Cordova Chronicles: In a town of many originals, Virginia was one of a kind

Shellhorn recalls favorite memories of Virginia Lacy

Photo courtesy of Michael Noonan Virginia Nicoloff Maxwell, family friend Jon DeLeo, and Les Maxwell’s famous black lab Pride, display a day’s bag in front of their duck cabin at Pete Dahl, in 1959.

Virginia Nicholoff Lacy passed away on January 16, 2017. She was 93. Virginia was born and raised in Cordova, and graduated from Cordova High School in 1941.

A wonderful series of articles about her life, written by Museum Director Cathy Sherman, was recently published in the Cordova Times. Virginia’s deep roots in Eyak ancestry, and her knowledge of the history and culture of this area were well documented in these features, and we are fortunate that her accounts of an era of transition have been captured for posterity.

Cordova is a small town, and it turns out Virginia had some close connections to our family. For many years she worked in the clothing department of the Cordova Commercial Company, which was managed by my father, Don Shellhorn.

Her son Michael Noonan and I, along with Jerry Behymer, were buddies. They graduated from CHS in 1964, two years after me.  We shared many a youthful experience together, including trips to the duck cabin, camping overnight, and stay-overs at each other’s homes.

I remember playing pool until the wee hours on a miniature table up in the basement of  Mike’s house when Virginia was married to Les Maxwell. She cheerfully made us breakfast after we likely kept her awake all night long.

In fact, cheerfulness would define Virginia. She always had a smile. And she also always had spunk.

One winter several years ago, while she and I happened to be standing in line at the bank, she asked about the basketball teams.  I mentioned that this was the last year we would be playing against Valdez on a regular basis, as Cordova was moving from the Aurora to South-central Conference. Her indignant reply still sticks in my mind: “Why that can’t happen! They’re our arch-rival!”

Maybe Virginia was one of the CHS students on the famous Siren, captained by her father Pete Nicholoff, that plowed through rough seas taking Cordova teams over to play the Buccaneers back in the days before ferry service.

But perhaps my favorite Virginia story came years later, once again at the bank.  Her husband Les was a duck hunting legend on the Delta, and she and Les spent falls down at Pete Dahl in a cabin adjacent to ours. Eventually they split up, and later, Les migrated south with the ducks so he could chase them full time down in Washington and Idaho.

Not long after Mike and his wife Vicki Hall decided to move south, they invited Virginia to come down and live with them in Washington. She tried it, but missed Cordova too much, and returned here.

As we were chatting it up while waiting for a bank teller to be available, Virginia offered:  “You won’t believe who came to visit me in Washington.”

Pause. Me: “I give up.”

Virginia: “Well, the door bell rang. I answered it, and there was Les, with a dozen red roses and a bottle of wine.”

Oh my gosh. You had to know Les to be able to visualize this scene. He was married four times.

Virginia: “I took one look at him, and said: “No, Les. We’re not going there again.”

She closed the door, and Les, one of the best wing shots I every knew, had been shot down.

Virginia shook her head and smiled. “Can you believe it?”

Yes I can. And so much more.

Farewell to one of Cordova’s finest. In a town of many originals, Virginia was one of a kind.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at