The recent passing of Delta Junction pioneer Carl M. “Lucky” Lentz marked the closure of yet another colorful chapter in the area’s history. Lentz passed away April 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Lentz was born January 29, 1935, in LaSalle Michigan, the fourth of nine children born to Cloyce E. and Catherine Lanham Lentz.
His younger years were spent living in different Michigan towns due to his father’s job. The family eventually settled in the Reed City area, where he attended high school. He was the quarterback for his high school football team. Although he was on the small side, his tenacity made up for it, and he was able to put the fear into the opposition. He learned the value of hard work as a young boy. He started at the age of five, working the fields picking strawberries alongside German prisoners of war. He became good at hunting and fishing, supplementing the family’s food supply with whatever he could catch or kill. These values stayed with him for the rest of his life, and he passed them on to his children and grandchildren.
Lentz graduated from high school in 1952. He immediately signed up for the Army as soon as he turned 18 in 1953. He was on a troop ship headed for Korea when the war was called off. Lentz was diverted to Alaska. His first glimpse of Alaska was the port of Whittier, and it was love at first sight. He knew this was where he wanted to be. He was stationed at Fort Greely from 1953 to 1956. He mastered, and then taught, cold weather survival. He became very adept at mountain climbing, glacier work, and skiing. He spent some time in Fort Carson, Colorado, instructing mountain climbing, and along with friends like John Callahan, climbing just for the love of it. While in Fort Carson, he helped train the first group of Green Berets, a bunch of convicts who were under constant guard. Lentz went on to spend 33 years of his life in Alaska. In 1953, while fishing on the Clearwater River, he met and became friends with Al Remington. In 1954, he flew down to Montana to help bring Al’s family and livestock up the Alcan to establish the first cattle ranch in the Interior. They left Highwood, Montana, on June 10 and finally arrived at the Clearwater homestead on July 1. It was a long and grueling journey up the muddy Alcan, but he wouldn’t have traded the experience for a million dollars. It was on this trip that he met and eventually fell in love with one of Al’s six daughters, Barbara Jean (Bobbie). Lucky and Bobbie were married in February 1955, and became parents to Michael “Mike,” Kim, and Rance. They were among the first to homestead in the Clearwater area, filing on their homestead in 1958. At that time there were only seven families living in the area, and Lucky used to ride horseback all over the area hunting moose and buffalo to provide for his family, as well as any others in the area that needed a little assistance. Life wasn’t easy, but they had good friends and good times while living there. In 1965, he sold part of the homestead to Dennis Green and the rest to others who eventually built homes along the Clearwater River. During the early years, Lucky, along with fellow Deltan Ray Savella, organized the first Cub Scout Pack, #76. Because of his association with Al Remington, Lucky finally got to be around horses, and he learned to ride, something he’d wanted to do since he was a kid. He became quite a good saddle bronco rider and rodeoed around the state for a few years, finally winning the title and a buckle that he was very proud of. During this time he, Al, and a few others formed the Interior Alaska Livestock Corporation, putting on rodeos. They put on the rodeo for the first Alaska State Fair in Palmer. When snow machines became popular he got involved in racing, and he was very good at that as well. He raced the Midnight Sun 600 a few times, as well as numerous races throughout Alaska.
Along with his sons, the Lentz Racing Team was tough to beat back in the 1970s.
In 1973 Lucky organized the first Santa Claus Classic race in Delta Junction. As a retired member of the Operators Union Local 302, he helped build many of the roads in Alaska, and worked on many other projects around the state. He ran a cat train across the North Slope hauling supplies before the haul road was built and was in the first cat train up what is now known as the “haul road.”
After many years, he and Bobbie divorced, and he met Vernell Mann. They were married July of 1974. Together they ran the old Big D Bar from 1979 to 1982, during which time they met a lot of great people and became friends with some of them. They had some fantastic Sunday jam sessions with great local musicians and some musicians that were just passing through. He enjoyed listening to the music and Vernell’s vocals. During that time it was decided that the sportsman needed more of a voice in government, so along with Lawrence Gilbertson and Bob Edwards, they formed the Delta Sportsman’s Association, which is still active today. After Lucky’s retirement in 1986, the couple left Alaska for Michigan, where he became an expert bow hunter, keeping the freezer full of white tail deer and wild turkeys. In 1994, after many hunts, he finally bagged a Pope and Young record black bear in Manitoba, Canada, of which he was very proud. After Vernell’s retirement in 1997, they moved to Idaho, where they have since resided.
Lucky was a proud member of the Shriners and a big supporter of the Shriners Children’s Hospital, as well as a member of the American Legion. Lucky was preceded in death by his sons, Michael “Mike,” and Rance; ex-daughter-in-law Judy Lentz; his parents; two brothers; two sisters; his ex-wife, the mother of his children; his wonderful golden retriever, Jody; and many of the ‘tough guys,” his friends from back in the day. Lucky is survived by his wife, Vernell, Hansen, ID; daughter Kim (Danny) Wood, North Pole; step-sons David (Desiree) Weeks, Phoenix, AZ; and Bart Taylor, Milton, WA; step-daughter Tina Taylor, Albuquerque, NM; grandchildren Rance (Angela) Lentz, Delta Junction; Brynn (Bob) Butler, Fairbanks; Brett (Sara) Wood, Fairbanks; Emily Hayes Karella, Las Vegas, NV; step-grandchildren Jessica Breinholdt, Coalville, UT; Waylon Hervey, Hiram, UT; Zandria Weeks, Phoenix, AZ; and his son, Mike’s partner, Tina Kezer, Delta Junction; great-grandchildren, Gage, Dade and Rowdy Lentz; Cierra and Cailee Butler; step great-grandchildren Ellie and Cade Butler, and another Wood baby due in September; brothers, Dale (Vi) Lentz, Reed City, MI; and Jim (Nancy) Lentz, Reed City, MI; sisters Pat (Don) Lockhart, Chase, MI; and Shirley Parks, MI; his new little dog, Amy; and the few friends that are left. At his request, there will be no service, and his ashes will be returned home to Alaska to be spread at his favorite spot. All those that loved him will miss him. He was a true pioneer of Alaska, and his independence and strength will live on through the family he leaves behind.