Helen Linck Atkinson was born May 12, 1915, to Lucille and L.E. (Jack) Linck in Goldroad, Arizona, a mining camp, now a ghost town. The family moved to Fairbanks in 1928 and lived in the Linck house on Illinois Street. She died surrounded by family in Providence Hospital in Anchorage on May 6, 2014, following a stroke. She moved to Wasilla in 2012.
Helen was on the move almost from the day she was born - as a six-year-old riding a donkey; a 13-year-old traveling by auto, boat and rail to Fairbanks in 1928; a 16-year-old hitching a plane ride to Ruby; a photojournalist riding a barge to Prudhoe Bay, or as a mother and grandmother to many.
Helen loved to travel and be outdoors. She hunted birds and small game with her dad in Arizona and Alaska. Her two hunting buddies were Gertrude Schlofeldt Linck and Edna Wilder Cryan. At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, she was on the rifle and women's basketball teams before graduating in 1936 as the first female civil engineer. After graduation, she worked as a draftsman and surveyor for the FE Co., then studied architecture at the University of Washington for a year.
In 1937, she married Frank White when they drove from Fairbanks to Valdez on one of his trips for Ghezzi Trucking to meet the boat, pick up groceries and haul them to Fairbanks. When World War II broke out, Helen was stuck Outside with her two daughters whom she had taken to meet her in-laws for the first time. She got a job with Boeing as an engineer and inspector. She inspected B-29s manufactured in the Renton plant and did the final sign-off releasing them to the military. She was quite proud that she received a nickel more per hour than other engineers for that responsibility.
When the war was over, Helen and Frank returned to Alaska - first Biorka Island when her third daughter was born, then Sitka, then Lake Minchumina where Frank's work took them. After working there as a surveyor for the CAA, Helen moved back to Fairbanks and they divorced in 1951. Helen went to work as city building inspector and later city engineer. She also worked for AK Architectural & Engineering as a color and design consultant for the Duckering Building, Hering Auditorium, Hunter School and other schools in the state.
Following a brief marriage to City Manager Don Eyinck, she married Ben Atkinson, university engineer, in Fairbanks in 1959. Together they established and published the weekly Alaska Oil Report which was distributed throughout the oil industry. Son Ben was born the following year. Husband Ben died unexpectedly in 1966, so she took a job as project manager for two downtown urban renewal projects. She later worked as the right of way engineer for Golden Valley Electric Association and resource editor for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner during the pipeline days.
Helen was creative arts coordinator at Alaskaland. She selected the equipment and furnishings for the Bear Gallery, originated and scheduled art programs, and arranged juried art shows and exhibits for the A-67 Centennial Celebration - Alaska's 100th anniversary as a U.S. territory.
She left the News-Miner when she married Con Frank in 1975, but continued freelance writing for national and international engineering and petroleum publications for several years as Alaska developed its oil industry. She received several awards for her journalism.
In 1982, she began painting again - something she had dabbled with as family time allowed. She loved traveling to exotic places for watercolor workshops. She has won several juried show awards and her paintings can be found in homes and buildings throughout the country, including the UA Museum of the North. In 1996, she was chosen "Artist of the Year." She designed a stained glass window for St. Matthews Episcopal Church in 1999; and in 2011 she received the Mayors' Lifetime Achievement Award for the Arts.
Helen had a special place in her heart for UAF. She served on the University Board of Regents for nine years; as president of the UAF Heating Corp Board for 15 years; on the UAF Technological Development Corp.; and was a member of several other UAF boards and committees. In 2003, she proudly accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UAF.
Helen met, befriended and gifted so many people and organizations throughout her life that we know she will be missed by many. For us, the family, it is wonderful to have so many people to share memories with and remind us of stories and events we may have forgotten or not known about. Survivors include her four children and four stepchildren: Phyllis Tate (Murray); Gayle McDonald; Avriel Rideau; Ben Atkinson (Stephanie); Andrea Gelvin; Randy Frank (Georgianne); Mary Ehrlander (Lars); and Steve Frank (Linda Anderson); many nieces and nephews, 18 grandchildren; and several great grandchildren. Condolences can be sent to the family c/o Phyllis Tate, P O Box 71027, Fairbanks, AK 99707.
A celebration of life is planned in Fairbanks for September when all the family can be present. In the meantime, UAF is honoring Helen with a special program and reception as part of its Legacy series at 7 p.m.Monday, June 2, in the new Murie Building near the Museum of the North. The public is invited to attend.
Published by Daily News-Miner on May 27, 2014.