Childhood friends reunited more than 50 years after Good Friday quake

Saturday, December 1, 2018 - 12:00
  • The main dock area in Valdez following the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, which killed 32 people and forced the town to relocate. (Photo courtesy of Dan Kendall)
  • Dan Kendall (in red) poses for a phoot with his siblings (from left) Susan, Bill, Jim and Rob in their Valdez home. The family left the town following the 1964 earthquake, which killed 32 people and forced many people to leave forever. (Photo courtesy of Dan Kendall)
  • Valdez following the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, which killed 32 people and forced the town to relocate. (Photo courtesy of Dan Kendall)
  • Valdez following the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, which killed 32 people and forced the town to relocate. (Photo courtesy of Dan Kendall)
  • Valdez following the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, which killed 32 people and forced the town to relocate. (Photo courtesy of Dan Kendall)

Friday’s earthquake may have been a boon for the producers of an upcoming PBS documentary featuring survivors of the 1964 Good Friday quake.

“I did send them an email asking if they did that for PR,” joked Eagle River’s Dan Kendall, whose story is chronicled in Season 2 of “We’ll Meet Again,” a series executive produced and presented by Ann Curry.

The documentary brings people together who haven’t seen each other in many years. In Kendall’s case, he was reunited with former Little League teammate and neighbor Rudolph “Bucky” Svein, who now lives in Washington.

The episode dramatizes Kendall’s search, following him from Valdez — where he stands near the old waterfront and reminisces about the tsunami and earthquake that killed 32 people and destroyed most of the town — to a Seattle archive and eventually to Svein.

The reunion trek is an emotional one for Kendall, who tells Curry the experience of tracking down his old friend proved more intense than he expected.

“These moments are the first time I’ve had a chance to cry about it,” he says at one point.

Kendall’s story is one of two told during the show. The other is that of Anchorage’s Michele Wiley, who lived in Turnagain during the 1964 quake. Wiley is brought together with her childhood friend Gretchen, who lived in the same Anchorage neighborhood that was devastated in the 9.2 quake — the largest recorded in North America.

On the day of the big earthquake, Kendall was playing with a pair of older friends near the docks, but went home shortly before the ground started shaking. He was walking into his family home when the ground began to violently surge beneath his feet.

“In the end everything was on the floor — including me,” Kendall said.

Both boys — Dennis Cunningham and Stanley Knuteson — were among 32 people killed in Valdez that day by the tsunami that swept away the docks. In the PBS episode, Kendall returns to the dock pilings where so many of the townspeople were seen for the last time.

“These pilings represent the lost souls of the people that were here,” Kendall says before turning and walking away on his own.

When Friday’s magnitude 7.0 quake hit not far from his home, Kendall was sitting at his dining room table in Eagle River. Immediately memories of the fateful day from his childhood came flooding back.

“It brings back that level of concern having experienced the big one,” Kendall said Friday evening.

The episode featuring Kendall and Wiley is scheduled to air on PBS at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18. In addition to interviews with both, the episode includes archival footage from both Valdez and Anchorage taken in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The Loussac Library — where some of the episode was filmed — will hold a special screening on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. The library is located at 3600 Denali Street in Anchorage.

In the days following the 1964 tragedy, Kendall said most of the people of Valdez scattered to locations elsewhere in Alaska or Outside. Svein lost his stepfather in the tsunami and the family relocated to Washington. In the chaos, the two friends never had a chance to say goodbye.

“We never got to see those people again,” Kendall said.

The episode provided some degree of closure for Kendall, who said getting to see “Bucky” for the first time in more than five decades was a healing experience.

“We had a great talk when we were there,” he said.

Looking back on the tragedy underscored for Kendall the importance of emergency responders and those who risk their lives to help others in times of need. Those thoughts have been reinforced by Friday’s quake and by recent natural disasters such as the California wildfires.

“We need to be sensitive for and caring for people,” he said. “Maybe this month we should give more money to the Red Cross our charities that take care of these major disasters, in case they happen.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

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