George Ford had a love for the Alaska outdoors. He trekked Cook Inlet on various occasions with a handful of close friends.
One year when Ford was unable to go hunting with his companions, they traveled through the town of St. George. His hunting buddies bought him a license plate frame with the words “St. George Ford.”
The purchase of the license plate frame is indication of just how highly regarded Ford was among his friends. As a Kenai Rotary club member he embodied its motto of “Service Above Self.”
Ford, a longtime community fixture and volunteer, died Monday at his home in Kenai. Friends and associates stated Kenai is what it is today largely because of Ford.
During a trip to the state in 1973 Ford visited the the Collier Carbon and Chemical plant that had built a few years earlier. He knew two of the employees, as they had worked with him several years before. He was given a tour of the plant and was impressed with the modern equipment and the friendly employees.
The Fords had the desire to come to Alaska but never thought they’d get the opportunity to live here. When George was transferred to the Kenai Peninsula area to manage the plant in 1975, the position was supposed to last four years, but he fell in love with the area and never left.
“Finally I was transferred up here to manage the Collier’s plant for four years, and that was some 35 years ago. So that four years lasted quite a long time” Ford was quoted saying in 2009.
In his managing position Ford negotiated employee contract terms and the construction of a new plant.
Relationships with workers were formed at Collier. Joe Harris worked at the company as an engineer, and the two met when Ford first moved to Alaska. Harris’ first impression of Ford was that of a hardworking organizer.
“He was a stern taskmaster,” Harris said.
After Ford retired in 1985, he worked to improve the community. Ford started the Unocal Retirees Association (Unocal purchased Collier years prior; it is now an Agrium, Inc. plant). Ford and Harris worked together with multiple organizations, such as the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and the Kenai Historic Society, on numerous projects. Harris is still a member of the retiree association.
Any community projects that seemed worthwhile the association would take on, and Ford always spearheaded those efforts, Harris said.
Soon after Ford’s arrival he joined the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. He was elected president in 1980 and remained on the board for several years after the term.
Ford headed an effort to move five Kenai historic log cabins. Unocal retirees and additional local businesses rebuilt the bases of the cabins in order to make them strong enough to transport. The project was completed in July 2010, and the cabins now sit in Old Town.
The satisfaction of moving the cabins was clearly visible on Ford’s face upon completion, Harris remembered.
“The grin he had on his face was priceless,” he said.
In 1982, Ford helped start the Kenai-Soldotna Rotary Club, the first of its kind in the area. The organization has flourished, as there are now six clubs on the Peninsula. He first joined the volunteer organization in 1954 when he was asked to become a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Clara, California. It became a major part of his life thereafter.
Kenai Rotary Club President Elect Brendyn Shiflea knew Ford for three years. The two meet through the club, and they worked on multiple community projects together.
Shiflea remembers Ford’s sense of humor and his shared love for the Oakland Raiders. His fondest memory of the fellow Rotarian involves watching a Raiders’ game together.
“I just remember taking him a dinner one night when the Raiders were playing, and I sat and watched the game with him,” Shiflea said. “He’s 60 years older than I am, but he was still easy to talk to and easy to relate to.”
Having a professional background in chemistry caused Ford to have a scientific outlook on life. He preferred to be knowledgeable about subjects; had a drive to know basic fundamentals. But, that is not to say he wasn’t light-hearted.
“He liked to make fun of himself, and he had a thing with all of his friends and his family. They have self-deprecating jives with each other,” daughter-in-law Carol Ford said. “Always in a loving manner.”
He was also very persuasive. After working together for more than a decade, Harris likened Ford to an immovable object as well as an irresistible force. He could get his way and easily convince you to go along with this plans, Harris said.
Fellow Rotary member Rick Ross, also the former Kenai Chief of Police, recalled two such instances of persuasion. First was the ringing of the Salvation Army bell.
“During the mid ‘80s, he calls me up one day and says, ‘As a Rotarian I’ve signed you up to ring the Salvation Army bell with me,’” Ross said. “For the next 25 years we would sign up and do it together.”
The second instance involved the Central Peninsula Hospital, of which Ford was an initial member of its operating board. He got Ross active on strategic planning for the board, and later talked him into becoming a member.
“He conned me into getting on the board, telling me it only took a couple hours a month, and laughing later that’s not what happens,” Ross laughed.
Ford was a symbol of the Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self,” and his efforts did not go unnoticed.
In January at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Community Awards Banquet Ford was given the Volunteer Award. He was also awarded Outstanding Individual at Industry Appreciation Day, received the first Award of Excellence from Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and numerous other awards before and after retirement. He and Mary were Grand Marshals in the Fourth of July parade, and received Kenai Chamber’s coveted Log Cabin Award on two occasions.
In addition to his active civic life, Ford had a love of the outdoors. He loved to fish, loved to camp, loved to cook outdoors and loved adventure, and in that sense was very Alaskan, Carol said.
At 62, Ford obtained a pilot’s license. He and local friends would fly to remote locations around the state to fish, hunt and sightsee. They also hunted caribou frequently in an area across the Cook Inlet and to the west of Lake Clark National Park.
Ford was just short of his 92nd birthday.