Jean K. Murray (1918 - 2016)

  • "It is hard to believe a little over a month has gone since..."
    - Angela Murray
  • "Dad you have been gone a month now. I don't want to believe..."
    - Bob Murray
  • "I am so sorry for your loss. May the God of all comfort..."
    - Krystal DB
  • "He was such a nice person and always fun to talk to. I have..."
    - Heather Gallatin-Baker
  • "Often saw his goats walking him along the road as we passed..."
    - Donna Claus

On Saturday morning, May 7, 2016, Mr. Jean Keith Murray Sr. peacefully passed away, at the age of 98, on his beloved homestead in Kenny Lake, Alaska. An original, Jean Keith Murray was born on his father's "Red Creek" ranch near Siloam, Colo., on Jan. 13, 1918, to Robert Perry Murray and Leona Ann Pratt. He grew up with older brother, Robert, and twin siblings, Francis Lyle and Virginia. The family suffered hardship during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, and was forced to sell the ranch and leave for California in search of sustaining livelihood. Young Jean, however, not wanting to leave Colorado, stayed on to finish school and work before finally in loneliness leaving to find his family. Soon after reuniting with family in southern California, he began working as a longshoreman in the city of San Pedro. He married Edna Calhoun in 1939, and the couple had three children: Janet, Keith and Alice. As a young father, Jean was drafted by his country into World War II and was stationed on Guam where he was injured while serving in the U.S. Army. Returning home to California after the war, he trained himself to become a plastering contractor, ultimately specializing in three-dimensional wall decor and sculpting unique artifacts such as cherubs, original furniture and lamp bases. He had a unique style of craftsmanship, and become a sought after artistic plasterer in the Los Angeles/Palos Verdes area. Jean worked on numerous unusual and iconic projects, including The Wayfarer's Chapel and the giant doughnut atop Randy's Donuts in Inglewood, Calif. His artistic interest led him to work with a famous Portuguese sculptor Agostinho Rodrigues, with whom he developed unique fiberglass artworks from original rubber molds. Buyers included Hollywood Studios and Caesar's Palace. Working alongside renowned sculptor Howard Ball, he completed the lifelike imperial mammoth at L.A.'s La Brea Tar Pits museum as well as many fiberglass figures for the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. During this time he was afflicted by severe grand mal seizures stemming from his war injury and lived a period of time at a Veteran's Hospital facility. He remarried twice more in California, fathering two more children: Sandy (Candice) of Una Eskesen and Robert N. of Patricia Montepiano. While he loved his children, Jean, in suffering epilepsy, felt continuing tumult from the increasingly chaotic urban southern California environment. He longed for the pioneer's life of his youth in Colorado, and for his survival, moved with his young son, Robert, to Alaska's Copper River Valley to homestead in 1968. Armed with little more than ax and Swede saw, he acquired 80 Alaska acres and became one of the country's last successful homesteaders. After many years, Jean had finally built a life suiting his soul: one of subsistence, one of resonance with his Colorado childhood. For shelter and a garage he initially built two primitive teepees out of knowledge of American indigenous shelter and financial necessity. Later, after building a log cabin, he began growing oats, barley and Canadian field peas on his 10-acre clearing. Comporting with homesteading requirements and needs, he acquired livestock, goats and chickens, from a fellow homesteader and quickly benefited from their suitability on the land. He produced goat's milk and cheese for personal use and as his herd grew, Jean came to be known as "Goat Man" as well as "Tee Pee Man." A voracious reader, he maintained a lifelong interest in the arts and sciences, particularly classic literature and astronomy. He designed and built several structures both on his property and in the surrounding community; Among these were fishing boats and many fish wheels, which he used to catch subsistence salmon from treacherous wild banks of the Copper River. Through his kindness of character, generosity in helping others and captivating human qualities, Jean became a beloved member of the small community of Kenny Lake, Alaska. He was also a terrific storyteller, but indeed some of the best stories heard are those that others love to tell about him. He was a true citizen of the earth, synonymous with the land where he lies at rest: honest, wild, original. A very loved man, Jean Keith Murray is survived by his children, Janet Colmerauer, Alice Guerra, Sandy Murray (Devitt) and Robert N. Murray; daughters-in-law, Susan Murray and Angela Murray; grandchildren, Andy Colmerauer, Crystal Leventhal, Jill Ostrom, Jeff Guerra, Chet Guerra, Robert Keith Murray, Leandra Murray, Autumn Murray, Hailey Murray, Elaine Merando, Kelsey Merando and Johnna Teuber; and great-grandchildren, Thomas Leventhal, James Leventhal, Tyler Ostrom, Jenna Ostrom, Gabriel Guerra, Kayden Swensen, Kynslee Swensen and Sacoya Calimon. Jean was preceded in death by his wives, Edna, Una and Patricia; brothers, Robert and Francis Lyle Murray; sister, Virginia Tucker; son, Keith Murray; son-in-law, Dennis Colmerauer; and grandsons, David Colmerauer and Trenton McCarthy Murray.
Published in Anchorage Daily News on May 25, 2016
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