PALMER — Bill Mitchell died in March just a week shy of his 98th birthday after leading a life full of service and joy. But the spirit of Mitchell and impact on the community remains strong.
Each year runners help kick off the Colony Days festivities by remembering one of the pioneers of the running community in the Mat-Su Valley when the Bill Mitchell Memorial Fun Run departs from the Colony Inn.
“He felt allegiance to the run and keeping it going and you know I think he really did feel that running was just a good healthy thing for people to do, that it was called the fun run you know even though he was highly competitive as a runner yet nevertheless I think he really appreciated the fact that this was a fun run and there were opportunities for people of all different skill levels to participate,” said Bill’s son Alan Mitchell.
Bill Mitchell joined the Marine Corps in World War II and served in American Samoa, the Marshall Islands and the Gilbert Islands. Arriving in the Valley in 1963, Mitchell began research with the University of Alaska in agriculture. Mitchell held a Ph.D. in Botany.
“He was in the marines in the war in the Pacific and one little story he liked to tell is that a friend of ours was talking about taking some family on a cruise to celebrate birthdays and Bill leaned over and he said to me yeah, I celebrated a birthday on a cruise one time. I was 19 years old on a troop ship on my way to the war in the Pacific,” said Alex Hills.
Mitchell helped organize a fun run in Palmer in the 1970’s which was later named the Colony Days Fun Run and renamed in Mitchell’s honor in 1998. Mitchell got involved with the running community later in life after previously competing in the mile in high school. At the age of 75, Mitchell laced up his sneakers and completed the course the year the race was renamed after him. Mitchell won the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon for the over 50 division four years running and held the record for his age group. Alan Mitchell bought his dad Bill an exercise bike for his 97th birthday which he valiantly climbed and rode. On Friday, runners will compete in the first ever Bill Mitchell Memorial Fun Run.
“He got pretty serious about it and you know and he just enjoyed running and he participated in the running club in Palmer and that’s where the whole race started as part of Colony Days,” said Alan Mitchell.
Mitchell worked in agriculture in Palmer with the University of Alaska.
“The institute of agricultural science as it’s kind of known as the farm in Palmer was pretty vibrant back then and there was a substantial number of agricultural researchers there so that’s what brought him here. He got offered a position with the agricultural research institute in Palmer there. He was officially a University of Alaska professor but he primarily did research at what was called the experiment stations,” said Alan Mitchell.
Bill Mitchell will be remembered for his dedication to helping the community he helped enrich. Mitchell was named Citizen of the Year in Palmer in 2012 and enjoyed attending each meeting of the Palmer Chamber of Commerce. Mitchell was also a founding member of the first advisory board for the Palmer Golf Course and is now a member of the Palmer Golf Course Hall of Fame.
Alan Mitchell hopes that the legacy left by his father continues to live on in the Fun Run every summer.
“He would hope that other people carried on like he did, that they contributed to the community you know, worked hard at the things they loved. I mean he loved everything he did. He loved his work, he loved running, he liked to contribute,” said Alan Mitchell.