Photo from 2011 Honolulu Reunion - Junk Boat Sailors at Alpha Docks
Craig Rothhammer, Herb Kilmer, Harry Jager & Neil Bjornsen
We have just learned that Neil Bjornsen, one of NAFTS hidden treasures, passed over the bar January 29, of this year. He will be greatly missed.
Prior to this year if you ever got on a tour bus at one of the NAFTS reunions we knew that Neil would be there. He specialized in transportation for tour groups and he brought his expertise to play for NAFTS at every opportunity.
My first memory of Neil was on one of the tour in Seattle in 2003. He was doing what most of us came to expect of him, keeping people and schedules in order. He did it in a soft spoken direct sort of way that made me think he knew what he was doing and was good at it. In fact he was, good at it. If you happened to be on the bus to which he was assigned, you would often see him take off the soft hat he was wearing and walk up and down the aisle to collect tips for the drivers and guides. Neil could get away with that because of his unassuming manner he made you want to chip in.
But there was much more to Neil than just transportation. He served on the Board of Directors for NAFTS and was quick to volunteer to help with almost any project or task that arose. When a chair person was incapacitated the president only had to ask Neil once and he was Johnny on the Spot. Sometimes he really spread himself too thin but he never complained he just did the best he could with the task until help came along.
His passing is not a huge surprise. President Ted Hillman and I have been trying to reach Neil for several months. Ted and I and many others knew that only incapacitation would keep Neil away from a reunion. We also knew he had a big heart that wasn’t as strong as it should have been.
The universal comment, since the announcement of his passing, has been “He’ll be missed”. We are all a little richer for having known Neil.