If House Bill 109 passes, renaming bridge 670 the Michael G. Wiley Bridge, his daughter, Heidi Wong, said it will serve as a beacon for all her father has accomplished.
“Whether the waters were calm or rough during his life, like a bridge, he made it across, and he helped those along the way to keep their head above water,” Wong said. “I think it represents my dad and all that he did for the community, and not only here, but wherever he lived he wasn’t afraid to pull up his sleeves and get to work.”
Since Wiley, 71, died in early December, the Kasilof community has requested that State Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, rename the bridge spanning the Kasilof River after Wiley for all that he has done in the community.
“It’s not just for a particular person but for recognizing his community service, and hopefully other people will think of that each time they cross the bridge and see his name,” Seaton said.
Wiley’s contributions to Kasilof, and the state, date back decades.
When he moved to the state from Vermont in 1966, he began teaching middle school in Skagway. After 13 years as a teacher he had taught in Fairbanks, Moose Pass, Seward, Clam Gulch and various Bush communities, according to his obituary.
But though Wiley had lived in Seward, Port Heiden, English Bay, Tyonek, Nanwalek, and many more Bush locations, since he moved to Kasilof in 1968 he considered that area his home base, Wong said.
In Kasilof and other area communities, Wong said her father quickly became an icon for his activism and community service.
Wiley was a Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and Homer Electric Association board member. He labored on the Alaska Pipeline for Local Union No. 341 and volunteered for the Kasilof Regional Historical Association, Central Peninsula Garden Club and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, according to his obituary.
Wiley served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Kenai Peninsula School Board and Kenai Peninsula Board of Equalization, Seaton wrote in his sponsor statement. Wiley was a fisherman and operated the same Clam Gulch setnet site since 1977, according to Seaton’s sponsor statement.
David Thomas, an HEA board member who had worked with Wiley for about three years, said while Wiley obviously had good work ethic and was thorough — as a long-time school teacher he was meticulous for spelling and grammar errors in handouts — he remembers most how Wiley presented himself.
Most board members tucked in their button-down shirts for the meetings, but Wiley came in Xtratufs.
“He was a fisherman from Kasilof,” Thomas said.
As a fisherman from Kasilof, Wiley focused on smaller, more intimate endeavours, too.
Wong said her father would clean trash from road sides. When the community disagreed on an issue, he encouraged residents to voice their complaints or to join community boards, she said.
“He was a community activist. He always got people involved,” she said.
But, Wiley was also a father and grandfather, she said.
“Our dad was always involved, not just in the community, but in our lives,” she said. “He was a wonderful grandfather and a wonderful father. He was checking in on us all the time.”
When Wong, her husband and their kids were moving up from Utah 10 years ago, her father flew down to help them with the drive, she said.
After Wong and her family moved to Kasilof and her sister Heather Turkington and her family built their house, Wiley’s three daughters all lived within walking distance.
“We saw him everyday,” she said.
She remembers he would grab his grandchildren and bring them to the bus stop when the parents were busy in the morning, or he would take them on adventures and show them how the compost benefits his chickens. Every morning Wiley helped Wong’s son, Colin Wong, with Alaska Trivia, she said.
When Wong and her sisters were children she remembers how her father would play with them. He would turn on music and dance with them at home. He was an excitable man, she said. Or he would play games with them during family night and they would eat popcorn with butter and garlic.
“We were pretty blessed because he spent so much time with us,” Turkington said.
She said naming bridge 670 after her father would be an honor.
“It would be funny because my dad would be the first one saying, ‘Oh, hogwash,’” she said. “He’d be like, ‘Oh, you don’t need to do that.’”
But that’s just his modesty, she said. She can see her father’s face now in reaction to it: chest puffed out, raised eyebrows wrinkling his forehead, head cocked slightly and that lopsided grin spreading across his face.
“I think he would be very honored,” Turkington said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.