FAIRBANKS — Jack Wilbur is inexorably tied to Fairbanks.
He was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the same place as his mother, father and grandmother. Wilbur’s mother still lives in the Weeks Field house they moved to in 1958. The business started by Wilbur’s grandfather, Wilbur Bros. Sheet Metal, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Wilbur, 66, can trace his roots in Alaska to the late 19th century, when his great-great-grandfather, Dahl Wilbur, worked in the district of Circle. Dahl Wilbur was killed in 1901 when the SS Islander sunk en route to Seattle. When Dahl Wilbur’s daughter traveled north to settle his estate, she met her future husband, and Alaska became home.
Since 1975 — his entire professional career as a mechanical engineer — Wilbur has worked at Design Alaska. In 1995, he took over the firm as president.
One wall of Wilbur’s work station is covered with pictures of his children, Sara and Aaron Wilbur, and wife, Carol Wilbur.
Photos of the family fishing, bike riding, recitals and skiing along with class portraits offer a glimpse into the Wilbur household.
Jack Wilbur often grins through his white and gray beard while talking in an upbeat voice.
Wilbur received his degrees in engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. He said living outside of Alaska was an invaluable experience.
“You just learn so much about getting away from your own little environment,” he said.
Wilbur was introduced to a totally new environment when he went from a “relatively conservative family” in a “relatively conservative community” to Boulder in the early 1970s.
“You learn a lot about the rest of the world, you learn a lot about yourself,” Wilbur said.
During his time in college Wilbur also learned how much he loved Alaska.
“In Colorado, even 40 years ago, you were almost always doing whatever you were doing with somebody else,” he said, referring to the lack of seclusion.
Wilbur was drafted, and after receiving his master’s degree in 1971, entered the Army. His “overseas” request was Fort Greely, and Wilbur returned to Alaska.
While serving at Fort Greely, Wilbur won a season pass to Skiland and hitchhiked to town every weekend. He still can be found carving down the slopes almost every day the lift runs.
“If I’m in town and they’re open, I’m there,” he said.
In summer, Wilbur revels in rivers and gravel bars. He spent more than 40 days floating and fishing last summer.
“Nothing I’d rather do,” he said.
Wilbur cherishes the solitude he finds floating the Chena River in the middle of the week or skiing trails below his house near Farmers Loop.
Around town, Wilbur’s known as an ardent patron of the arts and community supporter. Design Alaska donates roughly $150,000 annually to organizations and charities.
United Way of the Tanana Valley receives the largest corporate donation from Design Alaska, $40,000 to $50,000 annually. Wilbur also spent more than a decade on United Way’s board of directors.
United Way Executive Director Bill Wright said Wilbur’s leadership is missed, “but he’s left behind a legacy of a very strong United Way.”
Wilbur serves, or has served, on countless boards. He represents the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, Interior Gas Utility, University of Alaska Fairbanks chancellor’s board of advisors and Rotary Club of Fairbanks.
Wilbur said Fairbanks has been good to him, and he wants to return the favor.
“Communities aren’t healthy communities unless they have the support of the people and business that live there, I feel really obligated to give back. For me it’s beyond something nice to do,” he said.
“I have a very understanding wife,” he added.
Charlotte Wilbur, Jack Wilbur’s mother, said Fairbanks was a good place to raise kids.
“I think it was easier then than now, there weren’t so many temptations,” she said.
Jack Wilbur shares those sentiments as he fondly recalled walking and biking everywhere as a child.
Despite fond memories, Jack Wilbur doesn’t look back.
He said of Fairbanks, “It’s better now, I don’t long for the old days … it’s a better place to live.”
Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510.