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Remembering Alan Panebaker

Posted: 10/01/2012
by Mark Singleton



American Whitewater Northeast Stewardship Director, Alan Panebaker, of Montpelier, Vt., passed away on Sept. 19, 2012, while paddling the Pemigewasset River (NH). Alan came to American Whitewater with a Juris Doctor (JD) and a Masters in Environmental Law and Policy from the Vermont Law School, as well as a B.A in Journalism from the University of Montana. He had experience working in both journalism and environmental law fields, and possessed a deep knowledge of the regional rivers and paddling community. 
A memorial service was held on September 29 to celebrate his life. AW Executive Director, Mark Singleton delivered the following comments at the memorial.

Alan Panebaker was the most recent addition to the American Whitewater river stewardship staff, but don’t mistake time with footprint. Alan had a huge impact on our tight community. His quick wit, razor sharp insight and wordsmithing skills gained him immediate street credibility.

The weekend before his accident, AW staff all had the opportunity to work together at our Gauley River Festival event in West Virginia (we only get together face-to-face twice a year, even though we are constantly on the phone and email with one another). For those of you that have not experienced this event, it’s a cross between a Phish concert and the Olympic Village. Alan, our staff of eight, and 150+ volunteers all worked together to host three thousand of our closest friends. Alan would wake up early, paddle the river, return to the festival site and assist with the event. Staff would turn-in well after 2:00AM in a 4H camp bunk house. We were all like little kids going to bed joking about the day, who did what and the crazy situations we saw and, of course, giving each other grief.

In his short time with us he made a strong impact on our community. Since news of the accident, my email inbox has been full of remembrances. I thought I would share some excerpts of those messages with you. These comments help to illustrate just how well respected Alan was.

Not many people can run all the right lines on the Upper Gauley with simple verbal instructions but he hit everything perfectly--better than me--barely getting his hair wet on Iron Ring and Sweets. And in between it all he was polite enough to listen to my running commentary on the member database, the website, and a host of other mundane topics the rest of the staff would have tuned out on. -  Tom O’Keefe, AW staff

Alan was so psyched to be working for AW; saying that he assumed he would have been working for a good cause post law school, but nothing quite like AW. He appreciated the diversity of our team and the good work we accomplish together. He was looking forward to growing relationships with everyone. I know we have all lost close friends, many to a river. We may not have had enough time with Alan but he shared our passion and commitment. – Nathan Fey, AW staff

Alan fit into the AW culture of "grief giving".  He did not bat an eye when I told him that, new guys had to do the bathrooms but he need not worry because we had gotten him gloves and a brush.  It was so much fun bringing someone else into the AW family.  I am so sad at having that experience taken away.  This makes me realize how much I care about all of you guys. - Dave Steindorf, AW staff

Alan's name came up during my time on the Rogue. He lived in Ashland for a little while, and in his time there made quite an impression. Last night I called one of the people who knew him and he said that the folks there got together and did some reminiscing. Alan could bring people together like that. – Megan Hooker, AW staff

Alan was such an incredibly competent guy, and his wit and personality really shined through in his writing, his work with the river community, and his paddling. The result was always authentic and never boring.  His final article, about Gauley Fest, captures this trait perfectly.  He was also a quick study, and just ran with whatever projects I tossed his way.  He fit right into our team, and personally I think that says a lot about both Alan and the current crew we have at AW.  We certainly were lucky to have him on our team, and like the rest of you I am mourning not only the loss of a new friend, but the loss of a promising young river advocate.  We were set to have a lot of fun together and accomplish some seriously cool stuff.  I am going to miss him. – Kevin Colburn, AW staff

He spent a lot of time around here and was universally liked.  He knew how to to have fun...and how to take a joke--pretty much the criteria for hanging with our crew. – Chris Koll, northeast paddling icon

My own story about Alan comes from Gauley Fest. After the event was cleaned up on Sunday afternoon a few of the staff went for an evening paddle. As the sun was setting below the rolling hills of West Virginia we talked about work, projects we each had on our plates, and the impediments we all experienced that limited our paddling. I complained about some of the responsibilities that get in the way of my time on the river, he told me how great it was to be 29 and have a job that afforded him time to paddle. He was so comfortable on the water, strong and competent. We also joked about the cheesy pork fries that made up a good part of his diet at Gauley Fest. That’s how I remember him; smart, funny and a little crazy eating those cheesy pork fries – he fit right into working for AW.