When people die, their legacy follows like the wake of a boat steaming toward its destination.
Among the many people Kodiak recently bade final farewell to are Ellen Ross, Bob Bunsey and Lucien Bernard. All three will be remembered and revered for their vibrant, outspoken faith, which translated into action.
Ellen had a heart for the shut-ins. She and her husband, the late Bill Ross, often visited residents of the long-term Care Center at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center. They started their ministry in 1984 and kept doing it for 28 years.
“What I enjoyed most was coming here, seeing these faces and loving them,” Ellen said in an article from the Care Center. “I was here every Sunday except when we were fishing during the summer. There was always a volunteer to fill in if I couldn’t make it.”
When the Rosses finally had to give up the visiting ministry, Judy Fine, Care Center coordinator, said they would be missed immensely.
“They have been a big part of our Care Center family,” she said.
Ellen and Bill Ross were a beloved Kodiak couple. Fr. Paisius DeLucia was impressed by Ellen’s dedication to her husband. She was a shining example of spousal love, he said.
I saw that love demonstrated several years ago when Bill shared his World War II experiences with students at the Kodiak Christian School. Parts of his story were emotional, such as plucking men out of the water during a clash with the Germans in the Atlantic Ocean.
Ellen was there to encourage him, reassure him and, when he had a problem remembering certain names and dates, help trigger his memory.
The Rosses met in Fostoria, Ohio, while Bill was on leave. The two got married and went to New York for their honeymoon.
The newlyweds saw each other about four or five days a month during the first part of their marriage.
Convoys took Bill from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States to places such as Casablanca, Morocco.
Toward the end of the war, Bill's convoy headed for the Panama Canal.
Requesting shore duty so he could spend more time with his family, Bill was assigned to an amphibious base at Little Creek, Virginia. The Rosses spent two years there.
Bill’s next tour of duty was in Japan, which was being occupied by the U.S.
Soon Ellen, daughter Elena and their son Bob joined Bill in Japan. The joyous reunion was short-lived. War broke out in Korea, and Ellen and the kids had to go back to the U.S. Bill remained in Asia for 10 more months before going home to be with his family.
The next stop for the Rosses was Kodiak, where Bill managed the ski chalet near Pyramid Mountain. The Ross family lived upstairs in the Swiss-style building.
Bill and Ellen fell in love with Kodiak.
For many years they took their boat, the Bobby Dee, to remote parts of the island to visit friends and explore the beaches.
They unabashedly professed a vibrant Christian faith. You could count on them to march to the front pew of the Kodiak Bible Chapel every Sunday to worship the God they adored, and to share their faith with friends and acquaintances.
The road to heaven is narrow, at times treacherous, but the road that Bob Bunsey took to get to the heavenly path had its own pitfalls.
In high school days, Bob took a plunge into alcoholism. A drummer in a dance band in a small town in Ohio, Bob played at wedding parties where the liquor flowed, even for minors like him.
After high school, Bob joined the Air Force.
He returned to his drums once he was discharged from the service and played in a professional band in Cleveland. Most of his money went for booze and speed, the drug that kept him awake so he could play and party all night.
Bob left the fast city life and headed north to Alaska, taking a job at the Copper River Catholic Mission near Glennallen and working as a construction worker. His drinking accelerated and he found himself without a job.
He was hired as a nurse at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. In the summer, he went salmon fishing in Bristol Bay.
Because of Bob’s drinking problems, a psychiatrist convinced him to sever his ties with alcohol. He agreed and started attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
Bob maintained sobriety for about a year and quit his job at Providence so he could move to the village of Egegik.
He forgot all about AA and engaged in some serious drinking.
Finally, Bob got an opportunity to work as a winter watchman at a cannery in Sand Point.
He continued to drink.
“I went to pieces,” Bob said.
He was suffering from clinical depression. He tried to take his own life on several occasions.
On Jan. 20, 1983, something happened that Bob attributed to the grace of God. On that day, he had planned to try, once again, to take his own life
“I ate breakfast and all of a sudden I felt this dizziness. I fell to the floor and I was happy. It was a miracle. I realized there must be an Almighty God. Before that day I was an atheist,” he said.
Bob started going to church, studied the Bible and became a Christian.
In 1985, upon invitation from Filipino cannery workers at Egegik, Bob visited the Philippines.
In the city of Baguio, he met his future wife, Erlinda, at a church service. He took her to Egegik and the couple moved to Kodiak in 1989 so Bob could attend alcohol counselor training classes at St. Herman’s Seminary.
Bob worked at Hope House (which became known as Safe Harbor) and became employed as a bus driver for Laidlaw and an activities aide and driver for Island Cove Adult Daycare.
His story was dramatized for the Christian radio show “Unshackled,” which is heard on the Moody station locally.
Bob never went back to drinking, but he did get back on stage as a musician in the band the Whipper Snappers, which often performed at the Kodiak Senior Center. He also played on the worship team for the Church of the Nazarene.
Like Bob, Lucien Bernard had a special place in his heart for those struggling with addictions because he could identify with them.
Shawn Olsen said that Lucien was instrumental in his recovery and helped equip him to help those caught in the throes of addiction. Shawn met Lucien when the elder visited him in prison.
Lucien agreed to be third party custody for Shawn once he was released from prison.
“No matter who you were, (Lucien) would stop what he was doing and help,” Shawn said.
Lucien was so committed to helping the needy that he bought a house to get people off the street. He also ran a day shelter where he cooked three meals a day, seven days a week. The house was open to anyone, especially the homeless. Lucien was also a cook for the Kodiak Baptist Mission.
As he got established, Shawn offered to help Lucien in any way he could. He and Lucien joined forces in a jail ministry. Shawn eventually became president of the Kodiak Area Mentor Program, which helps those who’ve been incarcerated or who have undergone substance abuse treatment to reenter society.
Due to health reasons, Lucien moved to Colorado two years ago. There, he was close to his family.
Shawn said his last conversation with Lucien occurred shortly before he died.
Lucien was very special to Shawn. He performed the wedding ceremony for Shawn and his wife Joy.
Although Lucien was Shawn’s AA sponsor, the relationship changed from sponsorship to discipleship. They often prayed together and shared what was going on in their lives.
“Sometimes I’d give him advice; more often than not, he gave me advice,” Shawn said.
“No one impacted my life outside my immediate family more than Lucien. He never gave up on me, even when my own family wouldn’t put up with me.”
Shawn continues to be a mentor through the prison system. He consults with clients throughout the state in a telephonic ministry.
Shawn credits Lucien for laying the groundwork for his ministry.