2022 in review: The stories that captivated Wrangell

From impressive athletic successes and community celebrations to business closures and painful losses, Wrangell's 2022 was full of engaging stories, both triumphant and tragic.

Last January was a month of new beginnings. Issabella and Tawney Crowley welcomed Wrangell's first baby of the year, Ryleigh Rowan Crowley, into the world on Jan. 4 at the Ketchikan Medical Center.

The Decker family established a memorial scholarship fund to honor Sig and Helen Decker, two former Wrangell residents who died in a car crash in Petersburg July 2020.

However, January was also a month of endings. The SEARHC-operated Alaska Crossings program, which guided at-risk teens through wilderness expeditions in Southeast, closed on Jan. 12. The organization had brought year-round and seasonal jobs to the community since 2001 and the story of its closure generated more conversation than 98% of posts to the Sentinel Facebook page, with a total 79 comments.

In February, the Sentinel shared its most widely viewed post of the year, alerting residents that masking in schools would become optional as COVID-19 infections declined.

The beginning of spring brought stories of artistic, athletic and entrepreneurial success. In March, a profile of 16-year-old artist Nick Allen, who sells boat stickers online, became the Sentinel's most-liked post of the year. A photo of Wrangell's Lady Wolves basketball team cutting down a net to celebrate their win against Metlakatla and a story on Sara Gadd's Drive Thru-Brew were also among March's most popular.

April might be the cruelest month according to 20th century poet T.S. Eliot, but for former high school seniors James Shilts and Rowen Wiederspohn, it was the most altruistic. The pair refurbished two of the benches outside the high school for their senior projects, a task that required lifting and sanding 250-pound slabs of wood.

In May, the community continued to celebrate the achievements of its youth. A pair of shoes designed by high school students became one of four runners-up in the national Vans Custom Culture art contest, winning a $15,000 for the high school art program. A story on Mia Wiederspohn's Tlingit language podcast, Mia's Gift, was also a favorite among readers.

After 56 years of cruising through the choppy waters around Southeast, the Malaspina left the Alaska Marine Highway System in June to become a privately owned floating museum and bunkhouse in Ketchikan.

Appropriately, the most urgent story of July was fireworks-related. After a particularly dry month, the annual display couldn't be held over land and was moved to a barge in Zimovia Strait.

Anne Luetkemeyer's original BearFest statue, entitled "Honeysuckle," was unveiled outside the Nolan Center and an infestation of western blackheaded budworm, a moth that feeds on hemlock and spruce needles, impacted trees throughout Southeast. Months later, in November, state entomologist Elizabeth Graham predicted that budworm populations had likely reached their peak and that affected trees have a high chance of recovery in the coming years.

In August, City Market's Benn Curtis retired after 58 years. He had inherited the business from his father and hopes to pass it on to his son, Rolland Wimberley.

In September, Muddy Water Adventures added a 38-foot catamaran called Island Cat to its tour boat fleet and the Portland Art Museum returned nine objects that had been taken from the Naanya.aayí clan in Wrangell nearly 100 years ago. Shop Groundswell, which had provided the community with fresh flowers and gorgeous gifts for five years, closed down as owner Mya DeLong headed into retirement.

Last October made history. For the first time ever, the high school boys cross country team became Division III state champions, the first state title for any Wrangell sports program since 1995. Sophomore Daniel Harrison also took home an individual state title.

November was filled with exciting news - swimmer Jack Roberts and the Lady Wolves volleyball team won their respective regional championships, sending them on the path to state.

However, it was also a month of intense grief for many. Former Wrangell residents Kelsey Leak and Arne Dahl were involved in a boating accident near Point Baker on Nov. 27. Leak was stranded on a rock for 24 hours; Dahl did not survive.

A standing-room-only production of "The Sound of Music" in early December was Wrangell's first community theater event in over 20 years.

Later that month, senior wrestlers Ethan Blatchley and Randy Churchill finished the year strong by taking home Division II state championship titles in their weight classes on Dec. 17.


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