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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A remembrance from Robin Riley Fast

I first got to know Mike Kirk when I joined the Debate Club as a Sophomore. He was the coach. I remember very little about him from Debate, only that he was encouraging and critical. The fact that I stuck with it for three years tells me that I must have liked working with him there. And it no doubt prepared me for his classes.

Mr. Kirk was my teacher for Plane and Solid Geometry and “Senior Math”—whatever that was. I said that (“whatever that was”) to him recently, when he asked me which classes I’d taken with him. He laughed. Math was not my favorite subject, but I did enjoy Plane and Solid. Mr. Kirk was rigorous and demanding. In fact he could be quite brusque, and would never tolerate anything he considered foolish, or work below the level that he believed we could reach. We would put our work on the board every morning, and he would walk through it, step by step, getting us to see what worked, what didn’t and why, what we could do more elegantly.  There was a real feeling of accomplishment when we succeeded in creating “an elegant proof.”

(Writing this, I remember that he got me my first real job—told me about a summer opening, when I hadn’t even thought of such a thing, and whom to contact. When I said that Mr. Kirk had sent me, that was enough.)

For some of us in the Class of ’66, the biggest deal of Senior year was “The Times.” It began as “The J-High Gazette,” produced by (I think) just one or two people. It definitely was not the “J-Bird,” which, whatever else it might have been, had to answer to the faculty adviser. I think what started the “Gazette” was the new principal’s prohibition of the Senior boys’ beard-growing contest. But it quickly became more than that. By the second issue, fifteen to twenty of us were in on it, and it had a new name, “The Times: They Are A’Changing.” We may even have printed the lyrics of Dylan’s song in the second issue. In any case, the title said that even if our focus was local, and I’d guess it mostly was, we were part of the big world out there, and we were rebelling. We were all anonymous, as I recall; we were on our own, no advisers for us, and it was exciting. I don’t remember how we distributed the paper, but we did, several issues during our Senior spring, and the principal, of course, was furious. There may have been more teachers who supported us, but the ones I’m sure of were Richard Pastega and Mike Kirk. Mike was very clearly delighted by “The Times.” I remember his asking some of us, with conspiratorial glee, if we’d seen the latest issue of “the naughty paper.” Of course he didn’t officially know that we were the creative culprits, but we knew we had a reliable ally who’d defend our rights to think and speak our minds.

When I told Paul that Mike had died, he said, “I’m glad I got to know him.” And so am I glad I got to know him, as my teacher and mentor, and, because of that, as a friend. In the past several years, we saw him each time we were in Juneau, and each time we were amazed by the stories he told us and by his warmth, wit, insight, and, yes, his it-could-only-be-Mike style. He gave us a lot to think about and learn from. Thanks, Mr. Kirk, wherever you are.                   

Robin Riley Fast, Sept. 2013

A remembrance from Jane Lindsey

I am sure you will have a wealth of information about Mike Kirk and you may hear over and over how years after retiring from being a teacher, he was still a mentor - he was with my children. I met him about 13-14 years ago through a mutual acquaintance at the time and was invited to brunch at the Prospector. I must have passed the test, as I was told that Mike thought I was "articulate" and our friendship began. Soon, my two children who were 10 & 7 at the time also joined the mix. He became a part of our family and quietly supported my clumsy and struggling efforts as a single parent in Juneau. He was supportive when I remarried and knew my husband's family quite well and deeply respected Ross' father.  He was a regular guest at our house for dinners and the kids were always excited to be invited to brunch at the Prospector with Mike. He was gentle, encouraging, and responsive to my children and never talked down to them.  He encouraged them to think and pursue their ideas and interests and always followed up with them on their interests when we got back together. He brought them books to encourage their ideas. Thomas received history books, Lydia received books on culture and animals. He listened to me when I expressed personal concerns about parenting, he was reassuring.

Mike taught Thomas and Lydia how to think and communicate their ideas, especially to adults. His influence in our lives was real and deep and our household craved it. This was the gift he gave my small disjointed family at a challenging time that we were able to share for years as our household grew and became more stable. Thomas graduated two years ago from college and is teaching English in Russia. Lydia is in her last year of college studying Biology and Anthropology and spent the summer working on a graduate thesis project related to political ecology. We were able to sit with him at Wildflower Court days before he passed as a family with others in the room. We talked about the world, and our fears, as he floated in and out of the conversation. Mike raised the question of Socrates and justice, our last conversation together, continuing to challenge and encourage us to learn, think, and communicate.

Jane Lindsey, Ross Soboleff, Thomas Mills, Lydia Mills

Monday, October 14, 2013

A remembrance from Shelley Rogers Thissen

I entered the teaching profession in response to a letter from then Governor Frank Murkowski to all early retirees from the State of Alaska. He wanted us to go back to school, get a teaching certificate and then help man teaching positions in the Alaskan Bush.  I have been through the best and the worst of times since I decided on the pathway of becoming a teacher.  I needed support and good advice in so many areas, not the least of which was something called “Classroom Management”.  Here’s the story of Mike Kirk’s best advice to me on how to control any student, anytime, anywhere!

            It began with Mike asking me if I had a minute?  Half an hour later, I was laughing until I cried.  According to Mike, he had met a teacher from Wyoming once.  Wyoming had been having an impossible time filling one of their bush teaching positions.  That particular part of Wyoming was peopled, for the most part, with elk, oh, and wild-eyed rancher’s kids.  After repeated attempts to get ANY teacher to stay, Wyoming considered a short, kind-of-pudgy, red-headed female teacher who wore bright red, ankle top, lace-up tennys every day, rain or shine!  Wyoming’s Board of Education members rolled their eyes, drummed their fingers and mumbled under their communal breath.  They had to have “SOMEONE OUT THERE!”, so, they hired her, ON THE SPOT!

            The first day of class our innocent, red-headed, red tennied teacher strolled into the classroom with an uncanny sense of confidence about her.  Kids were running in and out of the back door chasing chickens, leaping from table to chair to table, yelling at the top of their lungs and were, generally, completely OUT OF CONTROL!  At that point, our dear little teacher threw her coffee cup, full of boiling coffee, high into the air above the class.  Before the cup began its descent, she drew a 44 magnum pistol out of her right ankle top tennis shoe and blew the coffee cup to smithereens!

            For the first time in forty years there was dead silence in a Wyoming classroom.  For the rest of the year every student and parent addressed her with a very careful, “Yes, Ma’am” and “Will Do”.  Each and every student paid attention to everything she said in her softest voice, did ALL their assigned work and, generally, completed everything that was asked of them, in top form, ALL YEAR.  There were no complaints from the parents, all her students achieved “A’s” on their report cards and even did bonus work around the classroom without being asked.

            Mike’s Moral to this Story was: “A teacher MUST establish and maintain the upper hand in their classroom AT ALL TIMES!”  I know you can hear his clipped German accent telling me this story and I know, too, you’re laughing.  I wonder what might happen if I pulled this particular management stunt in a classroom today?  Well, NEVERMIND, BUT, I got the message.  With such an unforgettable image etched on my mind, Classroom Management has ceased to be any problem for me, WHATSOEVER, AT ALL!

Gratefully and Lovingly Submitted by:  Shelley Rogers Thissen 

Celebration of Life

October 13, 2013, was the Celebration of Life for Mike. There were so many wonderful stories by people who had come from near and far that I couldn't wait to post them. With Lisa Tansey's help, I was able to get them posted this morning. I have separated them by storyteller so you can listen to them individually. Here they are. Enjoy them over and over again, as I know I shall.  (Judy Crondahl)

Kim Laird
Recognition of Travelers
Alison Eastaugh Browne
Peter Freer
Don Greenberg
Arnie Weimer
Jackie Honeywell Triplette
Dennis Harris
Ben Tansey
Lisa Tansey
Mark Boesser
Kim Laird
Dale Wygant and Jerry Fiscus
Margo Waring
Mary Alice McKeen
Bruce Botelho
Herman Husen
Douglas Methodist Church
Ward Lamb
Mark Regan
Sheila Nickerson
Carl Brodersen
Bruce Botelho

Arnie Weimer did a drawing (he said it was a "limited edition Xerox") in honor of the celebration, and gave permission for it to be posted on the blog:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spreading the Ashes

On Saturday, October 12, a small group of friends and family gathered on the shores of Gastineau Channel to spread Mike's ashes, as he had requested. It was a solemn occasion with bits of humor (as Mike would have surely wanted).

 Ross Soboleff spoke about Mike's friendship with his family, drummed, and sang.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Some Childhood Photos

Little baby Mike, with Ernest (in white) and David.

David, Mike, and Ernest
Mike's the little one with the funny smile and sticking out ears.

Mike told me this was a Jewish youth group.  
Mike's oldest brother David is on the far left, Mike is the smallest boy, front and center, and Mike's middle brother Ernest is the boy with glasses standing next to Mike

Portrait of Mike and his brothers.  Mike told me the suit he was wearing in this
portrait had been his oldest brother David's, and that he wanted to wear it for the
portrait because he idolized David.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Runt Speaks for Himself

I got to go up to Seattle when Mike was rehabbing up there.  He'd invited me to participate in his [auto]biography project.  His idea was different people would help him with different periods of his life.  I told him I'd take part one as I'd also get some bonus stories about my Step-Dad, his brother David.

His accent is pretty strong, and there was a lot of hospital-ish background noise, so it's a bit hard to follow.  I've transcribed what I can & will paste it in below for those who might be interested.  & I will also upload the recording some way so you can enjoy the distinctive sound of his voice.  Although, of course, this is not him at his very best, you can still get a clear sense of the man.  A gem.  I will miss him.  And his listening with the third ear.

Here's a link to the recording:

Extemporaneous Life Story Recording

and here's the link to the notes:

Notes transcribed from extemp life story

Those of you who've known him for a while will have heard several of these stories before.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Remembrances from the guestbook in the online obituary:

September 21, 2013
Rest in Peace, Mike
Our family knew Mike in Berkeley, California. He babysat for myself and my sister around 1948-1950+. He 
and my father, also a student at Cal Berkeley, had many long conversations about mathematics, physics, 
building electronic and mechanical gadgets, pacificism, civil rights,and Quakerism. He attended Berkeley's 
Quaker meeting occasionally. My 95 year old mother, Jennivieve Westwick, who lives with us now in hospice 
care, remembers Mike fondly.  Mike's brother was in Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp with my mother's 
brother, Jack Tootell.  We have kept up with Mike through the years sporadically through the mail and 
telephone, and always enjoyed his connection to our family's California past. My parents also left California 
for Alaska, settling in Fairbanks from 1968-1992, when they came to live here on our New Hampshire farm. 
We always enjoyed thinking of Mike there in Juneau,where we lived from 1969-1970, and will continue to 
remember him fondly there in his Juneau community.
September 11, 2013
When I had mr. Kirk in class we had to listen to radio KIRK and nothing else.
September 08, 2013
Rest in Peace Mr. Kirk and I always left a School Board Agenda on the counter with your name on it and
enjoyed your most valued opinions you will be missed.
September 08, 2013
I remember Mr Kirk very fondly. When I was first in 7th grade he...

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Funny

I've been going through the images Mike had on his computer (there aren't very many) and came across this gem I thought everyone would get a kick out of:

Email me some photos if you have any you'd like me to post!
Thanks, Shana

A Few Remembrances from the Class of 1965

From Arlene (Weisenberg) Crumrine: "I ran into him at the airport several years ago and he remembered me by name.  Blew my mind."  

From Peter Hildre:  (Pete was the engineer in charge of the 2004 street reconstruction project in Mike's neighborhood.)  "When we began working with the Upper Evergreen Avenue street reconstruction project in 2004, Mike requested that I meet with him at his home located on this street. He told me he knew all about surveying as he worked in that field in his younger years and wanted to be assured we weren’t going to screw things up.  I’m not a surveyor, but I was able to convince Mike our crew was quite good at this profession and that I would report back to him as the project proceeded.  We had a nice and long discussion.  I didn’t have him as a teacher, but I could see what it must have been like.  He became one of our best supporters during the course of the project.  I’ll miss him."

From Linda (Lehman) Lucero:  "Mr. Kirk did his best to teach me algebra.  One day I was not paying attention and he threw a piece of chalk at me, which embarrassed me and made me mad.  Promptly, I went home and made a voodoo doll, put a small heart on it and stuck pins into the heart.  Early the next morning I put the voodoo doll on his classroom door.  Unfortunately, I made the voodoo doll out of  the same material I had made a dress and wore to school.  Clever girl I was!  Mr. Kirk never confronted me nor did he turn me in.  Mr. Kirk also attended my wedding and sent me a gift.  I have always had such warm memories of Mr. Kirk.  He made every effort to educate me, and keep me focused.  It was in my adulthood that I was able to truly appreciate him and understand that he really cared.  [After hearing he was very ill...] I wrote to Mr. Kirk to tell him this story, and tell him how much I appreciated him.  Unfortunately, I mailed it the morning he passed.  It was returned to me.  I was so sad that I never told him how much he influenced me and how I appreciated him."

From Diane (Dabney) Parham:  "I was hoping that he would still be around for our 50th. Sorry to hear about his passing, but hope that he knew how much an impression he made on his students. I had a similar memory to Linda's, only mine was getting a chalkboard eraser thrown at me! Good thing I could duck fast."

From Maxine (Paddock) Richert:  "Whenever I went to Foodland on a Saturday morning, Mike Kirk was usually there talking to folks (former students and their parents) in the aisles. It reminded me of the time my parents and siblings hiked out to scope out the future Herbert and Eagle River bridges which my father's construction company would build the next summer.  Rev. Walter Soboleff and his good friend Mike Kirk were along. Mike proceeded to talk my mom's head off which prompted my 9-year-old sister Anna to say "remember Mom, you're married to Daddy."

From Gail (Parke) Roust:  "I'll always remember Mike as a guy of exceptionally quick-wittedness and as a terrific teacher who entertained us with his endless silly little jokes.  And he never failed to ask, "tell me exactly what it is you don't understand," in response to anyone who shrugged and said, "I just don't get it..." to a several-step algebra problem he'd just explained on the blackboard.  Drove some nuts, but it generally worked!  He'd patiently go through whatever was on the blackboard, step by step until he hit that student's brick wall.  If his re-explanation didn't take, someone would be with him after school that day!  We can much appreciate Mike for helping us end up as a pretty smart Class of '65. And I don't think I ever saw another teacher who could so speedily move his motor legs to go after a misbehaver in the hallway.  Mike was also a hunting buddy of my dad's (bet several of you didn't know he was a hunter)--and always a friendly neighbor.  Whenever he came home, he greeted us neighborhood kids playing near his very long stairway to "the crow's nest" house--high above the one he more recently occupied, also on Evergreen Avenue.  He later moved to the old Berggren house down at street level a few lots away."

Celebration of Life - Sunday, October 13

The Celebration of Life for Mike Kirk will be held 
at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center (JACC) on 
Sunday, October 13, at 2:00 pm.

Bring a memory to share, a photo to display, or just come hear the stories of others. Contributions of finger food for the refreshments table will be appreciated.

If you have a memory or photos you would like published on this blog, please email to: 
Shana Crondahl at 

Mike, on the stairs to his house