Willie Korff - Veteran & Fisherman
I’ve always known Willy as Willy, an older gentleman in our community who would show up diligently on November 11th to all the schools in the area, representing the many men that fought for their country. When Shannon asked me to write a piece about an old timer in our community I set out to interview Willy. I knew where is house was… and soon I realized that that’s all I knew about him…
Upon visiting Willy in his home I discovered a person accomplished in so many areas, a person quiet and introverted to some, yet an un-sung hero in his time.
Willis Korff grew up in Northern California. With the advent of Pearl Harbor, the young Willy immediately joined the marines and was sent to Hawaii. For several months he cleaned up the bodies and aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Some of his time was also spent in the Hospital as he received lead poisoning while cleaning burnt paint out of some of the destroyed ships.
For the rest of the war, he was in the South Pacific and spent his entire duration on the US Enterprise, the largest aircraft carrier in the navy. As it was the largest carrier, inevitably it was also the main target of the Japanese Imperial Forces. Willy fought hard. He had not only an extremely important duty as gunner, operating the anti craft cannons, he was also one of the ship’s barbers.
Throughout the war, he survived the 18 major battles in the South Pacific, “...his only injury being shattered teeth after shooting down a Kamikaze plane, flipping it over the guns onto their deck.” describes Joe Sullivan.
Willy returned home to the East Coast after the war. Once he was discharged he moved to Seattle, where he settled. He later met and married the mother of his son and daughter and opened up his own business – “Willy’s Barber and Tackle.”
Although we sometimes assume that everybody’s history of fishing and hunting starts and ends right here in the Valley, Willy got started long before he arrived on Kispiox Valley’s doorstep. Not long after opening his Barber and Tackle Shop, Willy invented the Cherry Bobber Fishing Lure! He quickly took his title to the top of the fishing derbies, winning two cars on separate occasions and many other significant prizes!
As Willy continually sought out in search of the best fishing, it wasn’t long before he discovered the Kispiox. It quickly became his favourite place to come. He started making the trips here in the early 50s in pursuit of the wild fish and game and returned every year ever since.
He points out the window of his living room, asking me what I think of the view. It’s great I say, he nods and says, “That’s why I’m here. There aren’t too many people around, the view is great, and it’s just the same, hasn’t changed a bit!” Sitting in his living room, he points out the prize trophy fish on the wall among various other mounted animals and furs. The 76lb fish was caught right here in the Skeena down by Terrace he tells me. A proud moment! When Willy moved here in 1966 he bought the property that he still lives on. For many years he lived in 2 shacks that he placed there from the mill at Helen Lake burn. He worked hard replanting the burn after it was logged, later moving into the logging industry. Through quick promotion, because of his fine skills, he was relocated to the Mill in Kitimat, always reserving his weekends for the Kispiox.
His hard work ethic paid off quickly. Before long he had the funds necessary to build his log home on his property. Jim Easterday helped with most of the log building.
For years Willy also ran an informal guiding service on the River. He had many friends that would come stay with him each year, all of whom he has long out lived.
To some Willy is also known as the “Bird Man” of the Kispiox. He has spent many hours self-educating himself in his areas of interest. Back in the 80s, Willy took a keen interest in Geology and Prospecting. He signed up for a course at the college, and set out to explore. One of his great findings was along the banks of the Bulkley River where he discovered one of the 3 deposits know in the world called Myargerite, a Silver Sulfite crystal. Willy also started to play the organ in his later years and became quite accomplished. His sister inspired him, for she led a youth group called “keyboard kids” around the world for many years.
If you look around Willie’s yard, it’s evident that most of the trees planted around his house are for the birds. “If you take a walk down the road, you will find wild strawberries as big as your thumb,” says Joe, “escapees from Willy’s garden. Ask him a question about flying squirrels and you’ll be amazed!”
Willy came here because of what the valley had to offer and he hasn’t left. He has given much during his lifetime and continues to enrich our valley. It was an inspirational visit Willy, Thanks! We wish you a quick recovery to good health!