The seven members of the SHS Class of 2005 hug each other one last time after marching off the stage following their commencement ceremony on May 18. See more photos and memorable quotations from their special Graduation Night . Casey Grove

Skagway loses a best friend in Jay Frey

Community remembers vice mayor, union leader who died unexpectedly on May 20

Skagway Vice Mayor J.M. “Jay” Frey suffered a massive stroke related to diabetes not long after coming to work at the railroad shops on Thursday, May 19. That evening, a sign was posted on the doors of Skagway City Hall announcing that the City Council meeting was cancelled “in deference to Jay Frey.” He died the following day, Friday May 20, at about 12:15 p.m. in Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital, with his wife by his side. Frey was 63.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday May 28 at St. Therese Catholic Church, followed by a graveside service at Skagway’s cemetery, and a reception at the Elks Lodge.
Frey was without question Skagway’s most respected civic leader – a five-term member of the City Council, long-time chair of its Finance Committee, and vice mayor during most of that tenure. He never aspired for higher office, content with keeping a conservative eye on the town’s treasury and making it grow responsibly.
He also was a prominent union leader, the Shop Steward since 1970 for Teamsters Local 959, representing about 75 railroad workers who maintained the rolling stock, track and bridges for the White Pass and Yukon Route.
But more than those leadership qualities, Jay Frey was a friend to everyone.
“He was my best friend,” said John Berry, remembering how they first met.
When Berry first came to work at White Pass in November 1969, he ran out of gas on the way to work, and walked in a cold north wind to the shops. After telling his ordeal to a group of shop workers, one raised his hand and offered to go get him some gas at his house down the street.
“It was Jay Frey,” Berry said. “The guy had a big heart. Everybody loved him.”
Frey came back to Skagway because he loved it here.
He was born in Minneapolis, Minn. on June 29, 1941 and came north with his family as a boy. His dad worked on the building of the Alaska Highway, and spent time in several northern communities, settling in Skagway when Jay was eight. As a boy growing up, Frey made friends with Tom Mason, Lee Hartson and others, but the family left for California when he was 14.
Frey’s family was well off and wanted to send him to college, but Jay wanted to make it on his own. He joined the Army and ran into Mason in Oakland, Calif., who put him in touch with the railroad. Jay would return to Skagway five years later with his new wife, Yungja, whom he met in South Korea in 1959.
Yungja, known to most as “Bobbie,” was working at a parts store, in a line of 10 women including Miss Korea. But Jay stopped and winked at her, and they began dating.
“He was a gentleman,” Bobbie said. “He didn’t show his feelings but he was a very deep person … Why I married him? He was a strong man.” An early example of his financial responsibilities came in Korea. Bobbie said Jay made only $80 a month in the service, and he would put it all in a drawer and take out $20 every Monday for them. But he was saving more than she knew.
“He saved $300 in the bank and spent every bit of it on an engagement ring,” she said.
They were married in 1962 and moved from Korea to North Carolina, where he finished up his service commitment. Then they headed north to Skagway. Jay began working at the railroad shops in 1964, and Bobbie eventually would join the Alaska Marine Highway. They enjoyed children but were never able to have any of their own.

J.M. FREY, 1941-2005 - Dimitra Lavrakas Photo

Frey was 23 when he joined White Pass, first as a hammer operator in the blacksmith shop. He then became a laborer, bridge and building helper, and electrician helper, and finally, the railroad’s journeyman electrician, a position he held since 1968.
John Mielke, Vice President of Rail Operations for the WP&YR and a former mayor, said Frey was not only a great employee with incredible knowledge of workings of the railroad, he was instrumental as a union leader in getting the line running again after the 1982-1988 shutdown (see letters).
“He cannot be replaced,” Mielke added.
Tim Sunday, Southeast Alaska Business Agent for Teamsters Local 959 said he never met a nicer and more fair person than Jay Frey.
“He was a friend to everybody and he advocated for everybody,” Sunday said. “He cared about the town and his co-workers. He always looked for good in everything.”
Sunday said they would chat weekly, whether or not there was union business before them.
“I’m going to miss him and his advice with railroad issues. He retained everything,” Sunday added. “We’ve lost a part of history. He meant so much to so many people.”
On the side, Frey ran Dyea Electric, and often would do work in people’s homes after his railroad shift. He relaxed by hunting and fishing, driving out to Dyea with his dog (even after his long-time friend Dyea “Mayor” Paul Jones passed away), reading, and keeping up with the stock market, which he checked every morning before heading off to coffee with R.A. Stephens, and then work at the railroad shops.
Frey’s knowledge of the financial world helped the City of Skagway immensely after he was first elected to the City Council in 1991. As Finance Chairman, he oversaw the growth of the Skagway Land Fund and was a staunch advocate of keeping a tightly controlled budget and taxes as low as possible. He was re-elected to four more terms by huge majorities.
“Jay was the ultimate Councilmember,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy. “I don’t know how you replace a guy of that caliber. You can’t.”
Frey would have served until October 2006. Bourcy said he will need to appoint someone to serve in Frey’s seat until the next general election, but will wait until after he is laid to rest. Frey’s portrait will soon hang in the Council chambers.
Frey wasn’t one to be quoted much outside Council meetings, but would buy reporters – and everyone else – drinks after meetings and let them know what he thought about issues ranging from the cost of electricity to catching a grayling. At home, he never talked about city business, preferring to read and tinker.
He amassed an immense collection of wires and electrical parts outside his shop at his home. Several White Pass workers organized by roadmaster Ed Hanousek cleaned up the Frey yard last weekend. Neighbor Jan Nelson and others also helped, and Gene Landers and his family cut the grass, Bobbie Frey said.
“They volunteered; they said they would do anything for Jay,” Bobbie said. “He earned it, not me.”
Jay was a strong person but confided with only a select few about his disease, Bobbie said. He had been sick with diabetes for several years. He had lost a toe and recently was having trouble with his eyesight.
Still, even though he was 63 and could have retired soon, many considered him a young man who would be a part of Skagway for many more years. His sudden departure has been difficult for many friends to accept – and he would consider each one of us a friend.
“He was the best of all of us,” Bourcy said.
Jay Frey leaves his wife Yungja. He was preceded in death by a brother lost in an accident when he was just 14, his parents, and more recently an uncle and aunt in Arizona.
Gifts may be made in Jay Frey’s memory to the American Diabetes Association by clicking on the “Memorial Gifts” link at, calling 1-800-DIABETES, or sending a check to the ADA, PO Box 1131, Fairfax, VA 22038-1131.

Winter ferry ‘experiment’ will take Fairweather from Lynn Canal

The fast ferry Fairweather will stop coming to Skagway starting Oct. 1, the Alaska Marine Highway System announced on its Web site May 19, and two mainline day boats will service Lynn Canal over the winter.
In addition, ferries from Bellingham and Prince Rupert will no longer sail up Lynn Canal, and will head south after reaching Juneau.
Skagway Mayor Tim Bourcy accused ferry system administrators of setting the ferries up for failure so the Department of Transportation can bolster their case for building roads in Southeast.
“It’s all about building roads,” Bourcy said. “The state is systematically trying to destroy the marine highway system.”
Robin Taylor, deputy commissioner for marine transportation at DOT, called the shift an “experiment” to see how the two current fast ferries operate on routes between Petersburg and Juneau, and Petersburg and Ketchikan. Then a determination can be made on the purchase of two more fast ferries, he said.
“We have options on construction of the next two fast ferries, potentially a $100 million purchase when you factor in shoreside modifications that will be needed,” Taylor said. “We need to fully understand their suitability for their intended routes.”
It is an experiment that “makes no sense,” Bourcy said. “The motive is they want roads, they want the marine highway system to be destroyed.”
“They know the (Fairweather) works down here, it’s been here a year. It has nothing to do with fast ferry three and four,” Bourcy said.
But Taylor said Bourcy’s assertions are incorrect.
“Anybody that tells you that all that Robin Taylor and those crazy guys want to do is build roads and destroy the ferry system, they don’t know me and they certainly don’t have logic on their side,” Taylor said. “I’m here to save this system, not bury it.”
Taylor added that Lynn Canal is going to see “better and improved service.” His goal is to have a shuttle running between Skagway and Haines, and said the state is soliciting letters of interest from local boat owners who might be interested in operating as a shuttle.
Taylor said he fully supports the governor’s plan to build a highway from Juneau to Skagway, because it will cost much less: “It costs us, and by us I mean the state, a penny per mile per car for our highway system. It costs over $2 to carry a car one mile on the ferry.”
Plus, he said, the ferry system has lost more than 30 percent of its ridership over the last 10 to 11 years.
Shortly after he was elected, Gov. Frank Murkowski announced his plan to build an approximately 70-mile, two-lane highway from Juneau to Skagway. He restarted the Juneau Access Draft Environmental Impact Statement which had been shelved by the previous Knowles administration.
However, in an October 2004 advisory vote, 62 percent of Skagwayans voted for improved ferry service as opposed to a road, and the City of Skagway continues to be on record against the proposed road.
Those opposed to the road cite impacts to the Lower Dewey Lake recreation area, which the proposed road would skirt, the approach into town at 23rd Ave., the projected $281 million cost of construction, avalanche risk, and economic issues, including Skagway’s status as the main port for the Yukon.
Supporters of the road say it will lower travel costs for the average family, provide better access to health care, cost the state less to maintain, and improve access to the capital city for all Alaskans.
Mayor Bourcy said it was his job to represent the majority of Skagwayans who oppose the road.
“If the 62 percent supported the road, I would support the road,” Bourcy said.

Weekly World News scoops Skagway News (maybe)

I’m new to town, so it didn’t surprise me when News Depot manager Wendy Anderson showed me a Weekly World News story about a Skagway airline canceling inflight movies and forcing their flight attendants to do puppet shows.
“We have to constantly monitor costs,” said Northern Lights Airways spokesperson Gloria Newman in the article, which appeared near a story about spontaneous human combustion (caused by global warming) and one about how Elvis is not only alive, he’s even running for president. “Paying Hollywood a lot of money for bad movies is not cost effective when we have a talented bunch of flight attendants who can make a puppet show come to life.”
Puppet shows on an airplane didn’t seem all that baffling to me. After all, Skagway has proved to be a unique town; anything seemed possible to this Fairbanks boy. No, the really strange part was that nobody here at the News Depot knew anything about a Northern Lights Airways being headquartered in Skagway. At first, I thought that was kind of funny.
But my editor, Jeff Brady, was furious. “How does the only newspaper in a small town like this get scooped by a (expletive deleted) magazine based all the way on the East Coast?” he screamed, pacing around the office and tearing out patches of hair before ordering me to go find the mysterious airline.
So I scurried out the door with a notebook in my back pocket and a healthy sense of fear to not return empty-handed.
Mike O’Daniel, Vice President of Skagway Air Service, offered little help.
“Nobody knows where the hell they are,” O’Daniel said while unloading his plane. “Competition as it is, you’d think we’d be aware of it. Unless it’s Ted (Turner), and they’ve spun off and done another discount air service.”
“Maybe we’ll have to work with a better grade of puppet, or bring back stewardesses, or quit hiring so many Irishmen,” he added, concerned about another company vying for his passengers.
“We are a small airline,” said Gloria Newman in the article by Kip Lewis.
Well, I thought, anyone whose corporate headquarters are in Skagway must be a small operation. Still, hiding even one airplane in this town would be a tough thing to pull off. I just needed to dig a little deeper and go a little further with my research if I was going to find them.
At the Red Onion, bartender Deb Potter didn’t know anything about a Northern Lights Airways – or even airplanes in general – but she did make a damn fine Bloody Mary.
“No, I’ve never heard of that,” Potter said, adding that she doesn’t usually read the Weekly World News.
This is the third time, said railroad conductor Mike Sica, that Skagway has made it into the WWN, whose pages are often frequented by the likes of Bat Boy, extraterrestrials and giant Amazon women.
“I’m a big fan of Bat Boy,” Sica said. “I’ve got a Bat Boy hat.”
Sica, a subscriber to the magazine for 25 years, said Skagway was first featured in the Weekly World News in a story about local ghosts, and then again when they printed a story about cleaning guru Don Aslet, grandfather to the Klothes Rush clan.
“Those were either true, or you know, you couldn’t prove there was no ghost,” Sica said, walking by a string of White Pass parlor cars. “It wasn’t until this latest one about Northern Lights Airways that I thought their stories might not be true. It’s making me question a lot of things about the world.”
Messages left at the Weekly World News were not returned as of press time. As it turns out, there is no Northern Lights Airways, not in Skagway, not anywhere.
After an entire day of searching the streets and alleyways of this relatively small town, I returned to the newsroom with little more than I started out with. That’s when I flipped open the cover of the Weekly World News one last time and was enlightened on the editorial policy of “the world’s only reliable newspaper.”
At the bottom of Page 2, there is a disclaimer: “Weekly World News articles are drawn from different sources and most are fictitious ... The reader should suspend belief for the sake of enjoyment.”
Ahh... enjoyment. Enjoying yourself, I’ve discovered, is what Skagway is all about. It’s just that it took me a whole day of walking around town to figure that out.

DISASTER TABLE TOP - Officials from several city, state and federal departments discuss the status of a mock “situation” in Skagway in which a disease breaks out on a cruise ship. Jeff Brady

Skagway becomes bio-terror training ground for a day

Imagine an illness that travels through air, can spread to dozens - maybe hundreds - within hours. Now imagine it arrives aboard a cruise ship. Imagine the pneumonic plague strikes Skagway.
Skagway community leaders played out just such a scenario April 22 at City Hall in order to test the community’s emergency response team for potential terrorist threats.
“It was definitely a concern for some sort of infectious disease on a cruise ship,” said Tori Clyde, who organized the day-long exercise as Homeland Security grant program manager. “We’ve seen it before,” she said referring to a suspicious case during the Severe Acute Respiratory scare a few years ago.
This is the second of the city’s emergency preparedness exercises. Both exercises have been funded by two $10,000 grants for training, equipment and emergency preparedness from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Known as “table top exercises,” these scenarios assemble community leaders - everyone from police and firefighters to ferry managers and national park staff - in one room.
Throughout the day, each emergency responder imagines the problems that he or she could face in a scenario such as the attack of a pneumonic plague and reports those to the group, with the hopes of finding solutions.
At last year’s table top in May, the group tested its ability to respond to an explosion aboard one of the cruise docks. Clyde said some of the response to that exercise was slightly disorganized, and the group learned it needed to update the emergency response plan.
“We realized at that time that our disaster plan wasn’t really effective and our communication was lacking,” she said. “Phone numbers were outdated.”
A new “Skagway All Hazard Mitigation Plan” was developed over the winter by Clyde, Police Chief Ray Leggett, Fire Chief Mark Kirko and Council members Mike Korsmo, Monica Carlson and Michael Catsi.
With the new plan, Clyde said this year’s response was much smoother.
“It got a lot of people in the position of thinking as a group,” she said. “We’re all beginning to think about emergency awareness.”
Retired Cordova Fire Chief Dewey Whetsell, who came to facilitate the training, said that one of the most important things in an emergency is knowing which agencies to contact in an emergency.
“Now with this book, anybody can look those up and contact them,” he said referring to Skagway’s hazard mitigation plan.
Whetsell said he’s been to communities throughout Alaska to help with emergency preparedness required through the Homeland Security Act. This year, Alaska released its own plan in the case of such a bioterrorism-type emergency. And communities like Skagway were required to follow suit by playing out such a scenario in similar activities.
Ideally, the city can give a good emergency plan to any “Bubba” in town and that person would be able to run the show as incident commander, he said.
Assembling the main community players in emergency awareness was one step in that direction, but national players would also have to be contacted in the case of an emergency, such as an explosion or illness suspected of being linked to terrorists.
“You need to know what they are and how to contact them,” he said. “Next, it is a brain game.”
If an emergency were to occur, Skagway leaders would first appoint an incident commander to watch over the city’s main response. Already, City Manager Bob Ward is first in line for the job. If he is unavailable, the job falls to Mayor Tim Bourcy. When the initial decision was made during the simulations April 22, neither men were available so City Council member Monica Carlson took on the job.
Fire Chief Kirko said several people must be notified in the case of a serious emergency.
“There’s a whole bunch of things that need to happen at a simultaneous time,” he said.
The town must be quarantined from unauthorized air, land and sea travel. Members of the public must also be notified by a public information officer, who was Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue in this scenario. Food and water must be rationed, and people must be kept from panicking.
“This is a lot of information to digest in one sitting,” Kirko said of the simulation. “They’re doing very well.”
The material is much more user-friendly in comparison to last year’s emergency awareness simulation, said Dennis Bousson, assistant ferry terminal manager.
“It seems much more streamlined,” he said, referring to a better-organized contact list.
Ferry Terminal Manager Gary Hanson speculated, “A lot of that’s because this is the second time, not the first. People know what they’re doing.”
Still such plans are always under revision, Whetsell said. “There will probably be a bit of a rewrite.”
He said he was impressed that several of the members of the emergency response team, which included local law enforcement, fire and search and rescue teams, military, border protection and National Park Service, among others, were well prepared for the imaginary scenario and had done their own research on bioterrorism.
“These guys took this ball and ran with it like they’ve been doing all their lives,” Whetsell said.
Clyde said, if the city receives another year of grant funding, the emergency response teams may be able to have a real simulation next year, with a full deployment of people and equipment.

WP&YR steams for another record

More than 404,000 people rode the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad last summer, and this year the most popular shore excursion in Alaska is expected to top 425,000 passengers.
“It looks like we’ll have a great year this year,” said WP&YR President Gary Danielson. “Our greatest growth has come in the last three years – exponential growth.”
Based on the number of rides already sold, the capacity of the cruise ships and previous years’ capture rates (the percentage of visitors to Skagway who ride the rails), WP&YR expects to break the record set last year by at least 21,000 passengers.
“Eighty-five percent of our business is based on the cruise ships,” Danielson said. “More and more of the excursions are being pre-sold prior to their getting here.”
The WP&YR also controls the three major cruise ship docks in Skagway through ownership of the railroad dock and a lease agreement with the City of Skagway for the others. The railroad charges a fee of $6.40 per passenger, an increase of $0.20 from last year to pay for security upgrades at the docks, which include added personnel, new barriers and an X-ray truck for baggage.
In 2002, Danielson assisted in writing the first dock security plan, the details of which are not made public. He said it has grown from eight pages to more than 50.
Danielson praised the efforts of Skagway residents in providing the tourism infrastructure needed to keep the tourists coming back, and said the railroad is doing its part as well.
“We keep working hard to make sure we have the commitment of the cruise lines,” he said.
That work includes upgrades between Carcross, Yukon and Bennett, B.C., the return in July of newly restored Engine 69, the addition of two yard crew personnel, and the recent delivery of 10 new parlor cars. The new cars will replace 11 that were damaged when some of them broke loose from an engine Oct. 1 and rolled through the rail yard, smashing into another string of parlor cars.
“It was just an accident,” Danielson said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault.” The railroad conducted an investigation, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration, and no disciplinary action was taken, he added.
The 10 new cars provide 138 more seats than were previously available. One of those damaged in the accident has been repaired, and five more historical wooden cars will be repaired later, he said.
Danielson said the railroad is expecting approval soon from the Canada Transport Commission to return to Carcross for a special charter train on June 24 for Ride Yukon 2005, a group of about 200 motorcycle enthusiasts. The railroad had hoped to have Engine 69 ready for the event, but its delivery has been delayed a month, and Engine 73 will take its place.
The railroad plans to run charters to Carcross for special events, and add the Yukon community to future schedules when a market is identified, he said.
WP&YR has cut back its hiker service from Bennett to weekends this year. Danielson said about one-third of Chilkoot Trail hikers take the train back to Skagway, mostly on weekends.
“There’s no reasons to run trains with one person on them, not at that cost,” he said, adding that they notified Parks Canada of the change last fall to alert hikers.
The railroad bed between Bennett and Log Cabin has been widened to better accommodate hikers who want to walk out to the highway, he said.

BIGGER BARRELS – The city’s new “historic” looking litter barrels were set in place this week by Public Works crew members Wayne Ames and Roy Nelson. The design was approved by the Historic District Commission, and they contain an easy to remove steel barrel manufactured by Griffith’s in Whitehorse and a fireproof butt receptacle on top. They have twice the capacity of the old cans (right). Jeff Brady


• GRADUATION: Memorables quotations and photos from the SHS Class of 2005's big night

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP - Fish This! returns for the summer, Wrestlemania camps out at school

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