Norman Wilkins 1928-2017

a bald eagle in a tree close up image

RIP Norman

Norman Wilkins lost his long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away April 26, 2017 at 10:23 p.m., at Little Falls Care Center in Minnesota. In his memory, his eldest daughter Nadia Giordana worked up this Alaskan version of Mary Elizabeth Frye’s Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep:
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I’m in the long Alaskan nights;
‘Tis where my heart and soul delights.
I live in the campfire’s glow;
I am the newly fallen snow.
I soar above with eagle’s flight;
I flicker in the northern lights.
I’m there with every critter’s call;
My favorite season? It’s the fall.
I’m every hunter’s frosty breath,
And every crunchy, leafy step.
I’m in the grunt of caribou,
And in the sweeping mountain view.
Do not worry where I’ll be;
My Maker’s hand will shelter me.

Norman R. Wilkins
Loving husband, father and avid outdoorsman

Norman R. Wilkins, 89, died Wednesday, April 26th at Little Falls Care Center in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Norman was born February 1, 1928, in Marshall County Iowa, to Ivo and Ruby Wilkins.

In 1948, Norman married Ladislava (Sylvia) Kolenc. They lived, farmed and raised a family in central Iowa, then in Motley, Minnesota until 1978 when they moved to Nelchina, Alaska. His friends there often called him Rawhide. In 2005 Norman and Sylvia left Alaska and returned to Minnesota, settling in Little Falls.

Norman is survived by his wife Sylvia, and three daughters, Nadia Giordana (Chuck Kasun), Beverly Volk, and Theresa Austin; six grandchildren; eleven great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; two brothers, Marion and Jerry.

He was preceded in death by a sister Virginia, a daughter Mildred, his son Paul and granddaughter Anitra Ann.

Per Norman’s request, there will be no formal funeral services. A private graveside memorial for immediate family and close friends will take place at Swan Valley cemetery in Leader, Minnesota at a later date. (Norman was laid to rest on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at Swan Valley cemetery in Motley/Leader, Minnesota.)


From their log cabin overlooking Scoter Lake at Nelchina, to Glennallen, Anchorage, Wasilla, Copper Center, Tok, Palmer, Fairbanks, Denali, Matanuska, Susitna, Valdez, Cordova and other arctic communities, Norman Wilkins recorded daily journal entries throughout the 25+ years he and his wife Sylvia spent carving out a life on the Alaskan tundra.

Norman Wilkins and Slovenia-born Ladislava Kolenc (Sylvia to those who know her) met in postwar Gorizia Italy in 1946, marrying there in 1948. They moved to Iowa where Norman grew up, and farmed in several communities until 1957 when they moved to Motley, Minnesota and built the Tamarack Dell dairy farm. There, they raised their family and farmed until the late 1970s.

Norman had long felt the pull of the north, drawn to the mystique of Alaska—“The Last American Frontier” many said, and once the children were on their own, that desire to go north grew stronger. He made more than one hunting trip to Alaska before the 1978 expedition included in this book, and as the trips unfolded, so did Norman’s desire to make Alaska his permanent home—to be a part of the expansive wilderness and yes, explore for gold!

Sylvia was not so enthusiastic in the beginning. (Bear in mind, those first few years they lived in a one-room, 12’x16’ plywood cabin with no indoor toilet, no electricity and no running water.) Once, after they settled in Nelchina, Sylvia was asked how she liked Alaska, to which she replied, “I really like the people here, but you can take Alaska and give it back to the Eskimos!” They did eventually build a larger, nicer cabin (pictured here).

They did find gold in Alaska. They found it in the air, the mountains, the wildlife and especially in the people—the people they worked shoulder to shoulder with and shared their table with, each one weaving an independent piece of the tapestry of everyday life along the Glenn Highway during those years.

The contents of the books were transcribed from Norman’s notebook-style pages as originally written with the exception of occasional edits and insertions for clarity. Books two and three are already nearing completion.

Every effort has been made to maintain Norman’s unique personal style so as not to lose the naturalness of the voice, nor the meaning of his words. His entries are simple, natural, and to the point—bringing to mind another well-known, long time Alaska resident, Dick Proenneke, whose self-documented story, Alone in the Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey (written by Sam Keith), has been much celebrated among outdoorsmen and self-sufficiency enthusiasts.

Norman and Sylvia moved back to Minnesota in 2005 because Norman felt that something was wrong with him, (thinking along the lines that he was getting too old to live the Alaskan life without becoming a burden on his friends there and his family at home).

November 2016 update: Somewhere around 2010, Norman was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the fall of 2011, he sustained a fall and broken hip which resulted in some time spent in a care facility. He eventually went home but the next year, Norman suffered more illness and cognitive deterioration. He is now in a care facility in Little Falls, Minnesota. His wife Sylvia and two of his three daughters, Theresa and Beverly, all live nearby and monitor his care. His other daughter Nadia (the publisher of his journals) lives in Minneapolis and also visits frequently.

—Nadia Giordana, Cloud 9 Publishing