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As a Young Peace Corps volunteer, Audrey Aanes was inspired by the animation and gumption of Ethiopian children who were injured by land mines. Physical disabilities were not a barrier to their energy and enthusiasm to learn. When she came to Alaska she embarked on a career devoted to education, advocacy and action for and with youth and adults who experience substantial physical disabilities (e.g. spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, etc.).
When she started teaching in Anchorage in the early seventies, kids with disabilities were segregated in a special school. She initially had 12 students with physical disabilities from 5 to 16 years old in her classroom. Through the years she saw many bright, mentally capable disabled students graduate with limited options after high school, often placed in a nursing home surrounded by seniors experiencing dementia and alzheimer’s disease.
Motivated to change the status quo, Audrey quit her tenured teaching job and set out to help those young people on the path of independent living. Her challenge was to promote awareness and acceptance of disabled persons in order to accomplish the goals of being respected, accepted, and integrated into the communities of their able-bodied neighbors. At the time there was no accessible housing, transportation, restrooms, restaurants, theaters, or parking. There were few vocational training opportunities or jobs for adults who experienced a substantial physically disability.
With inspiration from some national leaders, such as Ed Roberts, the “Father of Independent Living” from California, Audrey initiated Alaska’s first independent living program, which became Access Alaska. She wrote proposals, solicited funding and letters of support, talked with legislators and governors about changing laws, and learned to speak up at public hearings. Her Minnesota upbringing taught her to be respectfully soft spoken. However, the frustration of her experience asking politely for basic rights for people who experience disabilities taught her how to grow her own voice.
In 1980 they received their first state grant funds for an accessible van, a part-time driver and independent-living-skills training. They developed the first attendant-care program and worked with the Alaska State Housing Authority to set up accessible housing, which was achieved in 1982 when eight young adults moved out of nursing homes and into four accessible two-bedroom apartments in downtown Anchorage!
Services were expanded to a Fairbanks office and the program thrived. Audrey also recruited international volunteers and people with disabilities to participate in adaptive wilderness and sports activities throughout Alaska, including kayaking, skiing and camping. In 1993 Audrey proceeded to develop Arctic Access, the independent living program in northwest Alaska serving Nome and Kotzebue and the surrounding villages where she continues to work today.
By following her passion, hundreds of mentally competent adults who experience physical disabilities are living successful independent lives. Today there are Centers for Independent Living throughout the state with outreach to many sites in rural Alaska. There are accessible housing modification programs, flexible transit programs, on-the-job training programs, home-based care services directed by the person with the disability, state laws that require access to public facilities, and political advocacy efforts managed by people with disabilities.
Audrey Aanes is often referred to as the Mother of the Independent Living movement in Alaska. She says there were many passionate people involved. She continues to be inspired by the elders and people with disabilities who strive to live independent lives today. Audrey grew her voice and all Alaskans are the beneficiary.
Elaine was born in Yakutat of the Raven moiety, the clan of Copper River, and from the Shaman’s Owl House, and is the daughter of the Brown Bear. Mount St. Elias is her clan crest. Her mother was Susie Bremmer, whose grandfather was John James Bremmer from Scotland, the guide for Lt. Allen who explored the Copper River area. Because of his assistance with mapping, Bremmer river, valley, glacier and mine were named in Bremmer’s honor. Elaine’s father was a Tlingit chief from Yakutat from the Brown Bear moiety. Her mother read to the children from the bible and her father introduced them to the world through National Geographic magazines.
Yakutat did not have a high school, so Elaine went to boarding school at Sheldon Jackson High School/ College. After graduation, she went to the school of nursing at Ganado, Ariz., graduated and returned to Alaska as the first Tlingit registered nurse. She worked with the Indian Health Service in Bethel and Sitka during diphtheria and tuberculosis epidemics. While working in Sitka, she served as the school board president during the desegregation of the village school; established the Southeast Alaska Native Health Aide Program — which became the model for the statewide Alaska Native Health Aide Program — and organized the Southeast Native Board of Health. Later, Elaine was instrumental in the creation of the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
After her career as a nurse, Elaine initiated her career in education at Sheldon Jackson University and the University of Alaska. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources development from Alaska Pacific University; a master of arts in teaching from APU; and is currently a doctoral student pursuing a a degree in natural health. At Sheldon Jackson College, she served as Associate Dean of Students, Director of Social Services, and Vice President for Institutional Development. At the University of Alaska, she co-founded the Alaska Native Language Center. In 1976 Elaine became the Vice President for Rural Education Affairs of the University of Alaska statewide system— she was both the first Native American and the first woman to hold a senior position in the statewide administration. She created innovative programs for recruiting and retaining Alaska Native students in higher education and made path-breaking initiatives to build bridges between Alaska Native communities and the university. She brought new educational opportunities to Alaskans throughout the state by establishing community colleges in Nome, Barrow, Tanana, Kotzebue, Sitka, Ketchikan, Valdez, Aleutians, and Kodiak.
Currently, Elaine is building bridges between Alaska Natives and scientists, promoting cutting-edge approaches to understanding climate change around the globe as the chair of the Alaska Native Science Commission. The commission supports scientific research that ensures the protection of indigenous cultures and builds bridges between western science and traditional ways of knowing.
Throughout Elaine’s life, she has understood the relationship between the local and the global and she is respected and influential on village, state, national, and international levels. Her messages have global significance and have helped garner respect for indigenous knowledge and the rights of indigenous peoples. While Elaine’s impact has been global and her accomplishments numerous, they only tell part of the story. She is slight in stature but when Elaine speaks, she captivates her listeners with her messages, her humility and her enthusiasm. Forever looking for opportunities to broaden her own knowledge, Elaine has traveled to far-flung places to meet with indigenous peoples in their native lands to help them and exchange teachings. She has helped many people see that traditional observations are critically important to western scientific analysis.
Elaine is a mentor and role model because she lives her life according to her own teachings, whether she is interacting with her own family or serving, sometimes as the only woman, on a commission or board. Elaine could be described as:
- respectful, honest, kind, intelligent, humble, witty;
- an individual with strong character who stands up for her convictions;
- applying her positive attributes to professional and personal relationships;
- a role model who has demonstrated that you are never too old to expand your own knowledge base by learning from others
- a woman of valor who is generous with her knowledge and compassion toward others.
She is well known throughout the world as a revered Tlingit elder. She is the recipient of the American Indian Achievement Award, Indian Council Fire (1973). Elaine was the first Alaska Native and the seventh American Indian woman to receive this award. It was the only award of national stature given to an American Indian. She also received the Meritorious Service Award, University of Alaska Anchorage (1996): Citizen of the Year Award, Cook Inlet Native Association (1984); Alaska Native/American Indian Education Advocate Award, Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee (1978); State of Alaska Distinguished Alaskan Title (1974).
As a teenager, Alberta Schenck knew segregation was wrong and she set out to do something about it. After being removed from a segregated movie theater in Nome, she was jailed because the theater’s policies forbade Natives and ‘half-breeds’ from sitting with whites. She subsequently spoke out in an historical essay that appeared in the Nome Nugget in 1944 and she followed up by writing to elected officials expressing the sentiment that was echoed later in the civil rights movement of the 1950s: “I only truthfully know that I am one of God’s children regardless of race, color or creed.” She directly helped to bring about the Alaska Civil Rights Act passed by the Territorial Legislature 10 years before the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.
Much of Alberta’s advocacy was linked to her family, in particular her Aunt Frances Longley and Frances’ partner, Territorial Senator O.D. Cochran, their children, and friend, Ernest Gruening. Alberta’s unique family relationships allowed her to share her ideas with people directly involved in voting on the Alaska Civil Rights Act. Alberta’s aunt was a member of the Arctic Native Sisterhood in Nome which provided the connection with Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich. Alberta was able to provide crucial testimony from Northwestern Alaska that directly contributed to the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill.
Throughout her life Alberta Daisy Schenck Adams believed it is not possible to hold moral norms without practical compassion for the very people to whom Truth is spoken with love, even if they disagree.
Healer, Charismatic Leader and Advocate
Annie was born, in 1925, the daughter of Horst and Olga Akeya. She was born in Savoonga, a Yupik village on St. Lawrence Island located in the northern Bering Sea forty miles from Russia. She grew up there with 5 sisters and 3 brothers – Agatha Mokiyuk (nee Akeya), Barbara Kogassagoon (nee Akeya), Helen Kiyukhook (nee Akeya), Lila Akeya, Sarah Tate (nee Akeya), Alexander Akeya, Calvin Akeya and David Akeya. She married in 1944 to Jackson. He died 1 year later. In 1945 she married Nelson Alowa. Their children are Christina, Jeannette, Julius, Richard, Roland, Rose, Sheldon and Timothy.
During the summer the family spent most of their time at their hunting and trapping camp, known as Tamniq. Alowa loved to cook and was always cooking, for everyone. Picking berries and sewing were two of her favorite pastimes. She was known for her skill as a traditional skin sewer and as an artist for her doll making.
Education was very important to Alowa and always made her children take their school work to camp. Her daughter Christine said, “She was a hard teacher”.
During the period 1955-1956, Alowa became a midwife, tending women in childbirth. She was first trained by Harriet Penayah, another healer in her Savoonga community. Her first training was at the hospital in Kotzebue. Beginning in 1971 she received training by the Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome through the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP). At first village healers on St. Lawrence Island worked largely on their own as midwives. They were first responders for all health issues. They identified tuberculosis and treated accidental injuries and other health problems suffered in the community. Later when telephone service was installed, the health aides received more immediate support from physicians in Nome.
Alowa moved to Northeast Cape, St. Lawrence Island from 1963 to 1970 and continued her work as a community health aide, while maintaining a paying job at the Air Force base. She received no compensation for being a health aide. Annie worked as a health aide for thirteen years. First she served as a volunteer traditional healer; and (later) as a Village Health Aide for Savoonga.
In 1952, the U.S. Air Force established a base at Northeast Cape on the Island. When the military vacated Northeast Cape in 1972, they left at least thirty-four polluted sites in a nine-mile-square area which included a building complex, transformers, and large bales of copper wire left behind on the surface. She later learned other hazardous materials were buried at the site, including asbestos, PCBs, pesticides, solvents, lead-based paint, fuel tanks, and barrels full of lubricants and fuel. Two decades later Alowa began to notice serious health problems among Island residents who lived, worked, and harvested marine mammals, greens, berries, fish, and reindeer from the Northeast Cape area. For the first time, she began to see cancer among her people as well as significant increases in low birth-weight infants and miscarriages.
She became concerned these hazardous materials posed a long-term health risk for island residents and began to address these concerns with the Alaska delegation. Alowa attempted for twenty years to get the military to clean up Northeast Cape to no avail. When she visited friends and family in Anchorage, she went to the government for assistance to appeal for help. She was repeatedly sent from one state and federal agency to another without a hearing. Eventually Alowa met Pamela Miller in spring of 1997 at a Greenpeace-sponsored environmental health conference. That summer, Greenpeace flew her and Pam from Savoonga by helicopter to Northeast Cape to examine the abandoned military site and to take environmental samples and photographs.
In 1982, government contractors noted that one of several barrel dumps contained more than 29,500 rusted drums; they reported miles of wire littering the landscape which had trapped and killed reindeer by starvation. Much of the contamination at Northeast Cape was caused by transformers and fuels, including large volume spills from accidental puncturing of above ground storage tanks. The government contractors reported at least 220,000 gallons of spilt fuels, as well as heavy metals, asbestos, solvents, and PCBs (a known carcinogen).
In 1998, after Miller founded Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), Alowa went with Miller to meet with a colonel of the Army Corps of Engineers to urge him to clean up the site. Seventy-three year old Alowa spoke quietly but eloquently about the thirteen people in her village who died of cancer in the past few years, all of whom had lived and gathered wild foods from the Northeast Cape area. But the colonel was inattentive and rudely dismissed her concerns. As he rushed them out the door, he stated that St. Lawrence Island was low on the list for cleanup. Before Alowa returned home to Savoonga, she and Miller discussed strategies to get the abandoned site cleaned up. Following her year of work to raise attention and awareness the Northeast Cape sure went from near the bottom of the priorities list for cleanup to the top. Although there is much yet to be done to restore the lands and waters at Northeast Cape, the Corps has spent $123 million on the cleanup thus far. This would not have been done without Alowa’s work.
As part of their strategy, she participated in a December 1998 conference at a Mat-Su Valley venue sponsored by the Alaska Women’s Environmental Network (AWEN). She described the plight of her people. During the conference, she became seriously ill and had to leave. A week later at an Anchorage hospital, Alowa was diagnosed with liver cancer; her previously diagnosed breast cancer was still in remission. Preparing to go home to die surrounded by family, she realized she probably would never return to Anchorage; so she asked Miller to interview her about her concerns. Miller videotaped her as she sat at a kitchen table sipping tea and telling her story. Alowa listed the names of the families who were dying of cancer—those who hunted and fished at Northeast Cape. She asked that the agencies come to Northeast Cape and clean it up, but warned that her people and agency officials should avoid conflict and work together to make things right. She acknowledged that she had cancer, as her family was one of those who are from the Northeast Cape area, but she did not give up trying to get help for her community, even though she knew that she was dying. She said to Miller during the interview, “I will fight until I melt.”
Miller was unwilling to accept that Alowa was going to die so she put the videotape in her top desk drawer. The next two months, she kept contact with Alowa by calling on the phone to her in Savoonga. When Miller called two weeks before Alowa died, she said, “I was just thinking of you.” Miller asked “What were you thinking? Alowa replied, “Keep it up, Miller!”
Alowa’s spiritual faith, perseverance, and hope even in the face of overwhelming odds served as a catalyst for her community, and Miller, to move to protect the people of St. Lawrence Island and other Alaska Native villages from the effects of environmental contaminants. Alowa continues to serve as an impetus for action, both during unrelenting challenges and through joyful successes, as her spirit lives on in people’s hearts.
She serves as a role model to her daughter Chris (Alowa) Seppilu. When Chris learned that her mother was being considered for the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, she said, “My brothers and I want the work of my mother to continue on. We are grateful that word got around about the need for a cleanup. She fought hard for this and got it going. In my mother’s own words, ‘I will fight until I melt.’”
Alowa is a role model of faith, perseverance, and hope to other Indigenous women because her story and video have been passed on to Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and First Nations in Canada, as well as to Indigenous women in Greenland, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands, Russia, Europe, and Africa. Representatives from all of these groups have participated in gatherings where her story was told, and they have taken that story to their communities. These empowered Indigenous women are making changes for good in their own communities, regions, and countries while they also prompt officials of the United Nations to protect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities throughout the world.
Alowa continues to have an impact on women of all ages in her community—even those women who were too young to know her before she died. Those who have been empowered directly or indirectly by her have taken up her mantle to work toward justice, health, and wellbeing for their people now and for future generations. They are members of the St. Lawrence Island Restoration and Advisory Board that provides counsel to the Army Corps of Engineers concerning the Corps’ mandate to clean up the military toxics on the Island. They serve on the Working Group that advises ACAT’s research team. Some are employed by ACAT as Community Health Researchers on St. Lawrence Island, and others serve as staff members in Anchorage for ACAT. They participate in women’s talking circles that focus on justice and human rights issue. To seek justice, health, and wellbeing for their people, the women in Alowa’s community have traveled to speak with policymakers and other activists in Juneau, Washington D.C., New York City and Europe for United Nations meetings, and Vieques (Puerto Rico). During peaceful demonstrations in Anchorage, the women from her community sometimes hold up signs that say “I will fight until I melt.”
Vi Waghiyi is from Savoonga. She works for ACAT in Anchorage as the Environmental Health and Justice Program Director. Vi said, “It’s an honor to continue Annie’s work. What keeps me going is that she fought hard for our people. She still inspires all of us.”
Miller said, “It’s like Annie is sitting on my shoulder and urging me on. ‘Keep it up, Miller! What an inspiration. Yes, I can still see her eyes all lit up with energy and sometimes with just a touch of mischief; like when she saw that I was having trouble keeping up with her when we were walking across the tundra at Northeast Cape.”
Alowa serves also as a role model to the professional women of ACAT, AWEN, and other organizations; she demonstrated how a combination of quiet perseverance, spiritual faith, and inner strength is an effective method for advocacy in the face of overwhelming resistance.
When asked about Alowa, Lorraine Eckstein, ACAT’s Research Anthropologist, said, “I remember her well! I only met her three times; she was soft spoken and unpretentious. A couple of times when she came to Anchorage, we took her to eat at a Mongolian barbeque, and I sat across from her at the table. I found I was hanging on her every word. She reminded me of a certain nun (Sister of Mercy) who taught my college psychology classes. Now I know that Annie was a wife and mother of eight children, but both of these women – in spite of their unassuming manners – made me want to sit up, pay close attention, and go change the world. Not many people have that effect on me”.
In spring 1999, ACAT produced a short video of Annie’s interview entitled “I Will Fight Until I Melt.” By 2001, ACAT had disturbed 350 copies of the tape and ACAT spoke to members of a variety of federal agency staff members in Washington D.C. using the video to get attention to environmental health and justice issues in Alaska. As a result:
1) The people of St. Lawrence Island were galvanized by Annie’s work, after watching her two-decade effort to help her people that culminated in success at the time of her premature death. As they grieved for her, they actively supported the community-based research and advocacy inspired by Alowa and initiated by ACAT;
2) The Army Corps of Engineers prioritized the military sites on St. Lawrence Island to be cleaned up;
3) Other Alaska Native communities sought assistance from ACAT with military toxics;
4) The Special Assistant to Secretary of the Interior was inspired to support the United Nations’ treaty to identify specific persistent organic pollutants for global elimination; and
5) Leslie Campbell of the Centers for Disease Control used the video to train agency staff about environmental health and justice issues;
In autumn of 1999, ACAT staff was inspired by Alowa’s legacy to initiate community-based research and in 2000 ACAT received a four-year grant to collaborate with the people of St. Lawrence Island under the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) program entitled Environmental Justice Partnerships for Communications. Since that time, the NIEHS has supported the community-based participatory research with Annie’s people. ACAT’s current five-year project (Protecting the Health of Future Generations) addresses endocrine-disrupting chemicals in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Island community and faculty at two universities. ACAT’s research team includes residents of the Island community and faculty at two universities.
YouTube video of Annie during interview and the responses she elicited in her people, community researchers, university researchers, and /ACAT’s staff and board. https://youtu.be/CvhEfxLE9A0
CLEANING UP A LEGACY OF POLLUTION ON AN ALASKAN ISLAND (August 3, 2015; by Kirk Johnson. The New York Times. The article gives an overview of the clean up work on St. Lawrence Island with helpful photos, and mentions Annie Alowa as a crusader who succeeded in getting attention to the contaminated sites by “refusing to be quiet about it.” Here is a quote from the article:
“Annie Alowa, who lived in Savoonga and died of cancer in 1999, led a one-woman crusade to clean up Northeast Cape, mainly by refusing to be quiet about it. When newer technology made the old listening devices obsolete and the base closed in 1972, barrels of chemicals sat in the elements for decades or were simply plowed under. Ms. Alowa’s rallying cry helped spur the creation in 1997 of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, which works to clean up military sites by involving residents like Ms. Waghiyi, the group’s environmental health and justice program director.”
As part of the article in the New York Times, a slide show is included and a 4-1/2 minute video entitled Science at the End of the Earth by Jim Wilson, Kirk Johnson, and Channon Hodge.
The link to the article, slide show, and video is below:
Eleanor Andrews has been building the human infrastructure capacity of Alaska for nearly five decades. She has flourished in both the private and the public sectors, but is most widely known as a “civic entrepreneur” – that is a person who inspires institutions, businesses and individuals to excel in their work and at the same time to invest in the community. She led others in the understanding that it is good business to develop quality schools, affordable housing, accessible economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods and a just and fair city and state. She has given her own time, money and talents for decades, but has also inspired and cajoled an army of others to participate in advancing our communities.
Professionally, Andrews has owned a successful management company for 20 years and has employed thousands of people in the fulfillment of federal contracts. She also guided human resource public policy for the state as the Commissioner of Administration and for Anchorage as the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality.
During both her private-sector and public-sector careers, Andrews has been giving back to Alaska in a multitude of ways. For example, she gave her time to review and deliberate the application of all judges applying to serve in the Alaska court system for a decade on the Judicial Council. She served on boards which initiated the Foraker Group, the ATHENA program of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Anchorage Urban League.Andrews raised and contributed funds for organizations in order to build the Fairview School, to strengthen the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic and to develop affordable housing programs in the state. She has also given her time and talents to the advisory boards for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Providence Alaska Foundation and Commonwealth North and she currently serves on the Anchorage Parks Foundation Board and the Providence Alaska Region Ministry Board. In honor of her service she has received many awards including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the ATHENA Award.
Andrews has lived in Alaska since 1965, arriving in Fairbanks as a young college student from Los Angeles. She learned invaluable skills by working in the public sector first as a counselor at McLaughlin Youth detention facility and then as an employee representative for the Alaska Public Employees Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. All these experiences assisted her when she was appointed the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality of Anchorage.
In 1982 Andrews accepted an appointment to work for the State of Alaska as the deputy and then commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration. There she managed diverse activities, including the divisions of Labor, Finance and Motor Vehicles as well as the Pioneers Homes. Advocacy for fairness in access to employment, a living wage and safe working conditions have been principles that have guided Andrews throughout her career.
When Andrews completed her public service, she developed the Andrews Group, a successful Alaska management services company, which was engaged primarily in U.S. government service contracting across the United States. She assisted numerous women-owned and Native-owned businesses with guidance and partnerships to bid and fulfill federal government service contracts through what became the 8(a) procurement program of the government’s Small Business Administration.
Andrews has learned a great deal from these diverse and rewarding work experiences. She also has never forgotten the stories about the pain of discrimination her parents experienced growing up in the south in the 1930s. When she was a girl her father told her she could accomplish whatever she could imagine. In junior high, she attended a school composed of low-income children and she vividly recalls the poor condition of the building and supplies. Disgusted by the low quality of food in the lunch room and knowing that better food was offered in other schools, she organized and led a student boycott of the cafeteria food until the quality of the food measured up to the other public schools in the district. The principal threatened to suspend her for being a “militant.” The injustice of being reprimanded by an authority figure for standing up for her rights has remained a life lesson. She has consistently raised her voice in opposition to injustice her entire life.
Andrews has been an active Rotarian since women were “admitted” and has participated in numerous service projects in Alaska. That and her commitment to community prepared her for the latest chapter of her career. During the past five years Andrews has led a dedicated group of locals to form the National Urban League affiliate in Alaska, which became Urban Works. As she began to engage in fewer business activities, she devoted more time to Urban Works. For the past two years she has personally managed Urban Works, a program for 20 low-income young people of color who at age 18 have “aged out” of the foster care program and needed to learn how to work to support themselves. She created a work environment, taught them how to manage their time and their money and how to be responsible adults in our complex society. Her behavior has been consistent with her values. She creates opportunities for people to experience success, empowers them to manage challenges and then inspires them to treat others with respect and generosity.
Andrews brings people together to solve community problems and to equalize the playing field for all people, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty, racism or institutional bias. She has done this with major institutions such as school districts and state agencies, with professional organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals.
She is known as a successful African American business woman, a gifted and fair public servant, an accomplished person of integrity, a tireless volunteer, a generous philanthropist, a strategic mentor, a hard-working board member, a loyal friend and a loving mother and grandmother. She relishes cooking for and sharing time with her adult children and grown grandchildren.
Andrews, however, believes her greatest legacy is to have inspired others to generously give back – to invest time, talents, money and energy ino making our communities as healthy and supportive of families and with as much social and economic justice as is possible. She deeply values being regarded as a civic entrepreneur.
Changunak Antisarlook Andrewuk, known as Sinrock Mary, Queen of Reindeer, was Russian and Inupiaq and spoke Russian, English and her Native language. After her first husband succumbed to the measles epidemic in 1900, she was disqualified from owning property both as a woman and Native, but she fought to keep her half of the reindeer herd and eventually became one of the richest women in Alaska. A savvy businesswoman, she sold meat to local businesses and the Army station. Her second husband wasnt interested in herding, but Mary trained some of her children and many other Inupiaq to become reindeer herders. She is remembered as a hero for her tenacity, generosity and friendship.
Jane Angvik has lived in Alaska for 40 years where she has been a force who brings people together to create better, more open and inclusive communities. She has had great jobs that taught her the power of giving people a voice in decisions about their neighborhoods, their villages, their regions and their state.
She found that when the values of people are solicited and heard, government decision making is enhanced and trust is possible. Additionally, she observed that when people are empowered to participate, they take on personal responsibility to create community; and, when communities become “we” instead of “them and us” our society is strengthened.
Angvik was raised by a conservative Norwegian, Republican father and a liberal Irish, Democratic mother who discussed current affairs at dinner. Her parents told her that she and her siblings could accomplish whatever they dreamt of with hard work and education.
“Giving back” to the community was a practice she observed regularly in her mother. Political discourse was learned at the family dinner table. She grew up hearing an issue respectfully debated from at least two points of view nightly.
Her father advised her to be verbally persuasive and not emotional when expressing a point of view which was a lesson she took to heart. She learned to express a thought, but also to become proficient at summarizing the comments of many people and synthesizing the points of agreement among them. This is one of the skills that make her a great facilitator.
Motivated by the civil rights movement of the late 1960s, Angvik went to work after college for the Minneapolis Model Cities program. There, “maximum feasible citizen participation” was not only the law but was practiced as a precept to enhance community development. She came to Alaska in 1973 and started working for the Greater Anchorage Area Borough on the development of the comprehensive plan. She brought her commitment to citizen participation to her new community and subsequently worked across Alaska over the decades to build opportunities for community dialogues and collaboration.
Angvik has worked for state and local government, Native organizations, nonprofit organizations and consulting firms. She has managed state agencies, coordinated a foundation, planned and built facilities and assisted communities across Alaska in planning their infrastructure and long-range economic strategies. She is a skilled communicator and strategist on a multitude of Alaska issues. She has managed nonprofit and government agencies, coordinated public involvement programs, conducted research projects and advocated for community empowerment in both urban and rural Alaska.
She also has served in elected public office in Anchorage on the local Municipal Assembly and the Charter Commission.
Highlights of her Professional work include: Becoming a community planner for the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1974 where she provided technical assistance to rural villages and organizations to plan for housing and water systems. Her respect for the Alaska Native people continued to grow in community gatherings across the state.
In 1976 Angvik moved to State government and combined her knowledge of urban and rural Alaska when she worked for the Alaska Public Forum created by Governor Hammond. She and her colleagues created town meetings across the state to discuss issues such as the creation of the Permanent Fund, education funding and access to fish and game resources for subsistence. The Public Forum also created the first statewide live television town meetings about the state’s capital budget. The Public Forum was an innovative experiment in public participation that concluded in 1980 due to a lack of funding.
In 1982 Angvik managed the statewide campaign to maintain the Alaska state subsistence law, which provided for a preference for rural residents for access to fish and wildlife to feed their families. It is the only time Alaskans have voted on the question of who should have priority in a time of shortage, and urban Alaskans voted to support rural residents.
From 1983-86 Angvik managed the Alaska Native Foundation (predecessor to First Alaskans Institute) and re-established the leadership training programs for young Alaska Native people. The Foundation also produced a television series about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which is still used in schools today as a part of Alaska studies classes.
In 1988 Angvik managed the Alaska pavilion in Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia. There 50 business volunteers recruited through the State Chamber of Commerce greeted 15,000 visitors per day for six months. From Expo Angvik was recruited as the Deputy and then the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development. She pursued business leads developed in Australia and was responsible for oversight of the Division of Tourism and Small Business Development. The implementation of the ARDOR program provided connection to many rural communities.
In her next role, Angvik helped plan and develop the Alaska Native Heritage Center from 1990-95. With a statewide committee of Native culture bearers and a consultant, the team designed a facility where people could come together to celebrate Alaska Native cultures. She managed the planning for the project as well as the land-use and political process to site the center at its current location.
After a year of living in Moscow, Russia, with her husband and daughter, Angvik returned to Alaska and was appointed the Director of the Division of Land for the Department of Natural Resources in the Knowles administration. As the “Land Lady” of Alaska’s 103,000 acres, she worked with adjacent land owners to resolve disputes and planned the use of State lands with community involvement. Following DNR, Angvik established her own consulting firm that worked with communities and nonprofit organizations on research projects as well as facilitation of community meetings.
In 1975, at the age of 26, Angvik was elected one of 11 people to serve on the Anchorage Charter Commission which wrote the charter, or the constitution, that unified the city and borough into the unified Municipality of Anchorage. She learned a great deal about politics from her more experienced colleagues and in return, she shared techniques for inviting community participation. To improve communication between neighborhoods and elected officials, the charter sets out the community council structure that has been in place since unification.
In 1979 Angvik was elected to the Anchorage Municipal Assembly. She served the community in that capacity for six years and was the first woman elected Chair of the Assembly. Her experience, competence and expertise in community planning resulted in many forward-thinking policies needed by a growing city. Conversely, Angvik said she thinks the experience of serving was akin to receiving a Ph.D. in applied public administration because of the diversity of topics that came before them for consideration.
In 1986 Angvik was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Alaska’s Democratic primary. Although an Anchorage resident, she was well known politically in rural Alaska. In campaigns the ability to raise funds to advertise one’s candidacy with TV, radio and newspaper ads is a significant challenge for many female candidates. Angvik was able to raise the funds to support her campaign and, although she lost to the incumbent, hers was regarded as a very credible campaign.
She followed this campaign with increased involvement with the Alaska Women’s Political Caucus and has trained hundreds of women candidates in methods of fundraising and managing political campaigns to get more women elected to political office. She thinks the female half of the population needs to be represented in decision-making structures and that women strengthen collaborative ways of making decisions.
A strong advocate of women’s rights, Angvik has dedicated herself to the development of girls and women and their protection against abuse and discrimination. In the past decade she has become a leader of the Girl Scouts of Alaska, being convinced of the importance of starting early to build strong and independent women.
Her legacy associated with these efforts is that she has hired, trained, guided, mentored and encouraged women to seek and accomplish their own goals with skills that enable them to participate in decision making. Additionally the foundation has been laid for the development of the new facilities at Camp Singing Hill for a science, technology, engineering and math program for Girl Scouts.
Angvik a happy and welcoming person. When people inquire how she is, she responds with, words such as: “joyful, terrific and grateful.” She inspires people to counter the hatred and fear of the radio airways with hope, courage and commitment.
She is joyfully married to Vic Fischer, who shares her enthusiasm for social and economic justice, public affairs and entertaining friends and family. They have raised a successful daughter, Ruth, who graduated from the University of Alaska and is married to a member of the armed services and together, they are raising their children to be givers.
She has taught many people you can debate, disagree, find common ground and break bread together. Then, together you can go do what is right. She also believes that people can hear one another better if they share stories and a meal together.
Jane loves Alaska and is happy to share insights about the place with locals and visitors alike… She knows what it is made of and knows how everything got to be how it is. She can break it down and tie it together in a way that anyone can understand.
Evangeline Atwood, a third-generation Alaskan, was very important in the fight for statehood, organizing the group “Operation Statehood.” In 1950, she started the Anchorage League of Voters and then the Alaska Statehood Association, with a mission of bringing a favorable popular vote on statehood by informing the public of the pros and cons of territorial status vs. statehood. In addition to authoring many books about Alaska, Evangeline was instrumental in establishing the Alaska World Affairs Council, the Parent-Teacher Council in Anchorage, and the Cook Inlet Historical Society.
Belcher has been and continues to be a tireless and conscientious visionary for achieving political and social change through music. She has also developed unique ways to bring people together to change the world.
Dixie Johnson was born and raised in Juneau. During her youth, she developed her love for the outdoors and honed her leadership skills as a Girl Scout. She expanded her love of music by playing the piano, organ and trumpet. She graduated from Northwestern University with a major in sociology and a minor in music and then returned to her home community of Juneau. There she married Fred Belcher and worked as a probation officer for the Alaska State Dept. of Corrections until her first daughter, Jaylene, was born. She and Fred agreed it was important for Dixie to stay home to raise Jaylene and their second daughter, Janet.
When Fred Belcher died in a 1971 helicopter crash while on a state photo assignment, Belcher became a single mother and realized that if she was careful with her finances, she could stay home with her children and do community project, such as directing and arranging music groups or pursuing prison projects after she discovered that children as young as twelve were being incarcerated in an adult prison. From these early beginnings, Belcher focused her life toward community activism and matters of social and political change.
Belcher has had a variety of interests and experiences. She formed and was the music director of the St. Paul Singers of Juneau from 1970-1980. They sang folk music throughout Alaska and Canada and also garnered an invitation from the President of Romania to perform in that country. Belcher was also interested in nutrition so in 1979, she applied for and secured a $20,000 state grant entitled, “Alaska Holistic Health Association” for educating local and state populations about the benefits of alternative health principles. That same year she worked on creating a wilderness experience to give Alaska teens an immersion opportunity to learn outdoor survival skills in Southeast Alaska with advice and assistance from Paul Petzold, the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
In 1983, she organized 40 Goodwill Ambassadors who sang their way from Juneau to Anchorage and Fairbanks with a simple mission: to foster state unity and to convince residents that Juneau should remain the state’s capital. Alaska Committee chairman Jim Clark said their efforts had a definite effect on the positive outcome of that year’s vote for keeping the capital in Juneau.
Later Belcher organized another group, Performing Artists for Peace, to reunite Siberian and Alaska Yup’ik relatives across the Bering Sea. They had been separated for 40 years. Performers included the Tanqik Theatre from Chevak, the Juneau Folksingers and Dancers, the Nunamta Dancers from Bethel, the Savoonga Comedy Players and five black gospel singers from Anchorage. The 67 performers spent more than a year studying Russian music, culture, history and language in preparation for a month long tour that took them across 11 time zones and 7,800 miles from Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East to Leningrad in the West. When the performers left Alaska in October 1986, they were accompanied by press and film crews, eight Eskimo elders and former Governor Jay Hammond and his wife, Bella, who is part Yup’ik. Thousands of Soviets came to see the Alaskans, and once again, music and dance successfully bridged geographic, linguistic, cultural, political and ideological barriers. The Alaskans returned home determined to work to open the border.
Performing Artists for Peace evolved into CAMAI, the Yup’ik word for “Hello,” in 1987 and Belcher lectured and lobbied in Washington D.C. and Moscow to open the border. In the summer of 1988, the Bering Strait opened with Alaska Airline’s Friendship Flight to Providenia and the sailboat voyage of Alaska Eskimos to Novo Chaplino. CAMAI lobbied extensively in Moscow for both ventures, and Eskimo families on both sides celebrated first reunions. The effort spawned numerous exchanges and joint ventures in athletics, music and the arts.
Next Belcher organized other concerts in Alaska and the lower 48 aimed at fostering understanding among Christian, Muslim and Jewish people through the use of music. Her activism continues to this day, most notably with Turning the Tides, an educational initiative to focus attention on the effects of pollution, acidification, temperature warming and plastics on the world’s oceans.
She also travels internationally to promote the program OceanBeat where young people connect around the world via the internet, using music as an international language, to share ideas across political, cultural and religious borders to discover commonalities with one another other to work toward common environmental goals. She is in the process of linking students interested in working for change with schools in Myanmar, India, Gaza, Peru, Ecuador, Ghana and Kenya. The experimental program is combining three schools at a time to brainstorm environmental and/or peace projects, learn upbeat songs and sing together via the internet. OceanBeat is also connecting Alaskan students with North Indian Tibetan refugees and tribal young people in the Brazilian jungle. On a weekly basis youth exchange recordings of music and dance and then they meet monthly on the internet to sing together and to talk about environmental awareness. The ultimate goal is an international internet concert featuring young people singing together to raise awareness and inspire action. It is a culmination incorporating what she has learned about the environment and how music can inspire change. In her travels she has been adopted by four Native tribes, two in Alaska and two in the South Pacific.
Over her life time Belcher is well-known in Juneau for making a difference in the local community through projects she designed to help prison inmates as well as young people. She also facilitated bringing Buckminster Fuller to Juneau to address the issues of affordable housing. Belcher has served on the World Affairs Council board and on the Empty Chair Project board, which built a memorial to honor Juneau’s Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. It is the first memorial of its kind in Alaska.
The Alaska State Legislature has recognized Belcher twice for the difference she’s made in shaping events in the state. In 1988, members of the Fifteenth Alaska Legislature recognized her receipt of the Bahai’s Kempton Award for Service to Humanity. It is given to an individual “who displays outstanding and selfless service to humanity and whose efforts reflect contributions to peace and equality.” In 2006, members of the Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature honored Dixie for her “belief in music to dissolve barriers, sideline anger, and help people to envision and build a better life.”
Belcher also has an international presence. She was an invited speaker to the Global Forum on Saving the Environment in 1988, a conference addressed by Mikail Gorbachov and sponsored by the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s governing body, and the Soviet Academy of Scientists. Following that conference, she attended the Citizen’s Summit on the Environment where she and Gennady Gerasimov were presented the Soviet Peace Award for their accomplishments in opening the Bering Strait to travel and commerce between the Soviet Union and the United States. She was invited to speak at the 2012 International Environmental Conference in Lima, Peru where she is on the board of that country’s Organization for the Research and Conservation of Marine Mammals. She authored an article being published now in the next issue of India’s International Journal for Transformation of Consciousness.
Through her leadership, Belcher has served as an example of social and political activism locally, nationally and internationally to effect positive change. With her deep convictions and willingness to devote her life to bringing about such change, Belcher has inspired many and is still working to make the world a better place.
1988 Fifteenth Alaska Legislature Citation honoring Dixie Belcher recognizes Bahai’s Honor Kempton Award for Service to Humanity.
2006 Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature Citation Honoring Dixie Belcher, Exec. May 4.
Gehman, G. (1994). Peace broker Dixie Belcher puts faith and people’s money in ‘Hope.’ The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, November 13.
Mauer, R. (1989). Soviet rock-and-roll bridges the Bering Strait. The Anchorage Journal, Special to The New York Times, February 27.
Turn of the Tide, theme song for Turning The Tides, uploaded August 12, 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9bapkrCPXg
Arne Beltz, with a physician father and a nurse mother, grew up in a household which was built around the patients. Inspired by her father’s dedication to his patients, she chose a career in nursing.
After completing college with a major in biology, Beltz obtained a Masters in Nursing from Yale School of Nursing (1940-42) and in 1947 completed the Public Health Nursing Program at NYU. Initially working as a visiting nurse in New York and in the Philippines as a member of the Army Nurse Corp (1945), she then entered the Public Health Service in Georgia. When the supervising nurse asked for volunteers to go to Alaska, Beltz said “yes.”
She started her nursing career in Alaska in 1948, fighting a TB outbreak in Wrangell and then, as the itinerate public health nurse, served Kake and Angoon (1950-51), supervised the Fairbanks Health Center (1952-56) and then was assigned to Unalakleet and surrounding villages, including Stebbins, St. Michael, Koyuk and Shaktoolik (1954-59). The job of the itinerate public health nurse was around the clock, subject to call at any time, and often the only medical help available. Beltz recalls some of the challenges she faced, such as having to sew up a man’s scalp in Angoon which he had accidentally split open with his ax. She also faced a polio epidemic in Fairbanks with the difficulties of sterilizing and reassembling, after each shot, the glass syringes and needles so each school child could be immunized. Beltz cited her work with infants and babies, as well as with victims of TB, as having provided the most satisfaction. She found working and living in the villages very rewarding and credited the success of the program in those early years to the one-on-one home visits to each family, allowing the nurse to observe and teach and the family to confide.
As manager of the Community Health Services Division of the Municipality of Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services for 20 years (1960-80), she created many new programs and entities. After the 1964 earthquake, Beltz set up and directed diphtheria and typhoid clinics in Anchorage and other locations. In the early 1970s she pioneered the use of nurse practitioners in women’s health in Alaska. Beltz organized the Municipality of Anchorage, the Department of Health and Human Services and federal Title X family planning funds into a training facility for premed, nursing, village aides, public health nurses, students earning their masters’ degrees in social work, medical assistants and nurse practitioners. Under her leadership, the Women, Infants and Children’s Nutrition Program, the Child Abuse Board, the Home Health Agency and the Family Planning and Women’s Health Program were started. Beltz and the division initiated a project to train nurse practitioners to perform certain gynecological procedures and that program received national and international attention. Many of the health-related non-profits in Anchorage exist today due to her encouraging staff to participate in professional organizations and engage in community service.
Beltz was active with the Alaska State Nurses Association, serving as president (1973-75) and was instrumental in educating state legislators about the role of the itinerate public health nurse in Alaska’s villages. She also advocated for the increased roles advanced nurse practitioners would be authorized to perform under the Nurse Practice Act.
Arne married William Beltz and they had four children: Mark, William, Kathy and Axel. William Beltz was elected to both the territorial and state legislatures and served as the first President of the Alaska State Senate.
In 1990 Beltz was honored for her many contributions in public health nursing in both the state and the city by the Municipality which named the building housing the Department of Health and Human Services as the Arne Beltz Building. In 1991 she was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Commission Hall of Fame and, in 2003, was honored to be one of the first four nurses in the state to be nominated to the Alaska Nurses’ Hall of Fame.
One who worked for many years with Beltz summed up her leadership skills by stating: “Arne had the ability to bring out the best in the people who worked with her…she gave them the freedom to do the job…she gave…good direction…creativity flourished…and (she was) a team player herself… . (H)er willingness to lead by example was inspirational to those she worked for and those who worked for her.”
Beltz is regarded as a visionary leader in public health, one who shaped its practices and institutions and played a key role in Alaska’s major health events, as well as serving as a mentor and inspiration to all who worked with her.
Achievement in: Alaska Native Politics to include Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)
Born Laura Mae Beltz, daughter of Frederica “Rica” and Bert Beltz, Sr. on Oct. 1, 1940, in a small mining town, she grew up in Kotzebue with one sister and two brothers. Beltz was a graduate of Mount Edgecombe High School, where she enjoyed school and extracurricular activities such as cheerleading and acting. After high school Beltz married prominent Alaska businessman Neil Bergt in 1958 and they had four children, two daughters and two sons. Divorced in 1977, she was then married to William Crockett, a lawyer from Hawaii for about two years and spent most of her winters in Hawaii and summers in Alaska.
Bergt had an eclectic professional history that included many national and local political and policy positions in an era when women were not relevant in politics. Governor Walter Hickel appointed her a member of the Native Claims Task Force. President Richard Nixon appointed her to the National Council on Indian Opportunity, where she testified in Congress on several occasions in support of securing Alaska Native traditions, subsistence lifestyle and self-determination through the corporate model that is at the foundation of ANCSA. In these roles, Bergt established a friendship with Vice President Spiro Agnew, which paved the way to introducing the Alaska Federation of Natives Leadership to the Nixon administration. Bergt was the person who set up the initial meeting between the Alaska Federation of Native’s (AFN) president Don Wright and the Nixon administration (March 12, 1970) and it was this meeting that resulted in President Nixon’s support of the AFN position on ANCSA (December 18, 1971).
Bergt was also extensively involved in various capacities with the Republican Party in Alaska and in 1973 was appointed to fill the unexpired Alaska State Senate seat of U.S. Congressman Don Young. Unfortunately, she did not receive party endorsement for confirmation and a special election was held instead. In 1976 she was appointed by President Gerald Ford as a distinguished member to the American Revolution Bicentennial Council, which planned the 200th birthday celebration of the United States.
Bergt was also a member of numerous other commissions, councils and/or boards including the Native American Council of Regents of the Institute of American Indian Arts, the University of Alaska Village Arts and Crafts Upgrade Committee, the Alaska State Rural Affairs Commission, the Indian Art and Crafts Board for the Department of the Interior, Alaska Reapportionment Advisory Board, State Tourism Advisory Board, State Commission for Employment of the Handicapped, State Native Foods Advisory Council, State Task Force on Hard of Hearing, Alaska Crippled Children’s Association Board, Arctic Association for Retarded Children Board, the Breast Cancer Detection Center for Alaska Board, the Alaska Remote Housing Committee, the Alaska Plan Policy Board, and Cook Inlet Native Association. She was also the secretary for the Alaska Federation of Natives, the director of Tundra Times newspaper, the president of Musk Ox Producers Co-Op, and organizer and chair of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
In addition to her civic and public service, the acting skills learned in high school were evident in many national promotional activities she did on behalf of Alaska and Alaska Native people. She appeared on the cover of Holiday Magazine and numerous national television programs, including the Donald O’Connor Show, Jackie Joseph Show, Ed Sullivan Show, and Lowell Thomas “High Adventure” series, as well as three times on the Johnny Carson Show.
Among all of her distinguished professional, political, and community accomplishments, Bergt is also a gold medalist in the Eskimo blanket toss and is remembered through many publications and meetings dedicated to her and her ability to give women a voice during a time when women were not relevant in politics.
Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary, News Release June 1, 1976.
Tundra Times, March 21, 1984, p. 16
Tundra Times, March 28, 1984, p. 4
Daily News-Miner, March 15, 1984
Interviews with Laura Beltz Bergt
Gretchen Towne Bersch has dedicated her life to adult and continuing education. In addition to creating the master’s degree in Adult Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage, she worked on the Adult Literacy Lab Project, coordinated the Credit for Prior Learning program, co-created the UAA/Magadan student exchange program with the International Pedagogical University in Magadan Russia, where she was awarded an honorary professorship and also established and funded an Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award that continues today. Bersch also worked tirelessly to assist the people of Magadan through an extremely harsh winter when their lives were at risk from cold and hunger.
Bersch was nominated for the Professor of the Year award from the Carnegie Foundation and received the Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence, a statewide honor through the University of Alaska Foundation (1996). She was a U.S. representative for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations’ conference on adult learning held in Germany in 1997. She co-chaired Operation Magadan, a humanitarian relief effort that resulted in 30,000 pounds of warm clothing, blankets, baby formula and 16,000 boxes of food being sent to the residents of Magadan during a particularly difficult winter in 1998. In 2006 the adult education collection in the Consortium Library at UAA was named for her, and in 2007 she was appointed to the Sister Cities Commission by the mayor of Anchorage. In 2008, in conjunction with a UNESCO meeting in Budapest, Hungary, Bersch was one of 11 international educators inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.
Born in Berkeley, California, Bersch is the oldest of six and comes from a lineage of heroic women. Her great-great-grandmother was one of three who started the Oregon Women’s Suffrage Association in 1870 and her grandmother served on the Seattle City Council for 20 years, still the longest-serving woman to have served on this council. Her mother, “a tomboy by nature, was a very strong woman who raised her children to be strong and independent,” Bersch said.
After graduating from Homer High School in 1962, Bersch attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, for two years, then transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in General Science and Mathematics in 1967, married and started a family.
Bersch began her career in education teaching math and science to 7th and 8th graders. During this time, she had the opportunity to teach adults GED classes at night, which sparked her interest and career in adult education. In 1971 she moved to the village of Kaltag on the Yukon River and became a faculty member at what was then Anchorage Community College. From Kaltag, she moved to Goodnews Bay then, in 1972, to Anchorage.
Bersch earned a master’s degree in Secondary Education from UAA in 1973 and developed a series of pedagogical and curriculum materials on adult education that she used in rural villages to train teachers in adult education. She served on the ACC Institutional Planning Committee and was co-chair of the ACC/UAA Academic Curriculum Policy Board, which was responsible for successfully merging the community college into UAA. Bersch also served on UAA’s Program Assessment Committee and the Academic Affairs Task Force.
At the age of 40, Bersch took a year-long sabbatical to begin a Ph.D. program in Adult Education from Florida State University. She returned to Anchorage to continue her work as a faculty member at UAA and received her Ph.D. in 1990. It was after earning her doctoral degree that Bersch developed the UAA/Magadan student exchange program and began pursuing other interests. Those interests included developing an educational retreat center and – what she considers to be her life contribution to the field of adult education – a series of filmed interviews with 80 of the world’s top scholars in the field of adult education. These interviews are titled: Conversations on Lifelong Learning. To date, 40 of these interviews have been made into DVD programs.
Bersch fully retired from the university in 2006 and continues her legacy in adult education by organizing adult education activities through her learning retreat center at her family’s homestead on Yukon Island. She serves on the Opportunities for Lifelong Education (Olé!) board. She continues to work on completing the Conversations on Lifelong Learning project and is currently writing a book with colleagues around the country about women who were involved in the early development of adult education. Bersch has provided inspiration to the recipients of the Magadan Teacher of the Year Award to each write a chapter of a book about best practices in teaching and she has funded the publication. The book is written in Russian and is soon to be released. On a more personal note, she is writing vignettes for her grandchildren about her family lineage and will become a great-grandmother in June. Reflecting on her career in adult education, Bersch explained, “If there is one thing I would like to do, it is to break down the barriers and fear of learning.”
Science education Daisy Lee Bitter has been determined to make the world a better place working to improve the human condition, especially through education broadly defined. She has felt she could do that best by helping individuals reach their highest potential while enjoying the process. Central to this was getting students as realistically and deeply involved as possible outside the conventional ‘four walls.’ She said, “I was not looking for innovations, just more effective ways to help people learn and hopefully enjoy it in the process.” (Personal communication to Gretchen Bersch, 2015). She has been an inspiring role model as she put this philosophy into action.
The daughter of Fresno County, Calif., farmers, Bitter graduated summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Arts from University of California at Fresno State. She met Conrad Bitter when he was discharged from the army after five years of service during WWII, three of which were atop Mount Ballyhoo overlooking Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. In a few years, Bitter took a recess from the classroom to spend time with their son Tim, who was born in 1960. Later, Bitter earned her Masters of Arts of Teaching from Alaska Methodist University, where she also earned many educational credits beyond her masters.
In 2011 the Homer Tribune said of Bitter: “Daisy Lee Bitter is a legendary Alaskan science educator whose well-informed, innovative approach to education has inspired thousands” [of people from young children to adults]. “Through years in the classroom, hands-on outdoor workshops and field trips, books and articles, she has informed and shared her love of science and Alaska’s environment.”
As well as being an outstanding and innovative teacher, Bitter was a powerful mentor as well. Gretchen Bersch was fortunate to student teach under her, and considered the experience life changing as it launched her own four decades of teaching (personal communication, October 2014). Reflecting on his experiences in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Bill Tanner wrote, “There was no question that [Bitter] was considered by all who worked with her, as one of the very top teachers in the Anchorage School District and I learned more from her about what makes a good teacher and leader than she probably ever knew” (letter, June 10, 2003). Her work and influence as a school principal permeated the schools she worked in. Diana Snowden wrote, “Her personal qualities of integrity, warmth, caring and excellent interpersonal skills make her one of the best liked and most respected elementary principals. She is a most creative, dynamic person with superb ability and high professional competency.”
Bitter was very successful in building community support for her teaching and her students. As an elementary school teacher, her classroom was a vibrant laboratory. An Anchorage bank president sent ducks from his weekend hunts so her students could learn duck anatomy and introductory taxidermy. Judge McCrary not only allowed her to bring her class to visit his courtroom during ‘appropriate’ sessions, but he collected eggs from his geese for hatching in a classroom incubator. When Bitter asked for a school key so she could get in on weekends to spray water on the duck and goose eggs, the head custodian at Romig Junior High refused, saying “Absolutely not! You do so much for these kids already. I’ll come over and spray the eggs.”
Bitter made all of Alaska her classroom, and drew in community members as well as her students – field trips to Kachemak Bay to explore the marine life, geology field trips to the Matanuska Valley, hiking to the top of Bodenburg Butte to touch the grooves made by glaciers, local trips of all sorts, even a field trip for teachers by helicopter to an oil platform in Cook Inlet. When her class hiked almost a mile to the generation plant near Ship Creek, the HEA employees explained the process from coal to electricity in a way that sixth graders could understand. After the 1964 Alaska earthquake, she and her students at Wendler Junior High used everyday materials to build a seismograph that recorded the largest aftershock; their efforts and results were reported in the Anchorage papers and by Associated Press. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Anchorage School District did not employ a science consultant or a specialist in environmental education. Bitter and several district consultants worked with the Alaska Department of Education, the University of Alaska and the U.S. Park Service to organize and conduct a five-day environmental education workshop at Katmai that drew 50 people. She chartered school busses and airplanes to bring kids on field trips at a time when funding was available for sports and very little for other activities.
Sports and outdoor activities were also an important part of her early life. She was chosen for the Anchorage Women’s All-Star Softball Team in both 1955 and 1956. She shot and dressed out her first caribou in 1957, and bagged her first limit of ducks after gathering limbs for her diamond willow artwork. She caught several king salmon weighing more than 50 pounds and the heaviest king held the record in the Alaska Sports Fishing Association for many years.
Music also was important to Bitter. She directed the Woodland Park School Choir, and they sang on an early Anchorage television broadcast. She taught folk dancing for the Anchorage Ski Club.
In addition to her professional employment, Bitter was active in professional organizations and as a community volunteer. She was president of the Anchorage Education Association and president of her son Tim’s Northwood School’s P.T.A. She chaired the school district’s science curriculum committee and she represented the district on the Anchorage Literacy Board. She chaired the first Finance Forum for Women as a member of the American Association of American Women and was a charter member of Cook Inlet Soroptimists. She served on the Camp Fire board.
In a time when there was less sensitivity to Alaska Native people and their educational needs and before there were high schools in many villages, Bitter wrote the first two funding grants and was the first director of the Indian Education Program in Anchorage. She coordinated the Boarding Home Program for 450 Alaska Native high school students from villages where there was no high school, offering extra support for those rural students. In addition to the innovative techniques she used to motivate her students, Bitter also enriched the curriculum for the Native village students. She set up a Native students’ speakers bureau and held workshops in both Yupik and Inupiat. She supervised the Rural Transition Center for younger students. She hired teachers to develop more effective teaching materials and also developed and taught university classes on Alaska ethnic studies. Frank Haldane, Tsimshian from Metlakatla, was a member of the Parents Advisory Committee for Anchorage’s Indian Education Program. He praised her key work with the Indian Education Act, her ethnic studies teacher workshops, bringing Alaska Natives to lecture and share, directing the award-winning First Alaskans television series. He wrote, “I am convinced beyond doubt that she is one of the most sincere, dedicated and motivated individuals helping to resolve much of the Alaska Native’s peculiar problems and to help the public and the district’s teachers to better understand the various ethnic lifestyles, their heritage and arts.”
When Bitter and her husband Conrad retired to the hills overlooking Homer in 1983, fishing, gardening and volunteerism played major roles for them both. Daisy Lee was asked to join the newly formed Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (CACS), and her impact with this organization has been major. She was the first education director; she developed workshops, guided groups, trained volunteers, taught university teacher training classes, and supported teachers and students who visited the Peterson Bay field station. Within four years, the Center’s educational program was recognized as outstanding, a ‘state exemplar’ by the National Science Teachers Association. She led the first and second CoastWalks, and began helping with weekly public radio broadcasts of Kachemak Currents, informative programs that explore natural history, and still continued to produce and narrate programs 29 years later. She was instrumental in convincing Carl Wynn to donate the property that is the CACS’s Carl E. Wynn Nature Center, and continues to serve on the Wynn Committee. The log cabin headquarters at the Wynn Center is named for Daisy Lee Bitter. Many of the Center’s volunteers were strong supporters of buying land for the state park across Kachemak Bay and Bitter was one of them. She was a founding member of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, Alaska’s first land trust. She was the first education chair for the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and for many years was an active volunteer in the lab.
Other groups she has been involved and volunteered with are Pioneers of Alaska, the Alaska Native Plant Society, the Homer Senior Citizens, Homer/Kachemak Bay Rotary, South Peninsula Hospital, the South Peninsula Sportsmen’s Association, the Homer Chamber of Commerce, the Kenai Peninsula School District, and the Homer Foundation. Through her Marine and Coastal Education account at the Homer Foundation, she has funded several worthwhile community education activities.
Following her lifelong interest in botany, Bitter became a Master Gardener in the mid 1990s, volunteering to advise and teach others. She has taught college classes on wild/edible and medicinal plants and other subjects for the early University of Alaska Fairbanks programs, Kenai Peninsula College, the University of Alaska, and the Alaska State Troopers. In 2009, she re-invented herself to become a peony farmer and has thousands of peonies blooming on her Kachemak Seascape Peony Farm each summer. She has volunteered with the state peony growers’ group, sharing her research on peony varieties most appropriate for Alaska. As a well known Alaska gardener and naturalist, her home was on early garden tours; her perennial flower garden has had more than 100 different varieties of native and domestic flowers and plants.
In summary, Bitter has been an outstanding and generous educator for more than 60 years, touching thousands of lives through her teaching, her mentoring, her explorations, and her volunteer work. She has demonstrated her passion for teaching, her talent at leading, her generosity in volunteering, and her gift at inspiring thousands of people of all ages to learn about and appreciate Alaska’s natural world.
Associations and Organizations
- President, Anchorage Education Association—1957-58
- Alaska Education Association First Delegate Assembly—delegate—1959
- Alaska Director, Northwest Marine Educator’s Association—1988
- Spenard Community Council—helped get many acres for parks and recreation— 1970’s
- Delta Kappa Gamma—(Largest International Honorary Women Educators’ Organization)
Member of international legislative committee
Alaska State Vice-President President of Alpha Chapter Charter
- President of Omicron Chapter Parent Teacher Association
Alaska State Vice-President
Anchorage Central Council Secretary, 1954-55s
Northwood School President
- Alaska State Curriculum Committee – Appointed for two terms
- Anchorage School District Chair -Science Curriculum Committee
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies – Board member for many years
First Education Director—developed national award-winning programs
President for 3 years
Organized and led the first two CoastWalks
Wrote and broadcast “Kachemak Currents” on public radio for 29 years
Wrote grant for Wynn Nature Center and continuous membership on advisory committee
- Kachemak Heritage Land Trust (Alaska’s first land trust)
Founding member, on board and land & easement committee for many of the early years, Vice President
- Kachemak Bay Research Reserve
Appointed to the first Advisory Board and served for many years
Education Chair first and for many years
Helped with numerous lab sessions for the public
- Pioneers of Alaska
State Officer for 3 years
Homer Women’s Igloo President 2 years
Introduced the book writing concept which resulted in the book In Those Days
- Alaska Peony Growers’ Association
State board member 2009-2012
Three conference presentations on research on best varieties for Alaska
Leadership in Conference Organizing and Workshops
- Northwest Association of Marine Educators Regional Conference in Homer—Chair– 1989
- Alaska Education Association State Conference in Anchorage—Co-chair
- Alaska Parent-Teacher Association State Conference in Kenai—Chair
- Alaska Delta Kappa Gamma State Conference in Juneau—Chair
- Alaska State Principal’s Association Conference in Anchorage—Co-chair
- Alaska Workshop to Improve Science Education – Chair
- ASD (Anchorage School District) Elementary Principal’s Administrative Manuals
Chair of committee to eliminate sexist terminology
- Soroptomist of Cook Inlet- Charter member
- Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary- Chair Community Services
- Grand Marshall, Fourth of July Parade, Homer—July 2014
- Certificate of Achievement “For living courageously with diabetes for 68 years” from the Joslin Diabetes Center (part of the Harvard Medical School)–June 2014
- Alaska Conservation Foundation-Jerry Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education “For dedication to Alaska, its people, places, wild lands, & wildlife.”–2011
- Lifelong Learner Award from Friends of the Homer Library. This was the initial presentation—2009
- Homer Chamber of Commerce, Certificate of Honorary Membership–2008
- Volunteer of the Year Award from the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies–2006
- Kenai Peninsula Borough–Resolution commending DLB “For contributions, accomplishments, and community service.” 2003.
- We Alaskans, Volume One, Chapter 11: Daisy Lee Bitter (An honor to be chosen to be included in a book of stories of people who helped build the Great Land). Article and photos. 2002.
- Pratt Museum Natural History Service Award—2000
- Bitter Boardwalk– elevated plank walkway in Calvin & Coyle Nature Trail System, Homer, to honor DLB, who “has done so much to promote environmental education for school students and the general public.”- 1997
- Alaska State Legislature — “For outstanding volunteer service in establishing award winning environmental education programs and making considerable contributions to a wide range of other organizations.” 1991
- Eight Stars of Gold Citizenship Award—First annual award, presented by Governor Cooper – -1990.
- Alaska State Legislature –“For volunteer work, photography, work in education, and holding the Alaska Trolling Club’s record for catching heaviest king salmon.”–1989
- Northwest Association of Marine Educators (Northwest states, Western Canada, and Alaska). Outstanding Marine Educator and “being a driving force in creating CACS” (Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies) – 1988
- Alaskan Exemplar for Excellence in Science Education (Awarded by the National Science Teachers Association for the interdisciplinary education program at CACS created by DLB)—1987
- Homer Citizen of the Year–1986
- Alaska State Legislature– “For wide range of expertise, developing statewide educational materials, awards for her volunteer work, organizing numerous trips for students as far as Barrow and Juneau. Her zest for living is an inspiration. “ 1983
- Campfire, Inc., Volunteer Award–For years of service on the state board. Willard Bowman Human Rights Award from the National Education Association “For creative leadership and efforts in advancing the cause of human rights for students and educators.” –1979
- First Alaskans (1971 Televised Series of Programs with Teacher’s Guide)- awarded Alaska Press Award.
- Anchorage School District Teacher of the Year–1967
- Jay Hammond’s Alaska Television series. Featured guest on program about Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies Science programs that DLB started.
- Alaska Conservation Foundation (2011). Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education: Daisy Lee Bitter, Homer- Innovating science education. Retrieved from http://alaskaconservation.org/ achievement-awards/award-winners/2011- conservation-achievement-awards-winners/
- Bitter, D. L. (1970). Alaska ecology: Teacher’s guide. Anchorage AK: Anchorage Borough School District.
- Bitter, D. L. (Television teacher). (1970). Alaska ecology. [Televised programs]. Anchorage AK: Anchorage Borough School District.
- Bitter, D. L. (1971). The first Alaskans: Teacher’s guide. Anchorage AK: Anchorage Borough School District.
- Bitter, D. L. (Producer). (1971). The first Alaskans. [Televised programs]. Anchorage AK: Anchorage Borough School District.
- Bitter, D. L. (Author, director). (1990). Alaska then and now—As interpreted by today’s women pioneers. [Play]. Performed at 1990 Pioneers of Alaska Convention.
- Bitter, D. L. (1991). In those days: Alaska pioneers of lower Kenai peninsula, (First ed.). (DLB chapter & photos). Kenai Peninsula AK: Pioneers of Alaska.
Lydia Black was an anthropologist whose research restored to Alaskan peoples important features of their history and culture. Black was known for emphasizing artistic and cultural accomplishments rather than the social skills of Alaska Native cultures. “They know they have problems. My job is to remind them of their glory,” she said.
Born in the Ukraine, educated in Russia, Germany and the United States, Black became a professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1984. Black retired in 1998 and continued her work in Kodiak where she helped translate and catalogue Russian archives.
Yup ik elder Rita Blumenstein was born on a fishing boat and raised in the Yup ik village of Tununak on Nelson Island, Alaska. A traditional healer and spiritual leader, Rita was a tribal doctor for the South Central Foundation, and is currently a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, “a global alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth. . . and for the next seven generations to come.”
Boochever was the originator of the State Council on the Arts and served on the board for 12 years. The Council has had a significant impact in the lives of all Alaskans by providing support and funding for community arts groups statewide that bring all of us wonderful programs, music, theater and visual arts. Additionally, Boochever started Juneau Douglas Little Theater, served as its president and acted, produced and directed numerous plays. She chaired the Save the Organ committee that salvaged a historical theater organ that now graces the Alaska State Office building, where concerts have been held over the years. A long-time resident of Juneau, Boochever moved there in 1946 and lived there for 44 years until her husband’s appointment to the 9th Circuit Court took her to California. She loved Juneau and continued to spend her summers there. Boochever’s volunteerism for Juneau and the arts statewide was significant. She was incredibly organized and believed in donating her many talents toward ensuring that the arts would thrive in Alaska. She believed art would enhance the daily lives of all residents of our state. As one resident in Juneau said, “It was easier to say ‘yes’’ to Connie than to not get involved in her many projects.” She had a way of getting the whole community involved in making it a better, more lively and beautiful place to live.
The Juneau community recognized Boochever’s contributions in 1973 when she was named Juneau’s Woman of the Year. Other awards include the Governor’s Award for the Arts for outstanding achievement in the arts in 1982. Also that year, she was honored by both houses of the State Legislature for her outstanding contributions to the arts in Alaska.
Connie was born in 1919 and passed away in 1999. When she passed away, her family set up the Connie Boochever Endowment for the Arts program and, to date, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, the organization that manages the fund, has awarded 24 Connie Boochever individual artist fellowships in support of art in Alaska.
Judy Brady came to Alaska in l963 to work for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She said later that at the time she was disappointed that she had missed the fight for statehood, never guessing what was coming next. What was coming next was the giant Prudhoe Bay oil discovery on Alaska’s North Slope, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the major environmental legislation of the l970s. Through the next 50 years, she would be involved in public policy decisions affected by all of these events.
Throughout Brady’s career, she has displayed leadership in pursuing issues she believed were important that influenced the course of our state’s history. During her work as a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, she became interested in Native land claim issues and Native education issues. She was invited to be a member of the Fairbanks Native Association board of directors and was later made an honorary lifetime member of the Association.
After the birth of her son, Steve, Brady worked as editor for the Tundra Times while the publisher/editor, Howard Rock, was on sabbatical. During that year she was awarded Best Editorial and Best Feature from the Alaska Press Club.
Initially under contract to edit economic and resource development studies, Brady was named editor of the Review of Business and Economic Conditions for the newly formed Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at University of Alaska in l967, during which she authored a review on “Alaska Native Claims Land Freeze,” among others.
After moving to Anchorage in l970, Brady was co-editor of the Alaska Native Management Report for the newly formed Alaska Native Foundation. Her twin daughters, Erin and Meghan, were born in Anchorage. In l974 the Secretary of the Interior appointed Brady as chief administrative judge of the newly formed U.S. Department of Interior’s Alaska Native Claims Appeals Board. The board was established to hear and decide appeals on land selection decisions arising under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Board decisions could be appealed to the federal courts, but were final for the Department of the Interior. The decisions determined title to thousands of acres of land contested by the newly formed Native corporations, the State of Alaska, federal agencies and individuals. Board decisions established legal precedent for future land conveyance decisions, including the definition of navigable waters.
The first year hearings were to decide whether or not challenged communities were villages under the definitions of the Claims Act. In some communities armed marshals were present at the hearings. Because the board was located outside of Washington, D.C., and because the board heard appeals from one of newest and most complicated land disposal acts the department had ever attempted to implement, Brady was also given the opportunity to advise the Secretary of Interior on issues requiring policy determination on matters not in front of the board. The board completed its work in 1982. That same year Commonwealth North co-chairs, former governors Walter Hickel and Bill Egan, selected Brady as the first woman executive director of the organization where she served until 1987. Brady returned in 1996 to serve as Commonwealth North’s first woman president.
Brady continued her public policy involvement by serving as commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (1987-89) under Gov. Steve Cowper. In this capacity she advised state leaders on key resource development policies. She brought that understanding to her role as executive director of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, where she served until her retirement in 2007. She was known for her level approach to balancing the state’s rights with the leaseholders of the state’s oil and gas and did so with the respect of her colleagues and foes.
Brady’s list of community involvement, both professional and non-profit, is lengthy and includes many positions of leadership, including chair of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. In 2004 she was selected as one of only five women of the Top 25 Most Influential Business Leaders in Alaska by theAlaska Journal of Commerce the article about Brady begins, “. . . it may be easier to list the boards and organizations for which she has not served.” That multi-paged list includes non-profits and professional organizations in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau and many state-wide groups.
Current community involvement: ML&P Commissioner 2011-present,current chair; Mayor’s Energy Transition Team 2008, chair; Mayor’s Energy Task Force 2008-present, past chair and current member; Ted Stevens Airport Stakeholders’ Task Force 2005-present; Lumen Christi High School 2012-present, board member.
Prior community involvement (partial list): Alaska Command Advisory Board, member, 1992-2007; National Security Forum, Air Force War College, Alaska Representative 1993 & 1997; Woman of Achievement 1995; Anchorage Chamber Board, chair, 1992-1993; Commonwealth North, president, 1996; board member, Governor’s Task Force, Alaska Civil Justice Reform 1996; UAA School of Business Dean’s Executive Advisory Council, chair 1994-1996; Women Executives in State Government, national vice-chair 1987-1988; Interstate Oil Compact Commission, national vice chair 1988; First Interstate Bank of Alaska, board member 1987-2005; Alaska Pacific University Foundation, treasurer, 1994-1997; Alaska State Parks Foundation, board of trustees, 1994-1998; Governor’s Task Force, Alaska Civil Justice Report, 1996; Arctic Winter Games, board member, 1995-1996; Alaska Long Range Fiscal Planning Commission, vice chair, 1995; Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, commissioner, 1991-1992; McAuley House, board member, 1989-1992; President’s Roundtable, Alaska Pacific University 1988-1994; Anchorage Charter Review Commission, 1990; Alaska Marine Pilot’s Board, member, 1983-1986; Anchorage Port Commission, 1985-1987; Toastmasters, 1982-1987; Special Olympics Gymnastics Coach, l981-1985. Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts/Little League/PTA mom 1970 – 1982.
Community Recognition: Gold Pan Award, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Distinguished Community Service by an Individual 2006-2007; Anchorage Woman of Achievement 1995; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Society member 1997; Top 25 Most Influential Business Leaders, Alaska Journal of Commerce 2003 & 2004; Outstanding Service Contributions to the UAA School of Business 1996; Fairbanks Native Association, honorary lifetime member 1971; Who’s Who, American Colleges and Universities 1963.
Professional: Alaska Oil and Gas Association, executive director, 1993-2007; Alaska Municipal Bond Bank, executive director, 1989-1993; State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources, commissioner, 1987-1989; Commonwealth North, executive director, 1982-1987; United States Department of Interior, Alaska Native Claims Appeals Board, chief administrative judge, 1973-1982; Alaska Native Management Report co-editor, Alaska Native Foundation, 1971-1973; Community Enterprises Development Corporation, research associate, 1970-1971; Institute of Social, Economic & Research, Alaska Review of Economic Conditions, editor, 1966-1970; Tundra Times, managing editor, 1966-1967; Fairbanks News Miner, reporter/news editor, 1963-1966.
Brady received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Seattle University. Her hobbies are swing dancing and biking. She has one son and twin daughters.
Key Players: Charting Alaska’s Future, The Anchorage Times, March 23, l992
Women of Alaska’s Oil Patch, Alaska Oil & Gas Reporter, Spring 2001
Power Players, Alaska Business Monthly, June 2002
Oil, gas trade leader pushes permitting reform, Alaska Oil & Gas Reporter, April 15, 2002
Working Women, Anchorage Daily News, August 30, 2004
Alaska’s Top 25 Most Influential Business Leaders, Alaska Journal of Commerce, July 2003; July 2004
Profiles in Leadership, 2000 ATHENA Society Directory, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
Judy Brady: Gas Line a Must, Alaska Business Monthly, March 2007
Alice was best known for her work to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and her commitment to improving conditions in rural and urban health, education, human rights and subsistence issues. As a member of the first Alaska Federation of Natives Board of Directors, Chairman of the Board for the Alaskan Native Political Education Committee and a member of the rural Affairs Commission to name a few, Alice fought tirelessly for the rights of Alaskan Natives during a pivotal time in Alaskan history. She championed the causes of all people who were disadvantaged or disenfranchised through her work with humanitarian causes like the Hope Cottage, Jesse Lee Home and she was honored to be selected to attend the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972.
Alice worked tirelessly promoting civic responsibility and with courageous tenacity helped build consensus on many important issues of her day. Her work on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act helped shape the course of Alaskan history. As noted in the Alaska Senate resolution honoring her in 1973 – “her life and her devotion to her fellow Alaskans will long stand as an example to those who may follow in her footsteps.”
As the only woman on the original Board of Directors of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the only woman on the many committees, boards and commissions she served on, she became a role model for Native and non-Native women alike. She exemplifies what a powerful role women have in shaping the direction of future generations. With her actions she paved the way for many other dedicated women leaders and activists.
Daphne Brown was born in Manchester, N.H., and raised in Gardner, Mass. She graduated from Walnut Hill School in Natick, Mass., and went on to the University of Pennsylvania (B.A. 1970) and University of Washington (Master of Architecture 1973). She was awarded a Loeb Fellowship in 1989-1990 for studies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Brown was a principal with Kumin Associates Inc.
Throughout her life, Brown maintained an intense curiosity about place in an historical context. From trips to England at a young age to visit her mother’s family to ferreting out old graveyards and rock walls in the New England woods and countryside, Brown developed a keen historical imagination and sense of landscape, families and communities as they evolved over time. She approached her life in Anchorage and Alaska with a similar curiosity and wonder; often commenting on how privileged she was to be part of an ever-evolving city situated in the wilderness.
Her career as a prominent Anchorage architect reflected her love and respect for place and community. Arriving in Anchorage in 1975 Brown worked for CCC Architects under the tutelage of Ed Crittenden. In 1987 she went to work with Kumin Associates. These 35 years included significant service to her profession and community at national, state, and local levels serving various professional boards and commissions, including multiple terms as chair of the Municipality of Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission and state and regional licensing boards. Her public service reflected her deep commitment to viewing public planning, not just from the perspective of an architect, but as an active and involved citizen of the community.
This public service commitment started early in her career at CCC and was reflected in some of her most significant projects throughout the state. It culminated in the Anchorage museum’s expansion project where she led the design and construction team as the project manager for the responsible architect. This unique project demanded leading a complex, collaborative effort among the London-based design architect, the owner, the users, multiple specialty consultants and contractors.
Her colleagues said Brown’s special qualities were subtle and quiet, somewhat elusive to define, but charismatic – rather like the qualities of fine architecture. She was smart, thoughtful, headstrong, thorough, persistent, subtle, direct and relatively ego-free. She worked diligently and quietly, not making a big fuss, blazing trails in fields where women were just starting to be accepted. She had a big heart but she also had principles and wouldn’t let kindness sway her position. This kind firmness was a key aspect of her leadership,and probably instrumental in her success at leading the museum expansion to fruition.
Brown started her architectural education at a time when women were a rarity in the field. Over the years she mentored hundreds of aspiring young women through educational outreach in the Anchorage School District gifted program, through outreach and mentoring intern architects in her work and by example in her service work at the municipal, state and national levels of her service organizations.
Brown was a YWCA Woman of Achievement (1994) and a mentor in the ASD programs, and her work was featured nationally in the “Women in American Architecture” traveling show (1978-1988). The American Institute of Architects Alaska Awards programs honored a number of her architecture projects.
Most important throughout her life were family, friends and colleagues. She felt very fortunate to have spent the better part of her life with her husband, Jonathan, and daughter Catherine.
Brown said she believed from an early age the integration of the cultural aspects (art, music, literature) of our society into the political, educational, economic and governmental systems creates a better environment and quality of life for all.
The Anchorage Daily News, in a 1994 endorsement of Brown’s candidacy for reelection, said: “Commenting on the legislative career of downtown state Rep. Kay Brown requires a lengthy trip to the thesaurus of political superlatives. She is exceptionally smart. She keeps a workaholic’s pace around the Capitol and in her district. She has an excellent sense of the challenges facing Alaska, and the courage to tackle them, even when the solutions prove politically unpopular in the short term.
For years, she has labored to steer her colleagues away from fiscal irresponsibility and put state finances on a more sustainable, long-term footing. When powerful legislators are ready to go off half-cocked and pass bad bills, Rep. Brown raises piercing questions. She is a consistent, responsible voice for environmental protection, the interests of disadvantaged people and more responsive government.”
“If Alaska had 59 other lawmakers of Kay Brown’s stature, the state would be better prepared for the beginning of the 21st century, and citizens wouldn’t be so disgusted with the legislature,” the ADN said.
Brown was the prime sponsor of laws setting thermal and lighting standards for publicly financed houses and buildings; mandating reduction of and regulating hazardous waste; establishing family and medical leave for public employees; controlling access to tobacco; providing public access to electronic information; consolidating state housing agencies and increasing support for low income and rural housing; establishing confidentiality of communications between domestic violence counselors and victims; and instituting a “solicitors, don’t call me” option for consumers to increase telephone privacy.
Brown chaired a House Finance Fiscal Policy Subcommittee that conceived the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), which was passed by voters in 1990 to deal with the problem of short-term oil revenue variability and to help maintain a stable level of public spending. Brown played a key role in the CBR’s passage. “Over nearly two decades, the CBR has almost single-handedly staved off massive budget shortfalls,” the Department of Revenue’s Tax Division wrote in 2009.
The Alaska Civil Liberties Union honored Brown as “Civil Libertarian of the Year” in 1994 and said, “This past legislative session Kay Brown worked tirelessly to hold the line against legislators looking for easy solutions to respond to the citizenry’s growing concerns for the level of crime and violence in Alaska’s urban and rural communities. Her successful work against reinstatement of the death penalty in Alaska, and her tireless but fruitless efforts against treating juveniles accused of certain crimes as adults are examples of her valiant efforts in the face of an uninformed public, well organized victims’ rights advocates, gleeful prosecutors, and demagoguery from the leadership of both Houses and top Department of Law officials,” the ACLU said in a resolution honoring Brown.
“Kay also spent much of the session fighting to maintain protections for indigent women, men, and children. Kay fought for and won a budget amendment to provide over $700,000 in additional funding needed to continue the efforts of Alaska’s Child Support Enforcement Division. In the face of what looked like sure passage of Representative Hanley’s workfare legislation, she also worked to maintain benefits for AFDC mothers, getting an amendment passed that exempted mothers of children under 6 years old from the forced work or community service program, while at the same time helping to defeat any attempts to eliminate or restrict funding for Adult Pubic Assistance and Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” the ACLU said of Brown.
“In a year when the Alaska Legislature seemed bent on increasing the government’s police and prosecutorial powers, with no respect for the privacy, due process, and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitutions of Alaska and the United States, Kay Brown’s action shone forth. Her intelligent, well-researched, and reasonable arguments for her positions brought Kay Brown respect and admiration from her peers and Alaskans across this state, even as they disagreed with and often ignored her and her sound advice. She often seemed a lone voice for respect for individual freedoms,” the ACLU said.
Throughout her career, Brown championed open government. “It’s essential that citizens have access to what the government is doing,” said Brown. “Open meetings and open records are fundamental to democracy.”
As a freshman legislator, one of Brown’s first acts was to refuse to attend a closed meeting of the Majority Caucus, which led the group to open their caucuses to public view. “As soon as she got to the Legislature, Kay Brown put her political future on the line with a stand that infuriated many of her overwhelmingly male colleagues,” Alaska Dispatch News Columnist Charles Wohlforth wrote in a recent column. “She sent an open letter to her first majority caucus meeting saying she would refuse to attend unless the media and the public were let in. By legislative tradition deliberations happened in private, although the law said otherwise. “
“It was a unique moment of courage, as Anchorage Daily News columnist Suzan Nightingale noted at the time,” Wohlforth wrote. “The showdown over open meetings in 1987 stands out as an example of how a leader should behave.”
In 1991, Brown and the Alaska State Employees Association successfully sued Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill to force release of public records detailing the new Hickel Administration’s plans to reorganize state government. The lawsuit was filed after Coghill repeatedly denied requests by reporters and Brown to unveil his controversial “red-dot, gold-dot” charts and associated documents. A state Superior Court ordered the state to allow immediate access to all files and materials regarding the administration’s review of the organization of state government.
When the legislature was not in session, Brown worked as an analyst and consultant for PlanGraphics, a firm specializing in implementation of Geographic Information Systems. In that capacity, she helped utilities and local government agencies assess data systems and address organizational issues. With other PlanGraphics’ staff, she co-authored the book, Geographic Information Systems: A Guide to the Technology, published in 1991 by Van Nostrand Reinhold and reprinted by Chapman & Hall Inc.
Brown retired from the legislature in 1996, not seeking reelection that fall. She said at the time she was doing so to spend more time with her infant daughter and husband and because she was disillusioned with the Republican-led Legislature. Brown said issues being pushed by Republican leaders, such as a ban on same-sex marriages and opposition to health insurance for employees’ unmarried domestic partners, entered into her decision not to seek reelection. “It’s getting harder to remain calm, cheerful and constructive in the face of ignorance and bigotry,” the AP reported Brown as saying at the time.
Before running for the legislature, Brown worked in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for seven years. As Director of the Divisions of Oil and Gas and Minerals and Energy Management, Brown supervised the leasing, exploration and development of Alaska’s oil and natural gas resources. While she was Director, state North Slope royalty interests brought more than a billion dollars a year to the state treasury. Brown helped develop and institute a net profit leasing system so that the public treasury could capture a greater share of rent from state-owned oil, and instituted competitive bidding for sales of royalty oil, increasing income to the state treasury. She instituted a regular leasing schedule and oversaw the leasing of more than 2.5 million acres of state land for oil and gas exploration. Brown was a key witness in several major successful lawsuits against the industry for failing to pay the full amount of royalties owed.
After retiring from the Legislature, Brown became Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance and Alaska Conservation Voters. As the first executive director of this statewide coalition of Alaska environmental groups, she built the membership to 45 groups representing more than 45,000 individuals. She identified and articulated values shared by conservationists and mainstream Alaskans including support for a sustainable economy. Brown produced a daily drive-time show on KBYR featuring discussion of politics, conservation and social issues. Talk with Kay Brown began as a weekly show in 1996 and became a daily show in 1998.
Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. She continued working throughout her treatment, and is now thankful to be a 20-year survivor due to the excellent care of doctors and support of friends and family.
In 2000, Brown began working full time as a consultant as President of Kay Brown Communications. Under contract with the Alaska Conservation Voters (ACV), she managed its political program for several years. From 2001-2004, Brown led a progressive coalition that recruited, trained and supported candidates for public office. In 2002, Brown organized the Alaska Progressive Coalition, a diverse group of several hundred progressive activists. She managed the coalition’s five regional PACs that supported progressive candidates in local and state legislative elections in 2003 and 2004.
Brown helped progressives realize their goal of articulating a positive economic vision for Alaska by organizing the Prosperous Future Development (PFD) Coalition in 2003. Brown oversaw a work group of about 75 individuals who participated in developing the vision. She was editor and co-author of the resulting report, “An Economic Vision for a Prosperous Alaska.”
In 2005, Brown became the Alaska Communications Director for the Democratic National Committee, one of the initial wave of staffers from Gov. Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, and marking the first time that the national party had invested significant resources in Alaska. Brown worked for the national and state Democratic Parties and Democratic candidates in various capacities from 2005-2017.
In 2006, the Alaska Democratic Party sued the Division of Elections seeking to force release of public records needed to verify the 2004 election results. Through her work for the party, Brown uncovered a number of discrepancies including, in half of the House districts, more ballots being recorded as cast than there were registered voters in the district, according to the state’s official election tally. The Division of Elections refused for more than nine months to release the public records, but it did so just before a hearing was scheduled to begin in the lawsuit. A review of the audit trail of the electronic database for the 2004 elections, once released, showed that modifications were made to the database on July 12 and July 13, 2006, the ADP said. The Division of Elections refused to explain why changes were made to the electronic file so long after the 2004 election. “It may have been incompetence on the part of some employees, or it may have been malicious, but the whole episode is a dark blot that eroded public confidence in the integrity of our election,” Brown said.
Although the remarkable 2004 results were publicly posted on the DOE web site for many years, that web page has been removed and the 2004 General Election results are no longer part of the state’s chronicle of past election results.
Brown served as Statewide Director for the 2008 Democratic Coordinated Campaign and as the Alaska Democrats’ Coordinated Campaign Director in 2010. In 2010-11, Brown was project manager for Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a coalition of 17 organizations including unions, Alaska Native organizations and non-profits, that sought to prevent partisan gerrymandering by the Republican majority controlling the Redistricting Board.
Brown served as Executive Director of the Alaska Democratic Party from 2011 until retiring in early 2017. The Alaska party’s longest serving Executive Director; Brown helped Democrats pick up 3 seats in 2016, which was enough to flip the 40-member Alaska State House to Democratic control for the first time in 25 years. Alaska was one of 3 states in the country to flip a legislative chamber from red to blue in 2016.
In 2014 Brown helped orchestrate formation of the winning “unity ticket” of Governor Bill Walker, an Independent, and Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, a Democrat, and helped Democrats pick up two seats in the 60-member legislature. She helped elect a majority of progressives to take control of the Anchorage Assembly in 2013, and strengthen their majority to 8-3 in 2016.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1950, Brown was an only child, whose mother died when she was 15 and her father when she was 21. “Their early deaths made me self-reliant,” she said.
Brown received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Baylor University in 1973. She worked for United Press International in Atlanta for a few years, before moving to Alaska in 1976.
Her first job in Alaska was a feature writer for the Anchorage Times, where she and other reporters attempted to establish a union to push back on management’s interference in the newsroom. She worked next as a reporter, editor and co-owner of the Alaska Advocate, a statewide news magazine specializing in investigative and political reporting. In 1978 Brown went to work as an aide to Senate President John Rader.
Following Sen. Rader’s retirement, Brown worked as a Policy Analyst at the Legislative Research Agency and in several capacities at the Department of Natural Resources. Brown became Deputy Director of DNR’s Division of Minerals & Energy Management (DMEM) in 1980, and its Director in 1982. Under Gov. Sheffield’s administration DMEM was reorganized into two divisions, and Brown then became Director of Oil and Gas.
Brown married Mark Foster in 1991. They have one daughter, Katy Foster, who they adopted from the People’s Republic of China in 1996. Katy, graduated with honors from Anchorage’s West High School, is currently pursuing a degree in dietetics and nutrition at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Brown’s hobbies include yoga and travel. She is an active member of First Presbyterian Church Anchorage, where she is an Elder, Clerk of Session, sings in the choir and plays hand bells.
Honors and Awards
Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions, Alaska Conservation Foundation (2004)
Legislative Award, American Society of Landscape Architects, Alaska Chapter (1999)
Civil Libertarian of the Year, Alaska Civil Liberties Union (1994)
Champion of Children, Anchorage Association for the Education of Young Children on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund (1994)
Service Award, Kidpac (1993)
Advocate of the Year, Alaska Craftsman Home Program (1990)
Voted Outstanding Freshman Legislator by colleagues (1987)
Community Connections and Leadership Positions
Volunteer and supporter, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (1999- ). Worked to convince Anchorage School District to stop routine spraying of pesticides and to adopt a least-toxic pest management policy.
Chair, Environment and Resource Management Committee, Western Legislative Conference (1991-1992). Worked with Western state legislators on recycling and pollution prevention.
Alaska Women’s Political Caucus [now Alaska Women for Political Action]; Anchorage President (1996 and 2002).
Pacific Northwest Hazardous Waste Advisory Council (1988-1990). Participated in regional working group convened by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to address hazardous waste management.
Mentor, Leadership Anchorage (1999).
Alaska Common Ground Board of Directors (1997-98).
Legislative Member, State of Alaska Telecommunications Information Council (1991-1992) (1995-1996).
Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Board of Directors (1995-96).
Alaska Special Olympics Board of Directors (1994-1996).
Delegate, White House Conference on Library and Information Services (1991).
Board member (ex officio), Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (1990-1996).
Additional Resources (publications)
How Kay Brown’s toughness and ethics helped shape Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News, Feb. 20, 2017, by Charles Wohlforth
Revenue Source Book, Alaska Department of Revenue – Tax Division, Fall 2009 – The Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund: It’s Purpose, History and Use
Kay Brown’s Career a Model for Lawmakers, Anchorage Daily News editorial endorsement, Nov. 2, 1994
Lawmaker’s Absence, Letter Prompt Opening of House Majority Caucus, Anchorage Daily News, Feb. 4, 1987, by John Lindback
Lawmaker Likely to Pay For Standing up to Peer Pressure, Anchorage Daily News, Feb. 8, 1987, by Suzan Nightingale
Rep. Brown to Retire, by Associated Press, Juneau, April 15, 1996