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  • Cynthia Henry

Azle resident worked for three decades in Alaska so he could hunt, fish daily

Bobby Wilson has a lot of memories from growing up on a farm in the middle of World War II, but mostly he remembers wanting to escape.

“When I was about 14 years old, I was in a cotton patch about 45 miles south of here in July hoeing cotton. And I took an oath. ‘If I ever get out of this cotton patch, I’m not ever coming back.’”

That drive, along with the knowledge he had acquired on the farm, led Bobby to his dream job — exploring the Alaskan wilderness.

A few years later, he graduated with a degree in horticulture from Texas A&M. He brought a wealth of knowledge to school with him since he was in charge of the peach orchard back at home. He also loved to sketch, and even won an art show juried by Georgia O’Keeffe while he was in college. Those skills were put to good use when he was hired by the Department of Natural Resources.

Initially, he was sent to perform civil service, collecting information from the Alaskan villagers. 

Wilson was in Kodiak when the town was mostly destroyed by a tsunami after an earthquake in 1964. The film he took during that tragedy is some of the only footage available. He helped Red Cross distribute supplies and assisted in reconstruction.

“I’m really proud of that,” he said. “And I’ve even seen the video I filmed on TV.”

He loved the area and the people so much that he later took on contract work to map the vegetation of the state while two scientists accompanying him mapped the soil.

The group’s documentation required sketches of the plants and landscape. He still has some of the original drawings. The sketches are professional quality and have even been published in books. His work has also been published in a botanical guide for the Cleburne area, but Wilson says he does not consider himself an artist. 

Many would disagree. And his artistic abilities are not limited to pen and paper. Wilson has a buckskin knapsack he assembled, as well as wooden necklaces and other bobbles.

When he wasn’t working in Alaska, Wilson would find time to visit the area for recreation. He loved to cross country ski,  and he would build boats to explore the waterways. At one time, he held two International Game Fish Association records, including one for a 42-pound salmon.

His love of woodworking led him to build his own timber frame cabin in Alaska.

“A timber frame cabin is like they used to build in Switzerland,” he said. “You carve the beams so they fit together.”

He says he and his son cut down all the required timber and chiseled each piece to build the cabin.

Wilson has five children, who moved around the country quite a bit to keep up with their dad. The family also lived in Florida for several years, where he worked as a county extension agent.

As the years passed, Wilson lost dexterity in his hands due to nerve damage and arthritis, so he can’t sketch like he once did. He now spends the day working puzzles in the newspaper.

A few years ago, after his girlfriend passed away, he wanted to find a senior community near his family so he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t looking forward to it. 

“The places I’d visited years ago were more like a prison,” he said.

So he was pleasantly surprised when he moved into his spacious new home at Eagle Crest Villa in Azle. His apartment overlooks plush grounds with plants he’s no doubt sketched at some point in his life.

Every resident we have talked to at Eagle Crest Villa says it’s a home away from home. So does Wilson.

“I can’t praise it enough. This is for me a wonderful place. The people are very caring, and I have a good circle of friends. It far exceeds anything I ever expected to find. It’s not Alaska,” the 95-year-old said with a grin, “but it’s an ideal place.”

“I wasn’t joking when I left that cotton patch,” the 95-year-old added. “I read all the outdoor magazines about Alaska, and I was determined I was gonna get there someday to go hunting and fishing every day. I lived my dream.”

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