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

  • Front.cheers
    MACEE BEERS joins other Fayette Elementary School students for the annual Mini-Cheer performance during the half-time break at the basketball game.
  • Family.3.wide
    CHILDREN at Stair District Library’s Family Story Time toss scarves into the air during an activity. The evening program provided a mix of stories, songs, dancing, crafts and snacks Monday evening. The program is offered at 5:30 p.m. every Monday for five more weeks. The program is designed for three to five year olds and their family.
  • Front.newpaper.2
    THE INTERVIEW—Evelyn Joughin (right) records the interaction with an iPad while Jack Varga, next to her, asks questions of Morenci Elementary School principal Gail Frey. Morenci senior Sam Cool (standing) listens. Cool serves as the editor for the newspaper written by members of Mrs. Barrett’s second grade class.
  • Front.code.2
    WRITING CODE—Brock Christle (left), a Morenci fifth grade student, takes a look at the progress being made by fourth grader Anthony Lewis. Libby Rorick, a sixth grade student, is next in a line of girls trying out the coding tutorials. This year marked Morenci’s second year of participation in the Hour of Code project.
  • Front.skelton.vigil
    MORENCI’S three Skelton brothers were remembered with both tears and laughter last week during a candlelight vigil at Wakefield Park. Several people came out of the crowd to give their recollection of the boys who have now been missing for five years.
  • Front.gym.new
    REMIE RYAN (left) tries to dodge the foam wand held by Hayden Bays during physical education class at Morenci Elementary School. In the background, Lauryn Dominique and Brooklyn Williams stay clear of the tag. Second grade students were working on cardiovascular health on the first day back from vacation. For the record, Safety Tag is a very difficult sport to photograph.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.

Tom and Betsey Smith recall years on Adak Island 2008.11.19

Written by David Green.

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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