Werner J. Durtschi passed away peacefully in the early morning of Dec. 15, 2014, at the age of 88. He came to Alaska 13 years ago after a serious injury that made it necessary that he live closer to family. He was the son of Swiss immigrants who came to America looking for a better life in the 1920s. He was born in a cheese factory in a state he affectionately called Swissconsin, otherwise known as Barnefeldt, Wisconsin. His family traveled by train to the Pacific Northwest where they settled in Portland, Oregon.
His first language, Schweitzer Deutsch, gave way to English when he entered grade school. For a guy whose second language was English, he picked a peculiar occupation. From a young age he was a salesman, spanning from apples, eggs, chickens and scrap metal in the neighborhood to sportswear. His territory covered the Western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Colorado. He loved to travel and was on the road for months at a time during the selling season.
After high school Werner enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944 and was sent to the European theater, where his language skills were put to use with the occupation forces in southern Germany. After his discharge he went to college on the GI Bill. There he met his wife to be, Katherine Fleming, at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. After she finished her education they relocated back to the Northwest. Werner went back to school where he earned a degree in business from Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon, in 1950.
Together with his wife Kay, they raised four kids, Shirley, Mike, Jim and Jeff, who all grew up in the Portland area. Werner and Kay allowed their children to dream and did whatever was in their power to help bring those dreams to fruition. Each chose a different path, and each achieved success. This was a great source of pride for Werner.
Werner was notorious for his positive attitude. He always had a cheerful response, a kind word, and a bright outlook for whatever the occasion. In Girdwood, Alaska he was well recognized for walking to the post office or walking up to the Java Haus or Bake Shop to partake in the local brew and read the newspaper. In the darkest depths of his worst medical and personal situations he was upbeat, tough, with nary an ounce of negativity, at times to a fault. He also had an eye for beauty, the mountains, and knew what he liked. Of all the places he could have spent his last years, he chose Alaska and Girdwood in particular. Whether it was the mountain peaks, glaciers, or the king salmon for dinner, one thing is certain, he was happy. And he was “fine.”
Werner is survived by his four children; two in Girdwood, Shirley K. Durtschi and Michael F. Durtschi; Jefferson Elliot Durtschi in California; and James Werner Durtschi in Hong Kong, China; his ex-wife in Portland; 11 grandchildren, Tim, Travis, Erica, Nicole, Mikayla, Thomas, Katy Leigh, Maxmillian, Reiker, Jayden, Talon and Easton; as well as his three younger sisters, also in their 80s, Hilda, Helen and Florence.
The family would like to thank Linda’s Place for the kind care and support Dad received from the caregivers during his stay.