Ken Leghorn

  • Born: March 9, 1955
  • Died: April 11, 2017
  • Location: Juneau, Alaska

Tribute & Message From The Family

Kenneth Sully Leghorn, age 62, died April 11 in his home in Juneau, Alaska, surrounded by family and friends after a seven-month struggle with cancer. Ken was born on March 9, 1955 in Weston, Mass. He is survived by his wife, Julie York Coppens; his daughter, Yana Warner; her step-sibling, Seth (née Elsie) Coppens; his sister, Lisa Leghorn, of Safford, N.M.; his step-sister Camilla Williams of East Dorset, Vt., and her children Lily Calfee and Pete Calfee of Denver, Colo.; his father, Richard Leghorn of Osterville, Mass., his wife, Nancy Leghorn, and her children Paul Garrity, Mark Garrity, Kevin Garrity, and Andrea Wood; his cousins Christine Leghorn of Beverly, Mass., Susan Fontaine of Boulder, Colo., and Carlen Olsen of Sarasota, Fla.; his uncle Arthur Holtzman of Rochester, and his children John Holtzman, Janet Gates, Ann Beale, and Ellen Zeph. Ken's mother, Nancy Holtzman Carter, passed away in 2010. As John Muir wrote, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin" — and Ken felt those profound connections from his boyhood. Growing up near Boston, Ken spent every free minute out of doors, carving trails in the woods, piloting his own small motorboat, learning to identify hundreds of plant and animal species (especially birds), and enthusiastically sharing his discoveries with family and friends. At the same time he was a gifted violinist and scholar, graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1973 and Williams College (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1978. He majored in biology; rowing crew, organizing intramural games, and convincing his classmates to join him on extreme cold-weather survival treks were among his favorite extracurriculars. Upon graduation, Ken left the East Coast and headed off to Alaska, putting off medical school just long enough, he thought, to climb Mt. Denali. But he decided to stay, taking various rugged jobs and famously living in a school bus on a Juneau back road. He joined up as a guide with Alaska Discovery, an expedition outfitter, which he later bought and expanded to include a range of wilderness trips in Alaska and the Russian Far East. After selling this business to Mountain Travel Sobek in 2000, and taking an extended career detour into philanthropy, Ken dived back into adventure travel in 2014 with Pack Creek Bear Tours, a joint endeavor of Alaska Seaplanes and the Native corporation Kootznoowoo Inc., guiding small groups to the brown bear sanctuary on Admiralty Island.

Ken remained an avid mountaineer, following up the Denali climb with attempts on Mt. St. Elias and Mt. Fairweather, and he was an expert kayaker, logging more than 10,000 miles in Alaska alone. In 1986 he worked on subsistence use studies that helped protect parts of the Tongass National Forest near Angoon, and he was among the first in the state to use ecotourism as an argument for saving wilderness. Ken was a leading advocate for protecting Pt. Adolphus and Berners Bay, two gems of Southeast Alaska, and he had an eye on the next generation: with Scott Brylinsky and others, Ken helped create Discovery Southeast, an organization dedicated to teaching young people natural history and love of place.

Ken served 17 years on the Alaska Conservation Foundation board, many as chair; six years on the Audubon Alaska board, and seven years with Ski for Light, Inc., as a program-builder and volunteer instructor-guide. Working with the Nature Conservancy honed his skills in development, expertise he generously shared with a wide range of organizations, from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council to Juneau Jazz & Classics. Most significantly, Ken was one of three founders of the Juneau Community Foundation and its first executive director. In March of this year, co-founders Reed Stoops and Eric Kueffner presented him with JCF's Founders' Award, recognizing "a lifetime of achievement and service to Juneau and Alaska."

Ken's love of music matched his passion for the outdoors. He played violin with the Juneau Symphony for 37 years, and over his last year of life, he was working to raise $25 million for the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

"Ken was a life force who sparked creativity and energy wherever he went," said lifelong friend Richard Wheelock. "He was constantly calling me to join him on adventures… I always said 'yes,' and never regretted it. He was a dear and loving friend who I will forever miss."

There will be no formal memorial service, but plans for an outdoor celebration of Ken's life, and scattering of his remains in a few of his favorite places, will be shared on Donations in Ken's honor may be made to any of the nonprofit organizations listed above.

Condolence & Memory Journal


! ! Pilliken Expedition.

Posted by Oleg Gayfullin - Krasnodar Russia - Friend   July 03, 2017

Oh my, such sad news. Ken was an elemental force of nature packed into the skin of social/political animal with a sense of humor. Ken was one of four people who talked me into running for the CBJ Assembly in 1986 after we saw a movie at the Orpheum Theatre. Ken talked a lot of people into doing a lot of things. Is there anyone who will not miss him? I have missed his friendship these many years. May we all strive to lead lives as purposeful as Ken's.

Posted by Clarke L. Young - Santa Monica, CA - Friend   April 20, 2017

I was saddened to hear of Ken's passing and had recently thought of him, missing him in the musical events around town. I have fond memories of Ken going back to the 1980s, of his humor, his good nature, his dedication, and his smile. My thoughts are with those that knew and loved Ken and will miss him.

Posted by Heather O'Claray Fair - Juneau, AK - Friend   April 20, 2017