Story last updated at 4:38 PM on Thursday, June 2, 2005

Homer author receives honorary degree

Make that 'Dr. Rearden,' thank you

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Jim Reardon of Homer receives congratulations from his son, Michael, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement exercises.  
Jim Rearden has written more than 500 articles, authored 21 books and made numerous contributions to the state of Alaska. In return, his efforts have won an impressive assortment of awards. On May 15 a new one was added — an honorary degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement exercises.

"Whether as a carpenter, professor, writer or biologist, he has played an important part in helping develop and explicate Alaska's unparalleled potential," stated the University's citation of Rearden.

In a letter recommending and nominating Rearden for this honor, long-time friend Paul Eneboe wrote, "Jim's life is a story as interesting and exciting, and varied as any of those that he's chronicled in his writings and books. He is a friend, a father, a teacher, a guide, a hunter, a fisherman, a pilot, a writer, an historian, an editor, a biologist, outdoorsman, a tinkerer, a builder, a photographer, but most of all he is that greatest of beings, a true Alaskan. Honoring Jim Rearden with a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks honors Alaska as it used to be, as it ought to be."

Born in Petaluma, Calif., Rearden was studying fish and game management at Oregon State College, now Oregon State University, when he took a summer job as a fishery patrol agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska in 1947. After returning to school, and receiving a Master of Science degree in wildlife conservation at the University of Maine, Orono, in 1950, he came back to Alaska and taught wildlife management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"Two of my students became commissioners of (the Alaska Department of) Fish and Game in Alaska — Jim Brooks and Ron Skoog," Rearden said. Another student, George Schaller, has become known internationally for his work with the New York Zoological Society.

Teaching, however, was not the lifestyle Rearden was seeking. In 1954, he left the university, moved to Homer and became a big-game guide and free-lance writer. His byline has appeared in more than 40 different magazines, including National Geographic, Audubon, International Wildlife, Sports Afield and Field and Stream.

In the 1960s, he worked for the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADF&G, first as the assistant area biologist and then area biologist for Cook Inlet, overseeing commercial fisheries management. In 1968, he became the outdoors editor for Alaska Magazine, an endeavor that continued for 20 years. Alaska Governor Keith Miller appointed Rearden to the Board of Fish and Game in 1970; he was reappointed to that position by Gov. William Egan; and Gov. Jay Hammond appointed him to the Board of Game in 1975, continuing in that role until 1982.

In 1976, Rearden became the field editor for Outdoor Life. That same year he was appointed by U.S. President Gerald Ford to the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, traveling to Washington, D.C. one week a month for the 18 months he served on that committee. Rearden left his field editor position with Outdoor Life in 1996.

Rearden won the outstanding science books for children award for "Wonders of Caribou," by the National Science Teachers Association and Children's Book Council Joint Committee in 1976; was named Conservation Communicator of the Year for Alaska in 1980 by the National Wildlife Federation and the Alaska Sportsmen Council; honored as distinguished alumnus of the University of Maine's College of Forest Resources in Orono, Maine; received awards from the Alaska Press Club in 1987 and 1988; and he was named Conservation Communicator for Alaska in 1993 by the Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund. In 1996, he was presented The Sidney Huntington Award by the Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund for his work in wildlife conservation, and 1998 he was named the distinguished graduate of the Oregon State University Fisheries and Wildlife Department.

During the years, Rearden has tirelessly written book after book, with 20 now published. The 21st book, "Forgotten Warriors of the Aleutian Campaign," will be released in August, and he is already hard at work on his 22nd work.

"The two most successful books I've written so far are about old timers. One is 'Shadows on the Koyukuk,' a book I wrote with Sydney Huntington, and the other is 'Alaska's Wolfman,' the book I wrote about Frank Glaser." Rearden said. "Alaska's Wolfman" won Rearden his most prized recognition, the Alaska Historical Society's Historian of the Year award in 1999.

Being chosen for an honorary Doctor of Science caught Rearden off guard.

"I was terribly surprised, shocked in fact," he said. "When the letter from the University arrived, I read it and wondered which buddy was pulling my chain. I honestly thought it was a joke."

But it was no joke, as he found out on May 15. In the presence of his wife Audrey, and his children Michael Rearden, Mary Bookman, Nancy Kleine and Kathy Richardsen, Rearden received one more award for his service to Alaska.

As UAF's citation stated, "Whether writing science books for children or lyric profiles of great Alaskans, formulating policy or advancing scientific knowledge, Jim Rearden exemplifies the pursuit of scholarship in its many forms."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at