Leonard “Len” Laurance, 88, a tireless proponent of all things “Ketchikan” and considered by many “Mr. Ketchikan” and the “father” of the modern local tourism industry, died in Bellingham on April 8. Len and his wife Judy had moved to Bellingham for medical reasons in 2019.
Len was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1932. He likened it to San Diego and mentioned in interviews that he was into typical “teenage things” mostly revolving about the sun and the surf. He was part of a volunteer lifeguard service called the “Australian Surf Life Saving Movement,” and had an early interest in marketing. His father, a banker, supported Len’s desire to “see the world” and in his early 20s, he hopped a steamship with the intention of indeed seeing the world. It didn’t quite work out that way.
His first stop was in Honolulu to visit a friend from Australia. After a year in Hawaii, he was on his way again, ending up in Vancouver, B.C. and working as a salesman. His sales area included Northwestern B.C.
When Len arrived in Smithers, B.C. as an “Ambassador of Commerce” (traveling salesman), he called the nurses’ residence to inquire if anyone was available for a date. On a dare from her friends, Judy Krickan agreed to the date. They were engaged three dates later.
Eventually, Len and Judy ended up in Calgary, Alberta, which proved a little too far from the ocean for the young couple. The Laurances put an ad in a local paper “seeking opportunities.”
One of the responses was from the Ketchikan and Northern Terminal in Saxman. They jumped at the chance to come to Alaska and the original three-month contract became a permanent one.
When the company folded in 1965, Len went to work for the Alaska Steamship Company. After six years, he took the advice of a friend, Chuck West of Westours, and opened his own travel company, Alaska World Travel, which would operate in Ketchikan for more than a quarter century. He also provided specialized tours throughout Alaska with the company he founded with Jim Alguire, Leisure Tours.
It was through Alaska World Travel that Len first became a household name in Ketchikan, originally through his daily radio show that lasted more than 40 years.
It was also in the early 1970s, that Len first predicted that Ketchikan would someday get more than one million cruise ship visitors each season. At the time, Ketchikan was getting less than 50,000 a year and locals laughed at the idea of such a large industry. Len got the last laugh when the industry reached that level in the late 2010s.
Len was a founding member of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau in 1976 and served on the board of directors for more than 40 years. He continued to provide marketing services for numerous local organizations and companies well into his 80s. He was involved in founding of the Inter-Island Ferry, the Rainforest Sanctuary, Oceans Alaska, Historic Ketchikan and other groups.
Len also had a major role in the founding of statewide tourism organizations, helping to found the Alaska Visitors Association and receiving its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.
On a regional level he promoted the industry in areas such as Hyder and Prince of Wales Islands as well as Prince Rupert and Northwest British Columbia. Although he was famous for his cruise ship “prediction” he was an even stronger proponent of independent tourism and worked constantly to promote it.
Besides Historic Ketchikan, where he served on the board for more than 25 years, he was also a member of the Hospital Board for more than a decade. Other boards he served on included the Southeast Conference, the Ketchikan Community Council, and the Chamber of Commerce. He was elected to two terms on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.
He also likely holds the record for the most times addressing local government during “persons to be heard.” Over the years, he addressed the City Council alone more than 170 times and spoke to the Borough Assembly dozens of times.
He was well known for starting off his presentations with the line “As unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...”
Len also taught numerous classes at the University of Alaska Ketchikan Campus over the years and was given a Meritorious Service Award by the University of Alaska Southeast in 2018 for his decades of service to the Ketchikan community.
There was truly no greater promoter of Ketchikan than Len. He even talked about the endless rain in ways that made it sound like a community asset. He truly loved it here.
In 1967, Len and Judy bought their first house from Caz and Winnie Silko in the Mountain Point area and resided there until 2019. They loved the view and spent countless hours enjoying all the activity on the water. Len really embraced being a grandfather. The family has many great memories of coloring contests between the grandkids where Len would judge the artwork and declare everyone a winner. He would also arrange to take the grandkids to Witchety Grub Creek where they would miraculously find coins under the rocks in the bed of the creek. As the kids got older, fireworks lit off over the water on the 4th of July became a tradition.
Len is survived by his wife of 58 years Judy Laurance, brother Trevor (Sandra) Laurance of Tasmania, Australia, daughters Bev (Jack) Davies of Ketchikan, Cindy (Roger) Bruner of Birch Bay, Washington and Mandy (Trevor) Stephens of Ketchikan, and grandchildren Sam and Kit Bruner and Isabel, Madeline and Leif Stephens. No service is planned at this time.
Condolences can be sent to Judy Laurance at 5653 Whitehorn Way, Blaine, WA 98230.