Pioneer, historian, Star founder Jordan moves on but leaves roots

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - 13:16
  • Lee and Barbara Jordan show off a lilac tree in the backyard of their new home in East Anchorage. The Jordans lived in Birchwood for 54 years during which Lee founded the Chugiak-Eagle River Star in 1971. COURTESY PHOTO

Packing up 54 years of belongings and memories is a daunting task.That is unless you are Lee and Barbara Jordan.

Then your kids do it for you.

“Our kids pretty much insisted,” Lee said via a phone call from the couple’s new residence in East Anchorage. “They wanted us closer to them now that we have to make frequent trips in to visit the doctors to make sure that they agree that we are still getting along just fine.”

That quote represents Jordan’s famous humor and his ability to put a favorable spin on life’s circumstances, including aging.

Lee turns 86 in September. Barbara, his bride, as he still refers to her, is currently 83.

Taking care of their 2.5-acre abode in Birchwood affectionately known to the myriad of friends and dignitaries they’ve entertained there as “BarB Ranch” was no longer realistic.

A blood clot in Lee’s left leg forced an amputation two years ago. He simply cannot get around as he did just a few years previously. Barbara doesn’t have the energy to maintain the yard and all the flowerbeds.

“Time goes on,” Barbara said after Lee handed her the phone interrupting the unpacking she was doing in the couple’s new garage. “And it was just getting way too much for us. One of the biggest things was that we did not have an attached garage there. Last winter with it being so icy and the water on top of the ice, it was a heck of deal just to get the groceries in.”

Lee is The Star’s founder and first editor and publisher. He started the paper in 1971 after having worked as a typesetter at the now defunct Anchorage Times. His first of many marks on state history was inked there when word arrived in 1958 that Alaska would become a state. Jordan set the type for the headline, “WE’RE IN.” Even that move showed his ingenuity: He had to use a saw to transform a piece of comma type in to an apostrophe.

He was the mayor of Chugiak-Eagle River for five months in 1975 when the area attempted to leave the Municipality of Anchorage. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled the move unconstitutional and Jordan dropped the official title, but not necessarily the position’s stature in the mind of local residents.

To many folks who’ve set down roots in the land between two rivers, Lee is an area icon — someone they turn to for clarification of the area’s history; someone whose presence was akin to a guiding star.

His local fame remained even after retiring from the newspaper business by selling The Star to Morris Communications in 2000. Lee and Barbara remained active in the community. While he won’t take credit for it, Lee was a major force behind establishing the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks Alaska Baseball League team that plays at Loretta French. The Chinooks’ field is named for him.

All the while, he and Barbara remained at their “ranch” as Lee published three books. The first, “Starlight Memories,” is a collection of editorials and stories published in The Star during Lee’s tenure. The second, “The Eagle Return to Yukla Valley,” is an update of the area’s history and Jordan’s memoir, “Reflections of a Reluctant Alaskan,” begins with his arrival in 1947 courtesy of the U.S. Army and details his life experiences since.

His fourth book is currently being reviewed by his printer.

For now, he and Barbara and their two dogs and two cats are settling in to their new digs in Anchorage.

The property’s fenced-in yard is remarkable spacious, Lee said.

Sport, their German shepherd, Sarge, the silkie Terrier Sarge, their six-toed cat Sparky and the tiny calico named Sally Ann “seem to like the yard pretty well,” Lee said.

Lee and Barbara’s kids did the heavy lifting. While the couple was signing the paperwork, the kids were moving furniture in.

“We closed on June 10 and while we were in signing the paperwork, they were moving us in. They moved the bed and the TV, I think just to make sure we would be here that night,” Lee said.

Barbara said their children also updated some of the couple’s furnishings.

“I guess my kids don’t want me to have old stuff anymore,” she said. “They keep buying me new stuff and getting rid of our old furniture. They brought in a new leather couch and some beautiful end tables with granite in the middle. They have been wonderful and I do not know what I would do without all the help our kids have given us.”

Lee said he and Barbara intend to continue attending the Eagle River Presbyterian Church. Barbara is sticking with her hair stylist off Sunset in Birchwood.

When asked what she wants their friends and readers of The Star to know, Barbara said, “Just tell them we did not desert them. We will still be around as much as possible.”

As one with local knowledge might expect from Lee, his answer was one he’s echoed many times in his writing for The Star and his books.

“Chugiak-Eagle River is still the center of the universe,” he said.

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