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David Francis Bouker, March 23, 1931 - Sept. 28, 2022

David Bouker.jpg
Courtesy of Betsy Walatka
This photo of David Bouker was snipped from an old Nushagak Electric Cooperative.

Longtime Dillingham resident David Francis Bouker, 91, died at Kanakanak Hospital on September 28, 2022. David was born on March 23, 1931 in Tacoma, Washington to Francis and Nina Bouker.

David attended Catholic schools most of his primary years, completing 8th grade at Holy Rosary. David then went to West Seattle High School until halfway through his junior year when he quit “to go to sea, preferably to Alaska.” The day he quit school he signed on as a mess boy with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ship Brown Bear, soon setting sail for Alaska and beginning his love affair with the state. David learned a lot about seamanship as they travelled Alaska, stopping in many small towns including Ketchikan, Juneau, Unalaska, St. Paul, Cordova, Kodiak, Kanakanak, Dillingham and Naknek before spending the fishing season in Nushagak Bay.

In August 1948, as the Brown Bear was preparing to return to Seattle, David jumped at the “heaven sent” opportunity to work as a USFWS laborer at a King Salmon construction camp where “life was interesting to say the least.” When that job ended, David took his first airplane flight on a Grumman Goose from King Salmon to Anchorage’s Merrill Field. The next day he continued in a DC3 to Seattle via Cordova and Annette Island. After a brief return to high school, David enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1949 and flew out to Sand Point. For the next 20 months, he helped maintain buoys and lights along the Western Aleutians, Bering Sea coast and Bristol Bay from the Bittersweet, a 180 foot buoy tender. He described this as “interesting hard work” often in dangerous conditions, high winds and “ugly” seas.

David’s next adventure began with his first train ride, to California, where he attended U.S. Navy firefighting and explosive-loading supervisor schools. David then used his new-found knowledge working explosives details along the Columbia River and supporting US Customs foreign vessel inspections in the area. Upon his discharge in 1952, David enjoyed the hard work on a cattle ranch for six weeks before opting to finish high school at the Seattle Veteran’s High School (Edison Tech).

David joined the Seattle Fire Department in 1954 and remained there until 1960 when he volunteered a year’s labor at St. Mary’s mission in Alaska. After a year of teaching there under a temporary certificate, David decided to pursue a higher education at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks in 1961. His firefighting background served him well, as he was accepted into the UAF Fire Department located on campus and soon appointed Fire Chief. Before long David met “a wonderful girl,” Johanna Walatka. He earned his accounting degree in the spring of 1964, married Johanna that December and moved to Anchorage to work for an accounting firm. David described the August birth of his first child, John Paul Bouker, as the “greatest day” of his life up to that time.

In late 1965, Johanna’s dad, John Walatka, helped David secure a two year contract with the Platinum Commercial Company as “store manager” for $20,000 per year — an “awful lot of money” back then. They moved to Platinum in January 1965 where David found that in the new job he would serve not only as PCCO storekeeper but as postmaster, Northern Consolidated Airlines agent, aviation weather bureau representative and would oversee the small electric utility. David and Johanna welcomed their second son, Nicholas, in December 1966, and built many “treasured memories” in Platinum while ending each day “dog tired.” The growing family moved to Homer in January 1968 when David secured a job as Homer Electric Association Office Manager. David “learned quite a bit that was to help me later on” in their three years there, and their daughter Rebecca was born in Homer.

Following the sudden death of John Walatka in June 1970, they used John’s life insurance proceeds to return to Fairbanks so David could pursue a Master’s Degree. They bought a duplex in Aurora Subdivision but after one semester and numerous legal issues with the new home and their renters, David took a job as an equipment operator with the state highway department. That winter, they bought 10 acres about three miles up the Nenana Road from Ester and had a log cabin built. They were happily above the winter ice fog in a place where the three kids and their German Shepherd, Sheba, had plenty of room to play. The family “had a ball” there but they lacked indoor plumbing and hauled their water up from Ester. In the winter of 1971-72, Johanna noticed a newspaper ad for a utility manager at Nushigak Electric in Dillingham and suggested that David apply for the position. David was hired as General Manager and the Boukers made their last move, to Johanna’s childhood home.

David began at Nusaigak Electric on June 19, 1972 as their fourth manager. He came in when management was floundering, hired some good people, and before long had earned the respect of his employees and the board. During his time at Nushagak Electric, David was instrumental in starting Nushagak Telephone: “A concerted effort by a few public minded individuals who donated their resources to help make this telephone system a viable entity that is owned by the very people it serves.” While there he earned the Mason LaZelle Award (the highest honor conferred by the Alaska Power Association) as well as the Iron Oosik Award. After his retirement May 31, 1993, David served on several local boards of directors and one term as Dillingham Mayor.

Tragedy struck the Bouker family in 1985 when they lost their son Nicholas in a float plane accident on the Agulapak River. In 1995, their first grandson, Nicholas Bouker, was named for his uncle.

David loved commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. The family set netted at Ekuk from the late 1970s into the 1980’s before turning the operation over to their son, John. When John took over he expanded the operation and it continues as an expansive family fishing camp today. David and Johanna also bought 10 acres at the end of Snake Lake where John built them a small cabin. They made many memories at Snake Lake before turning the cabin over to their daughter Rebecca.

David’s family and friends remember him as a kind, devoted man who loved his family. He was a fountain of knowledge about the Bristol Bay region, a humble man who enjoyed doing things “the hard way.” David loved his grandchildren. Some of the most fun he had was time spent “just being a grandpa.” After retirement he was free to care for them when they were young , and he included them in everything he did. He established very close relationships with the grandkids and instilled in them a love for the outdoors, for animals and for sweets. The grandkids remember riding along as he plowed the family driveways with the truck heater continuously blasting hot air. They remember “grandpa put ice cream on everything.” Nicholas and Johnna fondly recall spending time at the Snake Lake cabin with grandpa.

David is survived by his wife of 57 years, Johanna; his children John Bouker (Ina), Rebecca Bouker (Edwin Johnson); grandchildren Nicholas Bouker, Johnna Bouker, John Bouker, Jr., Matthew Bouker, Jack Wulvik, Luke Wulvik, Nikolena Wulvik, Marion Coupchiak and Bella Coupchiak. David was predeceased by his parents, siblings Felicia and Jamie, his beloved son Nicholas Bouker and countless dogs, cats and other animals that David loved over his lifetime.

A funeral service was held on October 1 in Dillingham at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. David was buried immediately afterwards in the Holy Rosary Cemetery next his son, Nicholas.

The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to Gordon Isaacs, Daniel Miller, Patricia Carscallan, Kanakanak Hospital and EMT staff, Janet Schlagel and Nushagak Electric.

Bristol Bay Obituaries is a place for people to remember family members and loved ones who have died. Email submissions and photos to obituary@kdlg.org.