Adventurer Norman Vaughan embodied the spirit of the north. Always upbeat, always energetic, always dreaming, Vaughan’s exploits in the remarkable century of his grand symphony of a life were a genuine celebration as he morphed into Alaska’s favorite story-telling grandpa.
After traveling to Antarctica to handle dogs for explorer Admiral Richard Byrd in 1928, handling dogs for Dr. Wilfred Grenfell when he brought health care to the remote corners of Labrador and fighting in World War II, Colonel Vaughan moved to Alaska.
At an age when most men retire, Vaughan embarked on new adventures. He competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in his 70s and finished the race (for the last time) in 1990 at age 84. In 1994, to commemorate his 89th birthday, Vaughan scaled 10,302-foot Mount Vaughan, the mountain Byrd named for him in Antactica.
With a deep booming voice and a vivid white beard, Vaughan became one of the most recognizable of Alaskans. He sought fresh ways to glory in the outdoors, ignoring the harshest winter conditions. In his 90s, Vaughan organized combined dog-team, snow-machine journeys from Nenana to Nome in order to spread the story of the famous Serum Run to of 1925.
Vaughan evolved into Alaska’s most famous senior citizen, with his actions inspiring the elderly to ignore old age and rocking chairs, the young to feel unconstrained by the horizon, and those in-between to embrace new challenges. By word and through his actions with his surprisingly spry body, Vaughan announced his favorite motto: “Dream Big and Dare to Fail.”
Born in 1905 in Massachusetts, Vaughan died in Anchorage in 2005, only days after his 100th birthday. At the time he was still dreaming, trying to coax one more grand adventure out of a life well lived with a return engagement to his namesake mountain.
– Lew Freedman