Post, Kettle honored as lifelong learners

  • Michael Carey (Photo provided)
  • Lee Post (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
  • Lee Post helps assemble the skeleton of Woody, a Steller sea lion, last November at Kachemak Bay Campus. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
  • Kachemak Bay Campus instructor Lee Post makes a final adjustment to a beluga whale skeleton before it was hung on the ceiling of Bayview Hall in December 2015. Post taught a class on whale articulation this semester, and students prepared and put together the skeleton. It’s the second whale at KBC. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
  • Student Lifelong Learner winner Ben Kettle. (Photo provided)

The annual Celebration of Lifelong Learning honors adult learner Lee Post, a longtime Homer resident known as “the Bone -man,” and youth learner Ben Kettle. Held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Homer Public Library and hosted by the Friends of the Homer Library (FHL), the celebration honors both a local adult and a youth who have demonstrated a perpetual love of learning.

Bones, books and bicycles are the delight of Post. Post is co-owner of the Homer Bookstore, has biked the West Coast and across the country on a 10-speed bike and is perpetually revising his specialized series of animal skeleton reconstruction manuals — The Bone Building Books.

Nancy Lord, a local author, and Betsy Webb, former curator of collections at the Pratt Museum, both nominated Post for the award. In her nomination, Webb describes Post as “One of only a handful of accomplished skeleton articulation experts in the country (who) has marshaled his various interests into a one-of-a-kind series of beautifully and intricately illustrated manuals on skeleton articulation.”

Born in Kodiak on Thanksgiving Day and raised mostly in Anchorage, Post began his adult life as a bicycle mechanic. An avid biker, he pestered a bike shop in Anchorage until they hired him. When he and his mom, the later Joy Post, bought the Homer Bookstore in 1979, he moved to Homer and became a part-time bookseller.

On his days off, Post would volunteer at the Pratt museum, where he was fascinated with the bones of a Bering Sea beaked whale. When he asked if he could help with the reconstruction of the skeleton, Post was told that he could take on the project.

The first step was finding a book on how to put whales together. To his surprise, there was no such book. So, as Post worked on the skeleton, he would ask people who came into the bookstore for ideas on how to do certain aspects of the project. Welders, boat builders, artists and craftsmen all contributed ideas that he used in the process, and continues to use in his work.

Perhaps the most famous local project that Post has worked on is the whale skeleton hanging in the Homer High School commons. The 41-foot sperm whale was collected from East Chugach Islandat the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in 1988. Post led a team of 12 volunteers — the Dirty Dozen — to butcher and collect the bones, bringing them to Homer where they rotted for a couple of years in former Pratt Museum director Betsy Pitzman’s yard. After that, the bones were moved to the museum crawl space for a few more years.

In the mid 1990s Post, with teams of local high school students, conducted a 3-year project, part of which was to reconstruct the whale skeleton.

“I just loved, loved, loved working with the students and with other people,” he said.

Post now travels around the country teaching others how to reconstruct marine and land mammal skeletons. Leading teams of up to 40 people of all ages, he walks them through the process, from how to clean the bones and preserve them, to reconstructing and displaying them.

Last summer Post spent seven weeks out of state working on bone projects.

“That’s getting out of hand,” he says.

In addition to bookselling and revising the Bone Building Books, which he couldn’t do without the help and computer skills of Mary Maly, his partner and accomplice, Post teaches for Kenai Peninsula College’s Semester By the Bay program. Students from around the country are introduced to marine biology, from studying plankton to whales in the bay, to reconstructing marine mammal skeletons.

Post’s website, theboneman.com, offers photos of past projects, information on skeletal articulation and all of his published manuals, which sell for $39 to $55 each. The collection of 10 manuals range in length from 70 to 150 pages and are heavily illustrated with his pen and ink drawings.

Ben Kettle is the recipient of this year’s Youth Learner Award. Nominated by Homer High School language arts teacher and FHL board member Sean Campbell, Kettle is a Homer High School senior who plans to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts in the fall.

Incredibly thoughtful and a profound listener is how Campbell describes his student.

“He just has this desire to learn. He’s soaking in everything,” said Campbell, who has taught Kettle in freshman English as well as junior and senior Advanced Placement English.

Campbell said that he recently saw Kettle at the rope tow on Ohlson Mountain. He was hanging out with buddies, supporting a classmate — and videotaping it all with a drone he was navigating.

“He has interests outside of school that he pursues with a great deal of zeal … he’s just a dynamite person,” said Campbell.

Kettle, who was born and raised in Homer, said that he feels honored to receive the Youth Learner award, and gives credit to all the teachers in Homer who have encouraged him along the way. While at MIT, he plans to focus on electrical engineering and computer science.

Former Anchorage Daily News editorial page editor Michael Carey will deliver the keynote address for Saturday’s celebration. Carey, who currently writes a column for the Anchorage Daily News, also is the former host of “Alaska Edition” on Alaska Public Television.

An active member of a book club for 30 years, Carey describes himself as a 73-year-old man reflecting on what it’s all about, and not coming up with conclusive answers.

Saturday’s keynote topic is what it means to be a lifelong learner, and Carey says that, as far as his own learning style goes, he’s not logical and not methodical. He just tries things out and sees what happens.

“Which explains why I’m not a scientist,” he adds.

His advice to those who want to learn: Keep reading. And don’t be afraid to try reading something outside your comfort zone.

In addition to the keynote, Carey will conduct a free question-and-answer session on the state of the press in Alaska, Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at the library.

Tickets to the celebration are $35 and are available at the library or from a board member. The event will feature a live auction, catering by Maura Brenin, live music by Spit City Slickers and the Trivia Tree will be covered with questions from Kathleen Gustafson.

For more information, contact Friends of the Homer Library coordinator, Mercedes Harness, at 435-3195.

Toni Ross is a lifelong lower Kenai Peninsula resident and a freelance writer.

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