Ray Petersen: R.I.P.

In Adventure, Alaska Travelgram, Parks by scott

Right after returning from Brooks Lodge, I went to the owner’s funeral. Ray Petersen died on Aug. 12 at the age of 96. Here’s a picture of Ray flying for Bethel Airways in 1935 (Courtesy Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum):  

Ray started Brooks Camp back in 1950. It was one of five world-class fishing lodges established at “choke streams” between the many lakes in the Bristol Bay area. Ray and his team tried to get folks to develop some fishing lodges in the area to boost tourism. In the end, he built them himself. 

Today, Ray’s son Sonny Petersen runs the Katmailand operation, including the concession for the National Park Service for Katmai National Park, Katmai Air and the Grosvenor Camp and Kulik  fishing lodges. Also, Sonny’s business runs the daily tour up to the Valley of the 10,000 Smokes. Some of their guests have been returning for more than 25 consecutive years to fish the gin-clear waters in the Bristol Bay drainage. 

Ray was first and foremost an Alaska aviation pioneer, rising from pilot/operator of a small flying service to CEO of the state’s largest airline, Wien Air Alaska. Here’s a shot of one of Wien’s planes on the tarmac at BFI (Boeing Field) in Seattle. It’s the “Katmai Queen”. Norman Filer snapped this photo in 1978. We found it at Airliners.net .

He was inducted in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in 2001. And to me, his funeral resembled a passing of one of the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Lots of aviators from around the state were there: airline owners, chief pilots, friends and colleagues. Deacon Felix Maguire led the service at Anchorage’s Holy Family Catheral. Felix flew biz-jets all over the place in Alaska–and served as President of the Alaska Airmen. And presiding over the service was retired Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley. He, also, is an aviator.

Archbishop Hurley shared a brief remembrance: 

“There are many stories we can share about Ray Petersen. The one I recall is when he walked up and pointed his finger right at me, saying: ‘I want you to remember one thing: I’m responsible for getting more people closer to Heaven than you are.’ ”

Absolutely brought the house down. 

It is a distinct honor to have known Ray. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petersen family as they continue the family tradition: serving anglers, bear viewers and explorers from around the world in Katmailand–which they call Anglers Paradise.

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