Floyd Emmanuel Heimbuch, the last man standing from a family of 11 children who grew up in the Dakotas during the great depression- died peacefully on the evening of November 29th. He was 95 years old and spent his final two years as a resident of Friendship Terrace in Homer. He was preceded in death by his wife Bonnie Lee, and 3 of his 5 children – Connie Lee, Karl Earnest, and Douglas Stewart Heimbuch. He is survived by two sons – Paul Dean and Michael Heimbuch -grandchildren Hannah and Ivan Heimbuch and Ben and Matt Hoback- and daughters in law – Suzie Kendrick and Ann Heimbuch.
Floyd and his wife Bonnie came to Alaska in 1952 as some of the first caucasian people to live and work in Unalakleet. Both spent their lives working primarily as educators in the public schools and University system in Anchorage where they raised their 5 children. Later in life they moved to Soldotna and lived on the river for several decades.
In the 70’s Floyd would become the first Executive Director of Cook Inlet Aquaculture association and was very instrumental in bringing public attention to the importance of their work. His involvement in all things salmon began when he brought his family to the west side of Cook Inlet to become set-netters in Trading Bay by Granite Point. in 1963. It was a lifestyle Floyd and Bonnie enjoyed for 30 years and much to their chagrin all of their children became involved in commercial fishing as a livelihood.
Prior to commercial fishing, Floyd and Bonnie took up homesteading in 1960 in the Willow area. In order to prove up on the land they drove from willow to anchorage and back 5 days a week while teaching in anchorage. And they hauled 5 children with them much of the time. 180 miles a day- sometimes being pulled through the mud by a bulldozer during spring breakup. .
At other times Floyd would fly his Piper Pacer from the homestead to anchorage and after landing at merrill field would walk across the street to work where he was a principal at Fairview Elementary school. Truth be told he often landed on the highway next to the homestead in willow and parked the plane in the family gravel pit. Interesting situation.
In the 1950s Floyd and Bonnie would drive down the Alcan in the summer to finish their graduate degrees at Chadron State College in Nebraska- with car-sick kids and endless peanut butter sandwiches. And in the 60s they spent two years at the University of Texas getting doctorate degrees and still drove 5000 miles with family each way in the summer to commercial fish. It didn’t pencil out very well. The boys in particular had a hard time understanding why there was no crew share available but Floyd could fly a plane into Anchorage just to pick up some ice cream and peaches after a big fishing period.
Family tragedy first struck Floyd and Bonnie’s life in the late 80’s when their only daughter Connie could not prevail over placenta cancer after a 5 year battle. That heartbreak led to a one year stint in the Peace Corps in the Philippines where they both developed a renewed appreciation for what the United States was all about. After living there Floyd said they would likely never adapt to the idea of dogs as food rather than dogs as pets.
That time in the Philippines did renew some memories for Floyd who was stationed in the tropics on a navy ship during world war 2. He had several brothers who survived being prisoners of war there. The brutality Floyd’s brothers endured in camps spawned a book or two and their survival generated an incredibly close bond in their family of 11.
Floyd and Bonnie had strong and resolute religious beliefs that were softened over the years by life’s realities and their confidence in thinking through their beliefs without undue concern for the dogma of the church. Floyd was fond of saying that he goes to church “not for theological conformity – but for spiritual unity”. That statement made a profound impact on a family that grew up in the tumultus 60s when all manner of belief and custom was challenged like never before.
Floyd spent some of his youth with family in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where much of the Heimbuch family eventually settled. He called it ‘just lovely’ country but conceded that Alaska held the sense of frontier life that was so attractive to people when America got mobile. He never regretted staying in Alaska and was never able to feel that comfortable leaving in the winter.
He was known by all for a warm and gentle sense of humor but he was human. And you cannot live to be 95 without those close to you knowing your greatnesses and your limitations. We send him off hoping to remember only the good in the hopes that others do the same for us as our time comes to leave.
Published by Peninsula Clarion on Dec. 5, 2021.