Dedication ceremony marks completion of mariners' memorial

No less than 100 people turned out on Sept. 26 right before sunset for the dedication of the Wrangell Mariners' Memorial at Heritage Harbor.

What some said has been in the works for decades has finally been completed, honoring those who have lost their lives at sea and those who made their lives from the sea.

"It's amazing (that it's finished)," said Jenn Miller-Yancey, president of the memorial board. "We stand out here and can't believe it sometimes."

Miller-Yancey, who's late husband Ryan Miller died in 2005 in a commercial fishing accident, told the gathered crowd that the memorial was a healing place.

"Memorials are a very important part of a healthy community as they help link the past to the present and serve as an important community history," she said. "Memorial spaces offer places to grieve, heal and celebrate. That's what we're here to do today."

Although the main structures are completed, board member Jeff Jabusch said there is still some work to do. Landscaping needs to be completed around the perimeter and signs need to be installed. A story about the 1908 shipwreck of the Star of Bengal will be installed, as will a list of members, volunteers and donors.

"But we've got concrete and steel and plaques and the big stuff, the expensive stuff done," he said.

Jabusch said the construction costs to date total $293,000, with an estimated $200,000 in donated labor, materials, equipment and freight.

Forty-three names adorn the plaques mounted on the ship-shaped metal sculptures outside the pavilion, honoring deceased seafaring community members. Names with an anchor next to them denote those who died at sea.

"At its core, Wrangell is and always has been a fishing community. The water is our lifeline," said Borough Manager Jeff Good. "The memorial serves as a reminder to those of us departing for the fishing grounds that they're engaging in a dangerous profession and to be vigilant in their decision making."

Good, a retired Coast Guard officer, said the "memorial serves as a landmark and a guiding bearing to a safe haven."

Amid a backdrop of deep blue and black cloudy skies and soft yellow lights along the memorial walkway, music teacher Tasha Morse and four of her students played Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and later

"Amazing Grace." Board members talked of the effort to see the project go from idea to reality. Middle school student Madeline Davies recited the poem "If You've Ever Lived on an Island," by J. Earnhart.

The ribbon was cut by commercial fisherman Brennon Eagle, who came onboard the project in 2010 and helped form the nonprofit, and Chris Mertl, a Juneau-based landscape architect who helped design the memorial.

"As a landscape architect designing a place such as this, it is such a huge honor. It's also a huge challenge," Mertl said. "How do I embody the spiritual, the celebration, the sacred space that needs to be made into this memorial? Working with Brennon, the board and the community, you guided me. This is your design."

Mertl said the Wrangell Mariners' Memorial has more meaning than any other project he's worked on and lauded the community for its unity.

"I've never seen a community rally and put something like this together on your own," he said. "This is really a testament to what a great community Wrangell is. It was a great honor to work on this."


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