Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:59 PM on Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pioneer Profiles: Jim Rearden

Staff Writer

As a teenager growing up in Petaluma, Calif., Jim Rearden dreamed of coming to Alaska. He and a buddy had a plan. His friend would become a Bush pilot and Rearden would be a cattle rancher. It wasn't until 1947 and his junior year at Oregon State University in Corvallis that Rearden made it to Alaska, but only for a summer.


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Jim Rearden today in the home he built in 1954

Rearden, 84, was born April 22, 1925, in Petaluma, a little farming community. His dad taught agriculture at Petaluma High School, where Rearden graduated.

An avid hunter and fishermen, after high school he went to Oregon State because it had a good wildlife management program. He did one quarter before he quit to join the U.S. Navy in 1943. Assigned to the USS Lovering, he served in the Central Pacific Ocean, doing destroyer escort in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Rearden watched the invasion of Eniwetok Island — the same battle where fellow Homer pioneer Al Greer was wounded.

In 1945, Rearden went back to Oregon State. In his junior year in 1947 he got a summer job working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a fishing patrol agent at Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. He sailed north out of Seattle, up through Southeast Alaska, to Seward, Seldovia and Kodiak.

"I got the greatest trip anyone could possible have," Rearden said.

At the time, Seldovia was the biggest town in the area.

"It was a bustling little village," Rearden said of Seldovia.

In Seldovia he got his first glimpse of Homer. Rearden hiked up a hill out of town and looked with binoculars across Kachemak Bay.

"I didn't dream at the time I'd wind up here," he said.

After graduating from Oregon State in 1948, he studied wildlife conservation at the University of Maine, Orono. He got a fellowship teaching part-time and doing research.

Rearden had begun writing in grad school.

"I'd been writing quite a bit, learning all the time," he said. "I had a lot of rejection slips, too," Rearden added.

After graduating from the University of Maine in 1950, he saw a job announcement to teach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. On a lark, he applied.

"Damned if I didn't get the job," Rearden said.

By then Rearden had married his first wife, Ursula, and started a family. He drove up to Alaska in a 1941 Buick, arriving that fall. Soon he was chairman of the Department of Wildlife Management at UAF.

Academic life didn't suit Rearden, however.

"I wasn't happy standing in front of a blackboard. I wanted to do things," he said. "Stupid kid. I quit a great job."

In July 1955, Rearden moved to Homer. He liked the coast and the climate. He had started writing for Outdoor Life while in Fairbanks. He came here with no job prospects, but a bigger dream.


Photo provided

Jim Rearden in 1955 with a Dall sheep he hunted in the Brooks Range.

"I was going to be a freelance writer and a registered guide," Rearden said.

He got some guiding work in the summers. In Homer he worked for Al Greer at the Qwik-Log company in Fritz Creek. He also got a job helping build the White Alice site on Diamond Ridge and working as office manager. He also worked as a clerk for George Bishop at his trading post, now the Old Inlet Trading Post building that houses Bunnell Street Arts Center. Bishop told him about serving in the Alaska Scouts. That experience led to a book Rearden wrote, "Castner's Cutthroats."

Rearden's gift as a writer is meeting or learning about Alaska characters and then telling their story. On one trip into the Koyukuk River drainage he met Andy Anderson, a Wien Air Bush pilot who had been a dive bomber pilot in World War II. They became close friends, and Rearden later wrote about Anderson in a book, "Arctic Bush Pilots."

With statehood in 1959, Rearden got a job as the assistant area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He later became area biologist, overseeing commercial fisheries management.

All the time Rearden had been writing. In 1969, Bob Henning hired him to be outdoors editor for Alaska Magazine, working out of Homer. Henning had gotten behind in the slush pile, and Rearden spent a winter going through six cartons of manuscript submissions.

"I spent a winter apologizing," he said, sending writers rejection slips.

Some writers showed promise, Rearden said.

"There was a secret running that magazine," he said — crafting a certain tone to the articles. "It was kind of like reading someone else's mail. Any Alaskan with a good story would get into it."

As outdoors editor, his job was to take those good stories and make them look professional.

When he had polished up stories he sent them back to the author to make sure they approved.

"That made me more friends than I could imagine," Rearden said.

Rearden built a 36-foot-by-45-foot two-story log home just off Pioneer Avenue with a nice view of Kachemak Bay, paying $1,200 for all the logs. First built on a foundation of steel drums filled with scrap metal and concrete, the log home pounded those footings into the ground during the 1964 earthquake. He had to take out a loan to put in a full basement foundation. Now covered with siding on the outside, the original, 8-inch-square milled logs are still visible on the inside.

In January 1966 he married his current wife, Audrey. Audrey Rearden is a relative newcomer to Homer, but was born and raised in Dillingham, where she went to school with former First Lady Bella Hammond, Gov. Jay Hammond's wife. Jim had five children from his first marriage and Audrey three children from hers.

Over his writing career Rearden has had 27 books published and over 500 articles in 40 different magazines, including National Geographic, Sports Afield, Audubon, and Field and Stream. He's best known for "Shadows on the Koyukuk," written with Sydney Huntington, and "Alaska's Wolfman," about Frank Glaser. That book got rejected seven times before being picked up by Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. He's received numerous honors, including an honorary doctorate from UAF and the Alaska Historical Society's Historian of the Year.

The biggest change Rearden has seen in Homer is growth.

"Too many people," he says of Homer now. "It was a small, dusty, comfortable, easy going, slow living village in which you knew virtually everyone in town."

People didn't lock their doors and left their keys in the car.

"If your car was gone, you knew your neighbor had borrowed it, and it would come back with a full tank of gas," Rearden said. "If you got in trouble, everyone would pitch in to help."

That community spirit has survived, though.

"People here seem to care for one another a lot," he said. "There's a local passion to take care of each other."

One thing hasn't changed, Rearden said

"There were some strong characters in the early years, and there are still some strong characters," he said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong.@homernews.com.