In March 2012, the Kodiak Daily Mirror published a photo of Kip Thomet — layered in warm-weather clothes, rubber gloves and Xtratufs — using a demolition hammer to break up a sea of ice covering the track at Baranof Park.
It was days away from the Bears’ home opener, and he was determined to clear the track for the student-athletes.
That image of him alone on the track busting ice was talked about by multiple people after Kip’s shocking death on Nov. 24. According to family friends, Kip died in his sleep while visiting family in Eugene, Oregon. Cause of death is unknown. He was 58.
“That is just an example of what he always did,” former Kodiak running coach Marcus Dunbar said. “He would give everything he had and his time to help support the program.”
Kip — father of Kodiak running star Levi Thomet — was a local fisherman and avid supporter of Kodiak athletics. He helped create the Brian Young Invitational, an Alaska all-star track and field meet that debuted in 2013 on The Rock.
“Anything that kids were doing, he was behind and supportive — sports, music and the arts,” said John Lindquist, a friend of the family and former Kodiak swimming coach.
Lindquist admired how Kip was able to hold meaningful conversations with young adults and how he made them feel comfortable talking about athletic and life goals. Kip was a soccer player and wrestler in high school in Eugene. He watched the legendary Steve Prefontaine run.
“I think he understood the commitment that it took to do something well — that put a passion in his heart for that stuff,” said Lindquist, whose son, Talon, worked at Kip’s setnet site outside of Larsen Bay on the west side of Kodiak Island.
Levi Fried — a former star runner and wrestler for Kodiak and good friends with Levi Thomet — spent his childhood with the Thomets, including working at the fish camp.
He recalled being woken up one night by Kip when a skiff from the camp snapped off the line and went slamming into rocks down the beach.
“He was the calmest I had ever seen anybody with something like that on the line. I was so confused,” Fried said. “He was like Superman. It was this crazy, stressful situation, and I can’t imagine anybody not raising their voice … he didn’t.”
That was Kip. Calm. Cool. Collective. A guy who everybody liked and wanted to be around.
“Kip was one-of-a-kind,” said Jordan Fogle, a Kodiak running state champion and current teacher at Kodiak Middle School. “After you hung out with him, he always made you feel really great about yourself. He treated everybody the same way that he wanted to be treated, and that was with respect. There are not enough good things to say about him because he was that great of a man.”
Born in Michigan, Kip’s family moved to Oregon when he was 12. Fishing brought Kip to the Emerald Isle 30 years ago. He never left, unless you count the trips to the mainland to mine for gold. He married his wife, Leigh, five years after arriving on the island. Levi was the couple’s only child.
Levi was raised at the setnet site and at the family’s home on Holiday Island before Kip and Leigh constructed a house near Baranof Park. The new location made it easier for their son to practice. Levi was a nationally-ranked high school runner and is currently a junior at the University of Oregon.
Kip enjoyed watching his son race, but he also loved keeping up with all of Kodiak’s athletes.
“His presence on the track both at home and away meets was an endless encouragement to so many athletes,” Kodiak cross country and track coach Ashley Mortenson said. “He brought a positive demeanor to what he was a part of and was willing to put in the work to support those around him. So many Kodiak athletes benefited from his commitment to our community.”
In 2013, a year after longtime KHS supporter Brian Young died of a heart attack while hiking Denali, Dunbar created the Brian Young Invitational. Kip was a huge backer of the event, which is still going on.
“A lot of people didn’t know that Kip had an amazing relationship with Brian Young and did a lot of the background work in terms of fundraising and being able to make sure teams could get to the island and off the island,” Fried said. “Without Kip, there would be no Brian Young Invitational.”
Dunbar said Kip always lent a hand to help — removing ice, hanging signs, letting him use his tools or garage and paying his way to an off-island sporting event to coach his son.
“He was really thoughtful that way,” Dunbar said. “I was like, ‘I should be thanking you for letting me coach your son since he is such a great athlete.’ The father was just the same way — a great person to be a friend with and to have supporting your program.”
Kip’s passing was rippled through the island.
“After his son graduated, he continued to help Marcus with the championship boards that hang down around the track,” Kodiak Island Borough School District Activities Director Debbie Rohrer said. “He was a huge asset to the KHS and Kodiak community.”
Through their children, Pete Hannah met Kip 20 years ago. The Hannahs and Thomets became friends and took vacations together, including a trip to Panama. Hannah said the Thomets enjoyed taking trips to South America and had a trip to the Philippines planned in 2020.
“It is very easy to think of something good to say about him because everything was good about him,” Hannah said.
During his fishing career, Kip caught just about everything in the ocean. He spent decades fishing with Alexus Kwachka. The two reeled in halibut, tanner crab and black cod.
“He had a wonderful sense of self,” Kwachka said. “He knew who he was, and that provided a lot of stability in the crew situation. He enjoyed the work he did. He was considerate. He worked hard, thought ahead and planned steps. He was the finest human being and crew member.”
Dunbar said he is thinking about creating a Kip Thomet Award to bestow to an athlete that exemplifies sportsmanship at next year’s Brian Young Invitational, which will return to Kodiak after a year in Anchorage.
“It makes me sad every time I go by there (Kip’s house) and think that there is no more Kip in there,” Dunbar said.
“He was quiet, modest, and never trying to promote himself as a big doer of all the things he did.”
Kodiak Daily Mirror reporter Sarah Lapidus contributed to this story.