Longtime Iditarod checker Joe Delia dies

Mike Nesper

Joe Delia, whose Skwentna home has served as an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race checkpoint since the race began in 1973, died Thursday. He was 84.

Delia, who lived in Skwentna for more than 50 years, held several positions on the trail, including race judge, checker and trail breaker.

In 1997, he was inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame. He retired as a checker that same year, though he continued to serve in an unofficial capacity and host the checkpoint at his house. His old Skwentna home still serves as the checkpoint.

The Delias moved to Anchorage two years ago after Joe was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his wife, Norma, said Friday. After they moved, Norma asked Joe about the future of their former residence.

"We're doing nothing with it. That's the Iditarod's," Joe told her.

That's how much the race meant to Delia.

"The Iditarod was his true love," Norma said.

Delia's involvement with the Iditarod began when he was snowmachining and came across a pair of skiers. They told Delia they were putting in a trail to Nome, Norma said.

Delia gave the skiers a ride to their camp, where race founder Joe Redington Sr. and Dave Olson, who cleared trail for the first two Iditarods, were also camped. Redington convinced Delia to put trail in from Skwentna to Rainy Pass before persuading him to host a checkpoint too.

"We had two volunteer jobs before you could blink," Norma said.

Nothing kept Delia from putting in the trail or opening his home to mushers, Norma said. Not even illness.

"One of the years he did it, he had pneumonia," she said.

Joanne Potts, the Iditarod's assistant to the race director, said Delia was a congenial man and well-liked by all who knew him.

"Everybody just loved Joe," she said.

And he loved the Iditarod.

"It was a part of him," Potts said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.