Nordic Legend Ed Harjala Passes Away
Ed Harjala of Copper City, MI, died peacefully yesterday, one week before his 92nd birthday, and between his two favorite races, the Birkie and the Great Bear Chase. He completed 19 Birkies. His last Birkie was in 2006, when he finished the Birkie skate in 4:55. At age 83, he was the oldest skier to finish the Birkie that year. (I don't think that was the only year that he was the oldest, but I haven't tried to track that down.) He did his last Great Bear Chase in 2009 at the age of 87, when he won his age group in the 25k classic race. (The next youngest GBC finisher that year was 77. Though it wasn't needed, Rick Oikarinen had created a special "86 and Over" age group that year.) Declining health forced him to give up skiing early in the 2011-2012 season.
He was an inspiriation to many in skiing and in life. "Ed's Loop," including "Ed's You Are Here Hill," on the Swedetown Trails is named after him, and it's part of the Great Bear Chase course. Over the years, he did a lot of work on the Swedetown Trails and at the chalet, where he and his wife, Dorothy, were regular volunteers. He also made and sold many waxing benches, two of which are in our basement.
In April 2012, my wife, Liz Siivola, and I had the privilege of serving as guardians for Ed and another WWII veteran from this area on a UP Honor Flight to Washington, DC. Ed served in the Army and saw significant action in Europe near and at the end of the war, and was awarded a Purple Heart.