Orville Hartley Phillips

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2001

Former central Kenai Peninsula resident Orville Hartley Phillips died Monday, April 2, 2001, from cancer at his home in Wasilla. He was 81.

Visitation was held Thursday at Valley Funeral Home.

Mr. Phillips was born Dec. 28, 1919, in Ogden, Utah. He completed nine years of education and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served in France and Italy.

Following World War II, he took up farming in Montana until 1948. He then moved his family to Livingston, Mont., where he worked in law enforcement, railroads and other farming activities until 1956. In 1959 he came to Alaska to work in the just opening oil fields in Cook Inlet. The experience of the oil patch eventually led him to a career as a contract welder.

Of all his pursuits, welding was a job that truly challenged and rewarded his potential and creative talent. He worked all across Alaska on oil rigs and in drilling yards during the boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

"All of the old-timers in the Soldotna area remember him rumbling past in his old Dodge or light blue 'Jimmy', squatted down from the weight of the old Lincoln welder and all of his tools. One of his final contract jobs as a welder was to build a placer mining trommel used for extracting gold from the rich gravel of Alaska.

"Once again the urge to move called him and he decided to take a gamble with Lady Luck and try his hand at placer mining. His endless hours of reading the likes of Robert Service and others that so romanticized the gold rush days, no doubt played a role in this decision. After constructing a sophisticated system and purchasing equipment, he and much of his family worked creeks near Healy, Paxson and Summit Lake during the early '80s," his family said.

As a young man, his passion was horses in Montana. Late in middle age, boating and fishing Kachemak Bay were his prime interests. Later in life he took up gold mining.

"He assured us all that he had completed a full journey in life, 'I have done more things than most people have read about.'

"His laughter and his yarns were so genuine and so animated that everyone in the room got caught up in his amusement. His constant tinkering habits and inquisitive nature had him always fiddling with things trying to figure out how they worked and what improvements were needed. He never met a person he didn't like and would always go out of his way to help anyone.

"Phil had fond memories of all his family and close friends. One of his most remarkable abilities was to catch a nap in a matter of minutes. He would be wide awake one moment and snoring the tea cups out of the hutch the next. His ability to share his unconditional love and laughter will always be remembered," his family said.

He is survived are his wife of 59 years, Esther I. (Les) Phillips; sister, Betty Kale, of Billings, Mont.; sons and their wives Tom and Lynn of Willow and Alan and Billie Jean of Soldotna; grandchildren Eylene Phillips of California, Michelle Jacobson and Maerene Taylor of Anchorage, and Roger Phillips of Soldotna; and great-grandchildren Jessica, John, Owen, Hunter, Ashton and Dalton.

Memorial donations may be made to Hospice of Mat-Su, 3051 East Palmer-Wasilla Highway, Wasilla, AK, 99654.

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