Kevin Clark / The Herald Celia Strong carries the ashes of her husband, Alfred Hollenbeck, to the rail for scattering.

Navy veteran’s family scatter his ashes near base

HAT ISLAND — Alfred “Alfy” Hollenbeck’s family and friends celebrated his life during a cold, sunny afternoon on the water.

A seagull called out and a seal swam nearby during the service. A wave rocked the boat as about 25 guests bowed their heads for the Lord’s Prayer.

Hollenbeck, a U.S. Navy veteran and engineer, wanted his ashes scattered at sea. His wife, Celia, 71, gathered loved ones aboard a whale-watching boat to honor that wish.

A banner hung from the side of the boat, temporarily dubbing it the USS Bairoko after the aircraft carrier Hollenbeck served on.

Hollenbeck died Nov. 28. He was 87.

During a short ceremony, pastor and friend Bob Higgins asked people to describe Hollenbeck. The group agreed he was full of love, joy and mischief. He was a brilliant engineer. He loved to spin stories.

“I think it was a joy to know Alfy because you could tell in the twinkle in his eye and the spinning of his yarns and that silly grin that it was a joy for him to know you,” Higgins said.

Hollenbeck had a tough childhood in Chicago and later Portland, where he fell in with a bad crowd and got caught stealing gas from a sheriff’s vehicle. A judge gave him two choices: reform school or the Navy.

Hollenbeck served in the Navy at the end of World War II and in the Korean War before earning an engineering degree from Oregon State University. He worked on hundreds of projects with Western Gear, Westinghouse and Boeing. Among them were intercontinental ballistic missiles, reversible baggage carriers and the Space Needle.

Oliver Groves, 72, was Hollenbeck’s friend for nearly 50 years. They worked together.

“He was probably one of the most creative engineers I ever met,” Groves said. “He was my mentor. If I got in a situation, I’d give him a call. We’d go sailing and talk about designs.”

As the boat headed toward Hat Island, it passed Naval Station Everett. Celia, Hollenbeck’s wife, told the base they would be going by and made sure everyone on the boat had little U.S. flags to wave when they did. As the boat neared the base, taps began to play and more than 20 sailors saluted. Friends and family, who had been laughing and swapping stories, went silent. No one expected the gesture, and it brought tears.

Hollenbeck didn’t talk much about his time in the Navy, his son said. Celia shared one story.

Hollenbeck once was tasked with hauling heavy hoses onto deck, but a ladder was in his way. He moved the ladder, thinking it was carefully balanced, and it fell overboard when a wave hit. While he was getting more hoses, a new ladder was set up. He moved that one and it, too, fell. His commanding officer asked if he’d thrown the ladders overboard and he replied, “No, sir.” He later noted that he wasn’t asked if he knew what happened to the ladders. Then a third ladder met the same fate and he was given a new job painting the ship.

Bryon Hollenbeck, 58, grew up in the Sultan house his dad built. His dad taught him how to fish, weld and work on cars and farm equipment. He would take Bryon and his sister, Susan, hiking and fishing around Spada Lake. Susan died last year of cancer.

Hollenbeck treated his adult stepchildren as though they’d always been family, stepdaughter Denise McCoy said. Celia met Alfred square dancing a year after his first wife, Sarah, died. Celia was visiting from a Seattle club to help start a group in Sultan. The men were being bashful, so Celia was sent to grab somebody for a dance. It was Alfy.

They married 12 years ago. Alfred had retired from Boeing and Celia from her job at the City of Everett.

Red roses were Hollenbeck’s favorite flower, his wife said. Friends and family scattered the petals in the water along with his ashes.

The petals floated there, lit by the sun and bobbing with the waves, as the boat carried his loved ones back to shore.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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