Virginia "Ginny" Hill Wood, 95, passed away March 8, 2013. She was born Oct. 24, 1917, to Edwin and Edythe Hill in Moro, Ore.
She grew up in rural Washington, spending time at the experimental farm where her father worked and at the family's cabin on Lake Chelan.
Ginny had an independent spirit and lived a life full of adventure. As she always said, "I was the right age, at the right time, in the right place." In 1938, she bicycled throughout Europe with two other women.
During World War II, she served as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP), ferrying airplanes around the U.S.
Ginny arrived in Alaska on Jan. 1, 1947, after a month's long odyssey of flying a surplus military plane from Seattle. Her close friend, Celia Hunter, flew a second plane alongside her. When the temperature dropped to -60 degrees F and there were no return flights to Seattle, Ginny and Celia stayed in Alaska.
They worked for Chuck West in his early tour business and took tourists to Kotzebue for Wien Airlines. In 1948, Ginny and Celia spent a semester in Sweden as exchange students and bicycled around Europe for another year.
In 1950, Ginny married Morton "Woody" Wood who she had met on the Birch Hill ski slope soon after arriving in Fairbanks. In summer 1951, Woody's job as a park ranger took them to Katmai National Monument where, according to Ginny, they "explored the country for recreational opportunities."
In 1952, Ginny, Woody and Celia Hunter founded Camp Denali, one of Alaska's first eco-tourism lodges, located 90 miles out the Denali Park Road. For 25 years, Ginny spent every summer at Denali National Park, leading backcountry hiking trips and developing a deep connection to the place.
Ginny was one of the matriarchs of Alaska conservation. In 1960, she helped establish the Alaska Conservation Society, the state's first environmental organization, and spent the next forty-plus years advocating for protection of Alaska's wild places. Ginny's voice has been heard on all of Alaska's recent major environmental issues, including wolf bounty, Project Chariot, Rampart Dam, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from oil development.
Ginny wrote a column, "From the Woodpile," for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center's newsletter and received many accolades for her commitment to environmental work, including the Alaska Conservation Foundation's Celia Hunter Award and Lifetime Achievement Award, the Sierra Club's John Muir Award, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center's Florence Collins Award and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Citizens Award for Exceptional Service.
Ginny also was one of the state's first female wilderness guides, leading backpacking and rafting trips into the Brooks Range until she was 70 years old. She was a strong advocate for trail construction and preservation. She cut most of the ski trails in the Pearl Creek Nordic Park, and from 1996 to 2004, served on the statewide Trails and Recreational Access for Alaska Citizens' Advisory Board (TRAAK) and from 1980-2006, the Fairbanks North Star Borough's Trails Advisory Commission.
In 2010, Ginny received the Congressional Gold Medal for honorable service to this country as a WASP pilot. Sen. Lisa Murkowski personally delivered the award to Ginny at her home in Fairbanks.
Ginny also had a deep love for gardening, and spent hours every summer working the soil and digging weeds in her large, sunny garden.
Ginny is survived by her daughter, Romany Wood, and son-in-law, Carl Rosenberg, of San Cristobal, N.M. She also will be dearly missed by a large group of close friends who did trips with her, worked on environmental issues with her, and were inspired by her philosophy, tenacity and sense of humor.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be sent to the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, 830 College Road, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701. A celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 7, 2013, at UAF's Wood Center Ballroom.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Mar. 15, 2013.