Alaskan of the week: Urban Rahoi - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, December 7, 2019
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Alaskan of the week: Urban Rahoi

VIDEO TRIBUTE BY SEN. DAN SULLIVAN

Sen. Dan Sullivan selects one Alaskan to pay tribute to on the Senate floor, a weekly tradition he established, and last week it was Fairbanks legend Urban Rahoi — pilot, snow-machiner, builder, and developer, who recently turned 100. Watch Sullivan’s tribute here or read the transcript below.

The transcript of the tribute made by Sullivan:

SENATE FLOOR TRIBUTE TO URBAN RAHOI

Mr. President, I hope that you and all the pages here–we have some new pages in the staff here–had a great holiday season and that everybody listening back home and watching back home in Alaska around the country also had a wonderful holiday. I certainly did. It is always great to be home in my State–spending time with family and my wife, my daughters, and with friends–which to me is the greatest State in the greatest country in the world.

Winter is a special time in Alaska. The sun may be low or in some places it may not rise above the horizon at all, but there is a certain glow that comes with the snow. With that glow and the Northern Lights dancing in the sky, particularly in the interior–the place I am going to talk about in a minute–it is magical. We want to assure anyone watching to come to Alaska and you are going to have the trip of a lifetime.

As I have said so many times on the floor of the Senate, it is the people who make my State so special–tough, hearty, resilient people who have lived some of the most amazing, meaningful, purposeful lives and who have the wisdom, the character, the toughness, and, yes, even the scars to prove it. Stories of character, stories of lives well-traveled, and stories of lives well-lived abound my State.

Last Saturday, in the great city of Fairbanks, AK, I had the great opportunity and the honor to attend the 100th birthday party–I am looking at the pages, who all just said “wow”–of a legend in Alaska, a man, certainly, of great stories but also of heart, of patriotism, and of everything that makes Alaska and America great.

As you know, Mr. President, I come to the floor nearly every week, while we are in session, to honor someone that I refer to as the Alaskan of the Week, someone who makes our State and our country very special. I want America right now–if you are watching on C-SPAN, in the Gallery, or the press–to meet Urban Rahoi, our Alaskan of the Week–a husband, a father, a veteran, a pilot, a hunting guide, a developer, and a builder, just to name a few of his defining characteristics.

Urban has lived a dozen lives, all in only one century–100 years old. He helped to save America, and he helped to build Alaska–to save this great Nation of ours and to build one of our greatest States. He is our Alaskan of the Week.

I believe he may even be watching in Fairbanks–I hope you are, Urban –in the pioneer home there, maybe with some of the Laundry House Gang members, maybe even my father-in-law, Bud, and, Craig Compeau. I hope you are all watching right now.

Urban has had such a full life that it is hard to know where to start–100 years. Let me give you some of the highlights.

He was born on January 7, 1919, the day after Teddy Roosevelt died, in Iron Mountain, MI. He grew up during the height of the Depression, but Urban recently told a reporter with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that the Depression for him and for his family wasn’t that bad. His family hunted. They grew their own food. They worked hard. He said: “We had a garden and we had 100 rabbits.” In many ways, that is how they got through the Depression.

He began to get interested in airplanes and in flying. When he was just 15 years old, he took his first solo flight–at 15, a solo flight – and he was forever hooked.

He was also hooked on the love of his life, whom he met when he was 21 years old, Vienna–Vi, everyone called her–and they got married in 1940.

In 1943, Urban joined the U.S. military during World War II, in the Army Air Corps, and he flew bombers in North Africa and Italy. “From Italy, we would fly bombing missions into southern Germany, Austria, Romania, and wherever they needed us”–dozens of bombing combat missions.

And what did he fly? Appropriately, Urban Rahoi flew the B-17s, also known as the “Flying Fortresses.” Those airplanes stayed in the air even after some of the toughest battles and some of the most vicious flak–tough as can be, just like Urban. Again, he was a B-17 pilot in World War II, part of the greatest generation, which saved America and saved this institution, among others, the U.S. Senate.

Eventually, as it does with a certain kind of an adventurous person, Urban heard the call of Alaska, and he flew to the State in a PA-12 Cub. He and Vi homesteaded on the Tanana River, near the Richardson Highway, and began to make a life for themselves in Alaska.

What a rich life it was. They began a family, eventually having three children–Rick, Eugene, and Holly. Urban also stayed active in the military, as a member of the Air Force Reserve 449th Fighter Squadron, in Alaska. He commanded the C-47 squadron and copiloted several historic military aircraft, including the North American F-82 Twin Mustang, the Lockheed F-94 Starfire, and the Northrup F-89 Scorpion.

This is a great pilot for America. He began offering private flying services, and he also built two areas in terms of developments. Together, they made up these trailer parks with 172 lots. Urban designed the development of these areas and installed all of the electrical lines, the water lines, and the septic system–all himself.

Think about that. What American can do that today? He also built a lodge in an inholding in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. If that were not enough, he became a big game guide in Alaska, running a successful big game guiding business, and he built Ptarmigan Lake Lodge, an inholding in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. 

When Alaska became a State, guides were required to become registered, and they had registration numbers. Urban Rahoi was issued big game Alaska’s State license No. 1–No. 1, the first.

All told, during his career as a pilot, he racked up an incredible 20,000 hours of flying–20,000 hours of flying. That is probably older than some of you pages. He has seen so much, nearly every part of Alaska. “If someone’s there, I’ve been there,” he said recently, about all the flights he has taken all over the great State of Alaska.

 In 2012, the FAA presented Urban with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. Here is what the FAA wrote:

 He has used his skill as an aviator to train airmen, fight a war [for America], and maintain the safety standard in commercial aviation. He has rescued people in trouble and supplied people in Bush [Alaska] with the necessities of life. He has contributed to the state of Alaska, and provided many people a chance to see the wild and beautiful Alaska we all love.

 The party for Urban’s 100th birthday last Saturday in Fairbanks was so reflective of the impact that he has had on the State, his community in Fairbanks, and, of course, his country. Fairbanks is a tough, tough place. I love Fairbanks. Fairbanks has been experiencing a bit of a cold snap.

 Last Saturday, at Urban’s 100th birthday party, it was 30 below zero in Fairbanks. That is a dangerous temperature for some but not for the people of interior Alaska, who deal with that on a regular basis. Despite 30-below temperatures, hundreds of people from the interior of Alaska and beyond, from all walks of life, were there at the Pioneer Parks’ Centennial Center to honor this legend, this great Alaskan, and this great American.

 There were family and friends. We even had a special guest–the football fans watching know him very well–former Miami Dolphins football player and Hall of Famer Larry Csonka was there to celebrate Urban’s 100th birthday. Csonka had been sheep hunting at Urban’s lodge, and the two remained very, very close friends ever since.

 One of Urban’s goals is to be the first 100-year-old to participate in a snowmachine race in Fairbanks–a race that Urban rides in every year. Larry Csonka gave him an autographed Miami Dolphins football helmet to wear as the helmet when Urban participates in this race this year.

 There was a life-sized cake with 100 candles, a slide show of pictures of Urban and Vi at different phases of their lives–so many different adventures, World War II, Alaska as a State, so much love, so much life, so many people celebrating this great American.

 I had the opportunity to talk a little bit about Urban at the birthday party last Saturday in Fairbanks, and I mentioned that here was a man who had so many qualities–patriotism, service, sacrifice, perseverance, and, yes, even tougher than Larry Csonka. The football fans watching know there are not many people in America who are tougher than Csonka. Urban is, and Csonka acknowledged this.

 The one person missing from this great celebration was his beloved wife, who passed in Urban’s arms on January 3, 2010, 3 days before their 70th wedding anniversary.

 She was 92 years old. Vi’s memory lives on in their 3 children, 7 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild, and her memory lives on in Urban’s heart.

 At the ceremony, my good friend who put it together, Craig Compeau, was the emcee of this wonderful birthday party, and he interviewed Urban. Toward the end of it, he asked him what the secret for such a long life was–100 years old.

 Urban said it could be summed up in two words: My wife.

 Now, isn’t that beautiful, America? Isn’t that beautiful?

 What a great man. What a great life.

 So, Urban, here is to flying free, living well. Here is to the State and the country we all–you–love so much. Here is to being part of the “greatest generation” that saved America and built Alaska, and here is to the example you have set for all of us, whether U.S. Senators, whether pages, 100 years old, service to your country, dedication to your wife. Thanks for all you have done. Thanks for all you have done to protect and defend this great Nation, to build our great State, and thank you, Urban, for being our Alaskan of the Week from the floor of the U.S. Senate. Happy 100th birthday.

 I yield the floor.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Love this guy, who claimed a good sex life took him to 100. Can he still run for office?

    • I don’t see why not. I believe Suzanne previously stated that he ran for state House “a few times”. By my count, his various campaigns for the House spanned over a half century. He came within a recount margin one time against Mark Boyer (of “Moyer and Boyer and Bettye, oh my!” fame – for the newcomers, that’s Bettye Fahrenkamp, not Davis) in the 1990s. I haven’t spoken with him and about three or four years. He was telling me the story of going to Juneau to lobby Max Brewer (first DEC commish) to get the water and sewer system approved for Lakeview Terrace. In bureaucratic terms, it was considered unorthodox because he built it himself.

  • Happy 100th Birthday Urban! I salute you sir! You are a freaking inspiration; time spent on the US Senate floor paying tribute to your patriotism, commitment and life of courage is time well spent indeed.

    Thank you to our good Senator Sullivan for honoring the varied accomplishments and sacrifice of a great Alaskan pilot and friend to many, Mr. Urban Rahoi!

    Kids-get off Snapchat and Insta and go Build Something, go Risk Something! Urban, you are a potent reminder of living life abundantly as we are designed to do. I thank you for your service to our country and our Alaska.

    Your answer to the secret to a long life brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the most lasting change we can bring to the world; love our families and spouses and thereby give the world another generation of healthy children. May God richly bless you for doing so.

  • Happy Birthday Urban, and thank you to Sen Sullivan who takes the time to recognize the sourdoughs who built Alaska — a tradition that almost faded into the past.

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