by Lee Rowley
Recently, US Servas received a $140,000 bequest from the James H. Edwards Trust. Jim Edwards was an avid US Servas member for nearly forty years and managed to build a thriving homestead in a very remote part of Alaska by his wits, determination, and clever mind. Here is some of his story.
As a young man in 1953, James H. Edwards moved to McCarthy, Alaska to homestead in the remote wilderness mining town abandoned when Kennecott Copper Corp. abruptly ceased operations in 1938 and pulled out. This move required some extraordinary creativity to thrive.
Jim lived in McCarthy continuously until his passing in 2016 at age 85, raising two children Stephen and Shelly with his first wife Maxine. He obtained a pilot's license early in his career as it wasn’t easy to prosper in this remote area. There were no roads or connection to the city for many years, so flying was the only feasible option.
There were many close calls involving outdoor adventures, cold and danger and travel over long distances. A great deal of fortitude, creativity, optimism and out-of-the-box thinking allowed him to make a living and raise a family while building a house, airstrip and hangar. "He was a jack of all trades. There was almost nothing he couldn't do."
Jim built a car he dubbed Rigor Mortis from the parts of 1930s-era cars left behind and an airplane that he flew to Seattle. Jim was described as conserving, economizing and frugal, perhaps evidenced by his habit of reusing teabags repeatedly or collecting a large supply of scrap metal to use for making things he needed to avoid having to purchase them.He was known as the areas “foremost recycling genius.” Read more of his amazing story in this September 4, 2016 of the Anchorage Daily News.
Jim joined Servas around 1980. Despite its being back of the beyond, over the year Jim hosted many Servas travelers from all over the world in McCarthy, several of whom became friends and important individuals in his life. For example, Walter and Ursel from Switzerland returned several times and built a beautiful log cabin on Jim’s land. Jim and his wife traveled extensively with Servas. Jim wrote long letters detailing the experiences and relationships with people who hosted him.
What Jim valued were personal relationships, those meaningful transactions between people that underlie the human experience. It’s why Servas played such a significant role in Jim’s life. Jim believed deeply in Servas, and the Servas principles of peace and cultural understanding. That is why Jim earmarked this significant bequest to US Servas and the members charged with carrying its mission forward.
The US Servas Board will continue to collaborate with Jim’s son, Stephen, to fulfill Jim’s vision of making the Servas spirit and adventure accessible to more people, especially our youth, with the ultimate goal of creating more peace in the world, one traveler at a time.