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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
Emily Ivanoff Brown
1904 – 1982
Born in Unalakleet, raised in Shaktoolik and educated at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, Ms. Brown, whose Eskimo name was Ticasuk, was an educator for 30 years and devoted herself to record and pass on knowledge about the unwritten history of all her Inupiaq people. She obtained a provisional teaching certificate and became a grade school teacher and an advocate of bilingual education. In 1954, at the age of 50, Emily began 10 years of attending summer school at the university to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in education while teaching full time during the academic years. She received two B.A.’s and a Mater’s degrees from the University of Alaska, finishing her graduate work in the 1970’s. It was while working on her Master’s degree in 1974 that she published her first book, Grandfather of Unalakleet, which was later republished as The Roots of Ticasuk: an Eskimo Woman’s Family Story. Emily’s native name, “Ticasuk” means: “Where the four winds gather their treasures from all parts of the world . . . the greatest of which is knowledge. Her best known book, released in 1987, Tales of Ticasuk: Eskimo Legends and Stories, presents several Inuit legends in Inuit Mythology.
Emily’s service to her state was widely known and she received many awards throughout her lifetime, including a presidential citation by Richard Nixon for her “exceptional service to others, in the finest American tradition.” She was twice cited by the Alaska legislature for preservation of Alaska Native culture and language.
Source: University of Alaska Electronic Info Spot. Emily Ivanoff Brown’s, “Tales of Ticasuk,” from the forward by Journalism Professor Jimmy Bedford.
Emily Ivanoff Brown, Tales of Ticasuk. 1987, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks
Born in the Philippines, Thelma came to the U.S. in 1951 at age 15, earned a degree in biology, and eventually moved to Anchorage in the late 60s. Politically active, she ran George McGoverns 1972 presidential campaign in Alaska. In 1974, she was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives, where she served four terms, becoming the first Filipino American legislator in the U.S.
Once her children finished college, she obtained her J.D. degree from the District of Columbia School of Law in 1991. In 1994, she was appointed Director of Alaskas Office of Equal Opportunity. An expert on Alaskan/Filipino History, Thelma wrote Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958 and produced a documentary film on the topic.
From 1952 until 1968, Edith was secretary of the Arctic Circle Chamber of Commerce and also served on the Board of Directors of the Alaska State Chamber. She was elected twice to the House of Representatives (1953-1956) and once to the Territorial Senate (1957-1958). In 1967, she was named the Outstanding Alaskan and was appointed by Walter Hickel to the University of Alaskas Board of Regents where she helped shape the future of the university, serving as a Regent from 1967-1975 and a UA Foundation Trustee from 1979-1983.
Susan Butcher won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second woman ever to do so, and then went on to set more records: she was the second 4-time winner in 1990, and the first to win 4 out of 5 sequential races. She ran the race 17 times, with 15 finishes in the top 10 and 12 in the top five. Susan was inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame in 1997. She was the first and only person to take a sled dog team to the top of Denali.
Susan was an incredible athlete and an inspiration to all women. To honor her memory, the first Saturday in March the State of Alaska celebrates Susan Butcher Day.