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Author discovers rich treasures in memories of Fairbanks boyhood

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Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 3:21 am | Updated: 1:39 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — I’m looking forward to reading Jack de Yonge’s new book about his childhood in Fairbanks, “Boom Town Boy: Coming of Age on Alaska’s Lost Frontier.”

De Yonge, who got his start as a reporter at the News-Miner in the 1950s, is a retired newspaperman who worked for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He was born in Fairbanks in 1934 and graduated from the University of Alaska with “$10 and a Baby Ruth candy bar in his pocket.”

In addition to his newspaper work, he served as executive director of the Alaska Statehood Commission, served in the U.S. Army and was active in Democratic politics in Washington.

He will be speaking to an assortment of Rotarians, Lions, Pioneers and history buffs this week on a visit to his old home town.

An official launch party for his book will be Wednesday at Gulliver’s from

4 to 7 p.m.

Among his other appearances, de Yonge plans to talk about Fairbanks history Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, after the rubber duckies have run the good race.

His special Golden Days lecture is sponsored by the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society. Call 474-9403 for information.

Here is what de Yonge writes about his first encounter, as a young child, with the richest lady in Fairbanks, one of the legendary characters in Alaska history:

“In the middle of the wooden sidewalk in downtown Fairbanks, a mound of clothes advanced toward my mom and me. It looked like a stemless brown mushroom sliding along. It had arms but no legs I could see. A skirt of dirty brown fabric skittered across the sidewalk. Little eyes semi-circled with yellowish white eyebrows and surrounded by bloodshot whites peered from under what looked like a welcome mat. As the apparition neared, smudgy cheeks patched with sparse white whiskers showed. Arms sticking out from under an oilskin cape showed hands in white cotton gloves with the fingers cut off. White threads dangled from the cuts. Her fingers displayed long, curled, blackish fingernails.

“Mom squeezed my hand and inched us toward the edge of the sidewalk next to the unpaved, dusty First Avenue in front of Fritz’s Lunch, a place my mother loved because of the liverwurst sandwiches Fritz built with an outburst of German. I hated the place because it was narrow, dark and hot. But now, to get out of the way of this strange creature approaching, I would gladly brave Fritz and his trolls’ den. Mom pulled me to her and stopped. The hump of clothes ambled up. 

‘Hello, Mrs. Ford,’ my mother said.” 

•••

PIONEER MUGUP: If you are a member of the Pioneers of Alaska and you are waiting until the last minute to buy tickets to the mugup, please take note that this is the last minute.

Call Opal Baldwin today at 456-5626 to let her know you are coming Saturday evening and she will have tickets waiting at the Pioneer Park civic center. Tickets also are available at the Pioneer Museum at Pioneer Park and at Hops Hallmark in the Shoppers’ Forum.

The cost is $20 for dinner, with a happy hour at

6 p.m. The dinner will be followed by music and dancing.

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