Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:11 PM on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Friends remember Doug Schwiesow



Photo by Michael Armstrong

Doug Schwiesow cheers on skiers at the Diamond Ridge Road crossing of the Kachemak Marathon ski race in March 2009. Friends hauled an old chair and set it up by the trail so he could watch the race in comfort.

Father, fisherman, metal fabricator. Skier, athlete, adventurer, artist. Family and friends of Doug Schwiesow this week remembered the longtime Homer resident who made a mark from the Homer Harbor to Lookout Mountain.

Schwiesow, 58, died Dec. 12, 2011, at South Peninsula Hospital of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spine that control muscular movement. A torchlight memorial ski was held Wednesday at sunset on the trails he helped build on Lookout Mountain, with a celebration of life at Alice's Champagne Palace.

"He was complex and accomplished," said Michael Kennedy, a friend who helped Schwiesow move big art projects like his massive gongs and "Fired Up," a fire breathing salmon sculpture. "I heard somebody say if they'd done one-tenth of what Doug had done, they'd consider their life a success."

A salmon fisherman and boat builder, Schwiesow became known as one of Homer's premiere metal workers. At his Ocean Drive shop, Nordic Metal Works, Schwiesow helped artists like Leo Vait craft large metal sculptures. Schwiesow also became an artist in his own right, with works in the Pratt Museum's Facing the Elements and other shows. He made or helped make the elegant, sturdy artistic signs at the Homer Public Library and the Kachemak Bay Campus.

"Fired Up," shown at Salmonstock this summer and at the Burning Basket, was one of his last works. Artist Mavis Muller helped Schwiesow design the art, and in his studio with friends Lisa Krebs and Steve Agee, created it.

"The muscles of his creativity and imagination never weakened," she said. "They only became stronger, fine tuned and far reaching."

Longtime friend Kenton Bloom remembered Schwiesow as a fellow wilderness adventurer. Bloom met Schwiesow in 1977 while skiing on Crossman Ridge and they forged a friendship hardened in the outdoors. They conjured up trips like skiing the Harding Icefield, riding bikes down the Rocky River Trail to the outer coast, crossing the Valdez Glacier and taking Schwiesow's Bristol Bay double ender, the Bon Tiki, to Jakolof Bay for spring skiing — and then basking in an aluminum hot tub Schwiesow made on the trip back.

"There was never an end to what we could think of," Bloom said. "He wanted to reach out. That was his greatest gift. He never stopped reaching out. He had a great wingspan."

Living in Homer's ski country on Crossman Ridge and Diamond Ridge, Schwiesow helped build and design trails from Baycrest to Lookout Mountain. Bloom said his greatest feat is the Lookout Mountain trails near Ohlson Mountain, trails Bloom called the talk of Anchorage. Schwiesow's gift wasn't in just dreaming big, but getting others to dream with him — and do the work.

"He was our captain and we followed him," Bloom said. "He was someone who gave you the opportunity to be part of something bigger."

Like Bloom, Diamond Ridge neighbor Billy Day knew Schwiesow as a fellow adventurer. One of the last excursions Day took with Schwiesow was a trip to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in September 2008, when ALS had begun to limit Schwiesow's ability to walk. He could still swim, though.

"Once he hit the water, he was back to his old self again," Day said. "He took off like a banshee."

Schwiesow swam with hawk's bill turtles, and felt a kinship with them because "he couldn't get around on the land so well, but was graceful in the water."

Schwiesow got a tattoo that trip from a traditional Maori tattoo artist. The old man listened to Schwiesow's story and gave him a tattoo incorporating a design of a turtle. The tattoo artist told him the turtle symbolized the navigator and the explorer.

"What Doug was navigating at the time was unknown territory for him to be incapacitated physically," Day said.

In his last years, friends helped Schwiesow navigate that terrain. After Schwiesow moved to a handicapped accessible downtown apartment, a network of about 40 people organized daily suppers, a time to bring over a meal and sit with Schwiesow and share stories. With Janet Fink, Ruth Dickerson organized an email sign-up list.

"It's a measure of love that flows between the whole group," Dickerson said. "It's a common cause of easing the journey, which is what life is all about."

Debi Poore and Steve Gibson took meals every Monday night.

"Every Monday night we came home feeling better," Poore said. "I can't take this disease away from him — what I can do is accompany him to the best of my ability."

Two weeks before Schwiesow died, Bloom and friends strapped him on a sled in his wheelchair and towed him around behind a snowmachine on the Lookout Mountain trails.

"It was beautiful to see how happy he was and to know we had accomplished that vision in his lifetime," Bloom said.

"He went right to the bottom in the sled, full of joy," Dickerson said. "It was such a passion for him to be able to do that."

Heading out on adventures, creating lasting works of art and most of all bringing people together to make enduring legacies — that's how his friends said Schwiesow should be remembered.

"Right to the end, that was his gift," Bloom said. "That's something we're going to have a hard time replacing."

Schwiesow was preceded in death by his second wife, Lois Bettini. He is survived by his children, Karl and Hanni Schwiesow, and many sisters and brothers.

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