Story last updated at 8/29/2012 - 12:45 pm
Ben Huff might find the title of this column rhetorical. Of course he'll be a friend; he'd be everybody's friend if he had lived in Juneau longer than a year and a half. He's artsy and introspective, he's a total jock; he's worked odd labor jobs and waited tables. He fishes. There are no chips on his shoulder. He's not to be pegged into any vortex of categorical designation, except maybe the "Nice Guy" one.
Huff grew up LeClaire, Iowa, a farming town of less than 1,000 people. He has one sibling, a brother named Corey, who is four years younger. He described his younger years with his brother as "contentious," roughhousing and causing trouble.
"Then, in the Midwest way," Huff said, "I became fiercely protective. We became very good friends later in life. We were oil and water earlier on."
Huff and his brother have roots in the soybean farming business. They spent every other weekend at one of their grandparents' farms and spent a lot of time swimming, hunting and exploring outside. His parents were great.
"To their credit they let me get lost, break bones, just go be a boy," Huff said. "They were tough and they were smart, but there was no sheltering. I credit them for that for sure."
Huff had to travel to a nearby town for high school, where he became involved in just about everything. He was involved with theatre and choir groups and was captain of the swim team.
"I was really all over the map," Huff said. "I was decent at a lot of things, jack of all trades, master of none." In high school Huff got into road biking in a serious way. He started racing his sophomore year as well as competing in triathlons.
After meeting with the theater director at Western Illinois University, Huff enrolled.
"I did absolutely nothing with theater," Huff said of his college years. He continued to ride bike and became involved in the school's art scene. He graduated with a bachelor's of fine arts in 1996.
"The whole time I was studying art but not with intention," Huff said, "Never seeking the path of an artist or identifying myself with being an artist."
Upon graduating, Huff decided to move to Colorado to more heavily pursue bike racing. He moved to Fort Collins, Colo., and worked odd jobs that would allow him to travel and train. He waited tables, had some manufacturing gigs. He raced on a sponsored team, traveling all over the western United States and competing in larger races in the Midwest.
"I went out there with stars in my eyes," Huff admitted. His thoughts were: "I'm going to go to Colorado and be a pro racer. But there's an expiration date on that. I got to a point where I wasn't getting any faster."
Huff had been living in Fort Collins for seven years when he met his future wife, Deanna. Deanna was also racing bikes and was working as a chemist in Boulder. He moved in and proposed within a year.
When his father was preparing for a visit, Huff asked him to bring an old camera he knew his father owned and didn't use. He was at the end of his bike-racing career and wanted a way to stay in the community, simultaneously pursuing his artistic aspirations.
"I got out into the landscape that I used to ride in," Huff said. "Looking at those landscapes differently, not from the saddle, I completely fell in love with the (photography) process and the wondering and the light and being by myself."
Deanna had been interested in furthering her education. She found a program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and an advisor that was wanted to take her on. She emailed her husband.
"I remember that day," Huff said. "I looked online and it was 42 degrees below zero. It was so far out of the realm of my comprehension; it was so ridiculous, that it had to happen."
The couple arrived in Fairbanks on July 8, 2005. Huff said they knew one person, but that woman was out working in Prudhoe Bay. They were sitting in a local coffee shop, eaves dropping on a conversation between a landlord and some potential tenants.
"They weren't coming to terms," Huff said. "It had been raining for days. We heard this deal go sour."
So Huff turned to the landlord and told him they were looking for a place to rent. The landlord said he only rented to people who could supply referrals. But their one friend turned out to also be a tenant of this landlord's. They were in.
Fairbanks became home really quickly. They fell into an active social group. Deanna pursued her PhD program in atmospheric chemistry. They did a lot of skiing, pack rafting and backpacking. Huff worked in bookstores and eventually enrolled in UAF's masters of fine arts program. Part way through his program Deanna finished her degree and was offered a job at the Department of Environmental Conservation in Juneau. She moved to Juneau in December of 2010, and Huff stayed on to finish out the last semester of his first year as a student and teaching assistant. He moved down with her in May of 2011.
Huff is now teaching two courses at the University of Alaska Southeast, an art appreciation course and a digital photo print making class. He describes his year and a half in Juneau as "a blast." He's gotten into fishing, and he and Deanna are active runners.
When asked about where he sees himself in five years, Huff replied that he and Deanna are just starting to think about settling down and growing some roots.
"I would love to try and build my teaching at UAS," Huff said. "I'd like to have a larger role out there. I'd like to see a bigger and better photography presence."
Huff is working on the finishing touches of a photography collection depicting the Dalton Road, between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. He describes the collection as, "A portrait of people and landscape and the road being the physical and psychological line between people and wilderness."
You can see Huff's exhibit next year. It will be on display at the State Museum in February and part of March.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.