Alaskan Pioneer LeNora Conkle

LeNora Josephine (Quint, Huntley) Conkle, age 103, passed away quietly at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home on Thursday, February 7, 2013. A small service was held at the Pioneer Home on the 10th and a Celebration of Life will be planned for this summer in the Copper River Basin, where her ashes will be scattered over the Eagle Trail Ranch.

LeNora was born on a small ranch near Hazleton, Idaho on August 10, 1909. She was third of ten children born to Jesse Dudley and Olga Elfrieda Otille (Mueller) Quint. She graduated from Boise High School, and then married Alonzo D. Huntley on August 28, 1927. They had three children: Glen Alonzo, Richard Lloyd, and Jessie “Fay”. LeNora and Al divorced in 1940 in California.

During the tight rations and tough times of World War II, LeNora shared a large house with two of her sisters in San Diego, California. By pooling their finances and skills, they managed to have a comfortable life, while raising their children.

LeNora came to Alaska in June of 1946, with new husband, Clement M. “Bud” Conkle, both in their late 30’s. They spent several years living and working in Fairbanks. After a winter in Nabesna, they decided Tanada Lake, on the north side of the Wrangell Mountains, was the place for them. They started work on a small homestead on the southwest shore, using a dog-team to transport needed materials. The following summer/fall, while Bud was learning to fly, LeNora gave birth to their son, Colin. They backpacked and dog-sledded to and from the Nabesna Road for a couple of years until they could afford to buy a J-3 Cub airplane.

Bud and LeNora were soon in the guided fishing and hunting business while adding to their log cabin at Tanada Lake. They expanded their hunting to: mountain goat near Katalla, brown bear on the Alaska Peninsula, and polar bear in the Arctic Peninsula. The couple welcomed many, many visitors over the years. More than a few of their fishing and hunting clients made return trips more than once.

In the 60’s, they started developing a 160-acre homestead on Cobb Lake; near Mile 57 off the Tok Cutoff which they named Eagle Trail Ranch. A 1¼-mile driveway broadened into oats and hay fields doubled as a runway for the J-3 Cub. They both loved horses and soon had more than 20 to use in their new guiding area called Wolf Lake, on the north side of the Nutzotin Mountains, just 20 miles from the Canadian border. Bud was licensed as a Registered Guide for many years, then was granted “Master Guide #19″ in 1974.

LeNora could whip up a meal at any time for just about any given number of guests. She loved to pick berries in the summer and always had a large garden. She used to say she had “always known” how to sew and her interior decorating skills developed in San Diego served her well for the Alaskan life – making tents, sleeping bags, aircraft wings, engine covers, and lots of leather and fur items, made during the quiet times when Bud was away guiding hunts. She also home-schooled Colin for many years.

In 1976, they moved from the little 3-room cabin on the homestead to the new, modern, log home they had built with their own hands while in their early 60’s. LeNora loved that house! There was suddenly room… room to have a sewing corner, plenty of room for their book collection, and most important of all, a “trophy room” where Bud could display his trophies.

Bud passed away suddenly in February of “85” and LeNora spent the next 10 winters traveling, visiting her children & grandchildren, while spending the summers on her beloved Eagle Trail Ranch working in her garden and writing. (LeNora is the published author of five books about their life in Alaska). In 1995, she sold Eagle Trail Ranch and moved to North Pole, where her oldest son, Glen Huntley, came to be with her until he passed away in 2007. Her granddaughter, Corri Conkle, stepped in to continue her care. At the age of 99, LeNora decided it was time to go to the Pioneer Home, where she resided until her passing, February 07, 2013.

On February 10th, 2010 LeNora was honored as an “Alaska pioneer: by the Twenty-sixth Alaska Legislature, she was Grand Marshal of the Fourth of July 2011 parade in Fairbanks, and in August of 2012 she was recognized by NBC’s Willard Scott as “A Centenarian.”

For her 100th birthday, three days of celebrations were held in Fairbanks and North Pole with many of her family and friends. LeNora had always maintained a huge typed-, then hand-, written correspondence with hundreds of people, including the children and grandchildren of some of their earliest hunting clients; She kept writing letters until a few days before her death.

LeNora was predeceased by her parents and eight of her siblings, as well as her two sons Glen & Dick Huntley. She is survived by her sister, Elizabeth Richmond of Napa, California, daughter Fay Smith of Spanaway Washington, son Colin Conkle of North Pole, and many grand, great & great-great grandchildren. LeNora will be greatly missed by all who knew her indomitable spirit.

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Author: Irfan Uddin