Devoted husband, father and grandfather, and longtime Fairbanksan, Mark Drygas left us for his eternal home due to an apparent heart attack while fishing at Quartz Lake on June 23, 2021. Born in Highland Park, California, on Feb. 15, 1950, he was the eldest of three children to Knight and Margaret Drygas.
Mark's lifelong love of carpentry and woodworking was sparked when his father, a union carpenter, gave him his first tool belt when he was 9 years old. He was a natural athlete and enjoyed baseball, swimming and water polo. A Los Angeles City Champion swimmer, he spent two years at Pierce Jr. College swimming and playing water polo. One of his first jobs was as a lifeguard on Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
Seeking adventure and an escape from city life, Mark accepted a swimming scholarship to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and headed up the Alcan Highway in his '64 Volkswagen Beetle in August 1970. One year later, he traveled back to California to marry his wife of nearly 50 years, Kathy. Just one semester shy of his degree in physical education, Mark left school to work for the city of Fairbanks Parks and Recreation. Eventually, he joined thousands of other Alaskans and outsiders to build the trans-Alaska pipeline. Mark entered Carpenters Local 1243 in Fairbanks as a journeyman, working on Pump Station 10 as a foreman at the age of 25. Their son, Erik, was born in 1976, followed by daughters Heidi in 1978 and Holly in 1979.
After construction on the pipeline was complete, Mark worked as a carpenter on many of Fairbanks's largest construction projects, including project superintendent of North Pole High School and Pearl Creek Elementary School, a carpenter on Tanana Valley Clinic, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Noel Wien Library, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters new training center, just to name a few.
In 1988, Mark took a position as a Local 71 remote maintenance worker at the Alaska Department of Transportation's Chandalar Camp on the Dalton Highway, a camp he helped construct in 1981. Soon after, superiors spotted his talent and unmatched work ethic and promoted Mark to foreman of all maintenance camps on the Dalton Highway east of Fairbanks.
But what Mark wanted, more than anything, was to be a professional firefighter. In 1991, Mark was hired as a rookie firefighter at the age of 41. It was at the Fairbanks Fire Department, with his fellow firefighters, where Mark found his true calling. Just two years after his firefighter career began, Mark was elected president and business agent of IAFF Local 1324, a position he held for nine years. Mark worked tirelessly to improve the working conditions for firefighters and to include more female firefighters amongst their ranks.
Mark realized that Alaska's professional firefighters needed a statewide voice and helped to establish the Alaska Professional Firefighters Association (AKPFFA) in 2004, serving as their founding president. Through his tenure, Mark helped to successfully shepherd the landmark Presumptive Disability Bill for firefighters. He served as AKPFFA president until 2011. Mark retired from the fire department in 2012 at the age of 62. He and Kathy spent their winters in Palm Springs where they soaked up the California sunshine, and he could swim outdoors every day.
Mark was incredibly kind, warm, quick to laugh, had an infectious smile, and deeply and profoundly loved his family. Mark has often said that despite many victories and successes over the years, his proudest accomplishment was raising his three children. Mark was a devoted father, coaching many of Erik's hockey, baseball and soccer teams and Heidi and Holly's softball teams. There were many family camping and fishing trips on the Chena River and the family's annual Fourth of July trip on the Gulkana River.
Mark loved to spend time on the ocean and spent countless hours fishing for silver salmon in Valdez aboard his C-dory, the Dakota Drifter. There was no place he was happier and more at peace than on the ocean. He was also a fantastic cook. In retirement, Mark filled the family text thread with numerous photos of his latest culinary endeavors. He and his wife raised their family to appreciate good, home-cooked food, and to understand the importance of the family table.
Mark was preceded in death by his parents, Knight Drygas and Margaret Starbuck. He is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Kathy; their three children, Erik Drygas (Emily); Heidi Drygas (Kevin Sund); Holly Sears (Sam); brother, Brian Drygas (Karen); sister, June Adams (Stan); and his five beloved granddaughters, Annika and Ava Drygas, Claire and Myla Sears, and Olive Sund.
A celebration of Mark's life will be held at the city of Fairbanks Fire Department downtown headquarters on Saturday, Aug. 7, at 2 p.m. Donations in Mark's honor can be made to the Alaska Professional Fire Fighters Benevolent Fund, P.O. Box 111222, Anchorage, AK, 99511.
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Published by Daily News-Miner on Jul. 18, 2021.