Friends, relatives rally around family that suffered 3 tragedies in one week
FAIRBANKS — Isaac Juneby’s wife, Sandy, talked to her husband on the telephone from Eagle a half hour before he died in a car crash in Anchorage July 1.
Isaac, 71, had stayed late into the night at the bedside of his comatose sister, Ellen Rada, at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Rada had been medevaced to Anchorage from Fairbanks where she had been found beaten, unconscious and seriously injured June 28 near a homeless camp off the Johansen Expressway.
“He was so tired,” said Sandy, recalling their last conversation. “Thank God he didn’t suffer.”
Following Isaac’s sudden death, his sister Adeline Juneby Potts, who flew into Anchorage from Minnesota to join he family vigil, suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized.
Ever since the tragedies, Sandy has been fielding phone calls from around Alaska and Outside, including an old Army buddy he has kept in touch with over the years.
Sandy met Isaac, her husband of 35 years, in the 1970s when she was working for the Episcopal church in Eagle on the Yukon River. Their first conversation confirmed a mutual interest in sports. “Both of us were baseball nuts,” she said, an interest that never waned.
“He was my best friend. We really did get along with each other,” she said. “I have children from a previous marriage and he became very close to them, and we adopted a girl together.”
The Juneby’s traveled and lived in various places during their marriage including Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where Sandy is from. Isaac started college there, and in the 1980s the family moved to Fairbanks, and Isaac attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks earning a bachelor’s degree in rural development.
“He’s been working on his master’s degree, and our plan was to move back to Fairbanks this fall so he could go back to school,” Sandy said.
The author of two language books with audio tapes, Isaac planned to pursue ethnographic studies on the Han Athabascan culture, traditions and language.
A fluent Han speaker, Isaac didn’t learn English until went to boarding school at the Wrangell Institute and continued on, graduating from Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
One of the couple’s favorite modes of travel was taking cruises — 10 in all — the last one taken in November 2011 to Honduras and Belize.
“We’ve learned so much about other cultures and other people taking cruises, and so much about ourselves, too,” Sandy said.
“Isaac was the last of the good guys,” said the Rev. Scott Fisher, pastor at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
“He was everything everyone has been saying about him,” Fisher said, referring to the newspaper copy and Facebook comments circulating throughout the Internet.
“There was a strength and a gentleness running through him. He knew what was right and what was wrong. He was not a cardboard saint. He was real. He had a rock solid core of wisdom in him.”