There will be a memorial service for longtime resident Lowell “Knute” Knutson today (Thursday) at 1:00 pm at the Presbyterian Church. He died Nov. 7 at his Officer’s Row home. He was 91 and had cancer, his wife Lola said.
She met the Haines logger, skydiver and wood worker on a visit here in 1978 when he joined her friends for dinner. “I am a poet, and they said Lowell will recite poetry for us.” After dinner he recited several poems, both Robert Service and numerous favorite poets of those present. He told Lola that he could read fortunes, which required that he hold her hand. In the course of the fortune telling he said, "I’m going to go home, get cleaned up and then I’m going to come back and marry-up wit’ cha."
"And he did," Lola said. "We were together 35 good years." Her husband could recite Longfellow, Tennyson, and many more classic poets. He studied his poetry books during lunch breaks when he was logging, she said.
Annette Smith recalled Knutson’s dramatic arrival in her life in the mid 1960’s. “He literally dropped out of the sky onto the Parade Grounds right in front of our house. He was on a quest to land in significant places, the Arctic Circle, places like that, and believed the Parade Grounds was one.” Her mother Mimi Gregg sent Smith out to invite the skydiver in.
The neighborhood soon became his home base. “He was a logger and away at camps much of the time in those years, but I remember his stories of Paul Bunyan, the bears of Admiralty Island, and he loved to recite Robert Service so that became a tradition at our house. I can still hear him,” Smith said.
Knutson skydived in often, another neighbor Lee Heinmiller said, much to everyone's delight. “Every time I think of Knute I see Ted Gregg running down to greet him with a glass pitcher with a swivel stick and a martini glass on a tray shouting ‘Bravo! Bravo.!' ”
Lowell William Knutson was born July 27, 1922 to Fred W. Knutson and Ada E. Orr in Orofino, Idaho. His father was a plumber and his mother cooked for a nearby mental institution. Lola believes his mother taught him to love poetry. He had six siblings. While he was often called Knute, he preferred Lowell. After leaving school at the beginning of the 10th grade, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and later worked in a bakery. Knutson was working in a Washington shipyard when he fibbed about his age to join the Army. He was a machine gun NCO in the 359th Infantry, Company M, 90th Infantry Division fighting in Europe during WW II and earned a Bronze Star for bravery. Both his legs were injured by German shelling three weeks before the war ended, leaving him without his right kneecap and resulting in considerable crippling. Knutson believed himself fortunate as his brother spent three years in a Japanese prison camp. In spite of his disability, he left the war behind him, Lola said. “He was not a grudge holder. He’d say, ‘Well, that was then and this is now."
Knutson the GI Bill to learn to fly and then became a skydiver. He worked in a sawmill until his legs were strong enough to return to work as a logger. He married and had two daughters. He and his family lived in Northwest Oregon.
1964 found Knutson in a logging camp at Berner’s Bay. He said Alaska made him feel, “Like he’d died and gone to heaven,” Lola said. Soon he befriended the Gregg’s, Mimi and her husband Ted, who organized the annual Strawberry Festival. They made “Knute the Chute” the headliner for the 1966 Haines event. He also became the first skydiver to land in Mission Field downtown. A full-page photo of Knutson in the Yukon News announced he would be the “daredevil” star of the Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse and parachute onto the frozen Yukon River. There would be time afterwards for autographs, the organizers promised.
In Haines, Knute flew inspections of the old pipeline route to Fairbanks with Layton Bennett, married and had a son, and invested in a Fort Seward home on the Parade Grounds. Knutson also earned his G.E.D. studying woodworking and general education at Alaska Indian Arts through the Manpower Development Training Act. Teachers included Nathan Jackson, Gil Smith, Dorothy Fossman, and Ted Gregg. The Chilkat Valley News reported “Knutson received the highest score of any MDTA student in the state—98 percent—despite a lapse of twenty years in schooling.” Lowell told the paper in a later feature article, “Ted [Gregg] recognized that I had an ability to learn wood, because I loved wood and was good with a chainsaw—I’d been falling timber all my life.” The Knutsons sold his Southeast Alaska State Fair award winning paper-thin wooden goblets, vases, and bowls in Knute’s Shop in their home. He guaranteed his products for life. “My lifetime. Which is all I can really guarantee them for,” he told the paper.
Knutson performed a popular pre-show Robert Service dramatic recitation in Lynn Canal Community Players’ summer melodramas, “The Smell of the Yukon” and “Lust for Dust.”
Attroney Juge Gregg, Ted and Mimi’s grandson who grew up next door to Knutson, said this week from his home in Washington D.C., “Knute's ever present logging suspenders and hickory shirts belied the fact that he was a true gentleman.”
His injuries from the war, occupation, and skydiving, took their toll and Knutson eventually left logging and returned to camp cooking at Prudhoe Bay during the oil pipeline construction. After he and Lola were married in the Methodist Church in El Centro, California, they enjoyed winters there in their vacation home, walking, reading, and reciting poetry.
Lowell Knutson was a member of the Haines American Legion and the Presbyterian Church.
Knutson’s 93 year-old sister Verle Grasser, of Orofino, made the trip to Haines last week to say good-bye. “She came Monday and he lived to Thursday,” Lola said.
In addition to Grasser, wife Lola and his son Morgan Knutson of Haines, Knutson leaves daughters Lola Pollock of Apache Junction, Arizona and Karen Brosseth of Aurora, Colorado; stepchildren Clyde Pritchard and Gayle Pritchard-Royer of Oregon, ten grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.