Kenneth G. Russo passed away at his home in Skagway, Alaska on May 28th, 2021. He is survived by his two sisters, Beverly Tolliver of Keller, Texas and Sandy Lofgren, a ten year resident of Skagway currently living in Minnesota. Ken is also survived by nephews Eric Allen Lofgren and Tim Russo, and nieces Chris (Lofgren) Bostic , Teresa Mundy, and Lori Russo and several other nephews and nieces and great nieces and nephews.
Ken was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and graduated from Hibbing High School. After graduation, he joined the US Navy and served four years aboard the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. After his military service he worked in Minnesota and Colorado.
Ken canoed in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, and then a canoe trip to Alaska found him in Petersburg where he worked on a US Forest Service project on the Stikine River. Over the following years, Ken paddled almost all of the lakes and rivers of the Yukon and he seemed most content on wilderness canoe or boating trips with close friends. In camp, he would sometimes wear a fishing vest he had converted to a wearable spice rack. In the wilderness or at home, Ken could whip up a gourmet meal from scratch at a moment’s notice.
A related theme to his enthusiasm for cooking good food was his love of gardening and wild harvest. He savored fresh food, picked from the garden minutes or seconds ago, or pulled from the ocean that day and grilled in his backyard fire pit. When the berries were ripe, he’d drop everything to pick buckets that would turn into sauces and jams, home-made wines, and his famous pies.
Ken made his way to Skagway around 1980 and never looked back. Ken’s skills as a carpenter brought him to Burro Creek, across the Lynn Canal from Skagway. There he completed the construction of the big log house and built a couple other log buildings for Gene Richards. He also worked on the construction of the pipeline and hydroelectric system that supplied power to the residences and the salmon hatchery at Burro Creek. Ken excelled at jobs in remote locations and he was instrumental in the construction of the Natural Park Service ranger cabin at Sheep Camp thirteen miles up the Chilkoot Trail. He also worked for the National Park Service doing restoration work on some of their historic buildings in Skagway.
Ken’s last job before retiring was as the Harbor Master for the City of Skagway, which his sister, Sandy, believes was his favorite. Ken loved being on the water and he owned several boats. It was during his time at the harbor that he became the proud owner of Oomiak, a gaffed-rigged blue water pinky schooner. A circumnavigation of Southeast Alaska and trips to Juneau for the Folk Festival were Oomiak highlights of those years. His definition of BOAT was “Break Out Another Thousand!”
Ken grew up in the same town as Bob Dylan, so it was no surprise that he loved music. He particularly enjoyed live music and when not canoeing down a Yukon River he was attending Dawson City’s summer music festival. Ken was also a regular attendee at the Atlin Music Festival as well as a supporting member of the Alaska Folk Festival. On special occasions, Ken would pull out a harmonica and jam with local musicians at the Red Onion Saloon.
Ken’s steady demeanor along with his seamanship and cooking skills made him a sought after companion on outdoor adventures. Ken’s most recent, epic voyage was aboard the historic sailing vessel Lindy with owner, Bill Shattenberg and others. They sailed from Juneau across the Gulf of Alaska and out to the farthest islands in the Aleutians before retracing their route back home.
Ken was a good listener and a deep thinker. He was a great guy and as good of a friend as you could ever hope to have. He was always willing to give help when needed. Ken will be greatly missed by his family and his many friends.
Ken was an avid nature lover and cared deeply for the environment. If you wish to contribute in Ken’s memory, please make donations to the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, 2207 Jordan Avenue, Juneau, Alaska 99801 or www.seacc.org. A celebration of Ken’s life gathering will be held at the Red Onion Saloon on July 3rd, from 4 to 6pm.