Longtime Fairbanks resident and well-known miner, political activist and tourism ambassador Lynette “Yukon Yonda” Clark died of cancer at her home on Sunday at the age of 73.
According to her sister, Tricia Brown, Clark had been feeling unwell for several weeks and was self-quarantining with the help of friends who would leave things on her doorstep. She finally decided to go to a doctor when she became so weak she could barely walk to her mailbox. The doctor sent her to the emergency room, and a CT scan showed she had lung cancer that had spread to her liver and chest wall.
“She had no pain, but she was extremely uncomfortable from the side effects of the liver problems. She was very weak and had some edema and other things that would floor most other people,” Brown said by phone on Wednesday.
Clark checked into the hospital a week ago Monday but didn’t stay long.
“She called her nephew in the middle of the night and said “I’m not dying in this place. I want to go home,” Brown said. “So he went and got her and brought her back to Fox, and a friend of hers called me and said she wasn’t doing well.”
Brown got to her sister’s house the next day and was aghast when she read the diagnosis.
“When I walked in the door I had no clue, and my nephew didn’t either. We thought it was severe flu,” Brown said. “She didn’t have any pain, and we’re very grateful for that part. It was just all so fast.”
Clark’s family came up from Anchorage and set up a hospital bed in the living room so she could look out of her window and see the property she loved so well. She started receiving in-home hospice care Friday and died two days later with friends and family by her side.
“From Friday to Sunday night we had many, many visitors and so many notes of encouragement and love,” Brown said. “She left with a clear conscience and peace in her heart, and she left easily.”
Clark was born and raised in Illinois and joined the Air Force several months after graduating high school. She worked in communications while stationed at March Air Force Base in California and was honorably discharged in 1967. After her mother’s death, she became the legal guardian for her sister, Brown, who was 15 years old at the time. Though already known as the family non-conformist, Clark took a job as a fashion buyer with a major department store in Evansville, Indiana.
“She was the black sheep trying to be a good girl, to push against her natural instincts and get a regular job that required hose and a dress and that stuff,” Brown said. “She loved me deeply and was committed to taking care of me. People cannot imagine it, but I remember her teaching me how to do the boogaloo wearing a gold lame tunic and hot pants. She had many iterations, that’s all I can say.”
Clark’s family members began moving to Fairbanks in the early 1970s, and Clark joined them in 1975. She did odd jobs, pumped gas, worked as a maid at a trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction camp and tended bar at the Red Garter Saloon in Ester and the Howling Dog in Fox.
“She was definitely a can-do, try anything person,” Brown said, recalling the time Clark set up her own little camp in Ester. “She brought me out to see her ‘homestead,’ where she’d made this cabin out of Visqueen, basically, and said, ‘This is where I live!’ She was really excited and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, you’re going to die!’ By winter she had moved on to something else, but she was always game and the hardest-working person I ever knew. Everything she committed to she gave it her all.”
Clark went back to bartending as pipeline jobs started drying up but soon decided she was ready for a change. She was looking for a job as a gold camp cook and attending an end of season party at Circle Hot Springs when she met Dexter Clark. Sparks flew and they soon became a couple.
“Dexter was already a miner and was running a camp and needed a camp cook, and it also happened that she was attractive. That helped a lot,” Brown said, laughing. “Besides cooking, she did haircuts, and for any kind of camp building she was there to swing a hammer or help pour cement. She did everything the guys could do.”
Clark even agreed to do the camp laundry, with the caveat that she got to pan the dirt left in the bottom of the washer. The deal worked out well: She recovered a lot of gold off of the miners’ overalls and other clothing, according to Brown.
The Clarks were married at their Harrison Creek mining claim in the Circle Mining District. They mined the claim together but were shut down in the 1980s after a period of “butting heads with the federal government,” according to Brown. After that they ran the Central Lodge, an inn and bar that served prime rib dinners on the weekends. In the early 1990s, Riverboat Discovery owner Captain Jim Binkley approached them to be the “stars and backbone” of the Eldorado Gold Mine, a tourist attraction now known as Gold Dredge 8.
“For the next 26 years she educated and entertained hundreds of thousands of visitors about responsible placer mining. She liked to say that she was preaching the gospel of responsible resource development,” Riverboat Discovery CEO John Binkley said Wednesday.
“People absolutely loved Yukon,” Binkley said, referring to Clark by her nickname. “She was charismatic, engaging, funny, and most importantly, genuine. And people really responded to that.”
Lynette and Dexter divorced in 2010 but continued to work for the Binkleys.
“It was a rough breakup, but they were civilized enough to work together and it was good for everybody that way,” Brown said.
Throughout her life, Clark was actively involved with the Alaskan Independence Party, a conservative group founded by the late Joe Vogler that advocates limited government and secession from the U.S. Clark was the party chair at the time of her death.
In an email Wednesday, Clark’s friend and political associate Bob Bird referred to her as a “Velvet Bulldozer, a Margaret Thatcher, a veritable lion, and when called upon, an Alaskan wolverine.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.