Friends and admirers remember Celia Hunter

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Hundreds of friends and admirers gathered for a memorial at the Chena River Convention Center to remember Celia Hunter: pilot, adventurer and environmental advocate.

Hunter -- a symbol of the Alaska conservation movement -- died Dec. 1 at age 82.

''Celia knew well the power of community,'' Rick Caulfield, president of the Alaska Conservation Society and one of the evening moderators, told Sunday's gathering.

Steve Ginnis, Tanana Chiefs Conference president, praised Hunter for her courage, lauding ''her willingness to speak truth to power.''

''Athabascans and all Alaskans have benefited,'' he said. ''She never gave up. She spoke for the earth and its creatures.''

Hunter was a heroine to many in the crowd.

Jonathan Solomon of Fort Yukon and chairman of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, asked the audience to look up at the large murals of early Athabascan life and Alaska wilderness that encompass the upper walls of the convention center.

''This is what she is all about, to keep these things alive,'' he said.

Solomon praised Hunter for her advocacy supporting issues, he said, ''that affect our life and affect our lives forever.''

Sean McGuire called her life ''the stuff of legend'' and said she supplanted his childhood hero, Willie Mays.

He talked of Hunter's conservation successes, then added, ''Celia could lose and she lost a lot and she kept on going. I want to be like that.''

Larry Mayo recalled two ''magic Celia moments.'' One concerned the fight against the proposed Rampart Dam on the Yukon River. He said Hunter found out that 95 percent of the power generated would be used up by resistance before it got to market.

Another instance that stood out in Mayo's mind was when she and longtime companion Ginny Wood were testifying on the D-2 lands issue.

''Celia came to the podium with tennis shoes on,'' said Mayo, ''and said, 'I'm one of those little old women in tennis shoes.'''

The hearing took notice of Hunter's her eloquent testimony.

''The next one up was Ginny. She was also in tennis shoes,'' Mayo said.

In August, Hunter and Wood were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

The evening also included a montage of photographs that detailed Hunter's life from childhood to the present and was followed by excerpts from taped interviews.

The photographs ranged from Hunter standing with three other Women's Air Force Service Pilots in the shadow of a warplane to dog sleds and Bush plane in Alaska's wilderness. Many of the photos taken during the past half-century featured vast landscapes; Camp Denali, which she helped build and operate; and snow-covered Alaska mountains that Hunter loved so well.

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