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Bob Prunella. Wrangell’s own “master of ceremonies and auctioneer extraordinaire” has taken his final bow. After a brief, brave, intense bout with metastasized pancreatic cancer, Bob died May 26th 2015 at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, WA. He leaves behind a huge Alaskan wake of accomplishments, friendships, and remembrances. 

Bob brought his Eastern education (Penn State) to Wrangell in 1958, where he helped pioneer and steer our “willful “ community towards bigger and better things. Bob was born and raised in the small coal-mining town of Winburne, PA, to feisty Hungarian Mexi (Stephen) and sweet, classy Swede, Mertella (Wickman). He grew up in the “go outside and make your own fun” days; running with the neighbor kids through the nearby fields, and later on, driving his Dad’s Chrysler VERY fast, along windy skinny country roads, like a “striped-ass monkey” (Bob’s words!). 

Just 21 years old, Bob arrived in Wrangell with his snappy crew cut, horn rimmed glasses and suit coat and tie, ready for work as a WHS Science teacher. For added interest, Bob volunteered to drive the school bus all through his twenties - (if the parents only knew!). Bob was a “working man” at heart and loved getting his hands dirty. He had lots of training pumping gas and working for Prunella’s General Store and Service Station in Winburne. Bob spent many a Wrangell summer with Ned Caum as a fish cannery floor foreman and sweating behind the retorts. Ah, the sweet smell of those coveralls!

In 1970, Bob became Wrangell’s first Elementary School Principal; a position he served well, until retirement in 1985. During Bob’s 27-year public school tenure, he married Marie Nergaard and raised their two children, Dawn and Steve. They all enjoyed much “river running,” snowmobiling, fishing, and family fun with Uncle Mike and Carol Hay, Hershel and Eloise Harding, Lynn and Johnny Maxand, Bob Grant, and Sami-dog. Bob liked being a part of big boisterous groups. Family, work, politics, clubs, sports – How he loved the give and take volley!

In 1979 Bob married Debi Buness and became part of a second large Norwegian family! They reared two children, Lexi and Rory. By this time, Bob was very busy with North Arm Expediting, a business he created to supply the Canadian Gold Mine firms, Skyline (Johnny Mt) and Cominco (Bronson Creek). He loved rolling around the airport tarmac in his forklift, unloading the concentrate and then loading up the Herc to fly supplies back up to the mines. Bob worked 24/7 for 15 years and forged forever friendships with a edgy group of bush pilots; comrades in the “trenches.” Bob’s airport hangar office/ cardroom, became locally famous for its' mean games of Cribbage. 15-2, 15-4 …. Shout out to Al Ross, Dale Lamon and Bruce Jamieson.  Bob later became owner/operator of Practical Rent-a-Car in 1991, which he ran out of his Expediting offices, until recently.

The many lives of Bob continue . . . In 2000, Bob was sought for the job of Wrangell City Manager. After only one year, Bob turned down a $20,000 per year pay raise, stating, “It wasn’t the right time in Wrangell to be giving anyone a raise.” That was classic Bob. Always putting the interests of the community before himself, and playing NO favorites. As a badge earning Eagle Scout (yes really!), Bob believed in and followed the rules. However, Bob would “pull clout” where necessary. In 2001, Bob’s networking with Senator Ted Stevens brought a pair of Navy FA-18’s for a “fly over” on July 4th; one was piloted by former Wrangellite Eric Werner. “I saw grown men with tears in their eyes as those planes went by,” Bob said. “It was a local boy and a big deal. It was just quite an emotional event.” During Bob’s nine years as City Manager, he tenaciously lobbied for and secured, at both the State and Federal levels, 80 million dollars for many of Wrangell’s capitol projects, such as the James and Elsie Nolan Center, expansion of seafood processing infrastructure, construction of Heritage Harbor, to name a few. Bob negotiated and facilitated the opening of Wrangell Marine Yard with a 150-ton travel lift; and worked tirelessly through the divesture of the Four Dam Pool and the creation of the SE Alaska Power Agency.

Sadly, Bob was forced into retirement in May 2010. No Matter. Wrangell’s loss was Petersburg’s gain. Within the same week, Bob began serving as their interim City Manager for six months. Bob brought his “special set of skills” to Petersburg, lobbied hard and procured funding for their new Fire/EMS Facility and Tour Ship Berthing Project. From that point on, Bob was in high demand as a trusted temporary city leader. Bob served two “tours of duty” as Hoonah’s City Manager between 2010 and 2014. He was there to help Hoonah’s residents through their most tragic and heinous murder of two young police officers.

Bob’s longest working out-of-town foray was his two-year Whittier interim city manager position from 2011 – 2013. Whittier has been called “The Strangest Town in Alaska”; almost all of its’ 200 people live in a 14-story former Army barracks built in 1956.  The only way to get to Whittier by land is to drive through a two-and-a-half-mile, one-lane railroad tunnel that shuts down at night. Talk about a good fit; Bob was in his glory! Bob worked his magic in Whittier and secured funds for long ignored and much needed projects. And boy did he make great friends. “Mr. Bob” loved and was genuinely loved by the Korbe family, Shawni and Larry and “Dy.”  Last May, Bob was invited back for a week, just to visit, fish, and play cards! Scott’s special flight to Seattle for a bedside goodbye to Bob will forever warm our hearts.

There is no way Bob’s life story can be fairly condensed. His Civic awards alone would fill a page or two. Bob was a Past Exalted Ruler and Chairman of the Trustees of the local Elks, having recently been recruited to once again fill a Trustee seat. He served 12 years on the Wrangell School Board and 14 years on Wrangell Hospital Board. Bob received recognition in 1989, by the State of Alaska, for “outstanding public service and noteworthy contributions to the Citizens and State of Alaska.” A life-long Little League promoter and volunteer, Bob served as president for 5 years, helping to restart a Senior League and facilitating Wrangell High School’s first sanctioned Baseball team in 2004. He was also a retired 25 year officer of the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Dept. and a former board member of the Stikine Sportsmen’s Association.  Many, many hats he wore!

We are a better Alaska because of Bob Prunella’s civic and grand presence. Thank you Pennsylvania! Bob was preceded in death by his parents and younger brother Glenn. Bob is survived by his wife of 36 years, Debi; his children Dawn (Jeff Angerman), Steve (Cori Robinson), Lexi, and Rory (Lindsay Hannah), and family dog Baxter; his sister Linda (Bill) Hubler; his cousins Dan (Paula) Wickman, Bob (Cherie) Wickman, Maxi (Rick) Weiderspohn, Penny (Bill) Moriarity, and Dar (Bruce) Harding; and many much loved nieces, nephews and more cousins! Bob will also greatly miss his camping buddies, Steve Buness, Levi Dow and Chester Massin.


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