When Urban Rahoi has a party, Fairbanks friends show up. So does Sen. Dan Sullivan and even former Miami Dolphins football player Larry Csonka, who flew from Florida for the occasion. They’re shown above in the photo along with Sullivan’s father-in-law, Bud Fate.
Rahoi and over 1000 friends gathered Saturday at the Pioneer Park Centennial Center, where a massive cake was frosted, lit, and staged.
And yes, an attractive woman (Paula Gambardella) jumped out of the cake.
Born in Upper Michigan in January of 1919, Rahoi began flying in 1934 and flew B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Africa and Europe in World War II. He was also a bush pilot in Alaska, a hunting guide, homesteader, and builder.
He was married to Vienna on his 21st birthday, and brought her to Alaska, where they homesteaded along the Tanana River. She died at home in his arms at age 82, on Jan. 3, 2010.
In 1947 he started Interior Airways with Al Wright and Jim Magoffin. Over his flying career, he’s survived three crashes.
Rahoi also ran as a candidate for Alaska House of Representatives a few times, most recently in 2012.
Sen. Sullivan remarked on his legendary life: “What really describes a life, when you think about your service in World War II, flying B-17s, and what you’ve done for our great state, literally it’s no exaggeration. You are part of the Greatest Generation, that saved America and built Alaska.”
Indeed, Rahoi ‘s flying career spanned over 80 years, and he has piloted his plane as recently as 2018.
In September of 2016, Rahoi was at his remote lodge about five hours from Fairbanks. He was doing some repair work on his runway when he started feeling strange. He was suffering a stroke. Knowing something wasn’t quite right, he flew himself back to Fairbanks from Ptarmigan Lake, over an hour away, in his Cessna 206.
He continued not feeling well so drove himself to the hospital. Today, the stroke effects interfere with his balance, making it difficult to walk far, but he still does physical therapy, works out, and continues to get out on snow machines with friends who are more than ready to lend a hand.
During the party, video greetings were played from both Congressman Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Czonka gave Rahoi his old autographed Miami Dolphins helmet for his next snow machine race. He recalled how Rahoi had urged him to get off his butt at age 65 and go sheep hunting with him. Rahoi was 85 at the time.
The event was organized by a dozen friends, led by one of his closest, Craig Compeau, who has made sure that Rahoi has gotten on his snow machine every year in the “Tired Iron” race for antique sleds, during which Rahoi rides a 1965 Polaris Mustang.