Saturday, Ted Spraker and his wife Elaina drove through Cooper Landing with former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Director of Habitat, Ken Taylor, in the back seat. They were on their way to pick up Spraker's son, Clint, when they passed a Fish and Game truck going the other direction with a tranquilized bear in the truck's bed.
Spraker immediately grabbed his mobile phone and called the wildlife specialist he just saw to begin the process of tagging and recording the bear for tracking. His former colleague, Taylor, peeked between the two front seats and spoke to Elaina while Spraker continued his work over the phone.
"Somebody's going to have to tell him that he's retired," Taylor told Spraker's wife.
This was the scene Elaina detailed less than 24 hours after Spraker's final day with Fish and Game. The previous day, just one week ago today, Spraker ended what he described as more than just a lofty career.
"Fish and Game is a life," he said. "Not just a career."
Spraker retired from his position as the Kenai Peninsula area wildlife biologist for Fish and Game after 28 years and four months with the department. Now, he said he will devote more doing things he his responsibilities often kept him from.
"I'm going to spend a lot more time with my family," Spraker said. "Because they have really paid dearly during my years with Fish and Game. They have eaten a lot of dinners by themselves.
"You spend so much time at nights and on weekends with this job. That's fun for me, but not for my family."
Elaina, Spraker's wife of eight years, said she and her two children -- his stepchildren -- Ashley and Kyle will appreciate having him around the home more. She said during the early years of their marriage, he was often called out at odd hours to respond to unusual situations involving wildlife on the peninsula.
"I (would) feel like I'm married to an OB/GYN," she joked. "Except without the salary. We'd have to get up in the middle of the night and go deal with these wildlife problems."
Sometimes, Elaina said she was included in his excursions.
"At those times when demand became increasingly high on him, I had to go out with him and play his assistant," she said. "I've been on all sorts of adventures with him. I got to do things that most people never get to do, like darting caribou and flying in helicopters. It's exciting, and sometimes it's really frustrating."
She recalled accompanying Spraker when he went to chase a pair of juvenile bears accosting people in the neighborhood behind Kenai Central High School. Elaina said she and a police officer followed Spraker tracking the bears until they located the first one.
"We darted the bear and we dragged it into a gravel pit," she said. "We started processing the bear and all of a sudden, we hear this 'woof, woof, woof.' We all knew it was its brother."
Elaina said the group backed away from the sleeping bear to see its sibling emerge from the nearby woods and begin eating the first one.
"We threw rocks at it to make it go back into the woods," she said. "When we went into the woods, Ted found the bear by hearing it breathing."
Elaina said her romps into the wilderness came to an end with the department hired Larry Lewis to help out in 1995.
"After they hired Larry, it was really few and far between that I got to go out with him," she said.
Lewis said he will miss working with Spraker in the office and in the field.
"Ted's been more than just a supervisor," Lewis said. "He's a close friend. I'm just really honored to know the guy."
Lewis said many of Spraker's professional qualities were invaluable to the department.
"He's a real steward of the resource," he said. "He's built a real rapport with hunters and trappers and maintained a real credibility for our department.
"He's always been there and he is never afraid to work when the work called. The other thing that's going to be missed is his wisdom and knowledge of the Kenai Peninsula."
Lewis said the Fish and Game staff will have a chance to celebrate Spraker's career and roast him at a special retirement party the department will host tonight at the Kenai Senior Center.
"I'm going to rip him a new one at his roast," Lewis joked. "It's going to be a good time for everyone, but him."
Sandy Seagren said she was at the Soldotna Fish and Game office in 1976 when Spraker arrived. She said she's appreciated being able to work with him.
"He's been wonderful to work with," she said. "He going to be missed, definitely."
Spraker's wife echoed Seagren's sentiment.
"I think he'll be missed by the public," she said.
Spraker said although he was looking forward to his retirement, he was going to look back on his work at the department with fond memories.
"The thing I'm going to miss the most? I'm going to miss talking to hunters. Especially hunters that are new to the state and young hunters that are really excited about catching their first moose," he said. "I will miss the field work, where we go out and do surveys and capture animals, and radio tag animals, and relocate bears. But I will not miss all the reports I had to write."
Spraker said he will still spend his free time outdoors. This, he said, includes completing construction on a cabin in Caribou Hills, among other things.
"I'll do a lot of the things I did as a kid," Spraker said. "Fishing and camping. My dad was a really avid hunter, so I had a lot of chances to do deer and elk hunting growing up in Wyoming."
He said he may also pursue some semi-professional interests, like possibly assisted guiding for big game, consulting work for information concerning wildlife and habitat or maybe returning to resource management at a lower capacity.
"I'm still fairly young and I'm still healthy," said the spry 53-year-old. "I want to have a lot of fun."
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