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Sarah Agnes James

Photo of Sarah Agnes James
1946
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Environmental Activism

Biography

 

Sarah James

1944-

Achievement In: Environmental Activism

Sarah James, as board chair and a spokesperson for the Gwich’in Steering Committee, has educated Alaskans, other Americans, Congress and peoples from around the world about the Gwich’in Nation, the Porcupine  Caribou  Herd and the importance of protecting “the Sacred Place where Life Begins” from oil exploration and drilling. The goal of the Gwich’in is to permanently protect the coastal plain calving and nursing grounds of the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. Raised in Alaska’s far north in a traditional lifestyle, she did not begin speaking English until she was 13 years old. Living in the small community of Arctic Village, she has traveled widely, from Washington, D.C. to foreign countries, speaking out for the rights of indigenous peoples through grassroots activism.

In recognition of her leadership, she has received many awards. In 1993 Sarah received the Alston Bannerman Fellowship award. In 2001, she received a Ford Foundation “Leadership for a Changing World” grant given to “outstanding but little known leaders”. She, along with the late Jonathon Solomon Sr.  and Norma Kassi, received the Goldman Environmental Prize for “grassroots environmentalists” in 2002.  Sarah also received the 2002 National Conservation Land Trust award. In 2004, she was the recipient of the “Ecotrust Award for Indigenous Leadership” and she received the 2006 Alaska Conservation Foundation “Celia Hunter Award”.   Sarah is very thankful for the support of the Gwich’in Nation, her community, her son and her family.  She credits the the hard work of the Gwich’in and other people throughout the United States and the world as having greatly contributed to her successful efforts.

She was taught by her mother that there has to be a mutual respect between men and women for a healthy life. The impetus for her activism and the strength of her convictions may be best summarized in her own words, spoken in 2006: “This is my way of life. We are born with this way of life and we will die with it. It never occurred to me that something had to wake me up to do this. Nothing magic happened to me. Our life depends on it. It’s about survival; it’s something that we have to protect in order to survive. It’s our responsibility. It’s the environment we live in. We believe everything is related”.

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Ruth Jefford

Photo of Ruth Jefford
19142007
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Aviation, Music

Biography

Ruth Jefford was the first woman commercial air taxi pilot in Alaska, flying planes in the state for 60 years. Jefford became the first woman licensed to instruct students at Merrill Field. A noted violinist, she was a founding member of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra as well as concertmaster for almost 30 years. A friend noted that the violin was sort of on an equal basis with the airplane. She loved to play and she loved to fly. Jefford was well known as a mentor to young women in aviation and music.

Crystal Brilliant (Snow) Jenne

Photo of Crystal Brilliant (Snow) Jenne
18841968
Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Art, Business, Community Activism, Political Activism

Biography

Achievement In:  Political Activist, Community Activist, Educator, Poet, Visual Arts, Business Owner
A persistent pioneer, Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was an extraordinary Alaskan. Her name helps to tell her story.
Crystal Snow Jenne was born on May 30, 1884, in Sonora, California. In 1887, when only three years old, she emigrated to the Alaska Territory with her parents, who worked as a troupe of actors entertaining Alaska’s gold miners. When her father joined the Klondike Gold Rush, the family moved to Circle City, where her father built an opera house. At one point, Jenne’s father discovered gold, so the family moved to Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, her father lost his investments, and so the Snows returned to the Alaska Territory.
For a number of years, Jenne’s mother tutored her, but the child was ten years old before she was enrolled in school for the first time. She attended an Alaskan mission school, where she learned “singing, praying, and knitting.” When the family moved to Juneau, Jenne was sixteen. Despite her age, she was placed in a fifth grade class. Being behind in formal education did not stop Jenne from achieving. She graduated from Juneau High School in 1905 at the age of twenty-one, the only member of her class.
Following her high school graduation, Jenne enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in music. She also earned a teaching certificate. After her college graduation, Jenne taught in Paso Robles, California. Alaska’s history abounds in stories about lionhearted pioneers who were also chalkboard champions. From 1907 to 1908, Jenne taught school in Douglas, Alaska. A talented musician, Jenne performed concerts for gold miners in the Alaska and Yukon Territories when she was not in the classroom.
Always thirsty for knowledge, the venturesome teacher attended the Spencerian Commercial School in Cleveland, Ohio, where she studied business and shorthand. Following her graduation from business school, Jenne returned to Alaska, where she continued her career in education, teaching in Skagway, Sitka, and the Mendenhall Valley, and also at her alma mater, Juneau High School.
In 1916, she married Dr. Charles Percival Jenne, a Juneau dentist, and the couple had three children.  Even after she started her family, Crystal continued to teach and give concerts. In 1923, she performed her mother’s composition, Alaska and the U.S.A., for President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, during their visit to Juneau.
Charles Jenne passed away in 1938.
From 1938 to 1944 Jenne owned and operated the Forget-Me-Not Flower Shop. She was a talented creative writer who penned poetry (publishing a volume of historical poetry) and music and kept journals. Meanwhile, she pursued community activities, participating in church choirs, and continuing with her teaching career.
Her ease with the public and her polished stage presence were valuable assets as she became prominent in Juneau history. In 1934 Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was the first woman to run for the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives in the Alaska Territory. Her campaign was unsuccessful; but in 1940 Jenne ran for the house again, and became the second woman elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives.  Jenne was a Democrat, and served in the first Division of House of Representatives, which included Juneau (16 members). She served with such political contemporaries as Territorial Senators Anthony Diamond, and E.L. Bob Bartlett, and a young representative from Valdez named William Egan.  She was chairman of the Engrossment and Enrollment Committee,  and served on several other committees (Banking and Corporations; Education, Public Health, Quarantine and Morals; Printing and Purchasing; and Territorial Institutions Committees).   Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her first term. Sample Legislation Sponsored:   HB 39 – creating a home for destitute women – passed without the Governor’s signature; HB 78 – requiring registration of nurses in the territory, and creating a nurses examination board – passed;  HB 85 – (cosponsored) provision to build a territorial building – did not pass; HB 11O – appropriating $6,000 for an addition to the Skagway school building (where she once taught) – did not pass.
In 1942, she was the first woman re-elected to the Territorial Legislature. She was chairman of the Labor, Capital and Immigration Committee, and served several other committees ( Election Laws and Mileage, Rules Committees, and Committee on Committees).  Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her  second term. Sample Legislation Sponsored:  HB 22 – requiring a doctor’s certificate declaring freedom from infectious and venereal diseases, epilepsy, insanity and drug or alcohol addiction before a marriage license can be issued-passed the House, died in the Senate; HB 42 – requiring employers to provide short term disability compensation and medical assistance to injured workers (an early form of Workers Compensation) – did not pass; HB 62 – (Sponsored by request)  a bill that forbid the consumption of hard liquor on the premises where it was sold (bars) – did not pass.
In 1944 she became the first woman ever nominated for a seat in the Alaska Territorial Senate; withdrawing to become the Juneau Postmistress. She was appointed to the postmaster position by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jenne advanced public knowledge about postal service in the Juneau area during her tenure as Postmaster by participating in local radio programs which alerted Juneau residents to Post Office special mailing policies and procedures. House-to-house city delivery was initiated during her tenure.
In 1956, she resigned as Postmistress and ran for the Senate again, but was defeated.
In civic affairs, she was a member of the National Professional & Business Women’s Club, the Juneau Woman’s Club, the Alaska Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Democratic Women’s Club and various other committees and organizations.
Throughout her life, Jenne was interested in serving her community and promoting women as instruments of change. She spoke often to local and national clubs on the role of women in the political arena.  A quote contributed to Crystal:  “When you cease to grow you become like a potato…I will never be a potato.” And she certainly was not. Her active life spanned the ages of 3 to 72 years of age.  She was and continues to be an inspiration to women.

Crystal passed away at the Sitka Pioneer home in 1968 at the age 84.

Katie John

Photo of Katie John
19152013
Categories: 2014 Alumnae, Advocacy, Land/Resource Rights, Native Issues, Native Leader

Biography

Katie John started life in 1915 near Slana, grew up in the Native Village of Baltzulneta, location of a traditional fish camp, and was raised in the traditional way. Describing how she learned to live off the land from her mother and grandmother, she said: “We had no pencil, no paper. We don’t know how to read. We used our head. Everything my mother told me, my grandmother told me, it’s in my head.” She first learned to speak English at the age of 14 when she was employed in the Nabesna Mine. She married Mentasta traditional chief Fred John, Sr. at the age of 16 and together they raised 14 children and six foster children, living a subsistence lifestyle. In 1932 they moved to Mentasta which, in the late 1950s, finally opened a school, allowing their children to return from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding school in Wrangell to get an education at home. John raised each child to know how to live off the land and in the traditional culture. She was a cultural leader in the Ahtna Athabascan language and, in addition to teaching her own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, in later life John taught the language in the Mentasta school. In the late 1970s she helped create the first written alphabet for the language and subsequently recorded pronunciation guides in her voice to help teach and preserve the language. While widely recognized for her leadership in teaching the Ahtna Athabascan cultural traditions and values, John is best known for demanding, and winning subsistence rights for Alaska’s Native peoples.

Her long life, spanning 97 years, carried her from a traditional Native village life to the modern western lifestyle, from travel by foot to travel by plane, from using dogs to carry loads to riding in cars and from being educated only in traditional ways and in traditional knowledge, to being awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in 2011. Throughout these amazing changes during her lifetime, subsistence remained her core value: as a child; as a parent raising 20 children with her husband; as a activist willing to initiate legal action to regain a right and as a teacher of the culture she wished to pass on to her descendants.

In 1984 John and Doris Charles requested the Alaska State Board of Fisheries, which 20 years earlier had closed subsistence fishing, to again permit the former residents of the now-abandoned Native village of Baltzulneta to subsistence fish. The Board’s rejection of that request set the stage for the long-running, complex and convoluted “Katie John case”, litigated by the Native American Rights Fund, beginning in 1985 and continuing to this day. John was willing to stand up for her belief that she had the right to live a subsistence lifestyle as previous generations had and to pass that right on to her descendants. Her willingness to speak “truth to power” forced the federal government to live up to its responsibilities, imposed by Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, to preserve and protect the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives on federal lands and waters. It has forced the State of Alaska to cede the management of subsistence uses of Alaska’s wildlife and fish on federal lands to the federal government. One pivotal event in this long-running legal battle occurred when Gov. Tony Knowles traveled to meet John in person at her fish camp at Baltzulneta before making a decision as to whether the State should appeal a decision considered adverse. The governor commented subsequently on why, based on that visit, he decided the state should not appeal: “I learned more that day than is written in all the boxes of legal briefs in this long-lasting court battle. I understand the strength, core and values that subsistence gives to Katie John’s family, and to the thousands of similar families…I know—we all know—that what Katie John does is not wrong. It is right—right for her, right for the village.”

Regarded by many as a matriarch, culture bearer and respected elder of the Ahtna Athabascan peoples, John was also to her many descendants (at least 250 at the time of death), a grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother. In that personal role one granddaughter described her as being firm but loving and caring, with an awesome sense of humor, always ready to learn new things and someone who made every one of her descendants feel special and loved. Heather Kendall-Miller, the NARF attorney who represented her throughout the “Katie John case”, summarized John’s far-reaching impact: “It has been an honor and privilege for all of us at NARF to have worked with such a great and wonderful matriarch. She is an inspiration to all Native peoples and to all people who believe in right and justice.”

John was honored in 2011 by the University of Alaska Fairbanks when it awarded her an honorary doctorate in laws for her work with the Ahtna Athabascan language and her advocacy for Native subsistence rights. John was also honored by the Alaska Federation of Natives at its 2013 conference when the Hunter and Gathers Award was re-named the Katie John Hunter-Fisher Award.

References

Alaska Subsistence: a NPS Management History (Chapt. 9), http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/norris1/chap9a.htm

Katie John- Her Life and Legacy, Native American Rights Fund, Current Cases & Projects, Katie John v. Norton, http://www.narf.org/cases/katiejohn.html

Athabascan elder Katie John receives honorary doctorate, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 14, 2011Alaska mourns passing of elder

Katie John, Juneau Empire Staff Report, June 2, 2013. Fishing Rights, Language and Culture Advocate, Katie John, Walks On, Indian

Country Today Media Network.com, 6/4/13. Alaska and AFN at loggerheads in a case pitting state sovereignty against subsistence,

Alaska Dispatch, Nov. 5, 2013. Statement of Senator Murkowski Remembering Katie John

Margy K. Johnson

Photo of Margy K. Johnson
1948
Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Community Activism, Politics

Biography

Achievement in: Public Service, Elected Office and Community Involvement
As a young person growing up in St. Mary, Montana, Margy Johnson’s hometown was located on the western border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. She grew up with hard-working parents in a loving family that operated Johnson of St. Mary, a restaurant owned by her family for many years and operated today by her sister, Kristin.

During her childhood, Johnson loved listening to her Dad’s stories of Alaska and hearing her mother read his letters from Shemya, where he had been stationed during World War II. “Mother kept all the letters from Dad in a little bundle carefully wrapped with a satin ribbon. The letters carried a sense of mystery and they had little parts cut out by military censors. Listening to them, I knew I would someday go to Alaska.”

Johnson graduated from high school in 1966, got married and at age eighteen and took a different route than her father in coming to Alaska. Along with her Air Force husband, she headed up the Alaska Highway. However, unlike her father, she never left. Her contribution to Alaska can be summed up in this manner: she is a driving force in Alaska’s growth and economic progress and her public service and community involvement have enriched the lives of many Alaskans.

Coming to Alaska was like coming home and the State gave her opportunities she wouldn’t have had anywhere else, Johnson says. “It is a great big, grand, beautiful place, Alaska, and I love being a part of it. People either live where they are born, or choose where to live, but in my case, Alaska chose me. It embraced me when I came here as a young woman and it still embraces me. I came here right after Statehood and was able to watch history being written right before my eyes!”

Arriving in Anchorage, Johnson worked an office job at an engineering firm. In 1972, her son, Wade Pitts, was born and she divorced her husband. “As a single mom, I did whatever was necessary to pay the rent and feed my son. I worked at a dress shop downtown and sold ivory trinkets on Fourth Avenue.”

When construction started on the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline in 1974, Johnson got a job at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) to monitor union recruitment and dispatching of Alaska natives to construction jobs on the Pipeline. While at AFN, she established close relationships with native elders and leaders and during her employment there, Johnson began a life-time interest in collecting Alaskan artifacts and art work. Today, she has a remarkable collection of unique Alaskana.

Gail Schubert, president and CEO, Bering Straits Native Corporation, remembers that Johnson got to know Alaska’s native people and their strengths and concerns at a critical juncture – right after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971. “Margy also developed a true respect and appreciation of our cultures. She has been a strong supporter of Alaska native artists and her collection of art is a testament to that,” Schubert says.

Today, Johnson has a remarkable collection of unique Alaskana. In fact, her knowledge and fondness for Alaska native arts and crafts led to a contract with the Smithsonian Institution to accompany a group of Alaska native artists and dancers to the 1976 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC.

One of her jobs at that time was buying fish eggs on the Yukon for. She needed a letter of credit from an American Bank so she went to National Bank of Alaska. She didn’t get the letter of credit, but there she met Dick Borer and in 1978 they were married and decided to move to Cordova.

They purchased and managed the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, a local gathering place for residents and visitors alike. She said “after all those years of growing up in one, there I was in Cordova, running another restaurant.” Anyone fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to stay at the Reluctant or spend time with Margy while there, soon understood her deep commitment to the people of Prince William Sound and to Alaska.

It was during her years in Cordova that Johnson began her life and career of many “firsts”: she was the first woman mayor of Cordova, elected to three terms; the first woman president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce and the first woman president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.

Life in Cordova revolved around salmon fishing and Johnson soon fell in love with the fresh Copper River salmon and noted that the fish did not get the attention they deserved. “For so many years we had stuck that magnificent fish into a can or shipped it frozen to Japan. Once we got it out of the can, we realized how good it was.”

While serving as president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, Johnson began working with Alaska Airlines, various fishing groups and Trident Seafoods of Seattle to promote the region’s fresh salmon. “Margy would place a box of fish under her arm and go up and down the West Coast, trying to convince high-end restaurants and retailers of the fine taste of fresh salmon,” said John Garner, a vice president at Trident Seafoods.

Two companies were crucial for these promotions. “Trident provided fresh fish and Alaska Airlines flew me to any place I wanted to go,” Johnson said. “We held many salmon and wine parings in Lower 48 restaurants. Sometimes it was just me and a fish, and I often slept at airports.”

The hard work paid off. It increased the cachet and allure of Copper River sockeye salmon, elevating it to elite status in restaurants across the nation. “Not only did Johnson promote the fish, she also helped arrange the logistics of moving the fish from the off-road remote community of Cordova by seeking help from Alaska Airlines as well as Lynden Transport and Alaska Marine Lines,” Garner says.

Garner credits Johnson for transforming the market for Copper River fish by helping create domestic demand. “Before Margy came along, we froze our Copper River salmon for export to Japan. Today, 100 percent of our king salmon and 90 percent of the sockeye are sold fresh in the domestic market.”

The promotions of Copper River fish, such as the Copper River Nouveau which Johnson helped to establish, also helped increase domestic sales of other Alaska salmon, Garner says. Later, as the Director of the Office International Trade, Johnson travelled to foreign capitals, such as Tokyo and Seoul, working to expand foreign sales of Alaskan salmon.

Alaska Airlines flies a lot of salmon out of the State, including the first catch of Copper River salmon. In 2005, it paid homage to Alaska’s salmon by painting one on one of their 737-400 airplanes and named it “Salmon-30-Salmon”. “That great fish on the plane was just a dream in my heart. I presented the idea to John Kelly, who was the Alaska Airlines chairman at the time,” Johnson says.

In addition to her love of fish and the fishing industry, Johnson is also realistic about the need for developing and managing all of Alaska’s natural resources and is well aware that the oil industry is vital to the State. “We are essentially a resource state. But I like reasonably-paced development. Government should be the gentle breeze on the back of business and not a stiff wind of opposition. The State and our industries – oil, timber, mining and fish – all need to be partners.”

As a member of the newly organized Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council which was formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Johnson was instrumental in trying to find the truth after the destruction in the Sound caused by the oil spill in 1989. Through the work with the PWSAC, she met a Valdez neighbor, Bill Walker, and they became life-long friends. Because of the differing opinions about the damage caused by the spill, and the lack of concrete information in Alaska, Johnson was part of a group that traveled to Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands to look at the North Sea oil facilities and how they handled their industry. “They had oil production there but also a safe environment for many years and we wanted to see what safeguards they had that we lacked” she said.

Governor Bill Walker, former mayor of Valdez, was also on the trip to the Shetland. “During our discussions, Margy made sure the discussion stayed focused and everyone had a chance to voice their opinion,” he recalls.

Information gathered from the Shetlands and other places helped bring many changes to the oil industry’s operations in Prince William Sound. “Today we have escort vessels, double-hulled tankers and depots of equipment around the Sound to dispatch if it occurs again. You simply cannot beat citizen involvement,” Johnson says. Today, there are regional oil spill response organizations, escort vessels and equipment depots strategically placed around the coastlines of Alaska.

The oil spill changed her town. “Our town expanded to meet the demands of the disaster but it was taking a long time to get back together.” Johnson wanted Cordova to become a community again and get back to mundane things such as concern for streets, water and sewer, and schools – the nuts and bolts of a community. So – she ran for mayor in 1990 and helped pull the town together again.

“It was a hard-won contest and I won by one vote. When my opponent demanded a recount, I picked up another vote. So I won by two votes.” Johnson went on to win the next election and another after a three-year hiatus. “Cordova was a perfect place to raise Wade. We had fishing, skiing, school sports, the swim team and the encompassing sense of belonging to life in a small town,” said Margy.

When Frank Murkowski was elected Governor of Alaska, Johnson moved to Anchorage to work in his administration as Director of International Trade. In this position, she continued her quest of selling Alaska salmon all over the world. She was the perfect “pitch man” for Alaska in this position!

No story about Johnson is complete without mentioning her famous hats. The hats into being a few years ago when she had cancer. She buys hats in vintage shops and friends bring them back to her from their travels. Her hats number “around one hundred”. And – these hats all serve a purpose.

After losing a brother and sister to cancer, Johnson was not surprised to be diagnosed with breast cancer herself. Her cancer was caught early, and thanks to the support she received from friends and family, she soon put cancer in her rear view mirror. Cancer changed her though and she wanted to give others the same understanding and compassion that her friends had given her.

After her cancer was cured, Johnson began working with cancer patients at the Providence Cancer Center in Anchorage. Another of Johnson’s passions is mermaids and her home in Anchorage is named “The Enchanted Mermaid”. Johnson often invites cancer patients to her home and gives them a choice of hats to wear and provides them with a lovely high tea. Somehow, sharing tea, attired in a grand hat, puts a smile on the face and Johnson is able to explain various cancer treatments and provide friendship. She says that “cancer is a club you never want to get an invitation to join, but once you are in, it is good to have friends”.

These high teas have become a coveted invitation and many friends and acquaintances have been blessed to spend special time with Johnson at “The Enchanted Mermaid” where lively discussions revolve around such topics as local and state politics, best places to pick berries, direction for Alaska’s fiscal future and other pertinent topics of the da

Over the years, Johnson has been involved with many organizations and in activities throughout the State. She is a life-time member of the Pioneers of Alaska; has served on the Board of Directors of the First National Bank of Alaska for over fifteen years; serves on both the BP Alaska Citizen’s Advisory Board and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company Advisory Board; serves on the Board of the Ted Steven’s Foundation; is on the Advisory Board for Breast Cancer Focus Alaska; serves as a mentor for Leadership Anchorage and is the Honorary Chair of the Jewish Cultural Gala Committee.

Johnson is the 2013 recipient of the William A. Egan “Outstanding Alaskan of the Year” Award, by the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce “Athena” Award in 2010 and the YWCA “Woman of Achievement” Award in 2002.

Johnson was recognized by His Holiness John Paul, for helping people suffering from alcoholism. She was also honored by her work in reaching out to those with breast cancer and always being there from Breast Cancer Focus.

Johnson is the Executive Vice President of the Alaska Dispatch News (a position she describes as “Chief of Stuff”) and continues to help move our State onward and upward. As Norman Vaughn used to say – “It is a marvelous adventure.”

In spite of all accolades, tributes and recognition, Johnson says her favorite title in life is that of “Mon and Grandmother”. She says she raised a truly remarkable son, who is now married to Nicole, a woman filled with kindness, and they have graced her with a perfect grandson by the name of Tristan.

Margy Johnson is a unique Alaskan. We pride ourselves on having a country full of characters and Johnson certainly fits this respected description! Her public service and community involvement have enriched the lives of many Alaskans.
Biographical information written and compiled by Gail Phillips, January 2016
277-4867 gailphil@alaska.net
Resources

1. Margy Johnson’s personal business resumes
2. Alaska Business Monthly – “Margy Johnson – A Driving Force in Alaska’s growth and success” by
Shehla Anjum, published November 7, 2013
3. Anchorage Chamber of Commerce – “William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan of the Year” award
Information, 2010
4. Nomination form submitted by Gail Phillips, 2016 nominee
5. Personal interviews with Gail Phillips, December 2015
6. Personal emails with Gail Phillips, December 2015 and January 2015
7. Alaska Dispatch News – February 15, 2015
8. Alaska Dispatch News – “The 49th Estate: Land of Enchanted Mermaids” by Bryan Dunagan,
November 01, 2010
2394 words

Marlene “Slath Jaa Klaa Lákooti” Johnson

Photo of Marlene “Slath Jaa Klaa Lákooti” Johnson
Slath Jaa Klaa Lákooti (Tlingit name) 1935
Categories: 2010 Alumnae, Public Service

Biography

Marlene Johnson has worked at the community, regional, state and federal levels to advance Alaska Native social and economic progress and has provided public service to promote quality education and access to health and legal services across Alaska. She participated in the fight for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and was one of 5 original incorporators of Sealaska . She led that corporation as the Chairman of the Board for its first decade. Marlene also served on the Hoonah School Board for 25 years and on the Board of Trustees of Huna Heritage Foundation and the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

On a statewide basis, Marlene led the fight against rural poverty through her service on the RuralCAP Board of Directors – including 10 years as the president. She has also served on the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, the Board of Alaska Legal Services and numerous state boards and commissions. Nationally, Marlene has served as an Advisory Committee member to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and also participated in numerous pieces of federal legislation such as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

Marlene has received the Alaska Democratic Party’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Alaska Federation of Natives Citizen of the Year Award and Outstanding Women of America Award. She and her husband, Clifford, have five children and thirteen grandchildren.

Alice Johnstone

Photo of Alice Johnstone
1925
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Conservation

Biography

Alice Johnstone’s many accplishments would best be characterized as enlightened activism: environmental, political, and societal. The list of accomplishments is long and involves activities ranging from co-founding the Sitka Conservation Society; to successfully working to pass federal legislation to create The West Chichagof/Yakobi Island Wilderness; to being the second woman to serve on the Sitka Assembly, serving for seven years and helping establish and then serving on the Sitka Women’s Commission.

In 1958 Johnstone started work at the local Sears Roebuck Catalogue Sales office. She rapidly rose from freight clerk to credit manager to store manager, a position she held for 20 years. She, her husband, and two other couples co-founded the Old Harbor Book Store, opened in 1975, that still continues to serve as a gathering place for community conversations and for advocacy for literacy.

In 1967 her love for the outdoors and her dedication to conservation motivated Alice and her husband to co-found the Sitka Conservation Society with other community members. Their dedication has led to numerous successes over their 40-year plus history. The history is described on their website:

The Sitka Conservation Society was born in 1967, when several Sitkans recognized the need to protect the natural environment of Southeast Alaska for the well-being of current and future generations. Specifically, Sitkans were concerned about the extensive clear cutting proposed on nearby Chichagof and Yakobi Islands. The Society’s founders rallied around the goal of designating West Chichagof and Yakobi Islands, an area of 380,000 acres, as Alaska’s first wilderness area under the recently passed Wilderness Act.

That willingness to fight all the way to Congress has stayed with the SCS through the intervening decades, and paid off in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the formal creation of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness.

While pursuing the creation of formal wilderness in the Tongass and although the prevailing attitude in the 1960s and 1970s was fiercely pro-industry, SCS expanded to work on protecting treasured spots from timber sales. In 1976, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition (SEACC), a coalition of local Southeast conservation groups with similar goals and concerns, was formed with SCS as a member organization.

In addition to her environmental activism, she was politically active. She was the second woman to be elected to the Sitka Assembly in spite of being a known conservationist in a pulp mill town. She was elected three times and served a total of seven years between 1987-1992 and 1987-1989. She had to work hard to win that first time and she won her first election by only one vote. While on the Assembly she also helped establish the Sitka Women’s Commission and went on to serve on the commission.

She spent years working to prevent substance abuse in our communities and to educate policy makers about the issue. As a board member of the Sitka Alcohol and Drug Program (17 years) and also the Alaska Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (8 years), she recognized the heavy toll the use of drugs, especially alcohol, was taking on the citizens of Alaska. She worked to promote the treatment and prevention of the disease of addiction by participating in programs to educate the public and members of the legislature in the true nature of the disease.

Johnstone has served on numerous boards, including the Kettleson Memorial Library Commission, the Salvation Army, the University of Alaska/Community College Advisory Board, KCAW, the local public radio station, the local credit union and has served on the Vestry of St. Peters Episcopal Church. She also volunteers at the White Elephant Thrift Shop, (a non-profit which has donated over $1 million dollars to Sitka non-profit organizations), and she volunteered as instructor of AARP Senior Driving Program for many years.

After taking one night course at a time while raising four children, working and achieving her many other accomplishments she earned her AA degree at the age of 67.

In 2010 when the Sitka Conservation Society received the Bob Marshall Champions of Wilderness Award from the U.S. Forest Service, she and her husband were honored to be chosen to go to Washington D. C. to receive the award from Tom Tidwell, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Communities come alive and thrive because of people such as Johnstone, who, over the course of several decades, made her mark in many different ways. Johnstone is a woman to admire and she has given her time and talent to support the causes she cares about passionately: women’s empowerment, supporting reproductive choice for women, prevention of and recovery from substance abuse, literacy for all Alaskans, and protection of our environment.

 

 

 

Carolyn E. Jones

Photo of Carolyn E. Jones
1941
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Human Rights, Humanitarian, Rotary Leadership

Biography

Carolyn Jones is recognized for her distinguished 25-year leadership role in Rotary International, from president of her Anchorage club to the first woman in the world to be appointed as a trustee to the prestigious worldwide “The Rotary Foundation.” She has been recognized for her lasting humanitarian contribution as a Rotary volunteer with children in eastern Russian orphanages by both the Alaska State Legislature and the Tomsk Russian Duma. Jones’ career as an attorney in Alaska litigating laws to make more opportunities for all Americans, has been recognized for by the State of Alaska Commission for Human Rights. Jones continues to serve humanitarian needs in several capacities through Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation.

Jones was raised in a small town on the Hudson River in New York. Her mother was a domestic, cleaning houses. “Growing up, no one we knew had gone to college,” she says. “I didn’t know any attorneys. I knew about them from watching Perry Mason!” How did she change her life? “I just had so many good things happen to me.” From the start, Jones did well in school. “My third-grade teacher took me aside one day and told me people would tell me that I could not succeed because of my skin color and because we were poor. She told me not to believe it.” Jones graduated from Stanford, with distinction, on full scholarship (l963), was the first woman president of the Yale Law School Student Association and graduated from Yale Law School on full scholarship (1966).

Jones’ legal career in Alaska began in l975 when she was an attorney for the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. For her work there and with other agencies, she received the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights Award for Distinguished and Dedicated Service (1984) and the Alaska Bar Association Distinguished Service Award (1990). She was an assistant attorney general for the State of Alaska for 23 years and a supervising attorney in the office during the last seven years before her retirement in 1998.
In l987 Jones, actively involved in Anchorage community volunteer work, was invited to join Rotary, the first year women were allowed as members. She declined because, “I didn’t want to be where I wasn’t wanted.” She was persuaded by the argument that Rotary had the resources for the kinds of humanitarian activism so important to her. It was the start of her “second life.” She joined the Rotary Club of Anchorage East and in a five-year period advanced from member, to board member to president (l992-93). By l997 she was governor of Rotary District 5010, which included all of Alaska, the Yukon Territory and eastern Russia – the largest Rotary District in the world.

Jones served five terms as a Rotary volunteer in Russia, three times working as a pre-school teacher to developmentally delayed children in Russian orphanages and twice as a visiting university professor. She received the Rotary International Service Above Self Award (2001) and The Rotary Foundation Distinguished Service Award (2009). She was also awarded the Alaska Bar Association’s “Distinguished Service Award.” In honor of her work with children, she was named “Volunteer of the Year” by the Russian Children’s Foundation, a non-profit group based in Moscow (2002). The Alaska State Legislature recognized her achievements and the Tomsk Russian Duma gave her the “Mercy & Charity” award (2006). Her story of her experience as a Rotary volunteer in Russia was included in the 2002 edition of “Chicken Soup for the Volunteer Soul.”

In 2005 Jones became the first woman in the world to be appointed as trustee to “The Rotary Foundation” (2005 -2009). In that position she worked with and spoke to Rotary clubs around the world. She also has served as president’s representative to districts in Italy, Canada and the U.S., and is currently vice chairperson of the Rotary Foundation Peace Centers Committee. This foundation gives master’s level scholarships for peace and conflict resolution centers in universities around the world and chairperson of the Rotary International Constitution and Bylaws Committee. Jones has served as an international training leader (2000 and 2005), regional foundation coordinator (2003-2005), chairperson, Zone 22 Rotary International Institute (2004) and on other worldwide committees.

“I joined Rotary because I thought I was going to give back to the community,” she said. “One way I changed was in seeing that we are truly all one world community.”

Jones has two daughters: Nina Simpson-Jones and Carrie Graham.

Dorothy M. (Knee) Jones DSW

Photo of Dorothy M. (Knee) Jones DSW
19232015
Categories: 2013 Alumnae, Aleut Communities, Anthropology, Women's Therapy

Biography

Dorothy Jones grew up in Chicago during the Great Depression and dreamed of being a writer. With little encouragement from family or teachers, she abandoned writing and turned her attention to the social sciences, earning a B.A. degree in psychology and a master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

After World War II, she married her sweetheart and, on his return from overseas service, they moved to Los Angeles. They had three children but a deteriorating marriage – and after 13 years, she divorced. Jones then returned to school for a second master’s degree, this one in Social Work.

Seven years later in 1963, when two of her children were nearly grown, Jones married Bob Jones. With her youngest child, they moved to Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 150, on the western edge of the Alaska Peninsula, where her husband managed the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Jones’ first visit to a nearby Aleut village excited her interest and she was determined to understand and write about the Aleut way of life. To equip herself for this task, she returned to the University of California, Berkeley, for a doctor’s degree in Social Work and was then hired by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska as a professor in 1968. For the better part of the next 11 years, Jones visited many Aleut villages. During this time, she published four books and 10 papers and articles on various aspects of Aleut life, including history, demography, economy, material culture, family relations, race relations within the villages and between the villagers and outside welfare agencies.

Much of her work and writings focused on the lives of Alaska Natives and their communities. She wrote articles on sociology, anthropology, and clinical social work which were published in Anthropologica,Social Service Review, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and Clinical Social Work Journal. Several of her papers were also published by the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska. Jones’ books include: Aleuts in Transition: A Comparison of Two Villages(1976), and A Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under U.S. Rule (1980).

The second book portrays the U.S. government’s virtual enslavement of a group of Native Americans in the operation of a for-profit business on the remote Pribilof Islands. The government, as owners and managers of the Pribilof seal industry, paid their Aleut sealers in kind until 1962, required the Aleuts to obtain permission to leave the islands or have relatives from other villages visit, and dictated daily cultural routines such as bedtimes. This book contributed to the establishment of the Pribilof Trust to provide restitution to the citizens of the Pribilof Islands by the United State of America. The book is available online at her web site: www. dorjones.net .

When she and her family moved to Anchorage, she expanded her studies and writing to include urban Natives, the status of women in Alaska and women’s psychotherapy.  She left the University research institute in 1981 and turned her attention to women’s therapy. Jones helped organize a women’s therapy collective and, later, a private practice, as well as writing a number of clinical articles.

Jones was an outspoken champion of women’s rights in Alaska, serving as the chief author of a book documenting the leadership of women across the state , entitled: The Status of Women in Alaska, (Alaska State Commission on Human Rights, 1977). She also served on the Alaska Commission of Women, established by the state Legislature in 1978. She was also one of the founders of ALASKA WOMEN SPEAK, a periodical by and about women, and a founder of the counseling program at the Alaska Women’s Resource Center in Anchorage.

Jones also helped start the Feminist Scholarship fund at UAA, which has been named the Dorothy Jones fund, and is designated for scholarships to students who are working for women’s rights.

After the death of her husband, Jones left Alaska and settled in Washington state. There she began engaging in her childhood passion of creative writing. She wrote her first novel, Tatiana, which was inspired by her close relationship with an old Aleut woman known as chief of all the Aleutians. It is a compelling story of the struggles of Tatiana, her family and her village to survive a cultural onslaught. Tatiana is available at local book stores and through the publisher, University of Alaska Press.

Her second novel, When Shadows Fell, was inspired by her earlier experience as a grass-roots communist in Los Angeles. This book brings the reader into intimate contact with the inner life of the Communist Party and with the frightening parallel between the repression of the McCarthy era in the U.S.A. and the intimidation and erosion of civil rights in those troubled times. When Shadows Fell is available at most local bookstores and from the publisher, PublishAmerica, Box 151, Frederick, MD 21701. Currently, Jones is writing a novel set in 13th century England about the lives and relationships of three women – a noblewoman, a serf, and a Jewish money lender.

As an instructor, therapist and author, Jones inspired generations of women to engage in the fields of social work, anthropological research and community activism. She contributed to knowledge and theory about women’s counseling and therapy in Alaska and has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.

Publications by Dorothy M. Jones are listed below and can be found at the University of Alaska Anchorage archives in the UAA Library.

Box 1

Series 1. Published Writings by Dorothy M. Jones; 1964, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1972-1974, 1976, 1977, 1980-1982, 1990, 1991.
1. Dorothy M. Jones, M.S.W. “Binds and Unbinds.” Family Process 3(2): 323-331, September 1964.
2. Robert D. Jones, Jr. and Dorothy M. Jones. “The process of family disintegration in Black Brant.” In Wildflowl Trust 17th Annual Report (pp.75-78); 1966.
3. Dorothy M. Jones. “Child Welfare Problems in an Alaskan Native Village.” Social Services Review 43(3): 297-309, September 1969.
4. Dorothy Jones. “Agency-Community Conflict.” In Science in Alaska 1969, Proceedings, Twentieth Alaska Science Conference, College, Alaska, August 24 to August 27, 1969, edited by Eleanor C. Viereck. Alaska Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, July 1970 (pp. 145-158).
5. Dorothy C. Jones. Changes in Population Structure In the Aleutian Islands. Fairbanks: Insitute of Social, Economic and Government Research, University of Alaska, December 1970 (ISEGR Research Note, No. A-2, 9 pp.).
6. Dorothy M. Jones. “Adaptation of Whites in an Alaska Native Village.” Anthropologica 14(2): 199-218, 1972.
7. Dorothy M. Jones. “Contemporary Aleut Material Culture.” In Modern Alaskan Material Culture, edited by Wendell Oswalt. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Museum, April 1972 (pp. 7-19).
8. Dorothy M. Jones, with the research assistance of John R. Wood. Patterns of Village Growth and Decline in the Aleutians. Fairbanks: Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, University of Alaska, October 1973 (ISEGR Occasional Paper, No. 11).
9. Doroth M. Jones. “Race Relations in an Alaska Native Village.” Anthropologica 15(2): 167-190, 1973.
10. Dorothy M. Jones. The Urban Native Encounters the Social Service System. Fairbanks: Institute of Social, Economic and Governmental Research, University of Alaska, 1974 (69 pp., 3 copies).
11. Dorothy Jones and David G. Katzeek. Management & Program Evaluation, Social Services and Employment Assistance Programs, Cook Inlet Native Association, Inc. Juneau: Katzeek & Associates, ca. 1976 (60 pp.).
12. Dorothy M. Jones. Urban Native Men and Women–Differences in Their Work Adaptations. Fairbanks: Institute of Social, Ecomic and Goverment Research, University of Alaska, April 1976 (ISEGR Occasional Paper, No. 12, 45 pp.).
13. Dorothy M. Jones. Aleuts in Transition: A Comparison of Two Villages. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976 (125 pp.).
14. Dorothy M. Jones. “Strategy Straddling: A Community Organization Dilemma in an Alaskan Native Village.” Human Organization 36 (1): 22-33, Spring 1977.
15. Dorothy M. Jones, Marsha Bennett, Mariana W. Foliart, Mary Ann VandeCastle, and Joan M. Katz. The Status of Women in Alaska, 1977. Juneau: Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, Jan. 1977 (156 pp.).
16. Dorothy Knee Jones. A Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under U.S. Rule. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1980 (photo illus., 190 pp.).
17. Dorothy M. Jones, Principal Investigator, Anne Shinwin, and Mary Pete. Alcohol as a Community Problem and Response in Alaska: Final Report Summary. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, March 1981 (50 pp.).

 

Box 2

18. Dorothy M. Jones, Principal Investigator, Anne Shinwin, and Mary Pete. Alcohol as a Community Problem and Response in Alaska: Comprehensive Final Report. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, March 1981 (185 pp.).
19. Dorothy M. Jones. “Bulimia: A Food Binger’s Time Bomb.” Alaska Woman, pp. 28 & 30, June 1982.
20. Dorothy M. Jones, D.S.W. “Social Analysis in the Clinical Setting.” Clinical Social Work Journal 18(4): 393-406, Winter 1990.
21. Dorothy M. Jones. “Enmeshment in the American Family.” Affilia 6(2): 28-44, Summer 1991.
22. Dorothy M. Jones, DSW. “Alexithymia: Inner Speech and Linkage Impairment.” Clinical Social Work Journal 19(3): Fall 1991.

Eliza (Peter) Jones

Photo of Eliza (Peter) Jones
1938
Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Advocacy, Alaska Native Cultural Leadership

Biography

Achievement in: Advocacy and Preservation of the Koyukon Athabascan Language

Eliza Jones, born either at Toyenaalyeez Denh (Cut-Off) or at a nearby camp, and raised in Huslia, Alaska, devotes her life to teaching Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan) language and writing about its culture and traditions. Eliza taught for many years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a Koyukon Athabascan linguist. Upon her retirement in 1990, she was bestowed with an honorary doctorate of letters.

Eliza’s parents were Josie and Little Peter. They lived in camps along the Koyukuk River. Her dad died when she was seven. There was a measles epidemic in 1942 or ’43. Her mother Josie remarried to Francis Olin, who also raised Marie Yaska and Catherine Attla. Her late grandpa Olin told them stories every night. Late Catherine Attla published several books in which she retold these stories in Denaakk’e and Eliza translated them.
Eliza’s siblings, from oldest to youngest were: Elsie, Ellen, Cecelia, Joe, Eliza, Attla and Josslin. Eliza’s clan, which follow the matrilineal side, is Toneedze Ghelseełne ‘middle of the stream’ clan. This clan is a similar to a liason between the Bedzeyh Te Hʉt’aane (caribou) and Noltseene (bear) clan. The former is related to things of the sky and the latter to things of the earth.
When Eliza was a child they lived off of the land in two different camps. They trapped small game like rabbits and ptarmigan for food and trapped weasels, mink, lynx, and fox for the furs. When they were growing up they were close to other camps, especially Lydia Simon’s camp. Being around all these great storytellers and culture bearers provided Eliza with a strong foundation in which traditional values and beliefs were instilled.
Eliza’s Denaakk’e name is Neełtenoyeneełno, which means ‘she has versatile talent’. Her grandmother, Mrs. Cecelia Happy, who helped raise her, gave her this name. The name is apt, because she often has more than one project going on at a time.
In 1958 Eliza and Benedict Jones married and she moved to his hometown of Koyukuk. Benedict’s Denaakk’e name K’øghøt’o’oodenoo¬’o means ‘he works with a lot of people’. It was his grandfather, Louis Pilot of Kokrines’ name. He was born at “ 9 Mile“, which is the family fish camp below Koyukuk. His parents were Jessie “Deggeyenee” Edwin and Harry Jones and step-father Andrew Edwin. His maternal grandmother, Julia “Ts’ooghoołeen’ ” Nelson, was one of the village’s matriarchs.
Ben and Eliza’s had ten children: JoAnn Malamute, Josie Dayton, Cora Jones, Charlene Jones (dec.), Cindy Pilot, Vernon Jones (dec.), Susan Paskvan, Benedict Jones, Jr. (dec.), Cecelia Grant, and Julie Jones (dec.). They raised their children in Koyukuk and Fairbanks. In the summer they moved to fish camps where they taught them a strong work ethic through hauling water, chopping wood, cleaning, cutting and hanging fish. The elder’s say it is bad luck to count your grandchildren, but to count your blessings. Of that there are many.
Alaska’s Native languages have tied generations of Native people together, giving each generation a sense of identity. Western education, assimilation and the passing of traditional Native language speakers have threatened many language dialects with extinction. Eliza devotes her life to teaching the Koyukon language and writing about its culture and traditions. She taught in villages, schools and urban community gatherings. Eliza’s willingness to share the Koyukon language has reenergized language revitalization efforts in Interior communities.
Through her career at Alaska Native Language Center she interviewed elders throughout the Doyon region. She meticulously documented stories, songs, genealogical information, place names, and “high words” in Denaakk’e. She continues to work for Yukon-Koyukuk School District as a Language Specialist. She continues to travel to villages to help transcribe songs that were composed in the early 1900s to present. In addition, in working with local elders, they give the youth of today Denaakk’e names, which belonged to the children’s ancestors.
Eliza has written and translated stories, developed and taught curriculum and conducted research on the language of the middle Yukon and Koyukuk rivers. Recently, she has translated documents for Tanana Chiefs Conference for their “tobacco free” campaign; phrases for Doyon, Limited; election ballots for the State of Alaska; Arctic Council announcements; closer to home, helped many people write traditional memorial songs for potlatches.   In 2013, she went on a boat trip from Koyukuk to Hughes with scientists and youth to research place names.
In addition to her formal work with the language, she served on the Gana-a’ Yoo board of directors (serving several Yukon River villages), the Ella B. Vernetti Community School Committee in Koyukuk; the Catholic church pastoral councils and Yukon River Fisheries advisory board. She has presented at conferences around the state, the nation and in Japan.
Eliza and her husband of 58 years, Benedict Jones Sr., make their home in Koyukuk. In their retirement, Both Ben and Eliza enjoy putting away tl’eeyegge baabe (Native food) such as salmon, berries, moose, beaver, and waterfowl. They are active in teaching these skills plus others such as sewing, story telling, and positive Athabascan values. Ben puts in a net as soon as the ice goes out and keeps it out until freeze up. As soon as the ice is thick enough he sets an under-water net. Eliza can be found making traditional kkaakkene (boots), mittens, and beadwork for her grandchildren.
In her 77 years, Eliza has humbly dedicated herself others. Her life’s work of teaching the Koyukon language continues to inspire new generations of language learners and culture bearers. Eliza quietly speaks her language and teaches the old ways demonstrating that one person can make a difference.

Jewel Jones 

Photo of Jewel Jones 
1943
Categories: 2013 Alumnae, Community Activism, Public Health

Biography

Jewel Jones has been a predominate force in Anchorage municipal government for 32 years. Serving at the will of six mayors, her responsibilities have included executive management of City of Anchorage Social Services Department and the Municipality of Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services. During her time in public service, Jones recruited and mentored hundreds of minority men and women to work in public services and was instrumental in shaping the municipal health system, establishing the Anchorage Senior Center, and advocating for services for low-income families.

After leaving government service, Jones established her own consulting firm and spent several years providing business management consultation. She then took a “temporary” job as the interim executive director of the Anchorage Community Land Trust (ACLT) in 2007. ACLT is a community development organization that invests in grass-roots, community-based projects, specifically focusing on revitalizing Mountain View, a very low-income neighborhood in Anchorage. This temporary job has lasted six years and accomplished rehabilitation of a former abandoned furniture warehouse into a modern office building complex, facilitated bringing the first financial institution to Mountain View in more than 20 years, created affordable spaces for individual artist, and supports many community-based groups including William Tyson Elementary School.

Born in Oklahoma and an only child, Jones spent most of her primary years living with her paternal grandparents in Harlem, N.Y. One of the most memorable moments of her childhood was “having my grandmother walk to school with me every day and wait for me until school was out to walk back home.” Jones grew up with strong family influences. Her maternal grandmother owned oil-producing land in Oklahoma City. Being a woman of wealth in a segregated society, stores brought their goods to her home because she wasn’t allowed to shop openly in the department stores. Jones’ grandfather owned a soft-drink bottling company – ‘Jay Cola’ – during a time when a black person could not own a franchise, so their territory almost exclusively catered to the black community. Jones explains how her grandparents and parents “instilled a ‘can do’ and a ‘take-whatever-opportunity-is-before-you’ attitude and taught me to give it my best shot with full effort.” 

In addition to her public and private service career, Jones has been active on many boards and community groups, including the board of Commonwealth North, United Way of Anchorage and the board of Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. She also spent eight years as the chair of the board of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, where she helped to ensure that senior housing projects were built across the state. Jones has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for women and minorities in Alaska and she has been active in the Alaska Black Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With her close friend and colleague Eleanor Andrews, she was instrumental in the formation of the Anchorage Urban League which focuses on empowering young people, such as those who have aged out of foster care, but need assistance on their road to becoming contributing adults. She currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of Alaska Regional Hospital. She also has been the recipient of many honors and awards including the 2011 BP/YWCA Women of Achievement Award, the 2003 Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Award, as well as “Citizen of the Year” from the National Association of Social Workers Alaska Chapter in 2001.

Mary Joyce 

Photo of Mary Joyce 
18991976
Categories: 2013 Alumnae, Adventure, Business

Biography

Mary Joyce was a pioneer southeast Alaska entrepreneur and adventurer. During the 1930s, she owned and operated a remote wilderness lodge, became the first woman radio operator in the Territory of Alaska, made a thousand-mile sled dog trip from Juneau to Fairbanks, and was a hunting guide, pilot, flight attendant, nurse, and candidate for Alaska Territorial Representative. She inspired news and magazine articles, poems, plays, books, movies, art and songs.

In 1928 Mrs. Eric L. Smith, of the Charles Hackley lumber fortune, hired Joyce as a private nurse for her son, Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith, a decorated French Foreign Legion veteran of World War I. The Smiths, with Joyce, traveled Alaska’s Inside Passage in 1929. They visited Twin Glacier Camp, established in 1923 by Dr. Harry C. DeVighne, a Juneau physician. Hack, struck by the area, purchased the camp, located 40 miles northeast of Juneau and accessible only by boat or floatplane. Hack and Joyce ran the lodge, added buildings, guided hunters and raised Taku husky sled dogs until 1934 when Hack died on a hunting trip. His mother bought the camp, including 15 sled dogs, and deeded it to Joyce who renamed it Taku Lodge. That winter Joyce operated a radio station at the lodge for Pacific Alaska Airways’ twice-weekly Juneau-to-Fairbanks flight. Joyce became the first female radio operator in Alaska.

In December 1935 Joyce embarked with five dogs on an overland trek to represent Juneau at the Fairbanks Winter Carnival. She hired Native guides or traveled alone on her three-month, 1,000 mile trip. National media covered her adventure, noting the great distance, bitter -60º F temperatures, primitive trails, and lack of communication, causing the American public to fear for her safety. Joyce flew the last leg to Fairbanks on March 26, 1936, where the mayor of Fairbanks awarded her a Silver Cup and the rare “Honorary Member” title from the Pioneers of Alaska. She completed her dog-mushing trip after the festival. “I wanted to see the country and experience some of the things the old-timers did,” she told reporters. “I just wanted to see if I could do it.” 

Because of her knowledge of the remote country, Joyce hauled radio equipment by dog team for the Navy as it built defenses during World War II, was a consultant for construction of the Alaska-Canada Highway, taught survival skills to troops, and helped develop a new air route from New York to Fairbanks. An Associated Press article, “Alaska Woman Could Give Soldiers Lessons in Defense,” she is quoted: “It’s nothing . . . Most Alaska women can take care of themselves.” Explorer Norman Dawn chose Joyce to co-star as Taku Mary in a film, Orphans of the North (1940), shot in the Taku River region. Another film, The Flying Saucer (1950), is loosely based on the lives of Joyce and Hack Smith.

One of the first female pilots in Juneau, Joyce ended her piloting days with wounded pride after she collided with fishing gear on Gastineau Channel. A certified nurse, she spent two years as a flight attendant for Pacific Alaska Airways, a subsidiary of Pan American Airways, traveling the Alaska-Seattle-Montana routes. In the 1940s, Joyce sold her lodge and moved to Juneau where she was a nurse at St. Ann’s Hospital and where she later purchased the Top Hat and Lucky Lady saloons. She led the statehood parade in Juneau and cut the ribbon for the first Iditarod trail race in 1973.

Joyce was born in Baraboo, Wis. Motherless at 18 months, she and her brother were raised by an aunt and uncle. Graduating from Mercy Nursing School in Chicago, she moved to Hollywood in 1928 and Alaska in 1929. Except for a short stay in Wisconsin in the 1940s, Joyce lived in the Juneau area until her death in 1976. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery there. Today, Taku Glacier Lodge draws thousands of tourists each year and visitors can see the dogsled Joyce used on her 1,000-mile journey. In 2012 the Juneau Jazz & Classics group premiered a composition about Joyce written by her grandniece, titled “Nothing to Lose.”

 

Additional resources:
Alaska State Library, Historical Collections, Mary Joyce Collection.
Baldwin, Bert. “Mary Joyce’s Thousand Miles on Snow,” poem in Northern Highlights and Mary Joyce. Bert Baldwin, 1976. 
Bell, Karen and Janet Shelfer. Taku: Four Amazing Individuals—Four Incredible Life Stories and the Alaskan Wilderness Lodge That Brought Them Together. Birmingham, Alabama: Will Publishing, 2006.
Greiner, Mary Anne. Mary Joyce: Taku to Fairbanks, 1,000 Miles by Dogteam. Bloomington, Indian: Author House, 2007.
Kolkhorst Ruddy, Kathy, personal communication, kathy.ruddy65@gmail.com
Twin Glacier Camp, National Register of Historic Places documentation. 1988.