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Socially distanced surprise celebrates Urban Rahoi’s 102nd birthday

By Kris Capps for the Daily News-Miner

Legendary Fairbanks pilot Urban Rahoi turned 102 Thursday, and his friends made sure they remembered him by celebrating the day Alaska-style — with a flyover by a DC-6, courtesy of Everts Air.

“He’s a real special guy,” said Craig Compeau who has known Rahoi since childhood. “There are so few of those World War II guys still around.”

Rahoi lives in the Fairbanks Pioneers’ Home now, and visitors are prohibited due to COVID-19.

“He can’t go out, and we can’t go in,” Compeau said. “I just thought, we gotta do something.”

So Compeau spread the word and invited friends, bundled up in winter garb, many wearing masks, to gather outside the Pioneers’ Home to sing “Happy Birthday” to Rahoi, who watched from a window. Temperatures dropped close to zero. Fans carried homemade signs, with happy birthday wishes like “I Want To Be Like You When I’m 102!” and “Never Stop Giving Them Hell! You’re The Best!”

Compeau and other volunteers passed out glow sticks, donated from the Fairbanks Police Department’s Halloween Glow Event. Those served as substitute birthday candles in the frigid temperatures.

Finally, friends unfurled a long bright red sign that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday Urban Rahoi, 102 Years Young!”

The 50 people gathered all sang as Rahoi looked on from inside. Compeau had his cell phone on speaker and as soon as the crowd finished singing, a short display of fireworks erupted into the sky, launched from a nearby location.

Moments later, a DC-6 flew overhead, courtesy of Everts Air. This was the era of vintage airplane Rahoi once flew.

“We tried to get F35s,” Compeau said. But that didn’t work.

“Then, I thought, what’s more appropriate than to have a wartime aircraft,” Compeau said. “And they were doing doughnuts around the place, waving his wings. It was so cool. It was really special to see that thing going around in circles.”

When it was time to leave, friends reluctantly returned to their warm vehicles. But first, one by one, they walked up to the window and either saluted Rahoi or gave him a thumbs up. All smiles.

“The main thing was just to get Urban all fired up,” Compeau said. “He loved it. He said, ‘That was really special. I really appreciate it.’”

And as cars pulled away, Rahoi had another birthday caller — Congressman Don Young — probably the first of many birthday callers.

Rahoi was born in Michigan on Jan. 7, 1919, the day after Teddy Roosevelt died. He fell in love with airplanes and made his first solo flight at age 15, after only two hours of flight instruction from a friend. He went to work for the highway department after high school and met his wife at the age of 21 when he gave her and her friends a ride to town during a snowstorm. They were married for nearly 70 years, before she died at the age of 92.

During his long career as a pilot, he recorded 20,000 hours of flight time. In 2013, at the age of 94, Rahoi fulfilled a lifelong goal when he flew a P-51 Mustang. That same year, he also flew a B-17 Bomber.

He came to Alaska in 1947 and has been recognized as an Alaska Aviation Legend, a pioneer in the Alaska aviation industry.

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