- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Patricia Ann Roppel arrived in Ketchikan as a newlywed home economics teacher in 1959, the same year Alaska became a state - and she was quickly captivated by its history. Canneries, fishing, old mill sites, mining; for decades she, husband Frank Roppel, and, later, their children, John and Cindy, explored Southeast Alaska’s beaches and its forests, looking for pieces of the past.

The first historical place the couple found together, Frank said, was an old mining mill site.

“That sparked her interest. She just kept digging and digging in it, and started gathering information on those particular subjects, all the way up until the time she passed away,” Frank said.

By the time of her death early this year at age 76, she’d written 13 books and thousands of articles over the course of a 50-year writing career. Many of those articles were published in the Capital City Weekly.

Her first article was for The Alaska Sportsman, then edited by historian and writer Robert Neil “Bob” DeArmond, a “lifelong mentor,” Frank said.

“In earlier years, they (Pat and Frank) tried to visit all of those old mining sites she wrote about, and all the canning sites,” said her daughter, now Cindy Baird. “We spent a lot of time - we’d take a couple of weeks and take the boat in summer, and always stop in certain bays she wanted to go and explore. We’d see what was there, and what we could find in the beach or up in the woods.”

They camped out, hiked, and dug to see if they could find machinery.

“It was fun just to see what kinds of things you found on the beach. Kind of like a game of treasure hunt, always,” Cindy said.

Sometimes, though, that meant finding nothing, even a nail on a beach.

“That was probably more of the thing you looked for, was what wasn’t there,” Cindy said. “It was every weekend, in the pouring rain and the sleet. it was something that was a normal act for us as a family.”

One of the couple’s most memorable expeditions, Frank said, was finding hot springs at Bailey Bay. Decades ago, the Pioneers of Alaska planned to use the springs for a “sanitarium and pleasure resort,” according to Pat’s article.

“We made a little pool in the hot springs stream, where it was just about the right temperature,” Frank said. “If you hadn’t known that there was something like that there, surely you’d have never wandered off the beach and found it.”

The last place Frank and Pat explored together was Kell Bay; she wrote two articles on their efforts to find a trace of the cannery that was once there, on bedrock, in the early 20th century.

The Roppels lived in several Southeast Alaskan communities; after Ketchikan, they moved to Sitka, and then to Wrangell. Pat was involved in and supported museums and historical societies in those towns, and she also served several terms on the Alaska Historical Commission.

One of the books of which she was most proud was “Salmon from Kodiak: An History of the Salmon Fishery of Kodiak Island, Alaska,” Cindy said.

She loved it when people told her they’d found her books useful. She was also a mentor to others.

“On hearing of Pat’s death, colleagues repeatedly cited her encouragement of them, and her generous assistance to them and countless others. Pat reviewed their articles, edited manuscripts, prepared indexes, helped locate photographs, but most of all answered countless questions,” her family wrote in her obituary. “Her books and articles will be used and referenced by historians, museum staff, and writers for many, many years.”

Roppel was always researching multiple subjects, Frank said. At the time of her death, she’d been writing about whaling.

“She just had a really big sense of adventure and a big curiosity about things. She loved to go and see someplace new - someplace she’d never been,” Cindy said.

The family’s next task is the rather monumental one of going through Pat’s thousands of photos, data files, and correspondence with DeArmond, which they plan to donate to the Alaska State Library’s Historical Collections.

“It will not be lost,” Cindy said.

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