Alan Aitken ’63 usually needs a good reason to leave his home in Juneau, Alaska, every spring and fly halfway around the globe. And that reason is usually the Final Four, the annual culminating weekend of college basketball that crowns a champion.
But it just so happened this year, he had two. Last weekend, he attended the Final Four in Atlanta, his 22nd in a row, and arrived in Raleigh Wednesday night for the Class of ’63 reunion, going on this weekend at NC State. That put a cherry on top of his 3,900 mile trip across the country, the longest distance that any alumnus traveled to this year’s reunion.
“I’m looking forward to seeing campus again,” Aitken says. “When I was here, there were 13,000 students. Now you have 34,000.”
Aitken originally came to NC State from New York state in 1961, when the college was the first forestry program to respond to him with an opportunity to transfer out of a tw0-year program in New York. He vividly remembers his first trip to the South and the culinary adjustments Raleigh’s diners brought.
“I ordered two eggs over easy with bacon,” he says. “When the waitress brought it out, I said, ‘Why did you give me Cream of Wheat?’ She said, ‘That’s not Cream of Wheat. That’s grits.'”
But, he says, he quickly liked the people in the South, something he appreciates to this day in his travels. “They’re friendly and they’re courteous,” he says. “They say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Glad to see you.’
Aitken worked more than 30 years for the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska, retiring in 1994. And he still remembers where he was when he got the offer to go West here at NC State. He was a senior living in Turlington Residence Hall when he got a call from his mother. She had a telegram with a job offer in Alaska. And it was an easy choice for him.
“It just sounded like a big adventure,” he says.