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WALTER JOSEPH HICKEL (1919–2010)

Erling Roberts (1901–1974)1971

U.S. Department of the Interior Museum

U.S. Department of the Interior Museum

In 1940 Walter (Wally) Hickel was Kansas' welterweight Golden Gloves champion, wanting to travel the world. Upon learning how long it would take to acquire a passport, he booked steerage passage to Alaska instead. He embraced his new home state, forming a construction company and business empire that would make him a millionaire. He became governor in 1966 but halfway through his term was called upon by President Nixon to head the Department of the Interior. Although initially perceived as pro-development, Hickel repeatedly acted on environmental concerns. He temporarily halted domestic offshore drilling after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, upgraded drilling regulations and held oil companies accountable, worked to protect the Everglades, advocated for Earth Day as a national holiday, and listed several whales as endangered species. In the wake of the Kent State University incident where National Guardsmen fired upon youth protesting the war in Vietnam, Hickel wrote a letter criticizing the Nixon Administration for alienating America's young people. The dissension garnered publicity, and Nixon dismissed Hickel from his Cabinet. Hickel returned to Alaska and eventually to the Governor's Mansion for a second time in 1990. His legacy is one of charisma and visionary ideas. In accordance with his wishes, Hickel was buried standing up, facing toward Washington, D.C., so when he got to heaven he could "come out fighting" for his beliefs.

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