SITKA, Alaska — Hand in hand, Fred and Kathleen Everest strolled Sitka’s Seawalk on a recent Tuesday, greeting tourists passing by.
“Welcome to Sitka,” Kathleen said to them.
“Can we help you folks find something?” Fred asked them.
These visitors, Terri and Greg Maher of Santa Barbara, California, stopped to chat on the uncharacteristically warm and sunny morning.
“You’ve got some of our nicest weather,” Fred told them.
“I’d say to you, ‘you won the lottery today and we’re glad,'” added Kathleen.
But Terri Maher said they were hoping for something different than they get in their home state.
“We were expecting colder weather,” she said. “Rain would be wonderful.”
After a brief exchange, the California couple asked to get a photo taken with the Everests.
“I’ll keep it forever,” Terri said.
These sorts of conversations are not uncommon for Kathleen and Fred, who have become unofficial hosts for visitors exploring downtown.
For the past two years, Fred and Kathleen Everest have walked by the harbor on nearly every day when there’s a cruise ship in port.
“It’s my passion that our visitors go home with a happy memory of Sitka in their minds,” Kathleen said.
When they began their greeting, the visitors’ responses were so overwhelmingly happy she and Fred decided to make a habit of it, she said.
The two septuagenarians were recently the subject of a fan letter printed in the Sentinel a couple of weeks ago from a visitor in Pasadena, California. The man, Richard Barron, called Kathleen “the Queen of Sitka’s welcoming committee.”
“She and her husband were so pleasant to talk to and they were always smiling, welcoming us at the same time,” he said. “It’s because of your friendly townspeople that we look forward to visiting again next year and the years to follow.”
The Everests have lived in Sitka for the past 19 years. Fred, who spent his career with the U.S. Forest Service, had been working in Juneau. After they visited Sitka they loved it so much they decided to move here to retire, Kathleen said.
“As my husband says, this is paradise,” she said. “We also love the people here in Sitka.”
Over the many walks the two have taken, Kathleen estimates they have visited with hundreds of tourists from all over the world.
“These people love to talk to locals,” she said. “They just start asking questions about Sitka. They ask about how it is living here. Why do we live here? Don’t you have awful winters? They love to get more information.”
And the Everests tell them.
“The weather really is temperate,” she said, adding that the scenery and happenings in Sitka are just “wonderful.”
“There are so many of them that say, ‘I’ll be back,'” she said.
“Or, ‘I’d like to live here,'” Fred said.
Fred is also well-versed in the weather report, telling people what to expect from the high and low temperatures. He also carries a baggie of dog treats in his pocket to make friends with pups on the walk.
“I love getting out,” he said. “I love the Seawalk — it’s a very special place.”
Kathleen said their regular walks are good for them and for the visitors.
“We try every day to go out,” she said. “We need the exercise. It’s a win-win.”
Kathleen is originally from Spokane, Washington, and Fred from Redding, California. They lived in Corvallis, Oregon, for 20 years where Fred worked for the Forest Service before transferring to Juneau. Kathleen worked in office administration and was former Rep. Peggy Wilson’s office manager.
Kathleen said when she saw the letter calling her the “Queen of Sitka,” she cried.
“Someone really went home with a happy memory of Sitka,” Kathleen said.
Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/