TESTIMONY – Subsistence harvester Harvey Kitka leads off oral public comment Tuesday night at Harrigan Centennial Hall during a subsistence hearing held as part of the USDA Forest Service Alaska specific Roadless Rule change proposals. About 100 Sitkans attended an information meeting and question-and-answer session about the Roadless Rule-making process held prior to the subsistence hearing. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

William Davidson De Armond

William Davidson De Armond

William Davidson De Armond, who lived in Sitka for many years, passed away 28 June, 2017, in Virginia Mason Critical Care Unit, Seattle, Wash. He was 79.

Bill entered this world in Sitka, on April 27, 1938, the son of Robert Neil and Dale Burlison DeArmond. He was the grandson of Robert William DeArmond, a college student who came to Alaska in 1898 to assist Dr. Charles Christian Georgeson in establishing the first U.S. Agricultural Station in Sitka. The mission was to determine if Alaska’s agriculture and horticulture could be developed, thus aiding the permanent development of mining, fisheries, and lumbering.

Bill’s early years were spent in Pelican where his father was part of a group sent to establish a fish plant, cold storage and eventually salmon cannery.

He spent his grade school years in Sitka and Ketchikan, then moved to Juneau in 1953 when his father was appointed Special Assistant to Governor of the Territory of Alaska, Frank Heintzleman. Bill graduated in 1956 from Juneau High School and from Stanford University in 1960, majoring in English and Mandarin. 

After graduation, Bill returned to Juneau, working first for the Bureau of Public Roads then for KJNO radio. Facing the draft, in August 1961 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to Armed Forces Network (AFN) in Frankfurt, Germany, where he was a radio announcer and journalist until discharged (in 1964) when he promptly became a civilian with similar responsibilities for AFN – at much better pay! Mike Blackwell of Juneau relates that he was listening to AFN while serving at the U.S. Navy Base in Iceland (winter of 1962-1963) when he recognized that distinctive voice…it’s from KJNO!

 From 1966 to 1968 Bill returned to Juneau and working for KJNO as an editor and announcer again.

He accepted a similar position with Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany, where he remained until 1984.

He thoroughly enjoyed living in Germany – even though Munich was nowhere near salt water – and became immersed in the local culture and language.

Bill was profiled in an article in the Anchorage Times, Jan. 7, 1982, that focused on his work broadcasting uncensored news reports into embattled Poland; he stressed that RFN meticulously verifies their news tips and avoids inflammatory news segments (i.e., no “fake news!”).

Returning to the United States in 1984, he lived in Portland, Ore., with a brief sojourn in Taos, New Mexico, studying with his uncle Dan Burlison, a noted silversmith.

He intended to study art and printing techniques but stopped when it was obvious that his skin and lungs were too sensitive to the processing chemicals.    

Bill moved back to Sitka in 1995 where he joined his parents, who had moved to the Sitka Pioneers Home in 1991, and his sister Jane, who also lived in the city.

He hosted and reported for KCAW Raven Radio for several years, was editor-in-chief for Alaskan Southeaster Magazine, and from 2002 through 2009 he was a seasonal ranger for the National Park Service. One of his contributions for the service was writing an opus, “Interpretation at the Russian Bishop’s House; An Idiosyncratic Enchiridion for the Uninitiated, Perplexed, Uncertain, and Overwhelmed.”

Beginning in 2007, he was an online editor for Public News Service.

On behalf of the City and Borough of Sitka, Bill served on the Sitka Historic Preservation Commission. His contributions include writing the historic context for the Sitka Preservation Plan, devising the Sitka Street Naming Policy and assisting in historic preservation granting opportunities.

His amazing memory and local historical knowledge proved to be an invaluable resource for the Commission.

As his father was a publisher of Alaskan history, in his later years, Bill cared for and ensured his archives were distributed to appropriately associated facilities for future research endeavors, as he did with much of his mother’s artwork.

Bill was also very active in an informal, local German Club; they met around dinnertime monthly and talked only in German. In all his associations he developed great friendships and was a loyal confidant.

After two years of commuting (mostly by ferry) between Juneau and Sitka and renewing their acquaintance from Juneau High School, Bill and Malin Babcock married on Valentine’s Day, 2012, followed by Bill’s move to Juneau.

Bill continued his online editor position with Public News Service until mid-2013. He continued his interest in historical Alaska through the Juneau Douglas City Museum and the Gastineau Channel Historical Society.  He donated many items to the JDCM and assisted with written materials for several of their special exhibits. Specifically, he initiated and facilitated the purchase, at auction, of Sydney Laurence’s “Early Morning, Juneau, Alaska.” The Gastineau Channel Historical Society’s Gastineau Heritage News profited by his many lead articles on Nevada Creek Mine, written with Anne Pollnow, and the series on “Some Place Names Around Juneau,” an updated and revision of Robert DeArmond’s original publication; and various smaller items. Bill revised and updated R. N. DeArmond’s Southeast Alaska “Names on the Charts” and how they got there ” that was published by GCHS, 2015 .

A humble but consummate and erudite writer/editor/journalist, Bill was forever droll and had a way with a turn of a phrase!

Bill was predeceased by his parents, Robert and Dale DeArmond, and his sister, Jane DeArmond Donnelly, all of Sitka.

His survivors include his wife, Malin Babcock of Juneau; sister-in-law Susan Babcock Bertholl (John) of Sequim, Wash.; daughter Elizabeth De Armond (Ken Hollender) of Wilmette, Illinois; stepchildren Douglas Murray (Shauna) of Juneau and Gwen Horchover (Bob) of Clinton, Wash.; grandchildren Meredith, Kathleen and Drew Hollender, and step-grandchildren Phillip and Malin Murray; nieces Dawn McClung of Sitka and Heather Madiffari, and nephews Rand and Dusk Bigelow.

He is also survived by his valued, faithful friend from Juneau High School days, Pierre Sundborg (Jean). 

By no means least, Bill and Malin’s beloved canine, Kettu, is still living, loving and barking!

No services will be held; family and close friends will scatter his ashes on Lena Cove, Juneau, next spring.


If desired, donations may be made in Bill’s memory to the Sitka Historical Society, 330 Harbor Drive, Sitka, AK, 99835 or the Gastineau Channel Historical Society, P.O. Box 21264, Juneau, AK 99802.

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