Rev. David Konrad Fison, 96, a United Methodist Minister in Alaska for nearly 60 years, died peacefully at Wesley Lea Hill, a retirement community in Auburn, WA, on January 31, 2019. Aleen, his wife of more than 75 years, and his children were at his side. In a full life spanning nearly a century, David was a civil rights advocate, spiritual leader, creative craftsman, devoted husband and loving father. He touched the lives of many in the communities where he lived in Missouri, Illinois and Alaska. David left a legacy of faith, kindness, thankfulness and service. He never stopped learning or trying new things. He always strived to make the world a better place.
David was born Dec. 29, 1922, in Los Angeles, CA. Later, his family moved to Kansas City, MO. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, he became a talented craftsman and artist. He apprenticed as a pattern-maker at age 14 and also worked part time at a gallery and art museum. In October 1942, he invited the girl next door, Aleen Boxx, to a Methodist youth meeting. They married on July 31, 1943 in Kansas City. They worked at North American Aviation, but five months later, David enlisted in the Navy.
He served on the USS General Harry Taylor, a troop transport based in San Francisco. His story of helping wounded and traumatized soldiers celebrate Christmas in the Pacific was published in Guidepost Magazine and the Anchorage Daily News. David had a beautiful singing voice and taught himself to play the musical saw while he was in the Navy. His World War II experiences inspired David to become a minister.
David graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, MO, in 1952 and Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, IL in 1956. While in college and seminary, he ministered to rural churches. During his college years he and Aleen had three children: Susan, David Jr. and Deborah. In 1956, David was appointed pastor of South Deering Methodist Church in Chicago. His work integrating the church and improving race relations received national attention including a column by Eleanor Roosevelt and feature articles in Ebony and Life Magazine. He was successful in building a new church and saw the peaceful integration of the surrounding community. Their son Paul was born in Chicago.
In 1960, David and his family, went to Alaska as Methodist missionaries. David was pastor at First United Methodist in Anchorage. He was one of the founders of Birchwood Camp. David accepted an appointment to First United Methodist in Ketchikan in 1961. He learned to fly in Ketchikan and began a flying ministry to remote lighthouses and the Tsimshian village of Metlakatla. Their children Jayne and David James were born in Ketchikan. In 1972, they moved to First United Methodist in Fairbanks. David came back to Anchorage in 1972 as pastor of St. John United Methodist. He retired from the parish ministry in 1978. For the next decade, David served as chaplain for Alaska Pacific University and the University of Alaska Anchorage. His Small Blessings Cafes were part of his outreach to students.
David loved nature and became an Eagle Scout at age 16. In fall 1961, he hiked up Ketchikan’s Deer Mountain and was lost for several days. He credited Boy Scout skills for his survival. From the time David became a minister he enjoyed being a church camp counselor or dean almost every summer. David originally planned to live in Alaska for only three years, but his love of the outdoors was one of the things that kept him in the state. While in Ketchikan he also took up flying, hunting and fishing.
David encouraged his children to join him in many outdoor adventures. He took them camping, biking, skiing, fishing and even raft racing on the Tanana River. When he was 68, David biked with his daughter from Chitina to McCarthy. He hiked Flattop in Anchorage with his family in 1960 and continued going up the mountain with them until his early 80s. In his mid-80s David was still dip-netting on the Kenai River and sledding with children and grandchildren. David’s first great-grandchild was born the day after his 80th birthday. He loved watching, playing, doing puzzles, reading to and spending time with them. One of his major joys at Lea Hill was frequent visits from his seven great grandchildren.
David was a talented craftsman and artist. In college he learned oil and watercolor painting. His pen and ink drawings illustrated his college yearbook. In the 1970s, David took a jewelry making class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and created exquisite silver and gold jewelry for his wife and daughters. In the 1980s he took pottery classes and created dozens of beautiful pots, bowls and platters.
While he lived in Ketchikan in the early 1960s, David became intrigued with totem poles. He was troubled that some early Christian missionaries had destroyed totems because they didn’t understand their purpose as a historical record of the region’s Native peoples. David researched the Tsimshian culture and was inspired to tell the Christmas story using traditional Native characters. In 1972, David depicted his vision in a seven-foot painting of a Christmas totem pole. In 1986, David completed carving a 12-foot cedar Christmas Totem Pole. He completed a 17-foot Easter Totem Pole in 2001. David made hundreds of presentations of his totem stories. The totems are now on display in the St. John sanctuary. In 2001, David was adopted into the Killer Whale Clan of the Tsimshian tribe in a ceremony at St. John. He was given the name Nadáam Nłomsk, which means “carver of sacred things”.
David’s ministry was characterized by compassion and helping others. In the 1950s, in addition to his parish ministry, David was a volunteer pastor to migrant workers. In 1969, David was one of 100 prominent Alaskans chosen to participate in four Brookings Institution Conferences on the future of Alaska. He volunteered at Alaska Children’s Services and the Boy Scouts, and he was on UAA’s Institutional Review Board. He served on the Board of the RurAL CAP Foundation for more than 20 years. David officiated at hundreds of weddings, baptisms and funerals including weddings for three siblings, five children and three grandchildren. On his 91st birthday, David officiated at the baptisms and dedications of his great-grandchildren.
David was a carpenter in the Navy and had excellent building skills. He assisted all five of his children with building projects in their homes. In 1979, David and Aleen with the help of their son David James, began construction of a unique, four-level geodesic dome on the Anchorage Hillside that they built themselves and lived in for nearly four decades. David’s favorite room was the top floor “sky-room” with a 360-degree view of Cook Inlet, the Alaska Range, Denali and the Chugach Mountains.
David and Aleen loved to travel. In 1964, they took their five children on an epic two and a half month car trip which started on the ferry in Ketchikan and included visiting more than 30 states. In 1966, David and Aleen attended the World Conference of Methodism in England and toured most of the countries in Europe including East Germany. They took their children on many vacations especially to visit family in Missouri, California and Washington. After they retired they made trips inside and outside Alaska that included children and grandchildren.
David and Aleen had major celebrations for their 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 65th, 70th and 75th anniversaries. In 2013, they were honored by the Alaska State Legislature for their “many decades of community service” and their 70th Wedding Anniversary. In spring 2014, David traveled to Washington, DC with Last Frontier Honor Flight accompanied by his son David James to visit war memorials and the Capitol. They also visited Arlington National Cemetery where he had officiated at the funeral for his younger brother John Nolan in 2000.
In October 2017, after 57 wonderful years in Alaska, David and Aleen moved to Wesley Lea Hill, a retirement community in Auburn, WA, where they could live near more of their family.
In addition to his wife Aleen, David is survived by his children: Susan Fison, Deborah Chang Craft (Wayne), Paul Fison (Sherril), Jayne Mason (Michael) and David James Fison (Heidi). He was preceded in death by his son David K. Fison Jr., who died at age of four in 1955. David is also survived by eleven grandchildren: Pamella Jean, April Brown, Ian Chang, Patrick Thomas, Julia Chang, Elizabeth Fison Hudson, Heather Fison, Julie Fison, Paige Proctor, David Kjelgaard Fison, and Zachary Mason. He is also survived by seven great-grandchildren: Peyton, Camryn and Tyson Thomas, Konrad and JJ Hudson, Lucas Brown, and Teagan Proctor.
David was preceded in death by his parents Percy Llewellyn Fison and Ann Marie Wiley Nolan, as well as siblings William T. Nolan, Roger S. Nolan, John F. Nolan, Ruth Geneviev “Jill” Longstreet, Arthur S. Fison, June Fison Rasmussen and Robert G. (Fison) Thompson.
David was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Ferndale, WA. A memorial service will be held at Wesley Lea Hill, on February 8. A memorial service in Anchorage at St. John United Methodist Church, 1801 O’Malley Road, will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 17. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to St. John United Methodist Church in David’s memory.
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St. John United Methodist Church