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Aerial view of Skagway, Alaska

by Greg Klupar

A month ago

National Park Service Visitor Center in Skagway, Alaska

Valerie Sims Hauter doesn’t recall much about her time as a seasonal bartender in Skagway in the 1980s, so many summers ago. She was too busy working and, “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what was going on.”

But she’ll never forget her July, 2017 return to Skagway.

The Bellingham, Washington, resident said she wanted to see members of Skagway’s Klupar family, including Karl and Rosemary and their daughter, Olivia during a recent visit. She did indeed see all three when her cruise ship stopped in Skagway after visiting Ketchikan, Juneau and Anchorage.

But it took a little detective work.

“I had every intention of looking them up when we were in Skagway,” Hauter said. “We go way back, and they had no idea I was coming.”

“As I was walking down the sidewalks of Skagway, I went into a little information office, and there were two elderly gentlemen there and I asked them if they remembered Richard and Phyllis Sims (her parents),” Hauter said. “They did, and then I asked whether they knew where Rosemary’s store was, Lynch & Kennedy, and they directed me there.”

“Rosemary wasn’t there, but at the store they told me to check the Skagway Inn, and sure enough I found them there. It was so good to see them. They were really good friends of my parents. Karl is a wonderful person, and Rosemary is a lot of fun. Artistic and creative. Olivia is terrific.”

If her memories of Skagway are a bit hazy, Hauter’s family history there runs deep. Her late father, Dick Sims, was the superintendent of the Klondike National Historical Park (although he called it the “international” park because it goes into Canada), and her late mother Phyllis Sims kept Karl Klupar organized as his assistant at the Westmark Inn.

Dick Sims and his family came to Skagway in a roundabout way when he was named the second ever Park Superintendent after stints as a Nebraska school teacher and as a seasonal ranger during the summer at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Sims was well-liked by officials at the National Park Service when he worked at Scotts Bluff, and he was eventually offered a full-time job as a ranger at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. He later transferred to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and then the Oregon Caves National Park and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon before finally settling into a Park Service desk job in Seattle. That didn’t work well for a man used to being outdoors, and he took an opportunity in Skagway.

Richard Sims, Russell Dickenson, and Marvin Taylor at the 1984 depot dedication.
Dick Sims, Superintendent of the Klondike National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska
The park’s first (1977) group of interpreters and rangers.
The first Park Rangers in Skagway, Alaska

Once there, Sims made a big difference in the town.

“The locals didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Skagway,” Hauter said. “The locals just weren’t happy that the National Park Service was moving in. My father was in Skagway to make changes and the locals didn’t like that. They didn’t know what to expect. Alaskans are like that. They don’t like outsiders coming in and making change.”

“But in some ways he saved Skagway. He did a lot for the town and the people that lived there. But they did not immediately embrace the National Park System coming in.”

When Dick Sims came to Skagway he found a town in a bit of disarray with many of its downtown buildings in disrepair. He led efforts to save the old structures.

“It wasn’t easy for him,” Hauter said. “But now the buildings are beautiful. The town is beautiful, and now everyone knows about the history of the Klondike Trail, the Gold Rush, the Chilkoot Trail, the White Pass Trail. He helped bring the history of the town to light.”

When her family arrived in Skagway in the 1980s, the local train was no longer running and Skagway was not the cruise Mecca it has now become.

Now, however, she comes away highly impressed by the town.

“I thought it was beautiful,” she said. “It was our favorite stop. My husband had never been there before and he loved it. It was beautiful, clean, and just had a real nice feel about it. It felt like a real town. Not too touristy.”

So will she return to Skagway?

“Absolutely!” she said. “It was our favorite spot. We’ll be back!”

And she won’t be alone.

“Rosemary told my daughter, Paige, that she could come up next summer and work for her,” Hauter said. “My daughter is contemplating that. It would be full circle.”