In a time when good news is sometimes scarce here’s some great news. The Chilkat Valley Community Foundation has learned that the estate of Lucy Harrell left them one million dollars. Basically doubling the endowment of the local fund. ( And really, she left it to all of us– since the Foundation helps the non-profits who do all the things that make life good in Haines and Klukwan.) Lucy was my friend. When she was 85 I traveled with her on her tugboat from Haines to Ketchikan, reading Dana Stabenow paperbacks from her collection in the galley, telling stories (she had a lot), eating very well (she loved French food, shallots were in her cooler), and just looking at the scenery of the Inside Passage for hours and hours.
In honor of Lucy today, I thought I’d reprint her obituary, and then I’m going to send my own ( much smaller) donation to the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation.
Heather Lende for the Chilkat Valley News
Philanthropist and adventurer Lucy Harrell died peacefully at Haines Assisted Living Saturday evening Sept. 7, 2019 following a brief illness. She was 95. “I believe that Lucy was the most generous person this community has ever seen. Nobody else has come close,” HAL board member and friend Dick Flegel said. He declined to name an exact figure, but estimated that she gave “in excess” of three million dollars to Haines Assisted Living and the adjacent Soboleff McRae Veterans Village and Wellness Center. Her latest donation to HAL, a Mercedes van with wheel chair lift, should arrive any day now.
Friend Jim Studley said that after Haines Assisted Living was established Harrell donated more money publicly and privately. Recipients of Harrell’s gifts (many valued in the tens of thousands of dollars each) include but are not limited to, public radio station KHNS, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Haines Arts Council, Venture Scouts, American Legion, Haines Dolphins Swim Team, Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, Becky’s Place, Hospice of Haines, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (she was a devout Mormon), the Haines Sheldon Museum, The American Bald Eagle Foundation, the Chilkat Valley Preschool, and the Salvation Army. She gave to organizations around Alaska and in the Lower 48 as well, including a gift of hundreds of acres for an Oregon forest preserve.
Harrell told an interviewer in 2015 that her wealth “wasn’t brilliance on my part but the economic conditions of my time. I got lucky, basically.”
She called herself a “tight wad,” lived humbly, even frugally. She drove an old truck, lived in a modest log cabin prior to HAL, and patched coats rather than replace them. A life-long boater, she preferred sneakers to rubber boots, and named her 32’ Nordic Tug Whisker III after her first childhood sailboat. On sea and on land, Harrell always dressed for comfort, in sweatshirts and overalls or Carhartts. For years she cut her own hair and her own firewood.
At Tuesday’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting Mayor Jan Hill lamented Harrell’s passing, noting that she contributed her time as well as her money, by serving on the assembly for five years. “We had a lot of laughs together,” Hill said. “With Lucy you always had a good time.” Harrell was also a former president of Haines Woman’s Club.
She was born on August 1, 1924 in Altadena California to yachtsman and engineer Robert Wells, who built the Olympia Steel Works foundry and Muriel Seeley Wells, and named for her mother’s best friend, Lucy Cabot. Her “Aunt Lucy” was from the same Cabot family of the rhyme about Boston, “the land of beans and cod, where the Lowells speak only to Cabots and the Cabots speak only to God.” Harrell’s maternal grandfather owned a chateau in France where she spent time as a child. Her parents employed a French cook, in part to make sure their daughters were fluent speakers, and had homes in Connecticut and California. As a teenager Harrell captained her father’s 60’ motor sailor Lone Wolf through the Panama Canal, and later embarked on other voyages in the Atlantic and Pacific with him. She stood watch, navigated by the stars, and cooked dinner for the crew. After boarding school, Harrell graduated from Smith College in 1946 were she studied medieval history, French, and astronomy.
Months after the end of WW II, she volunteered to help war orphans in Normandy recover from the trauma at a make shift summer camp for 200, where she dug latrines and made meals from whatever she could find in the fields nearby. She and the other volunteers did their best to cheer the children up and help them regain their strength. That experience prompted her to earn a teaching certificate upon returning to California. She taught junior high in Vallejo. After a friend took her up his plane, she was smitten with flying and soon earned a pilot’s license. She owned and flew her own planes for the next 25 years. Harrell left teaching for a ranch in Grass Valley near Sacramento where she raised cattle and logged sugar pine before falling in love with Bob Harrell, a radio man and antenna manufacturer. In 1957 they eloped to Las Vegas in her plane and were married in a wedding chapel on the strip. “Bob was the love her life,” friend Mary Cochran said. “Lucy was not an emotional person. Except when it came to Bob.”
They had a daughter Barbara and moved to Ashland, Oregon and purchased Buckhorn Springs, a former sanitarium and operated it as a ranch and later a lodge. After her husband died in 1969. Harrell and her daughter took motor home adventures as far north as Alaska. In 1985 Harrell was looking for a new start, and settled in Haines, because she could keep a boat in the harbor, land was affordable, and there were, she said, “ activities to keep the mind from going stale.”
From Haines she embarked on what she called “ancient mariner” cruises in the company of elderly women friends aboard Whisker III. Harrell and her friends traveled up and down the Inside Passage to Tenakee where she had a cabin, Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Vancouver, the San Juan Islands, Bremerton, and as far south as San Diego, playing as Harrell said, “mad games of cribbage” and eating gourmet meals seasoned with herbs grown in pots on the deck. They lasted until Harrell was about 90.
As to the secret of a life well lived, Harrell said volunteering for causes you care about helps, “you don’t have to be rich to make a difference,” she said. “If there’s a positive change we can make and improve our quality of life, we should do that.”