Surrounded in his home by more than 300 cards, close friends and the most incredible view of Kachemak Bay, on Feb. 15, Toras Fisk turned 100 years old.
“I think back to when I was a kid… my, that was a long time ago,” Fisk said. “I’m just damned lucky. I’m just so lucky that I’m here today.”
In honor of his 100th birthday, friends put out a call on Facebook asking for 100 people to send Fisk a birthday card. By the time of this week’s print, he had received 426 cards from friends, family, people he has never met, and numerous notable figures like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Even a week after his birthday, cards are still coming in the mail in celebration of his 100 years.
“I never thought of anything this crazy,” Fisk said about receiving so many cards. “That’s crazy all of those cards.”
In addition to the hundreds of birthday cards, Fisk was also honored in the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 14. “The members of the Thirty-Second Alaska State Legislature wish Toras more years of health and offer congratulations on his first 100 years of life!” reads the honorarium he was presented.
So much has changed in the last 100 years, Fisk shared. Born Feb. 15, 1922, in Sterling, Michigan, Fisk has seen the world advance in ways he never expected. From politics and war to technology, Alaska’s statehood and even the cost of rent, Fisk said he never could have imagined such a different world than when he was a kid.
One thing that never changed, though, was his love for his wife, Edna. The pair met on the dance floor and were married for 72 years before she passed in 2015. She was out dancing with a few girlfriends when Toras Fisk saw her and decided to cut in for a dance — one that continued for their rest of her life.
“Oh bless her, she was a sweetheart,” Fisk said. “… We loved to dance. We did a lot of dancing together.”
Toras and Edna Fisk were married a few years later on June 5, 1943 after he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
“She was the best, so help me. I couldn’t have asked for anybody better,” Fisk said. “She was the best.”
For the first year of his military service, Fisk was stationed in Cleveland, Ohio, so he could be close to Edna, but was called up to serve on the USS Albireo, a cargo carrier, in the South Pacific. Fisk served as a helmsman, steering the ship. In between deployments, the USS Albireo was stationed in Alameda, California.
The Albireo was responsible for delivering ammunition barges to the South Pacific, which Fisk said could be pretty dangerous.
“We had a towing gear on the back of the ship, and we were towing an ammunition barge going across,” Fisk said.
“It was not the safest thing,” Matt Haney, Fisk’s caretaker, explained.
Fisk recounted rough waters during his deployments, sharing one story from when a storm almost overtook the ship, leaving crew members stuck below deck for more than three days.
“I’d seen the roughest waters that I’d ever seen in my life,” Fisk said. “We were coming back and we were in that storm, and three days we couldn’t get out on the deck. Three days you stayed inside and didn’t get out on the deck at all. Rough, rough, rough. How that boat ever stayed together…”
When the war ended, Fisk was on his way back to California from the Philippines and said when the boat received the news, it was one of the happiest days of his life.
“I was headed home from the Philippines and the war was over,” Fisk said. “Oh Jesus, what a happy day! What a happy day, the war was over!”
“I’d never ever seen so much whiskey in my life,” he continued. “Everybody seemed to have a bottle they could break out. The old skipper, he was a good ol’ man. There were probably 200 guys aboard ship and he gave us all a can of beer.”
While he is proud of his military service, Fisk said it didn’t change who he was as a person.
“I had three years in the service. The first year I was in Cleveland, Ohio, and the rest I was aboard in the South Pacific. I don’t regret any of it,” Fisk said. “Serving in the military had nothing to do with my life. … I got through it anyways and here I am.”
Fisk was released from duty in September of 1945 and was finally reunited with his wife. Toras and Edna Fisk rented a house in Michigan for $7 a month with the promise that he’d build cabinets for the house. He had a knack for carpentry, which he later built his career on. He also bought his first vehicle, a ‘38 Ford, for roughly $200.
Life after the war wasn’t the easiest for the Fisks, however. After purchasing an 80-acre farm in Michigan, Fisk said they couldn’t see a way to make a good living out of it after 10 years.
In 1957, Fisk, his father and a friend drove to Alaska, towing a 21-foot house trailer. They arrived in Fairbanks and stayed for a couple of weeks before finding seasonal work in Anchorage. They went back to Michigan in the fall.
By 1958, Toras and Edna Fisk had returned to Alaska, making Anchorage their home. Fisk shared the opportunities for hunting and fishing made the move even more appealing to him.
“Alaska was much better than Michigan,” Fisk said.
While they enjoyed traveling out of the state on occasion, Fisk said they couldn’t imagine moving anywhere else.
He found work as a carpenter and helped build commercial buildings and schools across the state, including Homer Middle School, Susan B. English School in Seldovia, as well as Sears Elementary School in Kenai and Soldotna Junior High.
In 1978, Toras and Edna Fisk moved to Homer from Anchorage and filled their time with all kinds of Alaskan adventures, including fishing, hunting and snowmachining. He became a commercial fisherman, which he continued well into his 80s before retiring.
“We left there and came to Homer, and holy … Homer is a different country all together! What a beautiful place Homer is.”
Most importantly, the Fisks filled their East End Road home and garden with love, growing so much produce they had no option but to share with others.
When asked what he liked to grow the most in the garden, Fisk responded “everything.”
“I grew everything,” Fisk said. “I just had to try everything. You name it, I had to try it.”
In 1988, the Fisks were featured on the Victory Garden program for all of the hard work they put into their beautiful garden.
“We all benefited from (their garden),” Haney said. “He was always giving away everything. Edna always made sure there were a lot of flowers.”
While there are many legacies Fisk could leave behind, he hopes people remembers him for his garden.
Fisk shared that after 100 years of life, he’s learned a thing or two others could benefit from, but it would probably take another 100 years to share.
“I’ve got a lot of advice,” Fisk said. That’s all I’ve got is advice, but you can’t just hear it all.”
For those interested in sending him a late birthday card, cards can be addressed to Toras Fisk 58775 East End Road Homer, AK 99603.