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Friday, June 11, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alaska's Cheerleader Robert Henning, 83

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Robert Henning, who ran Alaska Northwest Publishing in Edmonds and Anchorage for three decades, was a one-man chamber of commerce for the 49th state.

Such was his enthusiasm that, in addition to publishing the glossy Alaska magazine and its companion quarterly, Alaska Journal, he helped found the Alaska Geographic Society and published its magazine. He also published books as well as "The Milepost" travel guide.

In 1945, 14 years before Alaska became a state, he was the first executive secretary of the Alaska Development Board.

"I'm my own best customer when it comes to selling Alaska," he told a reporter in 1971. "We haven't scratched the surface of the tourist business yet."

Mr. Henning died Sunday (June 6) of a stroke. He was 83.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., he got his first look at Alaska at age 3. His father became business manager of what is now the Juneau Empire newspaper.

Mr. Henning moved to Seattle with his family in the mid-1920s. He immediately began saving money from his newspaper-carrier job so he could return to Alaska.

After a brief stint at what is now the University of Alaska, he majored in journalism and geography at the University of Washington. He organized an Alaska club on campus, sold advertising for national magazines and wrote for the Alaska Weekly, published in Seattle.

He returned to Juneau to report for the Empire. He also served as a stringer for The Associated Press and did a nightly radio news broadcast from Juneau.

During World War II, he served as an observer for the military while buying furs and delivering arms to remote Alaska villages.

After the war, when the Territorial Legislature established the Alaska Development Board, he became the board's executive secretary.

In 1958, he and a partner, whom he later bought out, purchased Alaska Sportsman magazine, which had been established in 1935. They dropped "Sportsman" from its name and slickened the publication.

He edited it in Anchorage, maintained production offices in Edmonds where he had a home, and sent it to be published in Seattle.

His editorial position was a savvy blend of boosterism, environmentalism and commercialism.

In 1971, he launched Alaska Journal, dedicated to history and art. He produced dozens of pamphlets and guides as well as sourdough recipes. He published Alaska Milepost from 1962 to 1988.

In 1984, he sponsored the first Alaska Northwest Trade and Travel Show at Seattle Center. Participants included tour operators, fishing outfitters and lodges, airlines, the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Marine Highway System, shippers and dealers in ivory carvings and gold-nugget jewelry.

Ill health forced him to sell his publications in the late 1980s. But he never tired of talking up Alaska to anyone who would listen.

"You better believe it," said Barbara Henning of Edmonds, his third wife, to whom he was married three years. "He'd say, `Did I ever tell you the time . . . ?' He had a lifelong love affair with the state of Alaska."

Also surviving are his children, Eric Henning of Arlington and Randi Henning of Everett; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His second wife, Phyllis Henning, died in 1995. His first marriage was dissolved.

He requested no services. His ashes will be scattered in Alaska.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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