Dorik Mechau Dies at 87; Was Active in Sitka Arts

Dorik Mechau

 

After a stoic five-month struggle with cancer, former Sitkan Dorik Mechau, 87, passed away in mid-February at his home in Palisade, Colorado.

Dorik and his wife Carolyn Servid moved from Sitka to his home state of Colorado in August 2017 to be near his family.

Dorik was born in Denver in 1933 to celebrated artist/painter Frank Mechau and his wife Paula. In 1938, the family moved to the abandoned coal-mining town of Redstone, Colorado, tucked in the beautiful Crystal River Valley. At the time, the Mechaus were among only two or three families living in Redstone. Eight years later, Frank Mechau’s tragic death of a heart attack at 42 forced the family to make temporary moves for Paula to find work, but they continued to return to Redstone, and the family home there has remained a foundational cornerstone for more than 70 years and a place Dorik deeply loved. 

He graduated from high school in the nearby town of Carbondale and earned a B.A. in liberal arts in 1956 from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. St. John’s Socratic exploration of the Great Books was influential throughout Dorik’s life—a life filled with a wide range of interesting work. After college, he married Margaret Beston of Maine, started a family, and began work for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shortly after the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite triggered a significant ramping up of the U.S. space program. He held several positions during his ten years with the Smithsonian, including running the Satellite Tracking Station in Maui, Hawaii, and establishing, in partnership with a university in Athens, Greece, an experimental observatory to conduct geodetic research on continental drift.

In 1968, when his tenure with the Smithsonian ended, Dorik moved with his family to Alaska to take the job of associate director of development at Alaska Methodist University in Anchorage. Additional positions and responsibilities during his six years at AMU triggered his interest in a number of Alaskan issues, including significant changes occurring in the state after the discovery of oil on the North Slope.

When AMU closed its doors in 1975, Dorik and his family moved to a small farm in the rural community of Haines, Oregon, where he tried his hand at raising hay and doing minimal farming. He returned repeatedly, however, to Alaska for intermittent consulting and contract work for organizations and institutions as varied as the Department of Community and Regional Affairs, the Alaska Native Education Board, the Alaska Growth Policy Council, and the University of Alaska. The common threads in this work were education (especially Native and bilingual education), the arts and humanities, and public policy issues.

After he and his wife Margaret divorced, Dorik returned to Alaska from 1983-85 to work for the Alaska Native Review Commission which undertook the important work of evaluating the consequences, especially in village Alaska, of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passed by Congress in 1971. The project concluded with the publication of Village Journey by Thomas Berger who led the Commission.

During a subsequent five-year hiatus from Alaska, Dorik had the chance to do other things he loved—working with his hands or putting in a good day of physical labor. On two different occasions, he used his considerable talents in architectural design and construction to help Colorado family members build beautiful additions to their homes—one a spacious light-filled living room and the other a handsome study to accommodate a noteworthy collection of books that was, ingeniously, measured in linear feet to determine the shelf space required.

Dorik returned to Alaska in 1989 for two years as interim executive director of the Alaska Humanities Forum. On a visit to Sitka to meet with Forum grantees, he met Carolyn Servid, co-founder and director of The Island Institute. That auspicious meeting prompted him to choose to move to Sitka in 1991, and their subsequent marriage grew into an exceptional partnership of devotion to each other and to expanding the work of the Island Institute. Dorik became co-director and brought in his interests in community sustainability to complement the organization’s existing literary programs focused on the nexus of story, place, and community.

Sitkans soon came to know Dorik as Island Institute community forums became regular events. Topics ranged from community conflict to the purpose of education to the future of tourism. Over time, the Institute developed an Initiative for Civic Collaboration, led by Dorik, which resulted in two significant community endeavors: the first created a Municipal Solid Waste Plan implemented by the City and Borough; the second produced a carefully detailed Tourism Plan that ultimately was simplified to gain broad community support. Dorik was also involved in the creation of two Sitka Community Indicators reports produced jointly by Turning Point Toward Health and the Island Institute. These efforts, along with many others, allowed him to collaborate with Sitkans from widely different backgrounds and perspectives, something he particularly enjoyed. 

Beyond his work with the Island Institute, Dorik also volunteered in the community, serving six years on the board of directors of both the Sitka Conservation Society and Raven Radio. Many KCAW listeners knew his voice from the Sunday Raven Anthology program where he and Carolyn Servid read short stories. He also loved to sing, especially the repertoire of folk songs from early years when he and his mother and three siblings sang as the Mechau Balladeers at private parties and public concerts. His martinis were legendary among his Sitka friends, as was his hospitality, acuity, and dry wit that went with them. He was known, too, for his love of carefully honed questions and meaningful conversation. His life and work established an admiring circle of friends and colleagues that spans the continent.

Dorik is survived by his wife Carolyn Servid; his siblings Vanni Lowdenslager, Duna Stephens (Jack) and Mike Mechau (Blakely); his children Clarissa Whitehead (Johnny), Mark Mechau (Fionnuala), and Mally Strong; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

 

Those wanting to honor Dorik with a contribution might donate to Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, or Food and Water Watch.

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AK COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 1-12-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:55 am Wednesday.

New cases as of Friday: 2,512

Total statewide – 172,329

Total (cumulative) deaths – 955

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,337

Current Hospitalizations – 103

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The COVID alert rate for Sitka is “high,” based on 153 new COVID cases in the past 7 days. Case statistics are as of Sunday.

New cases in Sitka – 34

Cases in last 7 days – 153

Cumulative Sitka cases – 1,531

Deceased (cumulative) – 6

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

  

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20 YEARS AGO
January 2002

Classified ads, Rentals: 3-bdrm. house on the beach. $900; 3-bdrm duplex, washer/dryer $945; Great downtown house, 2 bdrms., 2 baths, furnished,
W/D, hardwood floors $850; 2-bdrm. roomy apartment $945..

 

50 YEARS AGO
January 1972

The City and Borough Assembly Tuesday approved an ordinance establishing a transportation committee to advise the assembly and promote transportation services for the municipality. Members are Cecil McClain, Ray Mabey, Clarence Kramer,
Dick Cushing and Burt Hansen.

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