Joanne, my wife, and I met Sandra Gelber soon after we moved to Juneau. Sandra moved from Sitka to work as a physical therapist at Bartlett Hospital. She came to a service and introduced herself. She signed up for the Hebrew class I offered in the fall of 2011. From there a friendship developed. Sandra already had a strong identity as a Jew from their years in Sitka. In Juneau she hoped to find more connection. She found meaning in the woman’s Rosh Hodesh group. She aspired to have an adult Bat Mitzvah.
Sandra’s first love was the outdoors. In Alaska she found the setting for her tremendous and seemingly endless energy. At the hospital they called her a hummingbird. In her excitement to do things outdoors, she would hover from one activity to the next. She was always ready to move outside during any season. Her feet held the conveyances of her passions, a snowboard, a cross-country sky, a hiking boot, a water sandal, a biking shoe. Joanne would always smile when she saw Sandra’s bike parked in front of the emergency room every day regardless of wind, or snow, or heavy rain with a few sunny days mixed in. There was no impediment to being outdoors. To be indoors was only a temporary holding place, a brief rest before moving to forests, or rivers, or channels, or slopes.
People would always comment about Sandra’s childlike enthusiasm. She had boundless energy. When she drove us to the airport at 5am in the morning we didn’t say a word the whole way as she chattered about the goings on in her life. We loved it. She not only took care of our dog Yoda, during our trips to the lower 48, she took the canine on long runs morning and evening. Yoda got the royal treatment. She did seem exhausted when we got home. It was hard to keep up with Sandra.
Sandra was our Alaskan guide. She took us cross-country skiing at Mendenhall Lake and salmon fishing off of Sitka. We were invited to go kayaking, snowboarding, and hiking at any opportunity. Sandra was to us the embodiment of Alaska.
It was with total shock when we learned of her sudden death on a hike up Salmon Creek behind the hospital on Sunday, May 4th. She was so indefatigable. Her energy made us tired. How could this happen to her of all people?
Many people have noted that she died doing what she loved. The truth about Sandra was that she did so much in her life that engendered love, as a mother, a friend, a physical therapist, and outdoors woman. She combined a love of the outdoors with a compassion for people. She had a loving heart. She died alone, but her love tethered her to dozens who vividly remember her giving heart. She left her loving husband, Tim, and her two college age children with a great legacy of love. We grieve her loss. We miss her joyful energy. May her memory be for a blessing.