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Legendary Knik musher's life chronicled by Chugiak grad

Posted: August 7, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: August 12, 2011 - 9:43am

The Iditarod can be an exhausting task filled with obstacles, trials, adventures and unforeseen events. Even when you're just writing about it.

After more than a decade of work, Palmer's Katie Mangelsdorf recently finished her biography of Iditarod founder Joe Redington Sr., "Champion of Alaskan Huskies." It was not an easy task.

"All sorts of things happen with life," Mangelsdorf said in a recent interview.

A former school teacher who grew up in Eagle River and graduated from Chugiak High, Mangelsdorf first got the idea to write about Redington at the end of 1996, shortly before the legendary musher's final Iditarod. She said she always wished her students would take a greater interest in biographical works, and wanted to choose a person whose character and story would appeal to all generations.

"The first person that came to mind was Joe Redington," she said.

So she called up Redington and simply asked if he'd be interested in sitting down and talking about his life.

"He thought a couple minutes and said, ‘when do we start?'" she said.

Redington's only caveat was that if he was going to be featured in a book, it would also have to include interviews with his wife, Vi.

"Joe said, ‘I don't want any book written about me if Vi's not in it because I couldn't have done anything without her," Mangelsdorf said.

Over the next couple years, Mangelsdorf sat down regularly with both Redingtons at their home in Knik, pouring over old photos and listening to all the stories from Redington's four decades of running sled dogs in Alaska.

After Redington's death in 1999, Mangelsdorf continued to visit Vi, checking facts and going over minute details up until Vi's death in 2006.

But that wasn't the end of the book's story. Over the next few years, Mangelsdorf said the manuscript came along in fits and starts, and there were times when she thought seriously about abandoning the project.

"Oh my goodness, there were times when I never thought it would be finished," she said.

After her youngest son graduated from high school, Mangelsdorf said she had no excuse but to finish the project.

"I spent this last year finishing everything up," she said.

She's now working on getting word out about the book, which includes more than 100 photos from the Redington family, along with forwards from Redington's family members. It's currently available at the Book Shelf in Eagle River, Fireside Books in Palmer, on the Iditarod's Web site (www.iditarod.com) and any other locations Mangesldorf can talk into carrying it.

"I'm just now pounding the streets to get it out," she said.

A book signing will be held at Fireside Books on Aug. 26 from 4 until 6 p.m.

The book, which was published by Publication Consultants, has received positive reviews from Redington's fellow mushers and family.

"Reading ‘Champion of Alaskan Huskies' was like reliving a part of my upbringing," said Lance Mackey in a press release announcing the book's release. "Joe would be pleased with his story being told."

Iditarod veterans Ray Jr. and Ryan Redington - Redington's grandsons - also endorsed the book, which includes a foreword by Redington's sons and daughters-in-law Joee and Pam Redington, Raymie and Barb Redington and Tim Redington.

Mangelsdorf said she hopes she's written a book that's accessible to readers both young and old alike, and said she's most proud of the fact that she feels she stayed true to the Redingtons' story.

"When I finished, I just said, ‘Joe and Vi, your book's finally done,'" she said.

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