Jerah Chadwick, a resident of Unalaska from 1982 to 2008, passed away June 7 in San Antonio, Texas, surrounded by his loving sister and family. Jerah was the Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2004 to 2006. He was a poet of astonishing powers whose best work grew out of his years in the Aleutian Islands.
He was born in 1956 in Tacoma, Washington, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. After graduating from Lake Forest College near Chicago, he moved to the Pacific Northwest. In 1982 he moved to Unalaska to be with his long-time partner, the painter and sculptor Mike Rasmussen. For two years they lived in an abandoned Quonset hut in Morris Cove before moving to Nirvana Hill in Unalaska.
In 1988 he completed an MFA at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and returned to Unalaska where he administered the university’s Aleutian and Pribilof Island center. He was a breath-taking teacher, whose infectious enthusiasm enriched every student. An astute and innovative administrator, he expanded the university’s offerings. Among the classes he was most proud of sponsoring were bent wood hat classes taught by Andrew Gronholdt. He was an ardent promoter of returning this lost art to Unangan people.When he retired in 2008 and was appointed a professor emeritus, the university wrote about his “legendary sense of humor” and “his ability to perceive the world around him with an exacting eye for detail.”
He was a tireless volunteer at Unalaska, a supporter of the Museum of the Aleutians, and a long-time board member for USAFV (Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence.) After leaving Unalaska, he returned regularly to help with Camp Qungaayux and bentwood hat classes. He always referred to himself modestly as the apprentice’s assistant.
In addition to publication in many journals, his poems appeared in book form in 1980, 1984, and 1990. In 1999 a major collection, Story Hunger, was published by Salmon Publishing in Ireland to rave reviews. It was reprinted in 2005. Prior to falling ill with Alzheimer’s, he was at work on a memoir and another collection of poetry.
He was preceded in death by Mike Rasmussen who died in 2004. Jerah is survived by his sister Barbara, numerous members of his family, and countless friends. His ashes will be returned to Unalaska where there will be a celebration of his life.