The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

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    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
  • Front.ropes
    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
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    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
  • Front.park.lights
    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Tom and Betsey Smith recall years on Adak Island 2008.11.19

Written by David Green.


Tom Smith knew what he was getting into when he accepted a U.S. Navy assignment to Alaska’s desolate Adak Island in 1975.

“I reënlisted to go to Adak,” he said. “That was my incentive.”adak.overview.jpg

And once he got there, it was hard to leave. He signed up for an 18-month tour, but that turned out to be just the beginning.

Within three months he was joined by his wife, Betsey, and their two daughters, Michelle, three years old, and Monica, six months old.

“After we were there, we liked it so much we ended up staying six years,” Tom said.

The island of Adak lies far out among the Aleutian Islands, 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It’s both the southernmost community in Alaska and the westernmost in the United States.

Tom had talked to other Navy enlistees about life on the island, and that’s what helped him make the decision.

“We had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into,” he said.

At the time, Adak offered the best of both worlds to a Navy man. On the one hand, families could come along and take advantage of the amenities of the base: swimming, bowling, skiing, racquetball, a movie theatre, etc.

Step off the base and outdoors people had the wilds of Alaska—devoid of bears. Tom fished for salmon and halibut and he hunted caribou and ptarmigan.

“If you liked the night life, you wouldn’t have liked Adak,” Betsey said.

But if you enjoyed nature, the beauty of the island drew you in.

“We loved it,” she said.

The Smiths lived on Adak when the population exceeded 5,000. Most of the residents were in the military, although there was a small population of native people.

Some of the native Alaskans lived on smaller, nearby islands in the summers and brought their children to school during the winter months.

Betsey used her teaching certificate to teach a fourth grade class. Tom worked as an electronics technician. The Naval base was chiefly used as a submarine surveillance post during the Cold War, to keep track of Russian naval vessels.

Adak’s climate doesn’t fit into the usual conception of Alaska. The Japanese Current prevents weather extremes.

Winter temperatures seldom fell below 20°, but 100 mile per hour squalls presented some miserable wind chills.

“There were whiteouts where you couldn’t see six feet in front of you,” Tom said. “Then a couple of days later it might rain and all the snow would disappear in the lower elevations.”

Foggy summers stayed in a chilly 60° range and annual precipitation is about double that of southern Michigan.

The island also avoids the extremes of darkness and lightness.

“It’s far enough south that it never got completely dark in the day nor light all night,” Tom said.

Adak is actually about parallel to Vancouver Island—not too much farther north than Seattle.

The Smiths’ experiences on Adak will never be lived again. Downsizing of the base began in 1994 as the Cold War ended and it was officially closed in 1997.

The Navy’s assets were sold to the Aleut Corporation and most of the facilities were closed. Today, fewer than 400 people live in the community.

Tom is glad he was part of the former era.

“We thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said.

Adak provided a rich experience for the Smith family that can’t be equalled today.

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