to making that happen.  Don Sheldon also died from cancer, not from an airplane crash.  As I recall, he was Catholic, so he could be forgiven for not keeping his Protestants straight.

Don Sheldon had used some code to his wife to indicate that he was in serious trouble, perhaps something like “we are coming home to the barn” and his verbal reaction (not suitable for younger ears), indicated that it was serious business.

I was not overly nervous as we prepared to land.   As I recall, Mr. Ekstedt held the door open and I held Mr. Hoover’s neck as he went outside of the plane to stand on the ski.  As he said:  “I want to get home safely to my wife.”  However, when I saw the fire trucks along side the airport runway, I realized how risky the situation was.  All was well that ended well.  We took photographs and went home to our wives, without any caribou steaks.

Footnote: Jim Ekstedt died in an airplane crash in 1990 while “caribou hunting” in the Bethel area while serving as Aniak City Manager.  This was 24 years after our experience with Don Sheldon.

John J. Shaffer served as a minister in Alaska from 1962-1995, retiring in 2008 north of Seattle at Stanwood, Washington. Now, in 2018, he lives at Wesley: Lea Hill, in Auburn, Washington.

He helped build the sanctuary at the United Methodist Church of Chugiak, which features a special design feature of the center aisle and the front cross lined up exactly with the peak of Mt. Denali. Stop by and check it out.  It is one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the State of Alaska.



The Story of Fred

This story is credited 100% to my friend, Leo C. Cramer.  It supports my belief in “universal salvation”, but that is my interpretation, not Leo’s.  Once we recognize God at work in individuals like Fred, then many of our opinions and judgments melt away.  At least they do for me.  This was taken “From the Pastor’s Pen” in the 1980’s.

“Doris called the other day to tell me that her Dad, Fred, had died. He had been a friend of mine for sometime and a man that I thoroughly enjoyed. We hadn’t been fishing or hunting buddies or even sharing books in common, just one of those friendships that come about because of where he worked and where I stopped. Fred never came to church with his wife. She was one of those who rarely missed. He claimed she had religion enough for both of them but that is never the case.

I first met Fred out in the alley behind our house. He lived just behind us at one end of the alley. We lived on the other end. He was tinkering around with a lawn mower at the time. He could fix anything that was supposed to run and wouldn’t. I pushed the lawn mower down to him and he looked it over. In a very few moments my mower was running smoothly and ready to go. I think really the mower was afraid not to run. If Fred had talked to me the way he did the mower I would have run too. He had colorful and descriptive language. Oh, I had heard all those words before but never quite in the sequence he was able to ‘cut them loose.’ For employment Fred ran the local Exxon Station. The air around the station was often blue and not from exhaust fumes, more often from Fred’s talking to the things he worked with and on.

But, Fred was a kind man. He would do anything for anybody. He often shared with me the names and reasons of folks who could ‘use a lift.’ He was tough but very gentle. I often invited him to church but he never came. He had many excuses, the chief of which was that the roof wasn’t strong enough.

His favorite expression concerning one old VW that I owned was that if I promised to leave town with it and never come back he would fill it with free gas.

He was hospitalized once because of an acid spill from a battery on his leg and foot. I visited him and he said, ‘You would probably feel better if you prayed for me so go ahead.’ I did.

I think over the years I developed an understanding of Fred. I know God did so I’ll leave any and all judgment about him to God. One of his last requests to his daughter Doris was simply, ‘Call my preacher when I’m gone. Ask him if his cars and mower still run and tell him thanks from Fred.’

I simply said that morning in my devotions, ‘Thanks God, for Fred.'” (end of story)

For years I could not use that story in a sermon without getting emotional and I didn’t even know Fred.

But I have known lots of Freds. 

I was Master of Ceremonies at a Memorial Service for a member of the Stanwood Lion’s Club and during the service (attended by nearly 300 people), the deceased brother spoke of his concern for his brother’s eternal destiny because his brother was different than he was on the point of church participation.  I responded that if this individual didn’t make it with God, then we were all in trouble.  Some one challenged me after the service and I was able to share my faith.  He was not convinced, but at least I made my witness.  And what more can I do, given what I believe about God.


Celebration of My Life

John Jay Shaffer                              Celebration of Life

Born November 23, 1937    Ludlow, Illinois (Harwood Township)

Died:   ________20??

Service of Death and Resurrection (UMH 870)




Hymn No. 2051  “I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry”


Scripture   Psalm 130

Special Music   “On Eagle’s Wings”

Celebration of Life (Obituary)

Remembering the Life of John Jay Shaffer  (just trying to be helpful)

John Jay Shaffer was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1937, which was a source of personal satisfaction, especially on those years when his birthday and Thanksgiving coincided.  He was the youngest of four boys, the sons of George H and Bernice Hope Radley Shaffer.  In his older years, he celebrated two birthdays:  his legal one on November 23rd and his real one on November 25th.  The doctor made a mistake on the birth certificate and no one caught it until I checked the actual date of Thanksgiving in 1937 on my computer.

John graduated from Rantoul Township High School in 1955 and then attended Illinois Wesleyan University, a Liberal Arts school in Bloomington, Illinois. After deciding to be an United Methodist minister, he graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. During a two week period in 1962, John and his wife Barbara shared in graduation exercises at Garrett, Ordination at Jacksonville, Illinois, marriage (also at Garrett’s chapel) and commissioning as missionaries at Danville, Illinois. Then it was off to Alaska for three years, which became thirty three years, the longest period of pastoral service of any United Methodist pastor on record. They served in six different locations there (Kenai, Chugiak, Juneau-Douglas, Nome, Anchorage and Sitka), deciding to end their career in the State of Washington. They were fortunate enough to be assigned to a church of the South Hill of Spokane known as Manito, where they had five happy years of service. Then, when retirement did not look as attractive, they were assigned to Stanwood and Camano island, where they served for eight years.

Highlights of ministry have been detailed in various ways and in various places. Time has a way of changing them. Life was very good to him, with opportunities far beyond his wildest dreams: summer experiences in Detroit, Michigan, and Moose Pass, Alaska came before his marriage.  Then there has been travel to Africa, the Holy Land, China and England prior to retirement.  There were many nature experiences in various parts of Alaska and enough national and international church experiences to satisfy him.

Here are some of the things about which John was most proud.

-Assisting in naming a state educational facility in Nome after an Eskimo educator: Arthur Nagozruk, Sr.

-Shaking up the Nome establishment over the issue of alcohol abuse and then surviving the experience.

-Maintaining a liberal position on many theological issues at a time when there was pressure to be something else in order to get along with powerful forces who were trying to narrow the appropriate faith stance in society.

-Supporting his wife in many of her stimulating activities in the wider national church organization.  Establishment of a scholarship in her name at Alaska Pacific University was the first of many such opportunities.  Now we have scholarships for Congo students and students at Claremont School of Theology in both of our names.  We have been blessed.

-Participating in some good camping experiences at seven different locations during his lifetime of ministry, highlighted by six years as the camp committee chair at Hope, Alaska. (Birchwood Camp near Anchorage, Hope Retreat Center, Eagle River Camp near Juneau, Salmon Lake Camp near Nome, Indianola Camp near Seattle, Twinlow Camp in Idaho and Lazy F Camp near Ellensburg, WA.

-Helping to broaden the idea of many individuals as to what was considered appropriate ministerial demeanor and ideas.

-Doing some writing and publishing, even on a small scale. Until computers become obsolete, one can read some of John’s writings at JohnJShafferMusings.

-Having quality relationships (friendships) in each place where he was privileged to live and serve.

-Of course, the major highlight (besides marriage to Barbara) was catching a 57 pound King Salmon in Sitka Sound during the summer of 1994. He was fulfilled and  ready to die and to go to heaven. The subsequent years have just been bonus time.

Newspaper Example Follows:

John Jay Shaffer (age ____) died at _______________________________ on ______________________ .

Born on November 23, 1937 (actually November 25, 1937-the doctor made a mistake and no one caught it. There was consistent family lore than John was born on Thanksgiving Day) at home on a farm near Ludlow, Illinois to his parents: George H and Bernice Hope Radley Shaffer. Graduated from Rantoul Township High School, Rantoul, Illinois, Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He was elected to the Honorary Society of Phi Kappa Phi, but his main claim to fame was being neither tardy nor absent during four years of high school.  After 51 years of service as an United Methodist minister, he retired in the year 2008. He served as a pastor in Illinois, Alaska and Washington, serving 33 years as a Missionary in Alaska, the longest term of (United) Methodist pastoral service in the history of that state. He was elected as the first voting clergy delegate to General Conference of the United Methodist Church from the Alaska Missionary Conference in 1980. He was a member of Rotary, Lions and Toastmasters at various times in his life. He is survived (or not) by his wife of _____ years, Barbara Marian Dadd Shaffer, also of Auburn, Washington.   He had three brothers (Paul, Wayne and Lee), Paul and Lee preceded him in death.  Memorial Services will be held on ____________________ at or near Auburn, WA at Wesley, Lea Hill Campus or  (fill in the place). Memorial contributions may be made to:  Claremont School of Theology in Salem, Oregon.

Family and Friends’ Remembrances

Hymn No. 2283 “There’ll Be Joy in the Morning”

Scripture:  Romans 5:18-19

Message (be brief and to the point)  John liked the word “All”, as in I Corinthians 15:22 ff “for as All die in Adam, so ALL will be made alive in Christ”.

I spent much of my life trying to help persons be open to new ways of seeing and believing, so don’t blow it at my memorial service by suggesting that the only way to God is through Christianity. I hope God worked through me, but I also believe God works through other people, in addition to Christians.

Include:  This Is My Song (No. 437) and include my 4th verse as improved by Jan Post:

My Verse 4: This is my goal, O God of all the world’s faiths, Respect for all, for those with conflict rife, An end to hate, war and all bitter bloodshed,  For all persons have hope, a love of life. Help reach our goal, Thou God of all the world’s faiths, Doing our part, to lift us from dark strife.

Improved 2019:  This is my dream, O God of all the world’s faiths, A dream of peace for all who live on earth, an end to hate and war and bitter bloodshed, for all who hope and have a love of life, I’ll keep our dream O God of all the world’s faiths, I’ll do my part to lift us to God’s love.  (or option 2 “to lift us from despair”.)

(Maybe a solo)   “To Dream the Impossible Dream”



Prayer of Thanksgiving

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn No. 707 “Hymn of Promise”



“Wisdom is asking the questions for which there are no answers.” Harrell Beck

“There is a little good in the worst of us, and a little bad in the best of us.” Bernice Hope Radley Shaffer

“Someone drew a circle that shut me out  Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. But LOVE and I had the wit to win We drew a circle that took someone in.”  Edwin Markham

“I think that evangelicals and liberals can get along quite well as long as evangelicals are willing to admit, as I do, that the evangelical position is only a Christian position and not the Christian position. It is only when persons establish a particular theological stance as the only legitimate one to have in order to be part of the household of God that real trouble starts.”   Dr. Tony Campolo

“Some times the Bible is just plain wrong.”    John J. Shaffer (agreeing with Marcus Borg)

Family and Friends are invited to share in refreshment provided by members and friends of the sponsoring agency wherever appropriate in the facility.

You are invited to make a donation to the charity of your choice in my memory.  Adding to a named scholarship at Claremont School of Theology would be one possibility.  Or Mobility Worldwide (PET-Personal Energy Transportation Hand Bike).

last updated January 30, 2020