He's hanging on to light up the new Fort Ross stove

West Marin goat and walnut rancher Walter Pack is ailing and may not make it to his 95th birthday Feb. 12.

But he's determined to be at Fort Ross State Park on the Sonoma Coast later this month and to light the first fire in the 19th-century Russian colony's meticulously researched, historically accurate new masonry wood stove.

Pack, whose parents came from Russia, put up most of the money to build the stove. "He's not a rich guy, but he felt this is the one thing he wants to do as his legacy," said neighbor and friend Frank Binney.

Pack's parents lived in Siberia before they emigrated. Pack, who was born in San Francisco with the name Vladimir Koulakoff, has always been interested in the Russian-American connection.

Binney took him several years ago to see Fort Ross, established by Czarist Russia as a fur-trading outpost in 1812. Binney remembers Pack eyeing the fort's 1980s-era fireplace and harrumphing, "That's not a Russian stove."

It's a long story, how park officials and some partners that include Gualala masonry contractors Vince and Laurie Kreger set out to create an authentic replica of a Russian heating and cooking stove after Pack put up $10,000.

But years later, the stove is pretty much finished and needs to set a bit before it takes its first fire.

Everyone hopes Walt Pack will be at Fort Ross, a beloved spot for multitudes of schoolkids, to ignite the inaugural flame. Pal Binney said, "The hospice nurse thinks that's what's keeping him alive."

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