Alaska State Legislature Honors Merritt Helferrich’s Legacy

Leona Long

The Alaska State Legislature recently passed a resolution to honor the life and legacy of former UAF researcher Merritt Helfferich.


During his time at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Helfferich served as associate director of the Geophysical Institute at UAF and project director of the International Arctic Research Center building project. He was instrumental in establishing Poker Flat Research Range and negotiating with NASA to create the International Arctic Research Center. The signposts Helfferich helped create, indicating directions and distances, are a campus landmark and still stand in front of the Geophysical Institute today.


“The members of the Thirty-First Alaska State Legislature extend sincere condolences to the family and many friends, colleagues and admirers of Merritt Helfferich,” said Representative Grier Hopkins who sponsored the tribute. “His passing leaves a void in the social and cultural life of Alaska, yet his legacy is one that our state can treasure for decades to come.  His life was a marked by global exploration, community engagement and cultural innovations.”


Although Helfferich grew up in Bath, Pennsylvania and Marlborough, Connecticut, he was an Alaskan at heart and lived here for more than 61 years. Throughout his childhood and as a young man, he joined his family on overseas charitable missions. His family’s home was opened to an array of guests from around the globe of all walks of life.


Helfferich was a globetrotter who loved to learn and explore. He spent a year in Denmark learning to silversmith. He hiked the Coast-to-Coast trail in England, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and the Milford Track in New Zealand.

He spent time on T-3 Fletchers Ice Island, Banks Island, at Resolute, Inuvik, a variety of the Antarctic stations as well as participating in the first commercial transit of the Northwest Passage aboard the SS Manhattan. The “Helfferich Glacier” is named in his honor.


Helfferich left a profound legacy on the local community. He helped was a founder of Fairbanks Women in Crisis, Counseling and Assistance. Helfferich served on the Alaska Women’s Commission, as a credit union President and initiated the Fairbanks North Star Borough Chena Riverfront Commission, serving 10 years as its chair. Through Innovation Consulting, he propelled public-private partnerships focusing on science and public policy and tribally controlled education in Alaska.

For more about Helfferich, visit his Project Jukebox interview here.