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Wally Hickel, Aug. 18, 1919 - May 7, 2010

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service
Governor Walter Hickel and his wife Ermalee pose for a portrait in the Governor's mansion before the Juneau inaugural ball on January 21, 1991.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Walter Hickel and his wife Ermalee attended the Veterans and Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday November 11, 2009 at the Alaska National Guard Armory on Ft. Richardson.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Wally Hickel poses for photograph in 1991 after his successful run for governor of Alaska.
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel campaign pins. The "Favorite Son" pin at bottom center touts Hickel for the presidency.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage Daily News File PhotoGovernor Wally Hickel on election night in 1990 after his successful run for governor of Alaska.
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Wally Hickel on election night in 1990 after his successful run for governor of Alaska.
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Wally Hickel on August 13, 1969.
Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel in the kitchen in 1979.
Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel talks to supporters after a campaign breakfast in Fairbanks on October 20, 1990 during his successful run for governor of Alaska.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Wally Hickel in Kodiak for an inaugural ball on January 3, 1991 after his successful run for governor of Alaska.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel and running mate Jack Coghill at election central on election night 1990 during his successful run for governor of Alaska.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel and Alaska senator Jack Coghill look at election results on August 26, 1986 at the Hotel Captain Cook.
Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Wally Hickel at his campaign headquarters during his successful run for governor of Alaska in 1990.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel was governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1968 and 1990 to 1994. Photographed in the Hotel Captain Cook on August 25, 2009.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage Daily News archive photo - In May 1975 Governor Jay Hammond posed with his predecessors, former governors Bill Egan, left, and Wally Hickel, right.William Egan.
file / ADN
Greeting a beautiful day on Gastinau Channel with Alaska's capital city of Juneau in the background in June of 2009.
Former Gov. Walter Hickel smiles standing near a copy of his official portrait as Secretary of the Interior Thursday at the Hotel Captain Cook. The two-time governor served in President Richard Nixon's Cabinet for 22 months ending in 1970. Hickel's "Who Owns America?" book was well received back then, and he hopes for more success with his new book.
Erik Hill / ADN
Ermalee Hickel and Wally Hickel look at some of the souvenirs they brought back from Yakutsk, Siberia during a 1980 trip.
Anchorage Times File Photo
Wally Hickel was governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1968 and 1990 to 1994. Photographed in the Hotel Captain Cook on August 25, 2009.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel responds to the crowd at a campaign breakfast in Fairbanks on October 20, 1990 during his successful run for governor of Alaska.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Walter J. Hickel, candidate for Governor, September 28, 1990.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
President Richard Nixon and Walter Hickel, former Secretary of the Interior, chat in the chief executive's office at the White House on September 12, 1972. (AP Photo)
Wally Hickel was governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1968 and 1990 to 1994. Photographed in the Hotel Captain Cook on August 25, 2009.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Former Alaska Governor Wally Hickel and Elmer Rasmuson in 1987. Anchorage Daily News file photo
ADN
Former governor Walter J. Hickel, state Senator Jack Coghill, and U.S. Senator Ted Stevens confer before testifying about the proposed change in the state constitution affecting subsistence rights in May 1990.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
Former Alaska governor Wally Hickel co-chair of Backbone II speaks at a press conference/rally sponsored by the organization to protest Department of Natural Resources commissioner Tom Irwin leaving his post in the Murkowski administration Friday October 28, 2005 at the Atwood building in downtown Anchorage.
Bob Hallinen / ADN
Gov. Walter Hickel confers with President-elect Richard Nixon about his appointment as Secretary of the Interior at a meeting in New York in December 1968. (AP Photo)
Governor Wally Hickel works on his State of the State address in his capitol office on January 14, 1992.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
Walter Hickel and Jack Coghill announce their candidacy for Governor and Lt. Governor on September 24, 1990.
Paul Souders / Anchorage Daily News
Governor Walter Hickel and his wife Ermalee pose for a portrait in the Governor's mansion before the Juneau inaugural ball on January 21, 1991.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
Wally Hickel was governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1968 and 1990 to 1994. Photographed in the Hotel Captain Cook on August 25, 2009.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
"There's nothing like this in the world. It's amazing," former Governor Wally Hickel said to his son Joe Hickel, left, while visiting his huge gingerbread display at the Hotel Captain Cook on November 30, 2006.
Marc Lester
Anchorage Daily News archive 1974 - During an Anchorage visit in November 1974, President Gerald Ford met with Wally Hickel, who was Interior Secretary for a short time under Richard Nixon, Ford's predecessor.
ADN
Wally Hickel was governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1968 and 1990 to 1994. Photographed in the Hotel Captain Cook on August 25, 2009.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Former Governor Walter Hickel takes a break from carving the Thanksgiving turkey to feed a piece to his granddaughter, Ashley Hickel. Other Hickel grandkids are (top to bottom) Robert, Ryan (glasses), Wally (stripes), Rhett, and twins Kolby and Morgan.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin talks with Ermalee and Wally Hickel Tuesday evening August 22, 2006, at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage. Palin was leading John Binkley and Frank Murkowski in the polls.
Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Walter Hickel in front of his Captain Cook Hotel, March 16, 1989.
Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News

Wally Hickel, who died Friday night in Anchorage, liked to tell a story about stopping at the village of Point Hope after becoming governor in 1990. "Welcome governor," said the woman who led a group of official greeters. "You're only the second governor we've ever had here. The last was a guy named Hickel back in 1967."

Hickel's giant strides across Alaska were felt for generations. He was a dreamer who talked about building a water pipeline to California and an undersea railroad to Siberia, and a doer who pushed through tax settlements with the oil industry that gave billions of dollars to the state treasury.

"He was almost a seer with his visions," said Charlie Cole, Hickel's attorney general in the 1990s. "He'd have these visions and expect us members of his Cabinet to go look into them and come back and report to him, which we did. Sometimes we'd say, 'This isn't a very good idea, governor.' Other times we'd say, 'What a magnificent thought.' "

Then there were the Hickelisms. "You can't let nature run wild," might be the most famous quote. But there were others. "You can only clean up the environment with progress." Or "a tree looking at another tree doesn't really do anything."

Hickel, Republican governor from 1966 to 1968 and governor under the Alaskan Independence Party flag from 1990 to 1994, had personal politics that defied easy characterization.

Cole remembers a Cabinet meeting where he brought up clear-cut logging and asked what the administration's position was. Cole recalled that Commerce Commissioner Glenn Olds responded it was a fine practice, and proceeded to explain why, and the Environmental Conservation commissioner agreed it was the thing to do.

"The next day I happen to be down sitting in the governor's office just with him, as we often did, talking. He said, 'Charlie, I'm glad you brought up that clear cutting yesterday. I don't like it one bit.' "

'A DREAMER AND A DOER'

Hickel grew up on his family's sharecropper farm in Kansas. Severely dyslexic and mostly self-educated, he never went to college and his language was peppered with "he don't's" and "pert nears" from his childhood on the plains he plowed as a boy.

He learned to depend on his startling memory, able into his 80s to cite the month 40 years ago when some event happened. He always credited an instinctual voice inside him, a voice that Hickel described as the "little man," which guided his decisions and smiled on him when he was right.

"My little guy. He's my buddy. He never gets mad. Sometimes he hides. But then he comes out," he was quoted in the "Wit and Wisdom of Wally Hickel," a collection of Hickelisms assembled by his close aide and friend Malcolm Roberts.

Hickel, a welterweight Golden Gloves boxing champion of Kansas, wanted to travel. He was going to go to Australia at the age of 21. But, learning it would take weeks for the passport and visa, headed for Alaska. He arrived in the steamship S.S. Yukon in 1940, to hear him tell it with just 37 cents in his pocket.

He took whatever work he could find, from logging to working as a bouncer at an Anchorage saloon called the South Seas. Hickel married Janice Cannon, the daughter of a pioneer family, who died of illness in 1943.

Hickel worked as a flight inspector for the armed services until the end of World War II, checking out newly assembled aircraft including "Lend Lease" planes being sent from Alaska to help the Russians fight Nazi Germany. In 1945, he married Ermalee Strutz, who he described in a book as "delicate as a butterfly, but also tougher than a boot."

Hickel began building houses for GIs in the postwar boom of Anchorage, always taking the profits and betting them on new ventures. It was a start he built into rental units, hotels and shopping centers, becoming a millionaire, one of Alaska's wealthiest men. He built his flagship, the Hotel Captain Cook, before the rubble was cleared from the Good Friday earthquake in 1964.

Hickel worked with Anchorage architect Ed Crittenden on his early projects. "I've heard some stories about how Wally would show up at Ed's house and say 'design me this' and he'd lie down on the sofa and go to sleep," said Anchorage writer Charles Wohlforth, who wrote the 2002 book "Crisis in the Commons" with Hickel.

"Ed was like furiously working and Wally would wake up, Ed hands him the plans and he goes and builds the project," Wohlforth said.

Vic Fischer, a former Democratic legislator and delegate to the state Constitutional convention, remembers Hickel in 1953 building one of the first quality hotels in the frontier town of Anchorage. It was called the Travelers Inn and a big deal when it first opened, Fischer said. Hickel followed that up with the second Travelers Inn in Fairbanks.

Fischer considered Hickel a good friend and visited him at the hospital until days before his death.

"Wally was a dreamer and a doer and he really loved Alaska. Whatever he did was always designed to make Alaska better," Fischer said. "He used to say that he is beyond parties, basically he felt we should be not just bipartisan, we should do things nonpartisan for the sake of Alaska."

'HICKEL HIGHWAY'

Fischer worked with Hickel in the fight for statehood in the 1950s. Hickel spoke of flying to Washington, D.C., as a young businessman in 1952, saying he managed to convince the leading Senate Republican, Robert Taft, that Alaska needed at least 100 million acres in order to survive as a state.

In 1966, Hickel ran as a Republican for governor and defeated the Democratic incumbent, Bill Egan. He helped to open the North Slope to oil development, though drawing criticism for the "Hickel Highway," an ice road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay that left a scar when winter ended. Hickel stood behind the road decision, saying it triggered a psychology, a "doer" attitude, that ended up making Prudhoe oil development a reality.

Halfway through his term, in 1968, President Richard Nixon asked Hickel to become Interior secretary. Hickel was assailed by environmentalists during his confirmation hearings. There were thousands of angry letters and the Sierra Club decided for the first time in its history to oppose the confirmation of a Cabinet officer.

But views of him changed after his handling of the one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history, the Santa Barbara oil spill. He shut down drilling in Santa Barbara Channel and wrote regulations to control offshore drilling, including making the oil industry financially liable for well blowouts.

Hickel later placed seven species of whales on the endangered list, fought to protect the Everglades in Florida, and his staff reached out to the country's youth with programs like "Earth Day" in 1970.

He didn't get along with Nixon. Hickel, disturbed by the administration's decision to bomb Cambodia and the bloody crackdown on anti-war activists at Kent State, wrote a letter to Nixon chiding him for not listening to the youth.

"I believe this administration finds itself today embracing a philosophy which appears to lack appropriate concern for the attitude of a great mass of Americans -- our young people," Hickel wrote in the letter, which was leaked to the media.

Nixon fired Hickel shortly before Thanksgiving of 1970.

Hickel came back to Alaska, running for governor again in 1974, 1978, and 1986, losing all three times. He lost the first two races against Republican Jay Hammond, his political rival. Wohlforth, a former Anchorage Assemblyman, described their discord as two political philosophies at war over the future of Alaska.

Wohlforth said Hammond's philosophy was exemplified by the Alaska Permanent Fund, by what he called a more of a pessimistic approach to development and what should be done with oil money. Hammond essentially won, he said, with oil money being put away in the fund and the distribution of the annual dividends to all Alaskans.

"Whereas Hickel wanted that money to be invested in the future, in development and into building things and had this vision of sort of a great civilization in the north," Wohlforth said. "He wanted the money spent for things we have in common rather than things we have individually."

Hickel in recent years applauded the fund but advocated for a "community dividend" where at least half the amount set aside for individual dividends would be distributed to communities in order to help pay for roads, schools, clinics, and the like.

MEGAPROJECTS AND HUGE TAX SETTLEMENTS

Hickel's return to the Governor's Mansion in 1990 was among the most unusual political episodes in Alaska political history. Arliss Sturgulewski was the Republican nominee for governor that year, and Jack Coghill the lieutenant governor nominee. Just weeks before the election, Coghill deserted Sturgulewski and joined Hickel for a last-minute run under the flag of the Alaskan Independence Party. The Hickel-Coghill team took office with 39 percent of the vote.

Hickel proposed megaprojects like the water pipeline to California and an undersea railroad to Siberia that drew criticism and didn't get off the ground. There were rocky times in Hickel's administration, particularly early on, and he feuded with Native groups, environmentalists and the Legislature.

But Stephen Haycox, an author and professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Hickel's achievements as governor included his administration's gigantic tax and royalty settlements with the oil industry. Companies agreed to pay the state nearly $4 billion in disputed back taxes and royalties, money that filled the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve fund.

"Which is a very significant legacy, not just because of the money or the reserve fund but because he forced the oil companies to acknowledge that they had a debt that they owed to Alaska," Haycox said.

Hickel, after leaving office, founded Institute of the North, an Anchorage-based organization that explores Alaska public policy. Hickel continued to promote his "owner state" philosophy of using the planet's commonly held resources for the good of all.

He remained active in debates, especially advocating the state build a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Hickel supported Sarah Palin for governor, but later broke with her over the pipeline issue.

Hickel turned his business dealings over to his sons years ago. But, even at 90, he would come into his office at the Captain Cook every morning until the last couple of months to work on the issues that he cared about, said Roberts, his close aide.

Hickel's funeral will be Monday, May 17 at 5 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage. There will be an hour visitation beforehand. "The family wants the public to know that everyone's welcome," Roberts said.

Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.

Funeral, open to the public, set for May 17

A funeral for Wally Hickel is planned for Monday, May 17, at 5 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage. The service will be preceded by an hour of visitation. The public is welcome.


By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com