Barbara Honkala

BETHEL – Barbara Honkala, 94, passed away at her home in Bethel on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

Barbara was the quintessential Mainer. She was independent, self-reliant, and often trail-blazing. Barbara was born in Bethel, July 9, 1927 to parents Ruth and William Hastings. She attended the East Bethel school and Gould Academy and went on to the University of Maine.

Her father, Bill, instilled in her a love of the outdoors and of the Maine woods before he tragically drowned in a boating accident when she was 15. She wanted to pursue a forestry degree but defaulted to botany as the University did not allow women to study forestry at that time.

Barbara met her husband, Rudi Honkala, while working at Pinkham Notch. They were married in 1950 and soon after made their way to Alaska where they served as a husband/wife observer team for the U.S. Weather Bureau in the remote village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Barbara flew in a prop plane to Nome, Alaska in 1952 to give birth to their first child, William. They returned to the lower 48 the next year, settled in Salisbury, N.H., and soon welcomed daughters Vikki and Kristi and another son, Douglas.

In 1956, Barbara agreed to Rudi leaving on a 14-month expedition to Antarctica for the International Geophysical Year while she and the four kids stayed with her mother in Bethel. They communicated with Rudi periodically by ham radio.

The family moved to Missoula, Mont., in 1957 and pursued their love of the outdoors by camping, canoeing and rafting all summer and skiing all winter. Barbara trained for the ski patrol and she became one of the first women members of the National Ski Patrol.

Rudi completed three more expeditions to the Antarctic during this time leaving Barbara as the primary parent. She got the kids to the ski area every weekend, she participated in PTA, and out of nothing, she created some of the most magical Christmas mornings any child could wish for.

When the kids were older, she went to work for the Forest Service studying the Spruce Budworm which took her into the woods for fieldwork. In 1971, Rudi took a job in Washington, D.C. working for then Congressman Shoup and the family made the jolting move to the east coast. Barbara re-employed with the Forest Service as a botanical illustrator, cartographer and primary editor of The Silvics Manual, a comprehensive directory of trees of the United States.

She and Rudi retired to a rural property on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay. There were frequent trips back to Montana to visit friends, go backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and for week-long canoe trips down the Missouri River.

In 1987 they returned to Maine to a log house on the Androscoggin River a couple of miles from her childhood home in Bethel. Barbara took up genealogy research and began histories of her and Rudi’s families. She and Rudi enjoyed traveling to FinnAm Society events around the country. She was a member of the Finnish American Heritage Society and edited their newsletter. She joined a quilting club and she taught herself how to play the Finnish Kantele and played with the Maine Kantele concert orchestra. She volunteered at the Bethel Historical Society, was an officer of the East Bethel Cemetery Association and Woodland Cemetery Company, and board member of the East Bethel Church. NOTE: she was a longstanding member of the Society of American Foresters. So there!

Barbara was a lifelong learner, a career botanist, a bird watcher, a gardener, an artist, a musician, an adventurer, a historian, and a strong believer in sending birthday cards. Her mind was sharp and her memory for names, places, dates and historical happenings was astounding, right to the end, for which we give much credit to her daily practice of doing the crossword puzzle. She will be greatly missed by all who loved her. And without her here, who will we ask “what kind of tree, what kind of flower, what kind of bird is that?” Service plans pending.

Memorials can be made to The Bethel Historical Society or the Androscoggin Home Healthcare and Hospice.

Barbara Honkala

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