Jan and Dick Newton: Longtime volunteers are unsung heroes

February 26, 2010 

Dick and Jan Newton

BOB HALLINEN / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

All that needs be said about Iditarod volunteers Jan and Dick Newton was summarized in one observation by veteran musher Lynda Plettner some years back.

"Early on in the Iditarod's history," she said, "all the checkpoints competed for the best checkpoint award. But Takotna won it so many times that the award was canceled."

Takotna, a village of about 50 residents on the north bank of the Takotna River just west of McGrath, has long been a famous for it's Iditarod hospitality. And since the beginning, Jan and Dick Newton have been the heart and soul of the checkpoint.

Jan has fed and pampered a legion of mushers. Dick has kept the trail open, organized searches and helped rescue more than a few mushers in trouble.

Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman was a young musher from Minnesota running the biggest race of his life in faraway Alaska when he met the Newtons for the first time in 1983. He thought he was someone special the way he got welcomed in Takotna. He came to learn that in Takotna, every musher is treated as someone special.

"They're just the salt of the earth of rural Alaska," said Nordman. "The lifeblood of the Iditarod."

Four-time Iditarod champ Jeff King of Denali Park wonders how they do it. He knows the Iditarod isn't paying for the steaks and fresh-baked pies that seem to appear magically for every musher to reach Takotna.

"It's unbelievable," King said. "I've always wondered whose bank account it came out of."

The hearts from which it all springs are easier to identify. If someone needs help, Dick is always there. If a musher puts down a plate but still looks hungry, Jan invariably hands out more food.

As they get on in years, Nordman wonders how long the Newtons can keep this up. Though both are in good health, he knows people can't go on giving of themselves forever.

"They're going to be a tough pair to replace," he said.

Inducted 2008 Greatest accomplishment Have been the heart and soul of the Takotna checkpoint since the Iditarod's inception. Vital stats Born: Arkansas (Jan) and Oregon (Dick) Hometown: Takotna Age: Jan, 73, and Dick, 79 Positions held Takotna checkpoint managers.

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