An Alaska legend has passed. Urban Rahoi of Fairbanks died on Thursday at age 102.
He was born Jan. 7, 1919. A World War II veteran, in his final years he was a resident of the Alaska Pioneers Home in Fairbanks.
“He was a one of a kind, he was a builder in this town, he fought five missions in Africa and Europe during WWII flying B-17s, and he raced snow machines at 101,” said Craig Compeau of Fairbanks, a close friend who had visited him just a few days ago. “Covid is the only thing that kept him from racing snow machines this year.”
Rahoi, to be clear, did not die of Covid, but just faded away.
Rahoi was born on Jan 7, 1919 in Iron Mountain, Mich. His interest in airplanes and flying started when he was a child. He did his first solo flight at age 15. At age 21, he met the woman who would become his lifelong love – Vienna. They married in 1940; she passed away in Urban’s arms on Jan. 3, 2010, just three days before their 70th wedding anniversary.
Rahoi joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, and he flew bombers in North Africa and Italy during World War II. “From Italy, we would fly bombing missions into southern Germany, Austria, Romania, and wherever they needed us,” he once said. He flew B-17s on dozens of bombing combat missions.
The couple moved to Alaska and homesteaded on the Tanana River close to the Richardson Highway. They had three children — Rick, Eugene, and Holly. He started his next career as a real estate developer, designing trailer parks, Ptarmigan Lake Lodge in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. He became a big game guide. When Alaska became a state and guides were required to register, he was issued the state’s first big game guide license: #1.
In 1947 he started Interior Airways with Al Wright and Jim Magoffin. Over his flying career, he’s survived three crashes.
A lifelong bush pilot, he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award by the FAA in 2012.
Rahoi also ran as a candidate for Alaska House of Representatives a few times, most recently in 2012. He served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.
Sen. Dan 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.
For his 102nd birthday this year, friends gathered outside the Fairbanks Pioneers Home with placards wishing him a happy birthday, and they sang “Happy Birthday to You.”
He had many close friends who make up a coffee klatch group in Fairbanks known as the Laundry House Gang.