Lee Jordan's latest book is nothing less than a love letter, written straight from his heart to his family and neighbors.
"Reflections of a Reluctant Alaskan" (Samson Press, 2010) is part memoir, part history book, written with the journalist's eye for detail and accuracy. Of course, at 280 pages, it's no exhaustive compendium of Southcentral Alaska history. It is, instead, a very personal account of one man's coming into the country, and the impacts the country and the man had on each other.
Jordan is well known in the Chugiak-Eagle River area. He was founder, publisher and editor of the community weekly, The Alaska (Chugiak-Eagle River) Star, celebrating its 40th year of publication this year. He was mayor of the Chugiak-Eagle River Borough in 1975, until the borough ceased to exist and the community was incorporated (locals would say "consumed") within the Municipality of Anchorage. He spent some two decades coaching youth baseball, leading teams to four state championships.
Coming from a long line of printers, Lee was born in September 1930 in Birmingham, Ala. He came to Alaska as a soldier assigned to the Alaska Communications System. He used his printing background to earn extra income working for the Anchorage Daily Times. If you've ever seen the huge "WE'RE IN" headline in the Times when statehood was won, you'll want to read Lee's account of how he set the type that day.
Lee tells his tales with the same calm, easy style in which he talks to folks. Take this example, where he tells why he started publishing the Star: ". . . the need to let people know what was happening around them gnawed deeply on my innards. Ignorance on the part of the Anchorage media could be cured, but it was clear that their ignore-ance could not. What I saw as important was what our children were doing, what was happening in our neighborhood and how it affected us, and most of all, the good things people of the community were doing the positive stuff that the experts say does not sell newspapers."
When he tells the tales, stories of meeting well-known politicians and community leaders become modest meetings of happenstance. The battle to retain the region's sense of independence against the larger Anchorage metropolis is related with thoughtful reflection. But stories like those are no more important in Lee's world as when he and his bride, Barbara, bought their first home in Birchwood, complete with its own horse, which the family hadn't bargained on.
Interspersed with his own tales is the history of the Southcentral region and its inhabitants. Again, there's no exhaustive attempt here to write the definitive resource. But newcomers to the region (cheechakos) who read Lee's accounts will gain a relative appreciation for the origins of the area and the challenges it presented to those who chose to make it home. Or at least they'll have at least some idea of what the sourdoughs are talking about.
Lee retired in 2000, selling the Star to Morris Communications. But he didn't slow down. "Reflections" is his third book. The first was "Starlight Memories," a collection of his newspaper columns over the years. The second was "The Eagles Return to Yukla Valley," an update of the 15-year history of Chugiak written by Marjorie Cochrane.
And Lee's not done yet. Beginning with the Aug. 25 edition of the Star, Lee's byline will appear again, in a monthly column.
To hear Lee's voice again on a regular basis should be good news for sourdoughs and cheechakos alike.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 3, 2011.