Kevin Desmond, the Consummate Volunteer
By Sue Todd
Once you hear all the tales Kevin Desmond has to tell about what he has done in his lifetime, you have to assume he’s 150 years old. However, he is so much younger than that, and he’s still going strong. He’s an avid skier, snowboarder and telemarker, as well as a long-time volunteer at Challenge Alaska. Skiing has been a passion since his youth, just a few years ago (wink).
Kevin is probably the most self-effacing person in Girdwood. When I told him I wanted to write a feature on him, he consented, but not without saying that it was going to be boring, and I should find someone interesting to write about. It didn’t end there. Pinning him down to talk about himself was no easy task. I persevered, though, and this is what I learned.
Kevin was born in Long Beach, California. He did not elaborate on his childhood, but he attended college at University of California, Irvine, in pursuit of an Electrical Engineering degree. Early in his undergrad years, he slipped over to Western Europe for a two-month vacation where he biked across 12 countries. This was the start of his international experiences. In 1973, he graduated and began working on his Masters in Nuclear Engineering at UCLA. A Masters was not in the cards, though, because just a year in, his wanderlust kicked in.
He joined the Peace Corps to teach physics and math in Bibiani, Western Region Ghana, West Africa. Ghana was rustic, to say the least. He explained that his only provisions were a kerosene lantern, a mosquito net, and two buckets, one for collecting drinking water, and one for waste. “You didn’t want to mix them up,” he told me.
After two years, he grew tired of the mud and mosquitos and being hot. He saw an atlas, and he looked for a new place to go. In 1976, courtesy of the Peace Corps, he returned to the U.S. to chase snow.
He borrowed money for a one-way ticket to Alaska, and before long, he was working again. This time for Alaska Village Electric Co-op (AVEC), a non-profit electric utility, serving residents of rural Alaska.
“The conditions were similar to the Peace Corps,” he related, “although the climate in Alaska was an improvement.” AVEC became another building block in his mission to serve others. He related, “Seeing the world helps you evaluate your life and what you have.” It seems he realized he had plenty.
In 1977, he began working as a contract electrical engineer, on rotation, for British Petroleum (BP) in western Prudhoe Bay. Still in pursuit of adventure, in 1978, Desmond hitchhiked down the Alcan all the way to Seattle, where he bought a bicycle and biked to Bangor, Maine. Think about that – all the way to Bangor, Maine! At the end of his journey, he rode a Greyhound back to L.A. to see family before returning to Alaska – Girdwood, to be specific.
In 1980, he relocated to Borneo in Southeast Asia. He worked as a Field Engineer on contract for Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). Think about 1980… there were no cell phones, GPS was not mainstream, and yet, somehow, a year into his stint, while he was vacationing in Singapore, ARCO tracked him down and gave him a job offer he couldn’t refuse. That was when he “latched onto the bulging breast of big oil,” as he says.
He worked in South Korea for a couple of years before spending more time working at Prudhoe Bay. When he was to be relocated to Washington State, he biked from Prudhoe to Girdwood, then down the Alcan all the way to Tacoma. In 1986, he was back at Prudhoe for a short time before relocating to Indonesia.
He was seeing the world courtesy of ARCO, but in 1992, he left the company. This time it was a “retirement” package he couldn’t refuse. He stayed in Indonesia working for Maxus Indonesia in Jakarta for another three years. In 1995, he started work with a small Canadian oil company, still in Indonesia. In 1998, he moved to Algeria to work, and in 1999, he returned to Girdwood, working on rotation at Alpine with Phillips. Girdwood was to be his home.
In 2002, he bought a lot on Cortina Road, and began building his cabin. He jokes that his cabin will be completed after he dies. Let’s just say it’s a work in progress. The first two years he owned the cabin, he traveled and skied as much as possible, but his career started up again in 2004 with contract work on the Slope, and it continued until 2015.
To say he retired would be incorrect. He stopped working. However, that is still incorrect. He has served on the Challenge Alaska Board since 2001, putting in over 300 hours a year as a volunteer. Forest Fair would not be the same without his volunteer “age discriminating” and pouring skills. Kevin has been the team captain of the Dirt Bags (town league team) for many years. If there is fun to be had, or a volunteer opportunity, expect to see Desmond there.
Desmond is a community stalwart who gives of his time and himself on a regular basis. He has been hosting a St. Patrick’s Day feast every year since 2005. Each year, over 100 people pop in to partake. “Everyone is welcome for corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day,” he adamantly stated. Consider it an open invitation.
From California to Ghana to the Alaska bush to the North Slope to Tacoma to Bangor to Indonesia to Algeria and beyond, Kevin Desmond has seen the world. He still takes off for lengthy biking trips and adventures, most recently on the Kobuk kayaking and observing the beauty that is Alaska. And still he finds time to serve.
I have only scratched the surface of what there is to know about Kevin Desmond. Regardless, it is worthwhile to recognize a person who gives so much to the community, and Kevin is certainly a giver. He is one more Girdwood character with character.