The other day I stopped by the Cordova Telecom office on Second Street, and Stan Makara just happened to pull up beside me in his little white SUV.
When he opened his door, before I could even warn him about the slippery ice, he hollered: “Hey, when are those Tipoff games?”
Stan, you see, is one of Cordova’s most loyal fans, and as such, has his special spot in the top row of bleachers behind the Wolverine bench.
Over the years, he has been joined by Byron Jones, Father Tom and Ira Grindle, to name a few. The gym wall provided nice back-support, and from the upper level, gives an excellent view of all the action.
Timeout huddles between coaches and players are there to behold; as an added bonus, the rules provide that a team shall always play at the basket in front of its bench in the second half.
So, if there is going to be a dramatic last second shot by the Wolverines, it will be right there to behold.
In the span of this eight-decade love affair with basketball, Stan has seen his share of such exciting moments.
Yet, unknown to most Cordova fans, at one time Stan himself cranked up a few shots for the Wolverines. He was a member of the 1952-53 squad.
It was a nippy six degrees outside CTC, but after we were within the warm confines of the customer service area, I asked him about his Wolverine career.
“Well, it didn’t last very long,” he said. “In fact, I only played as a freshman. It wasn’t too hard to make the team. Every one of us that tried out was on it, and we had nine varsity players at the start.”
“Our coach was Ralph Fenner. He was the high school principal,” Stan added. “We had to fly to play all our away games, and every now and then Valdez, Wasilla or Anchorage would come here.”
I asked Stan about the playoff tournaments.
“They were always played in Anchorage,” he said. “We didn’t do too well. We always got beat by those big schools.”
Then I asked Stan why he didn’t play beyond his freshman year.
“Actually, I was a freshman for two years. And that was it.”
“Well, times were tough back then, and I had to work to help our family make ends meet,” he said. “It would drive me crazy to look out the windows from the top floor classroom of the old high school and see all those open skiffs heading out for clam digging in May, so I would drop out to join them.”
“I dug clams with Pat O’Brien, and we stayed in a cabin at Whitshed,” Stan said. “He could dig 2,000 pounds on a tide; my best day was over 700. But we only got 15 cents a pound.”
Stan also helped the family by gillnetting with his dad, while living in a cabin down by Crystal Falls Packing Company on Mountain Slough.
“We would row out on the falling tide to fish by the markers, and then row back on the incoming tide,” he said. “I remember Mr. Utness (the owner of the cannery) paid us a flat $3 per king and 50 cents per red. Plus, we had to load cases of canned salmon on the barge that took them up the Eyak River.”
Stan had come into CTC to pay his bill, and behind the counter employees Cully Merritt and Heather Richardson were enjoying all this banter. Stan candidly admitted he couldn’t remember all the details from those days, as it had happened “a long time ago.”
In fact, he said quietly, “Today is my 85th birthday.”
So, much to his embarrassment, we all sang him a Happy Birthday. Stan said thanks, but said he had already got his best present — an early morning kiss from his wife and sweetheart of 57 years, Helen.
I did get around to telling Stan the Tipoff start times and the names of the visiting teams. One of them will be Scammon Bay, here for the first time.
“Where the heck is Scammon Bay?” Stan asked.
Good question. But I know where Stan will be, come the opening tip of the first game.
Basketball is a game that delights us, excites us, and gets us through those long winter nights. And it brings us together to share those moments with remarkable individuals like this true fan, who has seen a lot in life besides hoops.
Happy Birthday, Stan.