Kodiak showed up in force Saturday at the Kodiak Harbor Convention Center to wish 90-year-old Roy Madsen a happy birthday.
The retired Superior Court judge, bear hunting guide and fisherman was congratulated by fishermen, pilots, honoraries of the bench, priests, enforcers of the law and even law breakers (reformed, that is.)
Madsen’s long, rich life was depicted in life-sized photographs covering a wall, a slide show that continued throughout the event and a clay sculpture, crafted by Joel Chenet, who, along with his wife, Martine, prepared the food.
Members of St. Innocent’s Academy, White Twang, Dr. Jeremiah Meyers, Sawyer Olson and other musicians breathed melodious energy into an atmosphere already vibrant with friends joyfully participating in a major Kodiak event.
Madsen held a seat of honor — his own chair, brought from the Madsen home on Ed’s Ways. Chairs, coffee tables and other items were transported from the home to the convention center by students from St. Innocent’s.
Roy’s wife, Linda, who organized the party with help from family and friends, said they wanted to extend their living room to the community. The gesture confirmed Roy’s love and allegiance to the people of Kodiak.
The Madsen heritage runs deep into the soil of Kodiak Island. Roy’s mother, Mary Metrokin Madsen, comes from an old Kodiak Russian/Alutiiq family. His father, Charles Madsen, a Dane, was a world adventurer and entrepreneur who ended up on Kodiak Island while on his way to the Arctic from Seattle on a sailing ship with a load of trade goods. When his vessel sprung a leak, Charlie pulled into Kodiak harbor and unloaded his wares. Realizing that he might have to stay on the island for some time, he rented the old Russian orphanage, behind the Orthodox church, and took his goods out to dry.
Seeing that people were going wild over his merchandise, Charlie decided to open up a general store.
He married a local girl Mary Metrokin, whose father, Walter, was a famous bear hunter.
As companies started drilling for oil near Kanatak on the Alaska Peninsula, Madsen moved his family over there and opened a store, trading post and post office. Roy was born in the village When he was three years old, the family returned to Kodiak.
After Mary died, Charlie started the guiding business. In the late 1930’s, when Kodiak’s only hotel burned down, Madsen outfitted his three-story house to replace it.
Madsen eventually opened a curio store, selling ivory carvings, furs and other goods he bought up north.
When Madsen went out of business in 1946, he sold his showcases to Leif Norman, who had Norman’s Gift Shop for many years.
In a 2005 panel discussion held during the Alaska Historical Society convention at Kodiak College, Roy described what it was like to grow up in the fishing village of Kodiak, which had a population of less than 450.
Until the Baptists moved in, the only church in town was Orthodox.
The “law” was the US Commissioner and US marshal.
Most crimes were not violent. Disorderly conduct was a common social infringement. Those with mental problems were put in jail, which, for a time, was a room in the marshal’s house.
The Madsens lived near the Blinn dance hall, where people often gathered for a night of fun. “When they started doing the polkas, our house would shake,” Madsen recalled.
When Roy was 11 years old, he started going with his dad on bear hunts. Roy’s brother, Alf, and his sisters, Rose, Thelma and Elizabeth, also went to the camp at Mush Bay.
At camp, Roy started out with domestic duties such as chopping wood, putting the chunks in the wood boxes and starting fires in the tent stoves so that the hunters and guides could immediately warm up when they came in from the field.
Once hunters came into camp with bears, Roy had to clean all of the flesh off their skulls.
When he was 15 years old, Roy graduated to the position of packer. After serving in the Navy, Roy returned to Kodiak to become a registered guide. He also worked as a fisherman.
In 1949, Roy guided his last hunt. He went to law school in Oregon and began a career as a lawyer.
When Roy first returned to Kodiak, he got a job working in Kraft’s store in order to establish residency so he could practice law here. While working in the hardware department, he was visited one day by George Hayes, Alaska State Attorney General, who wondered “why in the hell” Roy was working hardware when he could put his talents to good use as a prosecutor in Anchorage. But Roy was committed to practicing law in Kodiak.
In 1975, Governor Jay Hammond appointed Madsen as Superior Court judge. Madsen was appointed to various boards by other governors. Tony Knowles appointed him to the Alaska Human Rights Commission, and Bill Egan named him as a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. Madsen also was involved with the implementation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
At the party, Roy’s legal colleagues praised him for his professionalism as judge and kindness and good humor as a friend. Mike Wall, master of ceremonies, said while he worked in the legal profession, Roy added a sense of humor and joy to the Kodiak office.
Retired Superior Court judge Milton Suiter, got emotional when he expressed regret that Roy, who was highly qualified, didn’t get appointed to the State Supreme Court. Steve Cole, Kodiak’s current Superior Court judge, said Madsen was his role model.
Although Madsen was known for holding high offices in the field of law, he was praised for other contributions.
On Saturday he was saluted for his military service by Lieutenant Will Ellis of the Alaska State Troopers and Captain of the Coast Guard Reserves.
The Rev. Paisius DeLucia, dean of St. Innocent’s Academy, thanked Madsen for welcoming him and his family to Kodiak and providing legal advice as St. Innocent’s became a viable part of the community.
Kodiak Elder Iver Malutin and Myrtle Olsen briefly talked about the life they shared with Madsen in “old Kodiak.”
Roy’s niece, Sharon McDonald, emotionally thanked him for being like a father to her after she lost her parents. Rita Stevens, another niece, said she appreciated Roy’s commitment to his Native culture.
At the close of the party, Irene Coyle, originally from Akhiok, reminded Roy of his Alutiiq background when she sang “You are My Sunshine” and “Happy Birthday” in her Native tongue.
Some in the audience expressed their gratitude to Madsen privately before the program. One of them thanked him for sentencing him to 45 days in jail. “He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him,” Madsen reported.
Madsen was the kind of judge who looked on consequences, not solely as punishment, but as a means of straightening out those who stumbled down the road that leads to destruction.
His grandson thanked him for reaching him by the scruff of the neck, figuratively speaking — but, then again, maybe not-- and telling him to shape up. Without Roy’s intervention, the young man could have become like the many who appeared in Judge Madsen’s courtroom.
Madsen saw potential in those at his mercy. He loved hearing stories about wayward people getting their lives straightened out. Sometimes, he was a vital part of that story.
Mike Rostad is a freelance writer and longtime Kodiakan who writes a weekly column examining the in-depth stories of Kodiak residents. You can read more about other Kodiak islanders in Rostad’s book, “Close to My Heart-Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island, Alaska.”