INTENSIVE – Professional dancer Adam McKinney formerly with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and choreographer Sarah Ashkin lead a rehearsal of an upcoming Summer Dance Intensive production Thursday in Allen Hall. Students will dance a 25-minute program Saturday 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. A five dollar donation is suggested at the door. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Bruce Ryan Christianson

Bruce Ryan Christianson


Bruce Ryan Christianson traveled to the far country Nov. 20, 2017, surrounded by six women: wife, mothers, sisters, friends and his daughter nearby.
He was born Nov. 6, 1966, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not long after, his days of wandering began. He tried to grow up in the small farming community of Alma Center, Wisconsin, and his path was never easy, nor paved.  Many coaches, family members (both birth and chosen), teachers and other mentors were there to kick his butt back in the direction of the path forward when he wavered. This meant occupying much of his time by playing basketball, attempting to play baseball, somehow landing on the track team, coaching, fishing, playing trombone and farming.
After graduating from Lincoln High School in 1984, Bruce attended several colleges.  His toe-walking feet carried him through Mount Senario College (Ladysmith, Wisconsin), up to Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka on a basketball scholarship, to the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, and finally Eastern Montana State University.  The last two colleges are still around and many Blockbuster video stores will be frustrated to learn that they will never recover their late fees.
In his earlier Sitka years, Bruce worked for Service Transfer. He was also an active member of the Men’s Sitka Softball League playing for STA, the Legion, Carpet to Counters, Middle Island Brewers, House of Liquor and Allen Marine, where he made many a good and lasting friend and a lot of nicknames, including the Wanderer, Hayseed and Cheese-Butt.
Bruce returned to Alaska in his hastily packed Isuzu P’up in 1994.  His fateful decision to return to Sitka allowed him to finally grow up and become the strong, compassionate, caring man that he was.
His return to Alaska ultimately allowed him to find his center and the love of his life.  He and Kert first met on the Matanuska. They spent the winter preparing to sign teaching contracts somewhere in the state. Bruce signed with Bering Strait School District that spring and arrived in Gambell in August, where he lived in the old weather station house without running water for the school year, a place from which he really could see Russia from his door on a clear day.  He loved the idea that he’d exhausted both north and west and would likely have stayed there.
Bruce and Kert moved around to different districts throughout the state, loving, living, bantering and teaching in Gambell, Kenai, Soldotna, Juneau and Barrow. They married wearing their best Birkenstocks under the net-mending shelter at Crescent Harbor in 1998.
They returned to Sitka in 2003 where they had purchased a home while still teaching in Barrow.  Bruce taught for several years at Sitka High School before moving across the bridge to teach at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.  He would often joke that this simple transition fulfilled a “prenuptial agreement” that he would someday return to teach in rural Alaska.
Bruce was a fine educator who enjoyed working with students and faculty on both sides of the bridge.  He tucked in close the hardships, challenges, celebrations and successes of young people.
Bruce effortlessly took on his most natural role yet in 2006 when he became a dad to Rie Margaret Christianson.  The first song he sang to her upon her birth was “Blackbird,” hence her nickname “Bird.”  He became the shadow to her sun and the two were largely inseparable, in recent years partaking in spring road trips and Major League Baseball games, namely those of the Milwaukee Brewers.
A lover of adventure, Bruce spent two summers traveling the length of the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Wales on the Bering Sea in a small Zodiac with his black Lab, Olie, and friends from Barrow.  He mined gold during summers in the Fortymile with his father-in-law Greg Overturf.  He traveled to Iceland with friend Gloria Luchinetti in 2013.  Twenty summers of traveling in Canada, including a few round trips along the Trans Canada from Vancouver to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and more recent winter trips and extended stays in the Yukon once again set Bruce’s compass north.  There, and in his element, he could follow the wind along desolate stretches of road, turn his gifted photographer’s eye to the landscapes, wild animals and his family that all gave him such joy.
Bruce is survived by his wife, Kersten (Kert) Christianson, and daughter Rie Christianson; his sisters and their spouses, April Christianson and Mike Thompson  (Anchorage) and Vikki and Mike Graham (Lake Forest, Ill.); his parents Rolf and Gayla Jean Christianson (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin); brothers-in-law and partners Paul Overturf & Nicchia Leamer (Juneau), and Spencer Overturf and Angelina Rubio; parents-in-law Greg and Sharon Overturf; along with beloved nieces and nephews Layla, Evie, Ryan, Jack, Mick, BriAnna, Aliyah, Cole and Everett.
He also is survived by multiple, self-proclaimed adopted brothers with whom he’s shared housing, drink, rounds of Scrabble, endless Whiffle ball games, shirts, and memorable conversations.
Let it be known he loved his wife and daughter perfectly, as they loved him.  They will always seek and find him in his favorite wild places:  the Kluane, the glitter of snow, the Tutshi, in sundogs and sucker holes, over a pint of Guinness at the Westminster in Dawson City, along the meandering caribou trails at the Top of the World, in the iridescence of raven’s wing and the sun’s orange glow in its drop behind Mt. Edgecumbe.

“The physical domain of the country had its counterpart in me. The trails I made led outward into the hills and swamps, but they led inward also. And from the study of things underfoot, and from reading and thinking, came a kind of exploration, myself and the land. In time, the two became one in my mind. With the gathering force of an essential thing realizing itself out of early ground, I faced in myself a passionate and tenacious longing—to put away all thought forever, and all the trouble it brings, all but the nearest desire, direct and searching. To take the trail and not look back. Whether on foot, on snowshoes or by sled, into the summer hills and their late freezing shadows—a high blaze, a runner track in the snow would show where I had gone. Let the rest of mankind find me if it could.”   ― John Haines

A celebration of life is planned 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi House. Frends are welcome to bring an appetizer to share, if able, and Bruce stories.  Anyone who wants to speak, tell a Bruce story, or just visit in the spirit of friendship and community is welcome to attend.  Concurrently, friends and family are gathering to celebrate Bruce at 4 p.m. at the Double Barrel in Alma Center, Wisconsin.
The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, donations in Bruce’s name be made to the nonprofit journal, Alaska Women Speak, P.O. Box 15225 Fritz Creek, Alaska 99603-6225.

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