Headstone honors early Anchorage fire chief

ANCHORAGE — A new headstone honoring Anchorage’s first paid fire chief has been installed as part of this year’s celebrations marking the city’s centennial.

Firefighters gathered in Anchorage’s Memorial Park cemetery Thursday as the new grave marker was placed on what is believed to be the final resting place of Thomas Bevers.

Bevers began as a volunteer fireman in Anchorage in 1921. By 1940, he had retired as the city’s first fire chief, The Alaska Public Radio Network reported.

Stories about Bevers’ contributions to the city include his service on the assembly and the committee that founded the Fur Rondezvous festival. He also helped to develop what is now the city’s Fairview neighborhood.

“He was very highly esteemed, he was part of the group of influential people in town in the community at that particular time,” said Audrey Kelly, who keeps track of Anchorage’s historical figures.

Records show that Bevers, who was born in 1889, came from Virginia. He had no family members in Alaska at the time of his death in 1944. Kelly said the only relative city officials could locate was his sister, who came from out of state to claim the body.

“The sister came up and the town realized that she was African American, and then, so was he. So it was a total surprise to the town,” Kelly said. “For whatever reason, I would like to think that the sister felt he had made a wonderful life for himself here, so he should be buried here.”

Bevers’ associates in Anchorage had assumed that he was white. Bevers probably never revealed his real ethnic heritage, because he would have faced discrimination at that time for being black.

Pastor Victor Marbury, an Anchorage Fire Department chaplain, gave a brief invocation at Thursday’s ceremony for Bevers. Afterward, he said Bevers’ influence on the city deserves some recognition.

“I’m looking at a lot of history that is not being exposed to the community,” he said. “And maybe from this point on, it is to be spread out through Anchorage as to what they actually had as a first fire fighter here and how men of different nationalities that doesn’t make a difference as long as they have the integrity of serving the city and nation like they do.”

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Information from: KSKA-FM, http://www.kska.org

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