GALENA – Sidney Huntington the man is gone, but ask anyone in the Yukon-Koyukuk area about him and you’ll quickly learn that Sidney Huntington the legend is alive and well.
Huntington, who died Tuesday at the age of 100, was laid to rest Friday at the graveyard on the outskirts of Galena, his home for the last 60-some years. His burial followed a memorial service in the gymnasium of the local school, which bears his name.
For years, Huntington attended every home basketball game. In the 1990s, the Galena Hawks named him their honorary coach, a job he took seriously. He showed up at the gym for every single practice, sitting on the sidelines in his camping chair.
On Friday, Huntington’s usual spot was empty, but he was there nonetheless — surrounded by the banners hung to celebrate the victories of his team and the many people who make clear the victories of his life.
The vast majority of Galena’s 500 or so residents attended Huntington’s memorial service Friday morning, over which the Rev. Anna Frank presided.
“It’s scary to put an honorable man away. What can you say about this person that you really don’t know?” Frank said. “You have to rely on God to say those things for you.”
Miranda Wright, a longtime friend of Huntington’s, gave one of two eulogies at the service. She, too, asked those gathered in the gymnasium, “How do you cover 100 years?”
Huntington was born May 10, 1915, and died Dec. 8, 2015, and he alone had the ability to truly summarize the experience of his lifetime. When he was born, Koyukon Athabascans still feared venturing west by dog team into Eskimo territory. By the time he died, a person could make the trip from Galena to Nome by airplane in about an hour.
The experiences of his 100-year life were numerous enough to fill more than one book and fascinating enough to capture the attention of thousands of readers.
Despite being only 5 years old when his mother died, Huntington had already learned enough of his people’s subsistence lifestyle to keep his younger brother and sister alive long enough to find help. He would continue learning for the rest of his life, and he took the job of passing that same knowledge on to the younger generation seriously.
He served the state of Alaska for 20 years, helping to set policy on the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game.
“Sidney was the bridge between the old generation and the new,” Wright said.
He had nearly 20 children and many more grandchildren, but he considered every child in Galena part of his family.
“I look out from my vantage point here and see his face in so many of yours,” said Tim Bodony, the news director at KIYU in Galena and who also gave a eulogy.
Huntington was a lifelong advocate for education. It was through his work that Galena was able to construct its own school and create its own school district. Even after securing those goals, he continued to serve the students of Galena on the school board for 27 years. Well into his final years, he could be found at the airstrip near old town greeting students who were new to the boarding school or the basketball players returning from a trip in victory or defeat.
For about two hours Friday morning, no classes were taught at the Sidney C. Huntington School. Instead, the entire town of Galena — from the youths to the elders — became students to hear once more the lessons given to them repeatedly by the 100-year-old Koyukon Athabascan man.
“It is our job — all of us — to be mindful of Sidney’s legacy,” Bodony said. “I’ll use his words: ‘Work hard. Get there early and stay late. Don’t expect something from nothing. Help a child in need. Respect the resources of the land and river. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.’
“These are his words. These are his values. They’re entrusted to us to carry on.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMschools.