The “windy place with white caps on the water” is not made special because of its picturesque mountains or historic wooden boardwalks. It lives on in hearts and minds because of the people who breathe life into it daily.
Ray Tsang found himself in Skagway in October of 2012. The people gave him reason to stay, and three years later he’s still here – a vibrant, humble and fundamental part of this community.
Tsang was born in Hong Kong, China. Over the years he has held an assortment of jobs, once a truck driver, pilot and even police officer in Scottsdale, AZ. But first and foremost, Tsang is a giver and volunteer.
He began volunteering for the Skagway Fire Department in April 2013. He assists in emergency calls, medevacs and even tends to the department’s garden.
“Every morning he is weeding and watering the beds,” Emily Rauscher said. “Nobody really knows about it, except for the people who see him at five in the morning.”
Rauscher is often on calls when Tsang volunteers his time, and said above all he just wants to help.
“He is very selfless in everything that he does. He wants to do what’s best, not for himself, but for the community,” she said.
Tsang is also a volunteer for the American Red Cross. In June, he traveled to Willow, AK, to assist with the Sockeye Fire for three weeks. In August, he traveled to Sitka to help with the aftermath of a massive landslide that claimed two lives. And in the fall, he traveled to California to help Middletown recover from devastating wildfires.
Tsang prepared shelters for other volunteers, who he refers to as the pros, and set up computers, satellites and cell phone service so workers could communicate.
While he didn’t interact with victims often, when he did, he tried to make them laugh.
“I remember one lady was using a walker around the shelter area. She was sneezing from the smoke,” he said. “The first night I met her in the shelter I said, ‘Well, guess what? We’re gonna sneeze together in sync, so that way we can blow the fire out.’ We would walk around the hallway blowing the fire out together. She lit up.”
Over the next few days the two would laugh and sneeze together, lightening the mood. Before she left, the woman made a point to find Tsang and take a picture with him.
Tsang’s humor is his trademark.
Rauscher said during last year’s health fair, Tsang dressed up like a banana, something no one else wanted to do.
“He will be the first one that says I want to be in the outfit. I want to be the one that works with the kids,” she said.
Tsang worked in coordination with Sara Kinjo-Hischer when she was project manager of the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
Together the pair hosted an event at Skagway School in an effort to teach students how to wash their hands properly. Tsang dressed up like a bear.
“The kids loved him,” Kinjo-Hischer said. “They were trying to drag him down and discover who he was.”
Superintendent Josh Coughran said any time there is a capacity for volunteers at the school, Tsang is the first to sign up.
“He is somebody who is always willing to volunteer his time and help in any way he can,” he said.
Tsang has volunteered for the fire department, the school and the Presbyterian Church’s senior lunch program, too.
“If there’s something he can make better, he’ll do it,” Bob Deitrick said.
Deitrick and wife Kathleen O’Daniel met Tsang at the Sweet Tooth Café when he first came to town.
Seeing someone new to town in October was unusual, so O’Daniel called him over.
“We invited him to the hamburger feed as Bea (Lingle)’s blind date. Bea bought him a drink, and the rest is history,” he said.
In a sense, they say they have adopted Tsang. They see each other almost daily, gathering in the living room to chitchat about anything and everything.
If something needs to be done around the house, Tsang jumps up and does it. If someone needs to talk, he’s there with listening ears and an open heart.
“He will give people anything he has if they can use it,” O’Daniel said. “He’s very giving.”
Tsang has never been one to stay in a place for very long. He generally moves from town to town, volunteering as he goes.
But his newfound family and sense of community may have given him cause to stay a bit longer.
“I think he’s found his forever home. I’m hoping that’s so,” O’Daniel said. “I would love to see him grow old here… because he is such an important part of the town.”