Fire protection advocate, church leader, political figure, land advisor, family man—those descriptions all applied to Otto William “Bill” Lowe of Chugiak.
His family lived in a home he built on Rambler Lane in Peters Creek. The street was named by Lowe in recognition of the Nash Rambler automobile that brought them over the AlCan Highway shortly after the end of World War II. It was an adventure he felt should be commemorated.
Lowe was employed with the Bureau of Land Management and was helpful in identifying sites that might be available for community purposes. Among those was the five-acre baseball field site obtained by the Peters Creek Community Club and locations for fire stations. When Operation Chugiak High School was formed to lobby for a high school in this community, Lowe worked with Carl Steeby to examine sites and eventually recommend the plot where Chugiak High School and Birchwood Elementary are located. After the high school opened, Lowe wrote a history of the movement as a way to preserve that bit of our past.
Steeby, by the way, was project engineer for the Eklutna Power Project tunnel that tapped Eklutna Lake for water to drive turbines at the federal power plant at Eklutna. Drilling of the tunnel started at both ends, down through the bottom of the lake and up from the plant close to the highway. His expertise was highly lauded in engineering journals. When the drilling crews met in the middle of the tunnel deep below the surface, the tips of the bits were only a quarter of an inch apart. Under techniques in use in 1954, that feat was considered to be almost miraculous.
Lowe and Steeby were both members of Chugiak Methodist Church and were instrumental in obtaining the church site looking across at Mt. McKinley (now Denali). Lowe was among those who worked to expand the church structure to its present size.
From the beginning of his Chugiak residency, Lowe took an interest in the community and looked for ways to help.
The Mandatory Borough Act which forced Chugiak-Eagle River into the Greater Anchorage Area Borough provided for local service areas to allow such things as road maintenance and fire protection. A fire service area in Chugiak was approved by voters and Lowe agreed to serve on the elected board of supervisors. He was re-elected to several terms.
It was to protect the volunteer fire department that caused him to take an active role with Rural 30, the group that opposed unification of the GAAB and cities within its boundaries. He feared that under unification, the department would be gobbled up by the consolidated government. Under the board of supervisors, the department had assembled a large fleet of emergency equipment and built several stations to house the vehicles. A large staff of volunteers helped keep tax rates to the one-half mill voters had originally approved.
His activism continued when he joined a group seeking to have school board members elected from districts, much as on the assembly. It was hoped that under such a step representation from Chugiak-Eagle River would be guaranteed. He coined the name VOICE for the group, saying it was an acronym for Vote Openness in Children’s Education. Its emblem was a tea bag, symbolic of the Boston Tea Party.
Although he was a stalwart advocate, he was articulate and measured in arguments for his causes. In an article in an Anchorage daily newspaper, he was called “a reasonable man.” That greatly pleased Lowe because in those days the city newspapers often looked down on this community and seemed to delight in quoting more outspoken people, calling them “anti-government” and “rabble-rousers.”
Lowe always sought to correct that harsh vision of the place he called home.
Tragically, he died while driving home to get something that was needed for a potluck lunch being held at the church. Emergency responders were deeply saddened to find a member of their service area board of supervisors lifeless behind the wheel of the vehicle that ran off the road and crashed. This writer does not know if he died as a result of the crash or because of a medical condition. At his memorial service fire equipment lined the long driveway, crews in full dress uniforms standing solemnly beside their vehicles.
The man’s long service to the volunteer fire department and the community it protects was recognized within recent years with the naming of the Fire Lake station in his honor.