GALENA— Sidney Huntington has died, but Galena has come to life. The rural community of about 500 overflowed with visitors Thursday as people flew into town from all over Alaska and Outside to see the Athabascan elder one final time. Rural airlines added flights to accommodate the influx of visitors traveling to the small village on the banks of the lower Yukon River.
More than 100 people filled Galena’s community center Thursday evening for Huntington’s wake, during which friends, family and acquaintances were welcomed to sit beside the open casket and share stories of the man who, just this year, turned 100 years old.
The community center in Galena is easily capable of holding hundreds of people, but it would take a much larger venue to find space for all the people who considered Huntington family. Huntington had four siblings and nearly 20 children — evidence of his extended family can be found throughout every part of the Koyukuk region, but even the size of his large real family pales in comparison to the many people whose lives he touched.
In his preface to “Shadows on the Koyukuk,” Jim Rearden recounts the story of a time Huntington gave a young man from Galena $800 from his wallet so he could continue furthering his education in Fairbanks.
There’s a reason it’s the first story Rearden tells his readers about Huntington, because in many ways it gives the clearest picture of who he was. The story describes the way Huntington felt about the young people of his community and how he felt about the importance of education. Simply change the location, and the gift and the young person, and many people who have lived in Galena could tell you roughly the same story.
Toward the end of the wake Thursday evening, Huntington’s daughter, Agnes Sweetsir, told those gathered that there would be no assigned pallbearers. Instead, she said if you consider Sidney family, show up in the morning and help.
“Dad did not exclude kids,” Sweetsir said. “You are all his grandchildren.”
Sweetsir also thanked all the people who helped take care of her father in the final year of his life, during which he lived at the senior center in Galena.
“It was rugged,” she said. “And I know it wasn’t easy … thank you.”
The memorial service for Huntington is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Sidney C. Huntington School.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.