One of the great figures of Alaska's territorial and early statehood years died last week in Kona, Hawaii. At the age of 93, and long retired to the island sunshine, Chuck Herbert was perhaps unknown to this generation of Alaskans. More's the pity.
Slight of stature, quick with the smile, he was a giant of a man in Alaska's mining circles and a true treasure when it came to developing the riches of this state.
First and foremost, he was a prospector a fellow who came north to Alaska in 1926 at the age of 16 to begin his career as what is known as a ''mud miner.'' He entered the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, but quit to work at the old Lucky Shot Mine. Herbert returned to school and 10 years after his arrival in the territory he became senior class president, graduating magna cum laude with a degree as a mining engineer.
Tough? How about hiking between Fairbanks and Anchorage on snowshoes and back again one winter while he was in college, delivering mail along the way.
Smart? Commissioned in the Navy Seabees in World War II, he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander while building camps, airfields and landing docks throughout the Pacific theater.
Adventurous? He prospected all over the place: Alaska, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, South America, Africa. Back in the '50s, he spent many summers with his two sons, Steve and Paul, in the Fortymile country and Livengood. In his retirement years, he traveled all over Europe, South America and Asia.
Lucky? Along with one of his two sons, he survived a bad plane crash in the Brooks Range in 1957. He ran a number of successful gold operations. And some that weren't, as a matter of fact.
Civic minded? He was a man who cared deeply about the right of people to work the land and explore and produce Alaska's abundant natural resources. But he was a public servant, too. Alaska's first governor, Bill Egan, appointed him deputy commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and later moved him up to commissioner. He served in the 15th Territorial Legislature in 1941 as a member of the House from Fairbanks, and is credited with writing Alaska's mining laws of the time.
During the course of his career, he worked for several major mining and oil companies, including Newmont Mining and BP Alaska, where he headed the company's mineral exploration department.
He suffered a stroke earlier this year, but remained very active until his death in his sleep on Sept. 3.
He was a gentle and decent man, a great guy with friends throughout the state. And he was a pioneer of Alaska in very best sense of the word.
The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - Sept. 14, 2003
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