Longtime Alaskan resident, Charles McAlpine, died on July 15 at the age of 86. He was a fighter up to the very end and was convinced he could continue cheating death for many years to come. He was raised in Flint, Michigan, graduated from the University of Michigan, and attended the law school there. Out of college he worked for General Motors overseas operation, a job he attained because of the many friendships his family had with the various owners of General Motors Corp.
But, being at heart a wanderer and adventurer, he left his corporate job and sought wilder environs out West. He first went to California where he met and managed the folk singing group, the Limeliters.
From there he went to Aspen, Colorado where he lived at the top of the mountain at the “Little Nell.” His sense of adventure brought him to Alaska in 1963 and he worked at the Alyeska Resort and the Crow Creek Mine for Arnie Erickson. He quickly learned to fly and thus began his adventures in the Far North. In Nome he purchased the Anchor Bar and was an eager purveyor of adult beverages.
Later, he became a fur trader, flying in and out of Native villages where he bought furs and ivory carvings from the local Natives. This occupation eventually earned him the moniker, “Sealskin Charlie.” He traded cold weather gear, snow machines, tools, and other needed items with the villagers in Point Hope, Kivalina, Shismaref, Little Diomede, King Island, Savoonga and many others. He developed a great respect for the people in the villages and his name is still known by the elders.
In 1973 he married Geneva Sawyer and they later amicably divorced in 2000. Throughout these years he continued to run his wholesale Native arts and crafts business out of Anchorage. He traveled all over the state selling his goods to trading posts and stores along the Alaskan Highway, Fairbanks, and Southeastern Alaska. He also went outside to the Lower 48 and created markets for his goods in numerous locations: Seattle, Denver, California, NYC, Chicago and Maui, to name a few. He branched out and started selling fine art, primarily the Alaskan Masters: Laurence, Ziegler, Lambert, Heurlin, Dahlager, etc. He drove the enormous Mt. McKinley painting by Laurence that now hangs in the Anchorage Museum from Cody, Wyoming to Seattle after selling it to Ron Cosgrave, CEO at Alaska Airlines. Eventually, Alaska Airlines brought it north where it still delights viewers at the Anchorage Museum.
Over the years he continued appraising Native and fine art and became involved in real estate. He owned McAlpine Investments and was recently the proprietor of great coffee and surprising conversation in “Charlie’s Coffee Shop” located in the old Club 25 building in downtown Anchorage.
He was a former member of DKE Fraternity, the Explorer’s Club of NYC, the San Francisco Yacht Club, the International Order of St. Hubertus, and the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. In his early years he was an avid and expert hunter, woodsman and singer. In his later years he found great tranquility in chopping wood for his stoves and gazing at wildflowers. Above all interests, he took the most pride and joy in his son Cullen.
He leaves two sons, Cullen Duross McAlpine of the West Coast, and Jamie Nachinson, a late-discovered yet much-loved son in Jerusalem, Israel. They were the lights of his life.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Stanley and Irene, and his sister June Bradley. He leaves many friends, especially, Dean Weidner, Ed Rasmuson, Tony Lewkowski, Mike Gordon, Dr. David Beal, and Joe and Gena Columbus, all who were true friends until the end. He was blessed to have a devoted caregiver, Lily Alversado and her family, with whom he spent many of his remaining years.
At his wish there will be no public funeral service, as he always claimed he “hated funerals and wouldn’t attend his own.” Rather, there will be a private celebration of life at a later date to commemorate his inimitable “zest for life.” Truly, there was no other man quite like Charlie “Sealskin” McAlpine.