The Ward Family’s 30 Years at Taku Glacier Lodge

The Taku Glacier Lodge

It’s a gathering place, a place of beauty, a place of peace. This year, 2023, marks thirty years for the Wards at this 100-year-old historical landmark.

Since 1993 Ken and Michelle Ward have welcomed thousands of summer guests to the Taku Glacier Lodge. These visitors board a floatplane in Juneau, fly spellbound over five glaciers, snap photos of impossibly blue crevasses, land in a wild river, feast on alder-grilled salmon and warm-your-tummy home cooking. They experience the serene silence and jaw-dropping beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.

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Ken & Michelle Ward

The Taku River is a special place for Ken Ward, a pilot, businessman, outdoorsman. A Ketchikan kid, he took flying lessons as a teenager, graduated high school in Juneau, served on U.S. Navy minesweepers in Vietnam, and flew commercially with Juneau’s Southeast Skyways. Ken’s mentor was the legendary Shell Simmons, a pioneer bush pilot, mechanic, and skilled businessman famous for daring rescues which he said were “just work.” Simmons started Alaska Air Transport in 1934, co-owned Alaska Coastal Airlines in 1939, merged with Ellis in 1962, sold out to Alaska Airlines in 1968, and served on Alaska Air’s Board of Directors 13 years. With Simmons’ guidance, Ken bought a plane and started Ward Air, an aircraft charter business he nurtured and operated for twenty years from 1973-1993. Ken married Michelle in 1985 and in 1988 flew James Michener around the state to research the Pulitzer prize-winning author’s historical novel Alaska. His life changed when he jumped into a new business: welcoming folks from around the world to his summer home at the Taku Lodge.

Ken’s wife, Michelle (Mic), was born in Seattle and raised at the Usibelli Coal Mine (Healy), in Fairbanks where she attended a one-room schoolhouse, and at Pope Valley Lodge in California. After high school in Seattle, Mic worked three years with the Flying Tiger Line transporting troops and cargo into Vietnam. In 1973, she became a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines for 47 years. To buy the Taku Glacier Lodge in 1993, Ken and Mik sold Ward Air, the Ward Air hangar, their company airplanes, and their share of a Taku River cabin, another adventure.

The Ward Family Home: A Gathering Place

The rustic lodge provided new opportunities for the Ward family in a glacial-studded wilderness setting. It was a vacation place for Ken’s sons Kevin and Ryan and a summer home for Ken and Mic’s children: Mike, Buzz (Richard), and Natalie. Ken’s older sons, Kevin and Ryan, chose careers with Alaska Airlines as a pilot and a mechanic. Mike and his family now operate the lodge. Natalie is a former teacher and mom. Buzz is an engineer in Arizona. Ken and Mic have 8 grandchildren—7 boys and 1 girl. Nine summer live-in workers plus pilots, friends, helpers, and many visitors became adopted family members, returning year after year, some even buying property near the lodge.

Accessible only by river boat, floatplane, or helicopter, the lodge requires constant love. Ken reroofed the lodge, built a new shop and gift shop, bought new floatplane docks, renovated the main lodge’s logs, did a major kitchen remodel, installed solar power, and updated Wings Airways’ five de Havilland Otter floatplanes with quieter and safer equipment. When he wasn’t fixing toilets and renovating, he flew guests to and from the lodge.

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Ward Family Life

Mic juggled raising a family with entertaining guests, ordering supplies, cleaning, and cooking. She chose warm-your-tummy comfort food: Scarface (a 14-year Taku Lodge black bear) salmon baste recipe from the Maas family and Sue Scriber’s baked herb biscuits. Sourdough bread, apple compote, baked beans, coleslaw, and ginger cookies came later. The lodge’s recipe book includes lodge food plus Mic’s special treats named for their children: Buzzard’s cookies, Mikey Likes ‘Em cookies, and Natalie’s Fruit Pizza. Each spring and fall the Dirtbags, Mic’s eight hardworking women friends, cleaned and did inventories. It’s a lot of work, but they love it. The lodge is a gathering place for family and friends and thousands of visitors to work and play together.

Their son Mike left Juneau to study sports medicine but realized the Taku Lodge was where he wanted to be and became manager, storyteller, trail builder, fixer of all things broken. “The lodge becomes your identity,” he said. “It’s who you are.” He met his wife Jessalyn in Fairbanks, a dog-mushing, skijoring outdoor woman from Ester who was used to roughing it with no plumbing. Enthralled by southeast’s glaciers, meadows, river, and wildlife, she lives and works at the lodge each summer and creates vibrant paintings. Her work was displayed at Devil’s Club Brewing Company in March 2023 and is available on Facebook at Jessalyn Ward Designs.

“There’s nothing like being on the river with rain hitting my face,” Mike said. “I feel so alive. Jess is inspired by the cloudscapes, the northern lights playing across the Hole-in-the-Wall glacier. Their three young sons: Otis, Ellis and Calix, fifth-generation Alaskans, harvest potatoes and carrots from the garden, forage for King Bolete mushrooms, swim, fish, play on sandbars. Nature is their playground. Weather never deters them from being outside. Mic loves the serenity of the wilderness, the hummingbirds, the time to be with family. Ken loves it all—well, maybe not pumping out septic tanks or shoveling six feet of snow off the roof—but there are songbirds, wolves, moose, the mystery and majesty of nature. Out here you become part of that wildness adventurers seek. “We love sharing this place,” Mike said, “the culture, the history, the experiences nature offers.”