Obituary: Gregory Douglas Gusse

Photographer, builder, adventurer


Gregory Douglas Gusse, a former Claremont resident who kept lifelong local ties, died January 5, 2017 at his home in Palmer, Alaska after a five-year journey with cancer. He was 65.

He was born April 7, 1952 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Donald William Gusse and Mona Angela (Mastrapaolo) Gusse. His family moved to Claremont in 1966 and in 1967 he enrolled in Claremont High School. Gregory was in a pilot program where he took courses simultaneously at Pomona College, where he studied computer science and programming, and at CHS where he busied himself with classes in comparative religion, philosophy and ceramics.

Through a Pomona College classmate, he became interested in radio, working at KSPC and then, after receiving a radio engineering license, KPPC in Pasadena. He also made a foray into print media, working as a driver for the Claremont COURIER newspaper and landing a gig at Hole Publishing, focusing on the photo printing process.

After graduating from CHS in 1969, Mr. Gusse was accepted to CalTech on a physics scholarship. He didn’t like the atmosphere, though, so he moved to Santa Cruz after only a day at the school. While in the Central Coast, he audited a photography class at Cabrillo Junior College and picked peas in Watsonville. He decided to pursue photography further and spent the end of 1969, living in cars and often hitchhiking, as he captured winter scenes—1200 in all—throughout the country, from Los Angeles to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and from Baltimore to Mt. Shasta.

He returned to Claremont in 1970, washing dishes at Pitzer College before returning to his COURIER and Hole Publishing posts in 1971. He also worked as a driver and assistant to Richard Chase. Mr. Gusse accompanied the folklorist on grade school tours around the state and performed with Mr. Chase’s English country dance group. In his free time, he focused on writing, with he and a friend producing a 300-page novel using a stream-of-consciousness technique.

He next moved to New Mexico where he lived through 1975, much of the time in the unincorporated community of Embudo, whose population currently rests at 354. In 1972, Mr. Gusse got a job driving the fire bus for the South West Forest Fire Fighters, transporting the first responders to 180 fires as well as other emergencies. At the same time, he served as a bus driver for the Española School District.

Never one to sit still, Mr. Gusse also worked as a silversmith and jewelry designer at Great River Crafts and, in 1972 and 1973, hired on with local rancher Harold Law. “I did the jobs that a cowboy does; mended fence, wrangled doggies, branded and castrated, but, mostly I just rode, and sang, and thought,” Mr. Gusse explained in a colorful online resume.

In 1976 he moved to New York, planning to study architecture at Cooper Union. After noticing the number of architects with degrees who were unemployed or trapped in boring jobs—and the number of unlicensed architects making a nice living—he decided to make his own way. He and a friend opened a cabinet shop called Greene Street Cabinetmakers and he later launched a design-build company with two partners, Gusse, Crettier and Smozcynski.

He was soon commissioned to design and display furnishing for the new Makers Gallery on Spring Street. In 1979, Mr. Gusse and his friend Craig Murray formed a design company called Art Resources. They were commissioned to design and build a new gift shop for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Gregory was subsequently appointed the cathedral’s architect-in-residence and designed the Vance-Kennedy Peace Library. He managed a job-training program with the Theater for the Forgotten and obtained a faculty position at Pratt Institute. During his New York years, Mr. Gusse also designed many art exhibitions.

From 1976 through August 1978, Mr. Gusse returned to the classroom, auditing courses in cultural anthropology and feminist studies at the New School. He completed all of his coursework for a master’s degree and was offered it with the proviso that he pay for his schooling. He passed.

Mr. Gusse got married and, with the birth of his first son Walker, decided to slow the pace of his life a bit. He bought a farmstead in the town of Nichols in upstate New York and he and his wife welcomed a second son, Travis. As he tells it in his resume, 1982 through 1984 “were primarily spent with my sons, raising cattle and making hay.” Soon, however, he had returned to designing and building homes along the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, this time actually licensed as a construction manager with a crew of 25. He opened a support office in Owego, The Owego Design Center for the interiors, and a shop in partnership in New York.

In 2000, Mr. Gusse traveled to Alaska to spend time with Walker, now a pilot with the National Park Service. He met and fell in love with Julie Hopkins, who also worked with the NPS, and on January 8, 2003 they were married. 

While he continued visiting friends in Claremont and traveling the United States, photographing sights like the country’s national parks, Gregory became a permanent denizen of The Last Frontier. He and Julie settled in Palmer, a scenic and homey city where they could watch visitors like moose and elk from their deck. Mr. Gusse continued his interest in writing, working on novels, short stories and poems and contributing stories and photographs to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. He also kept a blog called “Alaska Times.”

Music was a lifelong passion for Gregory and he and Julie performed in an ensemble called The Feral Cats, he on guitar and she on dulcimer. Mr. Gusse also threw himself into the local art scene, opening a gallery and framing shop called Mad Matters. He served on the Palmer Arts Council, helping launch a monthly Art Walk, and was on the board of the Palmer Museum of History and Art. He also spent hours taking photographs of the wildlife, landscape and cultural history of Alaska.

One of the finest examples of Mr. Gusse’s photography, a shot of a flock of snow geese flying over Mt. Palmer, is in the Palmer Museum’s permanent collection. Examples of his photography can be viewed on his website

In 2013, Mr. Gusse was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder and prostate cancer. He had traveled far and wide but he returned to southern California for some months while undergoing treatment. During this time, he stayed with friends in Claremont, a full-circle experience that allowed the always-sociable Gregory to reconnect with his old hometown.

Longtime local friends David and Val Cressy wrote a tribute to Mr. Gusse that they posted on Facebook, excerpted below.

“Gregory Gusse could have been anything, and he was. Greg could have done anything, and he did. Shaman, sage and coyote trickster, he lived with curiosity and courage, adhering to the motto in his high school year book, ‘To thine own self be true.’ With deep reserves of decency and compassion, mixed with indignation and a sense of the absurd, he fashioned a unique space in a mixed-up world, with moral constancy, a ready smile, and a helping hand.” 

He is survived by his loving wife Julie Hopkins; by his son and daughter-in-law Walker Gusse and Loki Tobin of Anchorage, Alaska; by his son and daughter-in-law Travis Gusse and Jennifer Gusse of Owego, New York, and their two children, Travis Jr. and Katlyn; and by five siblings, Donald Gusse, Carl Gusse, Walter Gusse, Barbara (Gusse) Johnson and Susan (Gusse) Poulsen. He also leaves Jamie (Julie’s son) and Carol Hushower and their two children Tobin and Jesse, and many other loving nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.

Friends in Claremont are planning a local memorial in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donation checks made out and sent to Mat-Su Home Regional Home Care & Hospice, 950 E. Bogard Road, Ste. 132, Wasilla, AK 99654.


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