Retired Homer teacher dies in Maui snorkeling accident

Family and friends will remember this Saturday a retired teacher who died Feb. 3 in a swimming accident while on vacation in Maui, Hawaii. Mike Cline, 80, died while snorkeling off Ulua Beach in Wailea. A memorial service for Cline is 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at Homer United Methodist Church. A reception will follow.

According to a press release from the Maui County Police Department, emergency crews responded about 10:40 a.m last Saturday to Ulua Beach for an unresponsive man who had been pulled from the water. On Monday after notifying next of kin, Maui Police issued a press release identifying the man as Cline.

Bystanders had started performing CPR on Cline until emergency medical technicians could take over. EMTs could not revive Cline and pronounced him dead at the scene. Police said Cline’s accident was the 10th ocean related death in Maui County this year.

Cline’s widow, Dotty Cline, said Homer and other friends have been incredibly supportive since her husband’s death.

“We have been so blessed and so thankful for so many things,” she said. “We are surrounded by so many loving people.”

One Homer family on vacation in Maui even tracked her down and came to the Clines’ condo to help.

“It was very traumatic, but you know something, people I hadn’t even met came up to me and said, ‘I will help you,’” Cline said. “Retired EMTs who said, ‘We’re here for you. We’ll stand by you.’”

Michael Slater Cline was born Aug. 30, 1937, in Seattle, but grew up in Bellingham, Wash., where his great-great-grandfather homesteaded in Whatcom County. Cline went to Western Washington University, Bellingham, receiving two bachelor degrees and a master’s. He also graduated with a PhD in anthropology with an emphasis on cross-cultural education at the University of Oregon, Eugene. After several years teaching in Washington, Cline came to Alaska in 1964 to teach.

“He loved cross cultural living in Alaska Bush villages,” Dotty Cline said. “He went as a learner. The men taught him to trap and hunt and know all the sloughs.”

Over his rural career, Cline taught in Egegik, Huslia, Tanana, Norvik, Deering and Anaktuvik Pass. In Norvik, he helped get the first high school built and became its first principal.

The Clines met in Tanana. They both had been involved in the early days of the Alaska Rural Teacher Training Corps, a group working to get rural and Alaska Native people to become teachers. Mike Cline was going to be Dotty’s replacement in Tanana and her job was to get him oriented.

“I loved cross cultural training. He understood. He was the first person I talked to who knew how I felt,” she said.

The Clines quickly became friends and then decided “we were the ones who wanted to spend our lives together,” she said. They married in 1971 and had been married for more than 46 years.

“He always said, ‘You’re that old?’ Mike had a really fun sense of humor,” Cline said.

The Clines began spending summers in Homer in 1973 and settled here in 1977 to raise a family.

“Mike was an absolutely amazing father and always kept his kids on their toes,” Cline said.

Mike Cline taught at Nikolaevsk School and Paul Banks Elementary School before retiring as a fifth-grade teacher at West Homer Elementary School in 1998.

Cline was an active hunter and fisherman and an accomplished photographer and writer. He had a photo published in National Geographic and wrote stories for Alaska Magazine. He wrote a children’s book based on his experiences in Huslia and another book about Anaktuvik Pass, “Tannik School.”

Cline also was active in the Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and the Homer United Methodist Church, where he served as church historian and sang in the choir. As a boy he played in an accordion group. When the Clines retired, people asked them if they were going to move south, but Cline said “no.”

“Homer has been a wonderful place to rear our family. … Mike loved being here. This is it. He loved and felt at home,” she said.

After Mike Cline died, a family friend, Bill Bechtol, told Dotty Cline, “‘I would say the thing about Mike is he was so inquisitive. He’d ask questions about everything. … He was a sponge for learning about things. I think that made him a good teacher,’” Cline said.

Men from the United Methodist Church are building a casket for Cline and the women are sewing a lining for it. Cline will be buried in the new section of Hickerson Memorial Cemetery on Diamond Ridge.

“How wonderful that his friends, his buddies are caring for him in that way,” Dotty Cline said. “I like that.”

On their last days together, Cline said she and her husband watched every sunset and walked their favorite beaches in Maui. The night before he died, Cline said, “We were sitting down. We held hands and looked at each other and said, ‘Aren’t we lucky?’ That was our last evening together. That was the truth.”

Cline is survived by his wife, Dorothy “Dotty” Cline; his daughter, Erin Cline, son-in-law Michael Slater, and their children Patrick, Bridget and Siobhan; and son, Kelly Cline and daughter-in-law Jamie Harmon and children Alma, Timothy, Kyle and Rowan.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations in his memory be made to the Mike Cline Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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