Lee Saylor

Harold Lee Saylor

Harold Lee Saylor was born in New Albany, Indiana. As an infant, he moved with his parents to his maternal grandparent’s farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he was raised. When he was about five, they built a family home on that same property.

Lee’s mother, having come from one of the oldest Pennsylvania Dutch families in the area, “dabbled” in many things. She owned and operated a woman’s and children’s clothing store for a time, eventually enrolling in college and graduating with a degree in mathematics. This led to a position in a local high school where she taught algebra and trigonometry. Following that career, she was an Amish Country Tour Guide. Lee maintains that he is related to nearly everybody in Lancaster and York Counties which may explain why he chooses to limit his travels east!

Lee’s father worked for Wyeth Laboratories, a company that manufactured veterinary supplements and vaccines. He made it quite clear to his family that while he loved livestock; his heart was really into baseball. He’d played in minor leagues as a young man and later coached Little League even though his son had minimal interest in sports. Lee’s two younger sisters still live Outside.

Growing up in fossil country, Lee’s interest in geology, prospecting and mining was fueled by his love of the outdoors. He’d graduated from high school in 1959, and had attended Penn State, with limited success, for a semester and a half. In the winter of 1961 he hopped on his Zundapp motorcycle and left home for good. He ended up in Galveston, Texas on a shrimp boat that ran along the Gulf Coast. After several months on the water, he caught the wheat harvest in Kansas and made his way north to Wyoming and South Dakota. It rained most of that summer and employment was scarce. He eventually found himself in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, on a construction job and doing ranch work until being drafted into the military in the fall of 1963.

Following Artillery Surveyor Training and a brief assignment at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, Lee was transferred to Ft. Wainwright in 1964. By the time he’d completed his service and received his discharge in 1966, Lee had found his new home---Alaska.

As a registered surveyor, Lee worked for the Bureau of Land Management, Golden Valley Electric Association and was the Northern Region Survey Supervisor for the State of Alaska. If you know of a village with an airport, chances are Lee has spent time there on a job! After thirty-three years with DOT, he retired in 2000 to stay home to finish raising his kids.

When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Lee said, “getting one daughter through college without any student debt.” In all, he is the proud father of five children, one step-child, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. With the exception of a daughter who resides in Texas, all his kids live in the Interior. Tempering the joy, Lee has also experienced the sorrow of outliving two wives.

Lee’s beautiful garden was featured on the recent Farm & Garden Tour #3. There, we learned that he has enjoyed agriculture for most of his life, taking after his grandfather in that regard. In the summer, he sells his produce under the awning at the Senior Center on Thursdays and offers a wide variety of fresh, organically grown vegetables. When he isn’t gardening, he is cutting firewood for the winter. By mid-August, he had cut between seven and eight cords but still wasn’t finished. Although he has a forced air oil back-up system, he heats mainly with wood. No doubt those stacks of split wood are insurance against a cold cabin this winter. They are also an inspiring sight to see!

In the winter months, when many of us are taking it easy, Lee focuses on other activities. He is a patron of the North Pole Branch Library and particularly enjoys mysteries, history and geology books. Some of his favorite authors are John Sanford, Vincent Flynn and Sue Grafton. He is a member of St. Jude’s Episcopal Church and is a carver of wooden spoons and diamond willow. He also crafts Athabaskan-style bows and arrows. Lee is a member of Santa’s Seniors and has cooked at The Breakfast Place since around 2003, so you can frequently spot him there.

Lee remains true to the Alaska Native heritage of his deceased wives and the mothers of his children. He has the uncanny ability to retain information about generations of Native lineage and is often called upon to answer questions about “if and how” individuals are related to each other. By offering encouragement to family members and young Native friends alike, the history, culture and genealogy of the Tanacross, Healy Lake and Tok clans is sure to endure for many years to come. Lee is an eager student of the language and is able to understand much of that region’s dialect.

Lee describes a “perfect day” as “being in the 60’s to 70’s, good enough weather that I’m able to be outside all day, everything goes well on my schedule and nobody calls me to unload.” I asked him for a bit of wisdom to pass on to our readers and he supplied his favorite saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Indeed, Lee Saylor is a quiet, complex man who shares his many gifts and talents. Those who know him well are proud to call him “Friend.”

Interview & Story by Francie Cork
Photo by Sharon Geese

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