Ermalee Hickel (1925 - 2017)

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Ermalee Hickel passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family and close friends on Sept. 14, 2017. She was 92.
The daughter of pioneer Alaskans, Aline and Louis Strutz, Ermalee was born in Anchorage, Alaska, on Sept. 11, 1925. The historic small house with red shutters that she was raised in still stands at 9th and P Streets. She graduated from Anchorage High School in 1943; there were 27 in her class.
Trained as a secretary, Ermalee was an usher at the historic 4th Avenue Theater. In the early 1940s, she took a job working for the Army Air Corps at Elmendorf Air Force Base. It was there that she met Walter J. "Wally" Hickel, then a civil aircraft inspector. Ermalee describes the conditions as "hardly romantic - we worked in the same hangar." They were married in November 1945. Wally had a son, Ted, with his first wife who tragically died of a sudden illness. Ermalee devoted her boundless energies to raising him as her own and supporting her husband as he struggled to begin his career as a builder.
The Hickel family grew to include six sons, 16 grandchildren and an ever-growing number of great-grandchildren.
Ermalee was passionately devoted to her husband, unwavering in her support through both the easy and tough times. She was actively involved in Wally's business and political interests as he assumed the office of Governor of Alaska and Secretary of the Interior. She became Alaska's First Lady for the first time in 1966, then again in 1990, and lived the role with charm and grace. In public she was Wally's lead cheerleader. At home she was his support, advisor and absolute best friend. Wally was the eagle, Ermalee was the "wind beneath his wings." Wally was fond of saying she was as delicate as a butterfly and as tough as a boot.
Ermalee was always the center of the universe for her family, the ever-present anchor. She was a devout Catholic and, as young children, often had the family on their knees praying together. She was deeply loving and nurturing and always involved in the lives of her sons. She let her sons be rebels when it was healthy to do so, but reined them in as they neared the cliff. She believed in the virtue of hard work. She was love when there was loss, and wisdom when the path forward was uncertain. And she knew when it was time to grant freedom to her sons to fly on their own.
As First Lady, Ermalee travelled extensively throughout Alaska, speaking out on issues concerning senior citizens, youth, education, volunteerism, homelessness, suicide prevention, preventative health care, substance abuse, inhalant abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome. She visited youth and adult alcohol recovery centers, institutions such as McLaughlin Youth Center, and often read to children in schools. Some of her greatest joys and fondest memories were of visiting the wonderful people in the villages.
Her interests included alternative medicine, of which she and Wally practiced for many years. Ermalee was an extensive reader; she loved to travel and enjoyed spending time in her flower gardens. Most of all, she loved to hug her grandchildren and, later, great-grandchildren.
Ermalee was a member of the Anchorage Symphony League, the President's Forum at Alaska Pacific University, the Women's Resource Center, the Salvation Army Auxiliary, Salvation Army Advisory Board, Republican Women's Club, McCauley Moms, Alaska Botanical Gardens, Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, Pioneers of Alaska, Anchorage Women's Club, Seward Sealife Center and many other non-profit organizations. She was also very committed in her support of the Alaska Community Foundation, the Providence Hospital Foundation, Hickel House, Holy Family Cathedral, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Abused Women's Aid in Crisis (AWAIC), Catholic Social Services and the Sudan Project.
She joins her husband who preceded her to the afterlife. She is survived by her sons and their wives: Ted and Diane Hickel, Bob and Carol Hickel, Wally Jr. and Lynn Hickel, Jack and Josie Hickel, Joe and Marlene Hickel and Karl and Gloria Hickel; as well as her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She is now at home with Wally. Again by his side. And to be sure she is wearing one of her very cute little hats. One can almost see them now, Wally going around paradise preaching the virtues of the Owner State, with Ermalee cheering him on.
Memorial services will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the "Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel Alaska Fund" through the Alaska Community Foundation.
Published in Anchorage Daily News from Oct. 1 to Oct. 2, 2017
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