The Passing of Lorie Kirker, A Hands-On Alaskan

Contributed by Cheryl Homme

Lorraine “Lorie” M. Kirker died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Houston, Alaska on January 18th, at the age of 75.

Lorie was born to Noel and Marge Goodenough on January 1, 1944, in Wisconsin. She attended grade school in a one-room schoolhouse. She received her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in science and math and attended Northern Michigan University in Marquette, where she received her master’s degree in Education. Following graduation, she married Benjamin Kirker on December 23, 1967. Lorie and Ben moved to Adak, where they taught for a year. They briefly returned to teach in Newberry, Michigan where their first child, Benjamin Jr., was born in 1971.

Alaska beckoned again, and in 1972, they secured teaching positions in Unalaska. In 1973, Lorie and Ben had a daughter, Loriann. The family moved to King Cove in 1976 where Ben became principal of the school and Lorie taught history and discovered her love for photography.

After Lorie retired from teaching in the late 1980s, she designed a large 3-story log home in Houston which she and Ben built together.

Lorie loved to read and had an encyclopedic knowledge of Alaska. She opened Alaskana Books in 2000, near the water tower in Palmer’s historic district. She initially thought the books were her greatest treasures, but soon discovered her customers were the real treasures. She loved owning the bookstore, and said those years were the happiest of her life. The store housed the largest retail collection of books about Alaska, more than 25,000 in all. She actively sought out books and maps to add to her already-extensive inventory. She enthusiastically supported Alaskan authors.

Everyone who entered the store automatically got a discount. She often loaned books to researchers. Those who needed money and came to sell their collections to Lorie left with top prices. Lorie worked it out so that those who couldn’t afford to pay at all were still able to leave with what they needed.

Lorie was warm and engaging. The bookstore provided comfortable chairs with footrests, for customers to relax, read and share. And always, there were free cookies and hot coffee. Alaskana Books drew patrons from all over the state and shipped books to nearly every country. Lorie’s business model wasn’t about money, but rather was about promoting Alaska and reading. She offered her bookstore as a meeting place for tutoring sessions. A young couple even became engaged at the bookstore – their favorite public place.

She enjoyed employing young people. I can personally attest that she was the world’s best boss.

Lorie drove all over Alaska and sometimes to Canada, to conferences and expositions in her large truck, heavy-laden with banker’s boxes of all things Alaskana. She retired for the second time in 2014, when she sold the bookstore inventory to a private collector.

Lorie’s love for Alaska was complete. She enjoyed all aspects, even the harshest winters. She was truly a “hands-on” Alaskan. Until recently she was still mushing dogs and cutting and splitting firewood.

She didn’t tend to ask for help for herself, but would drop anything she was doing to help others.

Lorie was fiercely independent, charmingly stubborn, politically astute, and respectful of all opinions. She was smart, and a friend to all.

She was an animal lover, always traveling with at least one dog.

She had a great sense of humor and laughed easily, but was serious about history. She published two books: King Cove 100th Anniversary Scrapbook, and Matanuska Colony 75th Anniversary Scrapbook, which she co-wrote with her dear friend Lynette Lehn. Lorie also received permission to republish several Alaska books, because she felt they were important to keep in print, including two books by Louise Potter: Early Days in Wasilla, and Old Times on Upper Cook's Inlet. She also republished The First Ten Years in Alaska – the Memoirs of a Fort Yukon Trapper 1911-1922 by James A. Carroll, retitled Above the Arctic Circle.

But most of all, Lorie was generous – to individuals and to various agencies. She donated countless items she felt deserved to be preserved in a museum or library. Her generosity, firmly in the Alaska tradition, was unmatched.

Lorie was deeply loved and will be missed by all who knew her. She is preceded in death by her husband, Ben. She is survived by her son, Ben Kirker Jr (Sherry); daughter Loriann Kirker (Richard Taylor); grandchildren: Dusten Kirker and Lily Taylor; brother, Dennis Goodenough (Karen); nephew Dean Goodenough (Kim) and niece Robin Dillon (Pat); numerous grand nieces and nephews; and countless friends and happy customers.

At Lorie’s request, there will be no funeral. Her ashes will be spread along her favorite mushing trail.

Lorie Kirker – 01/01/1944 - 01/18/2019