Top Sled Dog Prize Named After Iditarod Racer, Antarctic Explorer
Hamilton native Norman Vaughan, a polar explorer and dog sled musher, is remembered fondly by his son and a long-time friend from town for his lifetime accomplishments.
Vaughan was among the first Americans to reach the South Pole in 1928, when at age 23 he joined an expedition to Antarctica led by Richard Byrd.
Vaughan spent much of his later life in Alaska, where he regularly competed in the 1,100-mile Iditarod, even into his 80s. Vaughan died three days after his 100th birthday in 2005.
But Vaughan grew up in Hamilton, where his parents had a home named "Vonmere," said his son, Gerry Vaughan, who lives in Charleston, S.C.
Gerry, now 75, is a former Air Force pilot who still works as a flight instructor for Boeing. He recalled his father as a man who could seemingly never sit still.
"Growing up with dad was always an adventure, he was always off doing something," Vaughan said. "He tried to include us kids whenever he could."
The Vaughan family moved to Manchester, N.H. at the end of World War II, when the elder Vaughan was in charge of air rescue operations for the North Atlantic.
Gerry Vaughan remembers hunting and skiing trips to the family's cabin near Montreal.
Norman Vaughan had all kinds of jobs throughout his life, including distributing chainsaws and other equipment for logging companies in Maine, his son said.
Once, when the family was still living in Hamilton, Vaughan returned from Maine with a station wagon full of lobsters.
"A train had hit a truck full of lobsters and they were all over the road," Vaughan said. "He filled five or so boxes with lobsters and everybody was eating lobster for a few days."
Robert Henrici of Hamilton, who is managing the sled dog races locally as an employee of the Myopia Hunt Club, came to know Vaughan through the explorer's late sister, who was a member until she died last year.
Henrici's home near Brick Ends Farm in Hamilton is filled with memorabilia and photographs of himself with Vaughan.
"I would go visit him at his cabin up in Alaska, we'd have good times," Henrici said. "The lightning bolts between me and Norm were always firing."
Vaughan's greatest exploit may have come in 1994 when, at age 89, he climbed the 10,000-foot peak of Mt. Vaughan, named after him by Byrd.
"He would never give up," Henrici said.
Vaughan had wanted to climb his mountain again for his 100th birthday, but fell ill before he could make a final trip to Antarctica.
"We had a birthday party planned for him in Telluride, Colorado," Henrici said.
From a hospital bed in Anchorage, Vaughan got to see hundreds of well wishers from a closed-circuit broadcast. He died three days later.
"He saw everybody, and he was done," Henrici said.
Gerry Vaughan said he wasn't able to get time off to make it up to the sled races this year, although he was at last year's event.
Vaughan said his father was like a big kid, and that his adventures kept him young.
In 1979, on the 50th anniversary of the Byrd polar exploration, Vaughan was assigned as the Air Force pilot to fly his father and Godfather, Larry Gould (who was second in command on the Byrd mission), back to Antarctica.
"It was a great experience for me," he said.
More than 80 years after that first expedition in 1928, not many people are aware of the history around polar exploration.
Gerry Vaughan said he learned many things he didn't know by reading his father's two books.
Vaughan said he visited his father on a few occasions at his adopted home in Alaska, and mushed dogs with him.
His father raced in 13 Iditarods over the years, finishing about five of them. He never won any of them, but always tried to finish the grueling race.
He never completed his dream of climbing Mt. Vaughan on his 100th birthday, but Norman was always plotting his next expedition, Gerry said.
"The expeditions kept him young," Vaughan said. "One of his favorite things was to always have something planned for the future."