Walter Joseph Hickel -- My Boss
In 1965 Walter Joseph Hickel had just opened his magnificent Hotel Captain Cook, and he was looking for a new personal secretary. I was excited when I was offered the job because I understood that he was going to build his next hotel in Australia. In less than a year, he announced his candidacy for Governor of Alaska, and won. For 43 years I was his secretary, and I never got to Australia, but, I ended up with something far more exciting.
The reason he and I got along so well may be because of our similar upbringing -- he, on a farm in Kansas, and, me, on a farm in Saskatchewan. He often talked about his growing up years, the Dust Bowl, farm life, his family, and he always relished his trips “back home.”
He was a staunch Catholic and often talked about the Sisters who taught in the Catholic elementary school he attended. He believed in God; he believed in prayer, and going to church was important to him. No matter where he was, whether traveling or at home, he attended church. I admired him greatly for that.
His family was very important to him. I remember early on in my employment, he told me, “Whenever any of my sons comes to see me, let him in, no matter who I am meeting with.” I knew he meant it, and I never forgot it. His shoes were always shined, because his mother had told him that no matter what he wore, he should always keep his shoes shined.
He had a way of attracting loyal and long-lasting employees. He was trusting. When he gave a job to someone, he expected results, and he expected it to be done right, and he didn’t stand over your shoulder watching.
He loved Alaska. Whenever he started a project (whether federal, state or private) he wanted it done right; no cutting corners. He had great vision, and accomplished amazing things—never giving up—though many challenges were thrown into his path. He and Ermalee brought dignity and class wherever they lived, whether it was in Anchorage, Juneau, or Washington DC.
He had a sense of humor and could make you laugh when things were down. Without hesitation, he would join other staff members in practical jokes when things seemed to be getting too somber. He’d always introduce Dawson, my husband, as “Mr. Yvonne,” and then they would look at each other and laugh.
Working for him was an exciting ride – one I felt I never deserved. When I retired in 2008, I felt worn out and thought he needed a younger secretary with more energy. I was 18 years younger than he was, but I couldn’t keep up. He was something else!
Yvonne Esbensen Lindblom - Big Beaver Lake, Alaska