UA Journey

1956-1961 Leslie Nerland

Fairbanks

Leslie Nerland is a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention and a past member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. This was reprinted from the Feb. 20, 1992 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Leslie Nerland, a world traveler esteemed by many for his common-sense approach to life, was at home in Issaquah, Wash., when he died on February 18, 1992.

He was a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention and a past member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. He was named Alaskan of the Year in 1979 and cofounded the Rotary Club of Fairbanks.

Nerland was also the oldest survivor of the four generation Alaska family that owned Nerland's Home Furnishings. His father Andrew Nerland, was an Alaska pioneer who packed over the Chilkoot Pass at the turn of the century. He chose the mercantile trade over a gold pan, starting his first furniture and paint store in Dawson in 1898.

Les Nerland was born in Dawson in 1902 and spent his high school and college years in Seattle. In 1926, he married Mildred Juanita Kildall. In 1930 the couple moved to Fairbanks so Nerland could run the store for his parents while they visited relatives in Norway. They stayed until 1988, raised a family and lived in an apartment over the downtown store for years. He helped run the business until he left Fairbanks at the age of 85. All three of the Nerland children went into the family business, and at one point, 14 family members were employed.

Les Nerland was a member of the Fairbanks City Council and served as mayor of Fairbanks from 1938 until 1940. He and his wife, who died in 1991, were inseparable, family members said. Son Stuart G. "Jerry" Nerland said his father was "lost without her. They were so close; it was a hard situation." The two made frequent international buying trips adding such treasures as Finnish glass and Norwegian furniture to Fairbanks life.

"They were our family, a model couple in these days of transient relationships" said Rick Nerland, a grandson and owner of an Anchorage advertising and public relations company. Rick Nerland said his grandfather was an avid baseball fan and that Mr. and Mrs. Nerland were famous for organizing whirlwind itineraries in Norway, for the purpose of maintaining family relationships. "He had a wonderful and great life," said his daughter-in-law, Maxine Nerland.

"He did a lot for his family and for everyone around him. He was the nicest man I've ever known," said Ron Davis of Fairbanks, who worked for Nerland for 16 years. "He was gentle, he was firm, he was caring. He was the kind of guy that people would go to for counsel."

Nerland served as president of both the Alaska National Bank and the Miners and Merchants Bank. During his tenure as mayor, Fairbanks first streets were paved; Barnette to Lacey and Cushman streets, and First to Fifth avenues, and the first sewer lines were installed.

"He was just an outstanding individual, a very solid person who had the community, the university and the people of Fairbanks and the state in mind to see what good he could do," said longtime friend Earl Beistline of Fairbanks. William Wood, former UA President, described Nerland as a community leader and patron of all the good things that happened in the community. "He had a strong interest in seeing Alaska develop all its natural and human resources," Wood recalled. "He was greatly interested in the young people of Alaska and felt that they were the key to the future."

Nerland died at a residential care facility where he lived. Nerland's daughter, Milesse Nerland Kennedy, was with him when he died.


Link to Alaska Constitutional Convention, Leslie Nerland