Shirley Rae (Branae) Wiegand, 74, of Fairbanks, Alaska passed away on Dec. 26, 2020, at her home. Shirley lost her two-year battle with AML: Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She was born in 1946, in Big Timber, Montana. Shirley completed high school at Sweetgrass County High School in Big Timber. In the fall of 1963, she started college at Western Montana College. Later on, she earned her masters degree from Mississippi State University.
In May of 1966, Shirley married Dick Wiegand, of Wolf Point, Montana, in Big Timber, Montana. He was completing his teaching degree at Western Montana College having served four years in the U.S. Navy, while Shirley had completed and received her teaching degree in 1967 and taught one year in Lima, Montana.
Shirley was preceded in death by her parents Helmer and Barbara Branae. She is survived by her husband Dick Wiegand, of Fairbanks, Alaska; Daughter, Dr. Shannon Wiegand, husband Mac Whisler, granddaughter, Riley, of Fairbanks, Alaska; son, Shane Wiegand, wife Rhiannon, grandchildren Emma, Elliott, Hannah, Tanner and Conner, all of Fairbanks, Alaska; son, Shawn Wiegand, wife Megan, granddaughter Lena, twins Olive and Forrest Wiegand; brother, Gary Branae, wife Linda of Vancouver, Washington; sister, Karen Graham, husband Jim, of Chester, Montana.
In 1969, Shirley and Dick along with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Shannon, accepted teaching jobs with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as Elementary teachers in the isolated Yupik Eskimo village of Akiachak, Alaska, located on the Kuskokwim River. They loved the children, the people, the hunting, fishing and isolation, but decided they would only remain in each village they taught in for two years, then move on.
In the summer of 1971, they finished teaching in Akiachak. Their next stop was the Athabaskan Indian village of Shageluk located on the Innoko River. Their son, Shane, was born in Bethel that same year. Shirley taught kindergarten through fourth grade. Again, they experienced all the happenings of teaching in the Alaskan Bush before moving next to the Yupik Eskimo village of Mountain Village in 1973.
In March of 1974 while teaching in Mountain Village Shirley had to fly to Anchorage to give birth to their third child Shawn. In June of 1975, they moved to Anchorage for approximately 8 months before moving to Fairbanks. For that short period of time, Shirley remained home with their three children. In 1976, Shirley was hired by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. She taught at Barnette Elementary School for the next 27 years and loved every minute she spent with her students and colleagues.
In 1991, Shirley and Dick hosted a Foreign Exchange Student from Belgium. Peter quickly became part of the family, and over the last 27 years, the two families have become quite close. This relationship led to many joint adventures throughout Europe and Alaska.
Spending time with family was paramount for Shirley. Over the last 57 years, there weren't very many days that she didn't spend without seeing one of her 3 kids or 10 grandkids. She was always planning camping trips, family vacations, reunions, international trips, fishing trips, cross-country road trips, hikes, or blueberry picking gatherings. You name it, she was planning it. Shirley loved adventure. She was also very content at home with Dick. Shirley's kitchen was always pulling you in with yummy smells and delicious eats.
Shirley and Dick had an open-door policy at their home. It was not uncommon for them to host former students/colleagues/friends from the Bush, the Lower 48, or from overseas. This led to many invitations to visit other people around the world and inspired the desire to travel.
In April of 2016, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, Shirley and Dick traveled to China. Their trip started in Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, they flew to Shanghai spending several days touring. Their next stop was Wuhan, where they boarded a riverboat to cruise for almost a week up the Yangtze River, through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam and Lesser Three Gorges up to the largest city in the world, Chongqing. They departed the boat and flew to Beijing, stayed in a very large hotel, and ate a steak dinner at Morton's Steak House, in celebration of their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Shirley called herself the Black sheep of her family because she married a wild man and moved to Alaska, but she certainly wasn't to her family. She was a shining star always wearing a smile and ready to tell you everything about her day and wanting to know about yours. Someone recently told Dick he was lucky to have Shirley in his life. He told that to Shirley years ago, but she responded with, "No, it wasn't luck, it was Fate. We were supposed to be together and build our family."
Published in Daily News-Miner on Jan. 17, 2021.