Find a Member:

1972 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Walter J. Hickel*

Former Governor
State of Alaska

"The problems of the moment give you the opportunities-and the greater the problems, the greater the opportunities."

Walter Hickel was born in 1919 in Claflin, Kansas, the eldest son in a family of 10. His parents were tenant farmers who imbued their son with self-confidence and positive thinking. By the time he was eight, Hickel was working on the farm and helping with the plowing. A natural athlete, he excelled in football, track, and boxing. He became the Welterweight Golden Gloves champion in Kansas in 1938.

Hickel wanted to travel to Australia, but was underage for a passport. He settled on going to Alaska for his adventure and arrived with 37 cents in his pocket. He worked at odd jobs, including logging and bartending. During World War II, he served as a civilian flight maintenance inspector for the Army Air Corps. After the war, Hickel started a business building homes, apartments, shopping centers, and hotels. He became heavily involved in Alaska's statehood fight. He was elected the Republican National Committee chairman in 1954, a position he held for 10 years. In 1966, he won the governorship. In 1968, President Nixon appointed him secretary of the U. S. Department of the Interior.

In 1990, Hickel once again became governor of Alaska, this time under the banner of the Independence Party. He formed and became chairman of the Northern Forum, a consortium of 14 Arctic nations including Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada, and the United States. Leaving office in 1994, he served as Secretary General of the Northern Forum whose projects ranged from pushing for East-West air routes to getting stronger environmental protection for resources in the north.

More recently, Hickel founded the Institute of the North at Alaska Pacific University, which focused on strategies for regions and nations to follow in the north. He also wrote a book, Crisis in the Commons: The Alaska Solution.

When asked how he defined success, Hickel said, "Stay free! Have the independence to follow your dreams and don't compromise your goals." He told young audiences to get involved, especially in saving the earth's resources. "Close to 90 percent of the earth's surface is owned collectively," he said. "We have to face the obligation of ownership."

Each day, Hickel tried to leave room in his daily life to pray, to think, and to workout. He said, "I may not live longer, but I plan to die healthy." When he received his Horatio Alger Award, Hickel was relatively young. "My award helped me to encourage others to follow the Horatio Alger path," he said. "I especially enjoy talking to students and supporting the work of the Horatio Alger Association with young people."

* Deceased