On July 6, Mitchell Poling, a local boat builder and teacher, died peacefully in his sleep. He was known in his home of Port Townsend as a builder with a passion for crafting Alutiiq (Suqpiaq Aleut) baidarkas and angyaks, which are traditional Alaskan Native kayaks and canoes. Most recently, Mitch was teaching boatbuilding at the Nuuciq Spirit Camp with the Chugach Heritage Foundation, and spent many hours volunteering with the Port Townsend High School boatbuilding program.
Born in Ketchikan, Alaska, to schoolteachers John and Lucy Poling, Mitch grew up in the native village of Chenega, where he first paddled in baidarkas. He studied chemistry at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, before earning his B.S. from Stanford in 1964. He spent two years in the Peace Corp teaching in Nigeria before earning a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Washington in 1972. He met his wife Sandra Smith while finishing his PhD; she helped him with his research, and he supported her in going to medical school at UC Davis. Mitch taught at community colleges and wrote a popular book on remote-controlled, electric-powered model aircraft. Mitch and Sandra have two children, Victoria and Andrew, and lived in the Seattle area before moving to Germany following Sandra’s career as an Air Force physician.
They moved to Port Townsend in 1996, and Mitch began tutoring at the high school. At the Wooden Boat Festival in 2001, Mitch saw a skin-and-frame baidarka kayak designed by Steve Vlasoff and was compelled to build one of his own. He spent the next 18 years building kayaks and canoes, teaching, and touring museums to photograph and measure native boats, going as far as Canada, Europe,and Russia.
Mitch is survived by his wife Sandra Smith-Poling, daughter Victoria Poling, son Andrew Poling, and brothers Don Poling of Haines, Alaska, and Jack Poling of Anderson, Indiana. A memorial service and potluck celebration will be held at 1100 hours on October 5 at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 2333 San Juan Ave, Port Townsend, Washington. In lieu of flowers, please make memorial contributions to the Chugach Heritage Foundation or the Port Townsend School District, earmarking donations in honor of Mitch Poling.