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Alice Stevenson Green

Photo of Alice Stevenson Green
1917
Categories: 2018 Alumnae, Advocacy, Education, Religion

Biography

Miracles and early life:

On July 21, 2017, for Green’s 100th birthday, the communities of Anchorage and Savoonga came together to honor her. The celebration recognized Green, who served as a religious leader, social advocate, gifted educator, courageous pioneer, and world traveler. The Municipality of Anchorage and the City of Savoonga both proclaimed Green’s 100th Birthday, “Alice Green Day”. The City of Savoonga sent the Mayor to Anchorage to attend Green’s Birthday Party. In honor of her birthday, Reverend Karns reported that Green was made an honoree moderator for the annual Yukon Presbytery meeting in October 2017.

Green, who was named after her mother, was born on July 21, 1917, in Scott City, Kansas. Green’s mother died giving birth. Green was born two months early with club feet and only weighing four pounds. Her family had difficulty finding formula she could eat and Green was not expected to live. Green’s Aunt Frances, a nurse, cared for her during her first year of life and subsequently married her father, thereby becoming her stepmother. During Green’s first year of life, while living in Scott City, Green developed whooping cough and pneumonia and had her club feet repaired in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite her battles, Green tripled her weight quickly and her stepmother is credited with saving Green’s life.

Green had two aunts she loved dearly. They were her Aunt Lottie and Aunt Frances (also Green’s stepmother). Both worked at Sheldon Jackson School between the years of 1914 and 1917. Green recalls their stories about Alaska which ignited her desire to come to Alaska.

Green had six siblings, two born with cerebral palsy. Green helped care for them before leaving home and it helped shape the person she is today.

Getting an education and Green’s impact on the church:

Green grew up with little money and a big family. A friend named Mr. Boggs who had been a member of her family church paid for Green to go to college and seminary. He knew Green had intended to go to college in Parkville, Missouri, which cost a mere $250 at the time including room and board for that price. When Mr. Boggs saw Green sitting at church after local college classes had already started, he asked her why she wasn’t at college. Green admitted to Mr. Boggs that her family lacked the funds to pay for her attendance. The family friend immediately paid for college for Green. Women at the time could not become ministers but they could be missionaries, so Green signed up and became a missionary.

Green earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education from Park College (now Park University), near Kansas City, MO in 1939. Green had hoped to teach history at Sheldon Jackson School, but the plan fell through because Sheldon Jackson wasn’t looking for history teachers at the time. After obtaining her history degree in Secondary Education, Green taught 7th and 8th grade in Marble, Colorado, where quarries, owned by a company in Vermont, mined the stone for statutes, notably the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Lincoln Memorial, and sent it to Washington, DC. When the Republicans came into power under Eisenhower, marble was no longer obtained through the Vermont (Democrat) company, so the mine closed and Green was out of a job. That same year a gold mine reopened in Dunton, Colorado creating a need for a school teacher, so Green moved to teach grades 1-8. While Green was on summer vacation after her first year, the mine collapsed on a “change Sunday” (a day when no one worked). Alice was again unemployed. Green headed to graduate school.

In 1943, Green obtained her Master’s Degree in Christian Education from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after, Green took her first assignment with the church in Maine, becoming a Sunday School Missionary. Then Green moved to Savoonga, Alaska in 1945. Green arrived by steamship, the SS Aleutian, in Seward, Alaska, and from there, she took a train to Anchorage, a plane to Nome, a U.S. Navy PBY to Gambell, and finally Green took a whaling ship into Savoonga, where she arrived on July 5, 1945. Aside from a one year furlough, Green stayed in Savoonga until 1955. Furloughs afforded Green the opportunity to share her missions’ efforts in remote locations, something she reportedly loved doing. Green described the remoteness of Savoonga but it didn’t stop her from loving the community and its people. She quickly made Savoonga home.

Green was the first woman Moderator of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, a region that includes Alaska, Washington and Northern Idaho. The Synod, an advisory council, enabled Green to practice her skills and provide guidance and advice to leadership within the region. She reported what she enjoyed most about this position was moderating the yearly meetings, travel and interacting with representatives from throughout the Synod’s region.

Friendships along the way:

Green’s mentor in life was her pastor from junior high and high school named Reverend George Henry Green (a man who had the same name as her father and brother), also known as “G”. Henry Green. Green reported that Reverend G. Henry Green motivated her because “he was a loving Christian man who was particularly good with the youth.” Green reported that he helped shape her into the person she would become. She was the only woman in her group that went into the ministry. The other seven were men.

In July, 1945, when traveling to Savoonga, Green met her dear friend, Norma Hoyt, who was traveling from Seattle to Anchorage via the same steamboat out of Seward as Green. Green reported that she had planned to stay with a local minister, however, he was out of town when she arrived. Norma Hoyt invited Green to stay with her until the local minister returned to town, thus forging a 44 year friendship.

From 1945 to 1988, Alice Green reported that she often traveled for leisure and vacation, managing to go to six continents with her friend, Norma Hoyt. Green reports going around the world with her friend, traveling to Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Belgrade, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Denmark, Switzerland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Iran, Jordan to Syria, and later Antarctica. Green and her friend Norma Hoyt were scheduled to go to Iraq, however, they cancelled the trip due to a cholera outbreak. Going to Iraq would have prevented them from traveling to some of the other destinations on their list of places to see because of concern about the spread of the disease. Green reported that Hungary offered the best food, wholesome and homemade, but Nepal was her favorite destination because they offered active programs for travelers. She enjoyed visiting the many clinics in the countryside in Nepal just outside Katmandu. Green claims she took that trip so that she could see the people of remote locations, comparing it to Savoonga which was also remote.

Green’s life in remote Alaska and its impact on the people:

Restricted by practice limitations of the church, Green served as a Presbyterian missionary from 1945 to 1954 in one of the most remote Alaskan villages, Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, an island about the size of Connecticut in the Bering Sea approximately 50 miles from Siberia. When Green arrived in Savoonga, she moved into a tiny home that was a mere 15 x 16 feet in size. It was too small to hold her trunk, so she stored her trunk in the attic at the local school. At the time there was no church so she held services at the local school until the school burned down in 1946, when services were held in homes. Shortly after arriving in Savoonga, Green helped the community manage the construction of a church using volunteer labor. The “new” church was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1950. The church is still there and in use after over 70 years. When Green is asked about her role in the construction, she quickly gives all credit to the local people of Savoonga, downplaying her role in the effort.

While missionaries often left negative impact on villages because of forced assimilation, Jenny Alowa reports Green wasn’t like that. She always had her services and hymns translated into Siberian Yupik for the local residents. She made people comfortable; she loved the people of Savoonga and they knew that. The key to her success while living there was ensuring she treated people with respect. When asked if it was hard living in Savoonga, away from all of the luxuries of the big cities, Green said: “Not at all. She loved the place and all of the people there. She never missed the city, and since she traveled, she was able to see amazing people and go amazing places while doing her work.”

Green was employed by the National Council of Churches and worked as a religious coordinator for the Alaska Native Service (ANS) at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage from 1955 until 1970. At that time ANS was treating tuberculosis (TB) patients. While working there Green met top Alaska Native artists, including George Ahgupuk and Robert Mayokok. Green pointed out that many of them had contracted TB carving ivory and had been institutionalized for treatment.

In the 1960’s many issues consumed congregations in Anchorage including space, locale, escalating costs and a need to sustain congregations into the long term future. Land was becoming expensive. As chairman of the Presbytery’s Committee on Mission Strategy, Green was instrumental in facilitating changes that included moving Faith Church and combining it with Woodland Park to become Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spenard. Faith Church had a mission outreach program in the Nunaka Valley area that originally operated out of homes, but eventually became Immanuel Presbyterian Church. The Korean Church moved into the Spenard space when Trinity bought property on Huffman Road so there was a south side Presbyterian presence. These changes drove down costs and allowed the churches to benefit from shared administrative duties.

From 1965 to 1972 Green attended national meetings twice a year for the Presbyterian Church, voting on budgets and opening or closing new church sites across the country.

In 1971, Green accepted an interim pastor position in Ketchikan where she served for a year. In 1972, when the rules changed to allow women to be ordained, the Savoonga church (following church protocol) called Green to be their pastor. Green became the first woman ordained in Alaska as a Presbyterian minister. After being ordained, Green returned to Savoonga and served from 1972 to 1982. In 1982, Green was required to retire from service with the Presbyterian Church because she reached age 65.

During the 1980’s while Green worked at ANS, she became involved in the work of the Presbytery. Green was elected by the National General Assembly to serve on the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church USA where she served for seven years and was elected Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Yukon (1982-1991). Green helped establish the Anchorage chapter of Church Women United, a national ecumenical Christian women’s group that brings diverse cultures together for fellowship and prayer advocating for peace and justice worldwide. Green also served in a leadership role with both the Korean and Alaska Native Presbyterian Congregations at Anchor Presbyterian Church. She traveled to meetings and conferences throughout the Lower 48, took minutes for the local churches and continued to remain active in the church as a volunteer after her forced retirement.

Reverend Kurt Karns, explained what it means for Green to have been the Moderator of the Synod. The Presbyterian Church is broken down by regions and Green’s leadership roles allowed her to influence the regions from Anchorage to the North Slope, including having a say in providing pastors across the Presbytery. Green used her roles to help Presbyterian women advocate for peace and justice, ensuring that across the state women’s issues were always at the forefront. Her involvement in three churches: the Nome Presbyterian Church, the church on St. Lawrence Island and Anchor Christian Ministries significantly advanced the role of women and Alaska Natives in the church. Reverend Karns contributes much of Green’s success to her ability to network with others. He described Green as “knowing everyone”. Reverend Karns pointed out that Green’s ordination in Alaska was a controversial topic for the time.

Green often attended and traveled to other churches. Green helped organize the Jewell Lake Parish, a joint venture between Methodists and Presbyterians. Green was intent on trying to make better sense of the church’s mission by joining forces and streamlining reporting functions for the various churches. Green’s longtime friend (since 1982), Viola Markson, describes Green as a unique person who is a wonderful minister. She explains that Green ministers to all people and that there is never a wrong thing to say. According to Ms. Markson, Green is not critical, but she is stubborn.

While serving in Anchorage, Green also performed weddings, often for the people from St. Lawrence Island. As a ruling elder, Alice served at every judicial level of the church. Her knowledge of the people helped others better meet the needs of culturally diverse congregations.

Green played an active role in the Anchorage Chapter of Church Women United. Green reports that this Christian women’s movement makes the world better for all women and children. The mission helped bring diverse cultures and races together for fellowship and prayer advocacy for peace and justice worldwide. Locally, Green focused on serving both the Korean and Alaska Native Communities. When asked what drove her to advocate for these two particular groups, she noted many Alaska Natives were moving to Anchorage from the villages. She replied, “I felt we needed to be responsible to the people.”

Green’s advice to anyone who doubts the existence of God, is “there is no reason to doubt God. There has to be someone bigger than ourselves to help things move along the way they should.” Green pointed out that “she can’t see how things came into existence without a higher power: Allah, God, whatever that might be.”

Green’s personal life:

Green and her friend Norma Hoyt took their final trip together in 1988, when they went to Antarctica, just months before her friend died. Green always stopped at hospitals and mission stations along the way. Green and Hoyt drove across the country visiting old book stores, buying rare/out of print books on Alaska. She collected Alaskan books exclusively and had an amazing collection which she eventually sold and donated to local libraries and museums. Much of her collection can be found in the Nome library.

Green taught Bible study at Trinity Presbyterian in Anchorage until 2016, when she turned 98 and her vision started to fail her.

When asked if she made any mistakes along the way in life, Green said, “I made many, but what I learned is that I needed to find out what motivates people and to remember others may think differently but it doesn’t make them wrong.”

When asked what advice she would offer young women about how to accomplish their goals, Green quickly pointed out that “women should not give up and they should do what they want to do in life. Her advice is to get the education that you need to follow your dreams and just do it.”

Green stated that she got up every day to do the work she did “because it was her calling, it was what she was supposed to do!” She never detoured from her work and said she never wanted to change course. When given options to leave for assignments in the Lower 48, she chose to go to Anchorage instead because that was the only other available option and she didn’t want to leave Alaska and the people she loved.

Green reported that she often found herself outside of her comfort zone when dealing with family difficulties; she didn’t want to pick sides. She listened to both sides of every story and often stayed as neutral as she could, although she did occasionally have to pick sides and provide advice over issues. When needing to do so, she sought wisdom through prayer.

When asked about meeting the glass ceiling, Green pointed out that when she arrived in Savoonga there was no formal building for people to meet, but the community was organized. She fought for women’s rights and it worked. She became very much a part of the community and the community became a part of her.

For fun, Green plays double deck pinochle with friends on Sunday afternoons, she attends Bible studies on Wednesdays, since her eyesight has started to fail she is now an avid audio book reader and she likes to take walks. She loves reading non-fiction and is currently listening to a book on tape of a biography about the 2nd George Bush. She also reports listening to the 2nd book in a 4 volume set about Abraham Lincoln titled “The War Years” which was written by Carl Sandburg. Green reports her favorite book of all time is the Bible. Her favorite verse is a most famous bible verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Green likes watching football, baseball, the nightly news and Jeopardy on television.

It is fitting that Green is being honored for her achievements, social rights activism, religious and educational leadership and long dedication to Alaska and the Presbyterian Church.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/n7dBYZUKjHg

References:

Green, Alice. (2018) Personal conversations.

Combs, Carol. Friend and teacher from Savoonga (2018) Personal conversations and written communication.

Alowa, Jenny. Life long-friend who grew up in Savoonga. Green was her pastor (2018). Personal conversations and written communication.

Karns, Rev Kurt. Executive Presbyter for the Yukon Presbytery. (2018) Personal conversations.

Markson, Viola. Friend and Bible Study peer. (2018) Personal conversations.

Alaska Dispatch News. (June 22, 2017) “72 years later, a missionary remains part of the village she went to serve”.

Green is one of the Pioneers in the book: We Alaskans, Stories of people who helped build the

Great Land, Volume II, compiled and edited by Sharon Bushell.

Ann “Nancy” (Desmond) Gross

Photo of Ann “Nancy” (Desmond) Gross
19312001
Categories: 2020 Alumnae, Education, Political Activism, Public Service

Biography

Ann “Nancy” Gross made significant contributions to adult basic education, local government administration in Alaska, and to the Municipality of Anchorage during a career that started in 1953 and continued to 1991.  Cliff Groh, lawyer and long-time chair of Alaska Common Ground, wrote in a letter printed in the Anchorage Daily News in 2001, “The death of Nancy Gross earlier this month triggered a wealth of memories about this multi-faceted woman.  As a public servant and activist, she worked hard to make this state work better, particularly at the local level. . . . Nancy used to say that ‘the best thing about Alaska is that its young people don’t know what they can’t do.’  Alaska was lucky that at all ages Nancy Gross lived her life with that attitude.”

Born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1931 and educated at Weymouth High School and Bridgewater State Teachers College, Gross accepted a teaching job at Tenakee Springs in 1953.  The Department of Education expected the one-room school (built before 1920) would have eleven student in four of the eight grades; Gross had thirty students, nine in the first grade because that year logging started in Tenakee Inlet and a floating crab cannery opened.  Gross moved to teach at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, and there she met and married another educator, Joseph Gross.  After three years out of Alaska, teaching took them to Woody Island, Kenai, Kodiak, and in 1963 to Anchorage.  In 1961, Nancy returned to Massachusetts and completed a Masters Degree in Education from Bridgewater State Teachers College.  The couple had four children: Joseph, Jr. born in 1957, Mary in 1961, Edward in 1962, and Michael in 1964.   

In Anchorage, Gross taught Adult Basic Education for Anchorage Community College.  The job included conducting workshops in rural areas of Alaska, particularly Kotzebue and Bethel, to train volunteers to teach adults in villages so they could get General Education Degrees (GEDs).  With her experiences as a teacher and trainer, Gross realized that for reading and other literacy programs to succeed in Alaska, particularly in the rural areas, the materials used by teachers had to be relevant to the students.  They needed to be about the state and built upon what they knew and how they lived.  Gross obtained federal grant funding to create the Adult Literacy Lab (ALL Project).  She served as the program’s first coordinator, authored culturally relevant instructional materials for adult students in Alaska, worked with others to develop materials, and trained teachers to use them.  The program continued at the University of Alaska Anchorage until 2004 and materials developed for it are in still in print and used in adult education programs. 

Gross took a job as a trainer and grant administrator with the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs to help rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Aleutians Islands organize municipal governments and get needed infrastructure.  In this position she also coordinated an urban housing conference.  Gross moved to a position with the Alaska Division of Parks to coordinate the Land and Water Conservation Fund program, and then to the Division of Energy and Power Development to administer alternative technology grants and energy audit contracts for rural areas. 

Building on her work for rural Alaska communities, Nancy and colleague Frances Rose started working with the new City of Akutan in the Aleutian Islands as the community’s first City Administrators.  In 1983 Gross became City Manager for the larger city of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands, and served in that position for five years.  While there, she was instrumental in creating the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference.  Later, Gross worked as Interim City Manager for Galena and Cordova, and as a consultant for the cities of Whittier, Bethel, and Atka when each community was in a period of transition in leadership.  Colleague Kate Troll wrote “For a lot of people when problems get bigger and more complicated they start to melt down into process traps,  but for Nancy it was the opposite  The bigger he challenge, the better for her problem-solving skill set.  Motivated by her innate desire to do good work for good people, Nancy did not let up until the problem was solved for the benefit of all involved.  Her tenacious competence inspired all who worked with her.”  Gross was at Unalaska during the boom years for the King Crab fishery and the establishment of huge fish processors for the Bering Sea ground fishing industry; at Cordova when the Exxon Valdez oil spill devastated that community’s salmon fishery; and at Galena when plans were announced to close the U.S. Army’s forward operating base there.  In her work Gross introduced and instituted the fundamentals of local government; educated residents and involved them in their government, and helped the community obtain basic infrastructure and establish city services.  In this arena Gross was a pioneer, one of the first women to be a city manager in the state.  

Gross also was a community activist for the Municipality of Anchorage, promoting planning, zoning, and growth and development that considered the needs and wishes of residents during the city’s boom years when there was great pressure from developers and industry.  After helping the Airport Heights neighborhood get a city park, Gross served on the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission from 1974 to 1980—the pipeline construction years when the city experienced incredible growth.  She promoted green spaces and parks in neighborhoods, resident’s involvement, and planned, responsible development while meeting the critical needs for housing.

Gross long advocated for preserving, writing, and making Alaska’s history better known.  She was a member of the Alaska sites and monuments committee for the 1967 Alaska Purchase Centennial Commission and worked for establishment of Anchorage’s Centennial Park campground.  Later, Gross was an active member of the Alaska Historical Society, and brought her leadership and organization skills to it, serving on its Board of Directors and as its President.  In the communities where she worked as city manager, Gross steadfastly supported having a library, museum, and cultural center.

Gross’s leadership to help rural Alaskans in the areas of education and local government started before Alaska became a state, and was significant through the early years of statehood when municipal governments were created where they had not existed.  She continued to work in the arenas of education and local government through Alaska’s early oil-boom years.  Gross travelled to many places—not only in Alaska but around the world—seeing how other rural communities flourished and learning about education programs in other countries.  Ever the educator, Gross mentored many individuals in rural Alaskan communities. in academic subjects as well as in management and administration and community involvement.  She was, however, not only a determined individual and activist.  Her friend and colleague Frances Rose said she was smart, curious, and fun to be around.  A life well-lived, Gross died in 2001.   The University of Alaska Board of Regents passed a resolution recognizing her accomplishments on behalf of adult education for the university and substantial contributions to Alaska on December 6, 2001.

Karleen (Alstead) Grummett

Photo of Karleen (Alstead) Grummett
1941
Categories: 2020 Alumnae, Community Service, Education, Historic Preservation, Writing

Biography

Karleen (Alstead) Grummett is an excellent role model for women of all ages. As someone who has spent her life volunteering, advocating for causes and using her writing to effect change, she observes what needs to be done and sees that it gets done. From writing a book and meticulously fact checking every detail to hosting a beautifully set lunch for friends, Grummett can do it. Whatever project she’s involved in, there will be efficiency and order. Women appreciate her recognition of their skills, her tact and respect for their feelings and her gratitude for whatever collaboration is offered. They appreciate her calm assurance that all will work out. She has devoted herself to volunteering for worthy causes and to caring deeply for her family.

Grummett grew up with her sister, Margie, on the Gold Street hill side of Juneau, Alaska, in the 1940s. Her sister, Mary, was born at the end of that decade. Grummett’s Norwegian immigrant grandparents lived three blocks away where she spent many happy hours. The Alsteads valued hard work to provide for their family. Her father and grandfather fished halibut in an era when fishing was a year-long profession. Her mother was a transplant during the Depression from a tough farm life in Vale, Oregon. Alone much of the and her mother-in-law were essentially single parents who learned the resilience necessary to persevere in an isolated community during those years. 

Grummett is a product of such an upbringing, but it wasn’t all work and no play. Grummett said, “The wonderful story tellers in my family, who often peppered their expressions with a strong sense of humor, influenced every bit of my life and writing, for I didn’t have one mentor in my life, but a collection.” This included a fun-loving aunt who took them on rollicking rides to the beach to swim or the lake to ice skate, singing most of the way. And a great aunt cared for Grummett when she was ill and she can still hear her aunt’s soft giggle while telling a funny story. She also showed Grummett that no one should be above hard work by taking a job as a janitor after her husband died. 

As an adolescent, her seventh-grade teacher instilled in her a love for the written word, and it was while creating an eighth grade newsletter that she learned the power of those words. In high school she kept writing, now for the high school newspaper. Afterward, Grummett began college at Oregon State University in the 60s and returned to Juneau summers to work. Two of them were with the Alaska Marine Highway where she served one as a hostess aboard the M/V Malispina’s first season. Returning to Oregon, she interrupted college to substitute teach with her sister Margie in Washington. 

The following summer she married Roger Grummett. They’ve been together 56 years in Juneau, and Grummett calls him her secret editor, because when she needs to hear a piece of writing out loud, he’s her guy. She figured if he didn’t understand it, no one would. Grummett gloried in becoming a mom to John and Stacy and the ability to stay at home to raise them. During that time, she turned some of her energy to volunteering for such organizations as the Gray Ladies who brought books, treats and comfort to patients in St. Ann’s Hospital, and the March of Dimes where she coordinated clinics for visiting University of Washington physicians. In fact, throughout her life Grummett amassed a community network by continually volunteering and serving for community groups whether it was producing the first Juneau Lyric Opera grand opera, Carmen, writing about alternative health options, which she published in the state funded Alaska Holistic Health Associaton’s newsletter, advising the Chancellor’s University of Alaska Southeast Campus Council as a member and president, or helping to impact opinion on the Juneau Empire Editorial Board.  

After she returned from her long academic hiatus to attend college, this time at the University of Alaska Southeast, Grummett joined a transformative group in the 1970s as a board member, lead singer and public relations person for the St. Paul Singers which was directed by her friend Dixie Belcher. An ecumenical group, the singers promoted music with a message while touring throughout Alaska, and Grummett learned how music can effect change. She took that awareness and co-founded the Juneau Friends and Neighbors singers with Belcher where she coordinated the tour and publicity for traveling to Alaska communities in support of the Save the Capital campaign in 1982. 

Once while Grummett was complaining about something, Belcher told her, “You can change that.” Those proved prophetic words for Grummett. When she saw thick woodstove smoke inundating the Mendenhall Valley, she turned her anger and public communications skills into action joining two other women who also wanted to improve air quality. Along with a public health physician, the women made a presentation to the City and Borough of Juneau assembly, which resulted in the city requiring a secondary heat source, a program that was phased in over a few years. Now when an inversion occurs, the city provides public service announcements to alert residents. 

In 1984, Grummett completed her Bachelor of Arts in Public (Magna Cum Laude). While studying, one of her instructors, Joey Wauters, encouraged her to teach, eventually hiring her to learn on the job while she studied for her Master of Arts in Writing. Meanwhile, Grummett simultaneously continued freelance writing with assignments in public relations and for newspaper and magazine articles. Along the way, she received an award from the Alaska Press Women for Feature Writing. She also started her own writing and editing business, A Second Opinion and spent two years researching and writing Territorial Sportsmen 1945-1988, A Chronological History. A year later, she again collaborated with Belcher and publicized her Alaska Performing Artists for Peace’s trip to Russia.

In 1997, Grummett received her masters degree from Northeastern University. She said, “I decided I could be 56 with a masters or be 56 without one. I chose the former.” Grummett’s daughter, Stacy, said she learned from her mother’s example “that there is never an age when you stop achieving in life. She is authentic and has lived a full life of commitment to my dad and my brother and me.”

Grummett’s next writing project involved playing every golf course in Alaska with her husband and writing a book about it. She said her purpose was to finally get to see Kodiak, but the result was Golf Alaska! The Great Alaska Golf Guide in 2001. Other projects followed, including editing a history with Historian Bob DeArmond, Movie Man: The Life and Times of William David Gross 1879-1962 and documenting her family heritage with The Alsteads: From Berngarden to Juneau. As a member of P.E.O., a philanthropic group that awards scholarships and promotes continuing education for women, she wrote The Founding Sisters of Chapter G.

For Grummett, writing is a process of getting the words right, to get them to say what she means. She says, “It’s a lofty goal I don’t often reach, but it’s the trying that matters.” She finds writing a necessary isolation, but also wishes there were colleagues close by to discuss ideas. She learned a lot from the pressure of meeting deadlines and taking on a long project that she didn’t have a passion or curiosity for. Grummett said, “I spent two years mired in file cabinets and minutia writing about a subject that didn’t hold my interest.” She says it wasn’t until she was 40 that she heard validation from an editor that she had the ability to write. “I guess you could say I was a late bloomer,” she says with a laugh. “And I was 56 when I achieved my masters degree in writing,” she said. “That was 22 years ago. It’s never too late to follow your bliss.”

Grummett found her touchstone project a few years ago that required every bit of what she had acquired through her lifetime when she learned that her sister’s best friend, Mary Tanaka Abo, had been unjustly incarcerated during World War II. She consulted with local Historian Marie Darlin, who told her of Juneau’s war-time story involving classmates Walter Fukuyama and John Tanaka. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 sending all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to be incarcerated in 10 prison camps. This order affected 120,000 people, 200 of them from Alaska, including Native wives and children.

When John Tanaka, who was to be the valedictorian of the 1942 graduating class, left with his family before graduation, his classmates left an empty chair for him on the gym stage. Grummett, along with her sister, Margie Shackelford, saw an opportunity for Juneau to acknowledge the injustice that occurred in their town. They organized the Empty Chair Project Committee in 2011, which envisioned a Japanese American memorial, the first in Alaska. (wwwemptychairproject.wordpress.com)

The funding campaign began in 2012 and ended in 2014 with generous community donations and a National Park Service Confinement Site grant to commission the sculptor, Peter Reiquam, to design a bronze memorial. It is a replica of a 40s folding wooden chair set atop planks resembling a gym floor and is located in Capital School Park. For the dedication, elderly survivors and their families returned to Juneau for a welcoming homecoming. 

As a result of their efforts, the Empty Chair Project has won the Alaska Historical Society’s Esther Bilman Certificate of Excellence and received an Alaska Legislature Citation in 2015 co-sponsored by state representative Sam Kito, Jr., III, whose father and grandfather were incarcerated, and by state senator Dennis Egan. The memorial was also recognized nationally with an Americans for the Arts Best in Public Arts award and given the Alaska Association of School Librarians Service Award in 2018.

To make sure Juneau’s World War II story was historically documented, Grummett wrote Quiet

Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story. Published in 2016, it includes historic photographs, interviews from primary sources and historical documents such as military lists with names of every person removed from their place of residence in Alaska. Grummett said, “Learning, researching and writing in collaboration with those who were incarcerated was by far and away the main highlight of my writing career.” Alice (Tanaka) Hikido, Abo’s sister, who often conferred with Grummett, said, “Karleen’s book not only lifted up the inspiring story of the Juneau community’s support during a period of wartime hysteria, she also recorded the history of the small immigrant Japanese community which would now be remembered.” Abo said, “Grummett’s book filled a large hole in Alaska’s history during that dark period. She wrote with a keen focus on social justice, family values, and pride in ancestry.”

The Empty Chair Project funds provided for the printing of 5,000 copies of Grummett’s book. It was accepted into the Juneau School District’s social studies curriculum and distributed to all Alaska schools, libraries, museums, historical societies and colleges. Additionally, it has been given to the Japanese consul in Washington D.C, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, and the Alaska Japanese American Citizen League. 

To reach a wider audience, the book is available from nonprofit bookstores of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (Juneau, AK), the Alaska State Museum (Juneau AK), the Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA), the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (San Jose, CA) and the Minidoka Interpretive Center (Twin Falls, ID). Grummett is gratified that her book has reached beyond Juneau, Alaska. “I think it’s a cautionary tale that should never be forgotten, and it especially resonates in today’s climate of prejudice and injustice to immigrants and their incarceration along our border with Mexico.”

Nora Venes Guinn

Photo of Nora Venes Guinn
19202005
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Law

Biography

Best known for her contributions to the Alaska Judicial System, Nora Guinn, a Yupik Eskimo, was Alaska’s first woman and the first Native to serve as a district court judge. In territorial days, she dispensed local justice as a United States Commissioner, and after statehood, became Bethel’s first magistrate. As a judge she was the only non-attorney to be backed by the Alaska Bar for a judgeship. Sitting in her courtroom was an educational experience as she conducted court in Yupik and English so that everyone could understand and explained everything thoroughly. Nora Guinn helped Alaska’s legal system understand the concerns, needs and viewpoint of Alaska’s Native people.

Guinn was made a special master of the Superior Court so she could hear cases involving placement of children, and often produced results never thought of by social workers or attorneys. She had a special love for children and would often take a child who was having problems into her home.