Howard Van Ness ’63 died on March 25, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia.
(The following was provided by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 4, 2017)
Howard Alvin Van Ness (aka “Howie” or “Doctor Fly”) formerly of Fairbanks, passed away Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia, after a long battle with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. He was well-known and loved by many in Fairbanks and across Alaska. Howie was born Sept. 25, 1941, in Rahway, New Jersey, to Harold Leslie and Jean Repeta Van Ness. As a young boy in Colonia, New Jersey, he discovered a love of fishing. He graduated from Woodbridge High School in 1959, where he played baseball and basketball. In 1960, he went off to college to study history; apparently, he also “fished his way through college.” He attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and later attended graduate school at Stanford University and Harvard University. While at Goddard, Howie met Barbara Richards. They married in 1963, and had two children, Edward and Jodie. Howie and Barb decided to have an adventure and teach in Alaska “for a year.” They immediately fell in love with Alaska, and Howie ended up staying for 43 years. Howie taught school in Tanana and Allakaket between 1966 and 1977. In 1977, he moved to Fairbanks to teach cross-cultural education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He was a part of the X-CED program, a field-based program to train teachers where he traveled out to Alaskan villages to meet with his students. In 1980, because of health issues, Howie retired from UAF. In 1981, he and Barb divorced but remained good friends. Following his retirement from the academic world, Howie was able to follow his true passion, fly-fishing. In the 1980s he started a small fly-fishing business, The Compleat Alaskan Angler, working out of his dome-house in the woods. In 1990, he opened The Alaska Fly Shop in its first location on College Road, and he later moved it to University Avenue by Sophie’s Station. Anyone in the Fairbanks area who loved fly-fishing knew Howie. He described his shop as “a bar without booze,” because people loved to come spend hours talking about fly fishing. Howie was an expert in his craft and often taught fly-tying and fly-casting classes. He traveled throughout Alaska and around the world, fishing at amazing destinations. One of his favorites was Christmas Island in the Pacific. He truly lived a fly-fisherman’s dream. Over the years, despite his active life, Howie’s health declined. In 2009, he moved to Atlanta to be closer to his son, Ed. It was then that he was finally diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, after years of complications. It is the worst form of MS, and there is no cure. Fishing was always close to his heart, and a story was always on his tongue. He was great at recounting his travel-for-fish tales. Even in recent years, his dear friends would travel from Fairbanks to Atlanta to take him fishing, and for that we are forever grateful. Howie is survived by his older brother, Bruce Hamilton Van Ness, of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania; his son, Ed Van Ness; daughter-in-law, Sally Brockington, and grandson, Henry Van Ness, of Atlanta, Georgia; and his daughter, Jodie Van Ness; son-in-law James Spencer, and grandson Apollo Spencer, of San Diego, California. Funeral services were held April 22, 2017, at The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Atlanta, Georgia. We are holding a celebration of life at 4 p.m. June 20 in the Taiga Center on the Wedgewood Resort property in Fairbanks. All are welcome. Please come share your favorite Howie memory. In lieu of flowers, you are encouraged to make a donation to the National MS Society Walk team, “Howie’s Hell Raisers!!” (Please type “Howie’s Hell Raisers!!” in Google search and it will take you to our team page.) We walk every year in Howie’s honor and will continue to do so in his memory.