Born in the steel mill town of Weirton, West Virginia, Deborah Lee Sadler was raised by her grandparents Harold and Martha Leuthke. Despite the black soot commonly raining down from the stacks of nearby blast furnaces, Deborah was drawn to nature and outdoor activities from an early age. Whether playing with her sister in the family orchard, fishing with her grandfather at their cabin in Ohio, or selling worms with a friend from a dock in the Les Cheneaux Islands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Deborah was happiest outdoors.
Summer camp with the Girl Scouts became an integral and annual part of Deborah’s life. Starting at age seven, as an overnight camper, she later became a counselor at several camps. Deborah acquired and taught many outdoor skills during those memorable summers and became a certified water safety instructor. She earned the Girl Scout’s highest honor, the curved gold bar, and seriously considered a career in professional Scouting.
After attending boarding school at Ferry Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois, Deborah later graduated from Alma College in Alma, Michigan. While attending college Deborah married for the first time and gave birth to her beloved daughter, Holly. Deborah spent many hours in the stacks of the college library, working to complete her degree, with Holly bundled up nearby. From this shared beginning, mother and daughter became lifelong friends and inveterate readers.
Deborah taught kindergarten for nine years in central Michigan before heading to Alaska in 1982. Over the next 23 years Deborah taught in the villages of Emmonak, Kotlik, Mountain Village, King Cove, and Hooper Bay. After retirement, she volunteered for six years in the school at Russian Mission. In addition to teaching, at each site Deborah devoted many hours to establish or improve each school’s library.
The years she spent teaching Alaska Native children, and learning from their culture, were the most rewarding of her career. Deborah developed enduring friendships with many parents, elders, and former students. Her influence touched hundreds and she felt honored to be respected and loved in return. Her dedication to her students, willingness to mentor others, and unflagging professionalism under all conditions earned Deborah recognition as Site Teacher of the Year at multiple schools and culminated in her selection as District Teacher of the Year by her longtime employer, the Lower Yukon School District.
In 1988 Deborah met her soulmate, Peter Townsend, in the Yukon River community of Mountain Village. Two years later, after receiving a proposal inspired by the sight of a passing pair of beluga whales, Deborah married Peter in an impromptu ceremony on the shores of Turnagain Arm. The next 30 years was a loving partnership that saw the couple joined in teaching, traveling, laboring and laughing while supporting one another through many challenging and rewarding times. They each took pleasure in exploring nature, working on their land, and discovering many simple things in life to share with the other.
Upon retirement to Homer, Deborah was invited to join the Homer Homemakers where she developed many new and lasting friendships. She also stayed active pursuing her many varied interests, including: reading, sewing, gardening, watercolor painting, and working outdoors. She especially enjoyed hand-feeding wild birds and observing the varied wildlife that frequented her hillside property.
She was a congregant and lay leader at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Homer and took great pleasure growing vegetables in the church’s garden to feed people in need. Highlights of Deborah’s later time in Port Townsend, Washington were participating in Tai Chi classes and enthusiastically supporting the town’s historic Rose Theatre.
Deborah Lee Townsend is survived by her husband Peter, daughter Holly (and Nicole) Bishop-Perdue of Beaverton, Oregon, and grandchildren Anneliese, Elijah, and Nathanael Bishop-Perdue. She also leaves behind many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends who took her to their hearts and loved her without reservation. Deborah’s natural optimism, quiet courage, ready smile, and kind demeanor endeared her to everyone who came to know her. Those characteristics will keep her memory alive for years to come.