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Quest Co-Founder Leroy Shank Remembered

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Yukon Quest

One of the founders of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race has died. 79-year old LeRoy Shank had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and passed away over the weekend in Fairbanks. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, Shank saw a dream come true this past winter when his granddaughter completed the thousand mile race he helped start.

According to Yukon Quest lore LeRoy Shank, friend Roger Williams and a few others came up with the idea for the race while drinking at a local bar, but long time Quest executive director Marty Steury says there’s a little more to the story.

Shank Story

Something else was an actual race, which Steury says involved cooperation and organization with fellow history and mushing enthusiasts in the Yukon, an effort that jelled during a fall 1983 public meeting in Fairbanks.

Shank Meeting

The first running of the Yukon Quest was in February 1984, and 37 years later over a thousand mushers have left the start line, including Leroy himself, and his more recently his granddaughter.

Shank Sign Up

Olivia Shank Neff describes her grandfather as her best friend: a relationship she says revolved around dogs and the outdoors. This past February Shank Neff, who registered as Olivia Webster, made grandpa proud completing her rookie run in the red lantern spot, with LeRoy was there to see it.

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Credit Lex Trienen / KUAC
Olivia Shank Neff, who registered in the race as Olivia Webster, poses Feb. 15 with her grandfather, Leroy Shank, and the red lantern at the Yukon Quest finish line at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse. The lantern had been brought from the post-race banquet.

Shank Banquet

Shank Neff and husband Hugh Neff, a 2-time Quest champion, took care of Leroy as his struggle with Parkinson’s worsened. Hugh escorted LeRoy along the rail to watch Olivia when she passed through road accessible race checkpoints, a fitting last adventure for the race co-founder and longtime volunteer, service they hope to honor with an annual award.

Shank Award

Hugh and Olivia say a memorial service will be scheduled after the corona virus situation calms down, and that as he requested LeRoy’s ashes will scattered at his favorite fishing spot.