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Sarah Palin was the first woman and the youngest person elected Governor of Alaska in 2006 when she was 42. She was also the first Alaska woman to serve as a candidate on a national ticket when she was selected as the Republican U.S. Vice Presidential running mate to Senator John McCain in 2008.
Prior to her election as governor, Palin served two terms on the Wasilla City Council and two terms as the mayor/manager of Wasilla. Palin is also past chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
Ellen Paneok was the first Alaska Native woman pilot. She worked as a commercial pilot in Alaska for 17 years and ferried everything from dynamite to live wolverines, the U.S. mail, passengers and medical patients. Paneok accumulated more than 15, 000 miles of flight time during her life. The elders called her “Owl Eyes” because she could see and fly in any type of weather. To her knowledge, she was the only Native American (Eskimo) woman pilot.
Paneok was born in Bedford, Va., in 1959. Her mother, Bernice Evak Burgandine, was an Inupiaq Eskimo from Kotzebue. Her father, Ron Burgandine, was in the United States Air Force stationed in Alaska. Her parents divorced when she was in the fifth grade and after the divorce, her mother moved Paneok and her two sisters to Anchorage. From the age of nine she took on the role of mother to her two sisters. A state social service agency broke the family up when she was 12 – her younger sister was adopted and she and her other sister were sent to separate foster homes. Paneok bounced around foster homes until she was put in “girls’ lock down” at the age of 14. Fortunately, her last foster home was a loving environment and helped her turn her life around.
When she was 15, Paneok found a flying magazine and after reading it decided she wanted to give it a try. At the age of 16 she received a $1,500 dividend from the Cook Inlet Regional Corporation and used it to take flying lessons. Eventually, the money ran out and Paneok started doing pen-and ink-drawings that she sold for $10 each. At the age of 17 she began ivory carving and scrimshaw, selling her work to tourists. She used the money to complete her training. Never liking school, Paneok would skip English and History to take flying lessons. At the age of 20, Paneok received her GED and her private pilot’s license.
By the time Paneok was 23, she had her commercial and flight-instructor certificates. In 1983 her first flying job was in Kiana, flying a Piper Cherokee Six. She chased polar bears from runways in the line of duty. “The most challenging part,” she said in the 1997 book “Women and Flight,” “is the off-airport work, like landing on the sandbars, landing on top of a mountain with big tires, maybe on a 20-degree grade, landing uphill and taking off downhill – to me, that’s the epitome of Bush flying.” Paneok said she was honored to be one of the few pilots authorized to fly the vintage aircraft owned by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. After flying for air taxi operations throughout the Bush, Paneok worked for the Federal Aviation Administration for five years as an operations inspector, then for the Alaska Aviation Foundation as the Statewide viation Safety Coordinator.
Paneok was published widely in such magazines as AOPA Pilot and Alaska Magazine and was featured in numerous books on women and aviation, including “Bush Pilots of Alaska” and “Women Pilots of Alaska”. She was also referenced in a number of other publications for her unique experience and knowledge of high-Arctic flying. Her article “With Trusting Eyes Behind Me” was included in “The Last Frontier,” a collection of the best of Alaska Magazine. Paneok was included in Ann Lewis Cooper’s Book “Stars of the Sky, Legends All”. She was one of only 37 pilots featured in the “Women in Flight” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. She is remembered as a “heroine in aviation”. That was the name of an exhibit sponsored by the Chicago Airport System which also chronicled Paneok’s extraordinary life.
Paneok created ivory scrimshaw that hailed from her Inupiaq tribal traditions as well as her interest in the changing world. She exhibited her work at many Alaska Federation of Natives conventions and arts-and-crafts shows. Her work can be found in art and antique galleries in Anchorage and Haines and in Minnesota and Maine as well as in many private collections.
Paneok was a long-time member and supporter of the Alaska 99’s, the International Organization of Pilots. She also volunteered her time and sat on the board of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Big Brothers and Big Sisters Anchorage, the Alaska Historical Commission and Challenge Alaska. She spent countless hours inspiring the youth of Anchorage and village communities to look to the sky and to their own dreams. When Paneok spoke to groups of at-risk kids, she could relate from her own personal experience. She told them: “I was just like you. I got no encouragement. When you decide to do something, don’t let anyone or anything discourage you. It’s up to you.”
Shortly after her death in March of 2008, Paneok was honored by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Congressional Record.
Elizabeth (Betty) Parent began her life in the small Alaskan village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River. In an area known for the blending of Athabascan and Yupik cultures, her family lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle steeped the culture of Deg Xinag (or Deg Hit’an) Athabascan people.
Early life was challenging for her. She and her two sisters suffered the loss of their parents through death and tragedy before school age. Betty subsequently lost her two sisters to childhood disease. She moved from family to family but always excelled in school and grew to love learning. She was guided in her life by her aunt Alice Harris who taught her to maintain a positive attitude and to work hard. Along the way, Betty acquired a great sense of humor which allows her to laugh at the ups and downs of life.
Parent spoke the Yup’ik language exclusively until she was five years old. Yet when she began primary school in the single room schoolhouse, the school only taught in English so she lost her bilingualism.
At the age of 18, she moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska. Right away she became involved in college and community life in the Interior. The 1960’s were historic times of change for Alaska Native people and Parent was in on the ground floor of many important movements. She helped organize cultural and social supports for Alaska Native students on campus through the Alaska Native Club; she worked in a leadership position in Head Start, moving seamlessly between parent advocacy and administrative roles. She organized Head Start parents to fight for culturally relevant education for young children in the Fairbanks School District.
Parent became involved in the early advocacy for the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act. Important to that work was the publishing of the Tundra Times, a weekly newspaper that gave a political and cultural voice to Alaska Native people. Parent served on Tundra Times Board, supporting editor Howard Rock during many years as the paper operated on a shoestring but produced important political advocacy.
While at the University of Alaska she met a brilliant UAF professor Gene Wescott. They married in 1961 and had three children Brian, Siobhan and Liam.
In 1964 Parent earned a B.A. in Anthropology, with minors in English and Education, as well as the dubious distinction of being only the thirty-second Native to graduate from the university.
Given the lack of support for Native students in the UA system at the time, she did not feel encouraged to continue graduate study in her home state. In later years, the University of Alaska Fairbanks honored her for her contributions.
After graduation she took advantage of Native student support opportunities at Harvard University, where she earned an M.A. in Education Administration, was awarded a Certificate of Advanced Studies, and was the first Native American to serve on the Editorial Board of the Harvard Educational Review – all while balancing the responsibilities of being a single mother of three small children.
She was awarded another fellowship to pursue her doctorate at Stanford University. Her dissertation, “The Educational Experiences of the Residents of Bethel, Alaska: A Historical Case Study,” focused on educational challenges faced by Alaska Natives students enrolled in Christian missionary schools, the predecessor to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Dr. Parent then held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, during which time she also hosted a bi-monthly radio show on Pasadena Community College’s KPCC and became known as the ‘Treaty Lady’ because of her attention to issues of Native American treaty rights.
Parent worked hard to bring the Native American perspective to the forefront in academic life. During her time as a doctoral candidate at Stanford she was a lecturer in Native American Studies at Berkeley—traveling several hours around the Bay area by bus each week to fulfill her teaching and research responsibilities.
When she obtained her doctorate, she accepting a tenure-track appointment as an assistant professor of American Indian Studies in the nation’s only College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She took on the responsibilities of chairing the program, guiding American Indian Studies to department status, developing the minor emphasis, and became the department’s first full professor. After establishing a precedent of excellence in teaching, research, and community service that many American Indians academics and programs seek to emulate, Dr. Parent retired and earned Professor Emerita status in 2000.
She worked hard to integrate Native American Studies into the general education requirements so that students could choose these courses to satisfy their core requirements. This innovation made Indian studies accessible to a broad audience in the student body of SFSU.
Her academic career was marked by so many firsts—first Alaska Native woman to earn a PhD, one of a very few Alaska Native students to successfully gain degrees from both Harvard and Stanford University and the first Alaska Native woman to obtain tenure as a full professor. Upon her retirement, San Francisco State established the Elizabeth Parent Achievement Award in her honor. The award is bestowed annually to deserving students who exhibit academic success and leadership in American Indian communities.
Beyond the formal recognitions, most meaningful are the hundreds of young people who were mentored by Parent in their academic, social and cultural development. She was known on the Stanford campus for hosting student gatherings in her tiny on-campus apartment—always with a good home cooked meal.
When she learned of a new student who might need support, she would call them up- sometimes several times- until she made contact to let them know she was there if they needed help. She attended student presentation for moral support, she cooked thousands of meals for student potlucks and she was a strong supporter of Native American cultural centers wherever she lived. Sometimes the smallest gesture meant a huge amount to students who were struggling far from home.
Dorothy Pender, an Alaska Native student who completed her PhD, wrote, “Betty took me under her wing when I was an electrical engineering grad student at Stanford University. She proudly supported me as I defended my doctoral thesis, and both Stanford professors and students assumed she was my mother!
Likewise Karen Perdue, a young Stanford undergraduate from Fairbanks came to rely on the Parent household as a second family –for parental advice, food and the ability to decompress including hosting sleepovers in the Stanford dorm for Betty’s daughter Siobhan.
Pender also remembers how Parent encouraged her to become involved in assisting others. Parent is a Sequoyah member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), which is a lifelong membership- “Betty encouraged me to become an AISES Sequoyah member, and a board member.”
In her 75th year, Parent remains an active participant in Native American education and journalism circles, as well as broader Bay Area Native community organizations and events, such as her role on the Board of Directors for the Native American Cultural Center in San Francisco. She continues to be honored and recognized by her peers for her contributions.
Over her lifetime, Dr Betty Parent has progressed from a one room school house in a remote Alaskan village to the academic halls of America’s most prestigious Universities. She has never forgotten her roots. All through her career she has focused on the needs of young people by teaching and mentoring on a daily basis. She has committed herself to social and educational justice for Native American people.
An important role model for all women and men who want to do something about injustice, Tlingit leader Elizabeth Peratrovich worked tirelessly to bring equality to Alaska. She raised awareness, rallied support, and lobbied the legislature to pass Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945, the first such law in the nation. As Grand Camp President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Elizabeth provided the crucial testimony that brought about passage of the Anti-Discrimination bill.
When asked by the Senate, “Will the equal rights bill eliminate discrimination in Alaska?” Elizabeth answered: “Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it? No law will eliminate crimes, but at least you as legislators, can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.” Her speech split the opposition and allowed the bill to pass.
In 1939 Leah and her husband Chester arrived by steamer at Karluk village on Kodiak Island to accept teaching positions with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They were the first teachers in the village for many years and as such were made very welcome. In 1941 they moved to Anchorage where she taught in the only school, Anchorage Territorial, as one of 43 teachers staffing all levels of education from elementary through senior high school. Leah remained in the Anchorage school system fulfilling 42 years of professional service as a classroom teacher, remedial reading specialist, supervisor, curriculum coordinator, elementary director and the first female principal in Alaska. She was teacher of the year in 1948.
Retirement didn’t stop Leah Peterson from public service. She served as the first president of Central Alaska Retired Teachers’ Association; president of the Alaska Retired Teachers’ Association; State Director of the National Retired Teachers’ Association; was appointed by the governor to serve on the State Board of Retirement, and was president of the Anchorage Schools Administrative Association.
For more than 30 years, Leah actively served on the Board of Trustees for Alaska Pacific University and was a member of the College Fellows, University of Alaska. She was worthy matron of Eastern Star (1052); member of Anchorage Woman’s Club and PEP Chapter P; state founder of Delta Kappa Gamma, Territory of Alaska, and an honorary member of Beta Gamma State, both national organizations for meritorious women educators. Leah was one of the 41 charter members of Zonta Club of Anchorage, founded in August 1961.
Leah received her teaching certification from Nazarene College in Idaho, bachelor’s degree from Colorado State College, and master’s degree from University of Alaska Anchorage. She returned to the Northwest Nazarene University after 73 years, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in recognition of her service to the profession of education, her community and society at large (2001), and then an Honorary Doctorate from Alaska Pacific University (2005).
Leah gave of herself, time after time, in service to the profession of education, her community and society at large. She brilliantly wove the story of her humble beginnings, hopes and dreams, and the impact education had on her life during college and throughout her life. In 2007, she made a generous gift to the new children’s gallery in the expansion of the Anchorage Museum at Rasumson Center. A special area, to be named Leah’s Corner, will feature an array of children’s literature and activities on Alaska topics in art, history and science.
Leah Peterson was a pioneer of education in Alaska, helping build an educational system from frontier instruction to a solid educational organization. She published, “This is Alaska”, a social science text and workbook for third and fourth grades that was adopted by the State of Alaska in 1959.
Leah devoted her life to the service of others. She remained young at heart while mentoring, counseling and attracting admirers of all ages.
In 1929 Alice was born in Atka village to Cedor and Agnes (Zaochney) Snigaroff, where she lived a traditional Aleut life. Alice remembered the house always being full because her mother helped raise many other relatives in the village along with her three brothers and a sister. But that all changed when she was five years old and her mother died, soon after, her two younger brothers also died. Her family became her father, sister, and brother. She was then the youngest in the family and often describes herself as a “tomboy.”
Normally in the village, women and girls, men and boys carried out gender specific tasks in everyday life. Women had tasks like gathering grass to weave baskets, picking greens and berries, and sewing clothes. Men hunted for seals, sea lions, ducks, geese, reindeer, and trapped fox to earn cash. Fishing was usually carried out as a family activity. Of course, the lines were not always that rigid, because the whole family traveled to seasonal camps to carry out some of these activities and Alice was always fond of saying it never felt like work when she was involved in gathering activities since she was outside and she loved being out of the house. Because of her mother’s death, when her father left to trap foxes, she and her sister were left with other relatives, but sometimes, she was able to convince her father to let her come along on the trips to trap on island of Amchitka and at Old Harbor on the north end of Atka Island.
Then in 1942, when she was 12 years old, after Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japan, the United States military relocated Atka families to Killisnoo, an abandoned fish cannery near Angoon in Southeast Alaska, where she lived for two years. Aleuts from eight other villages were also evacuated to other locations in Southeast Alaska. The Atka people were only allowed to pack one suitcase, the night before they left they were told by the Navy to go to their fish camps. During the night they saw flames in the village. When they left the next morning, everyone thought that they whole village had burned, but three houses were left standing one of which was theirs. Those years were very difficult. Alice and the other Aleut people experienced limited food, substandard housing in unheated, abandoned buildings that lacked operating running water, sewer and lighting systems. There were no schools or health care. The transport ship dropped Atkan families at Killisnoo with the suitcase, four days worth of food, and a mattress for each person.
The whole family went to work in a nearby fish cannery, earning money to try to improve their living conditions, eventually getting a boat, guns, nets, and other equipment to fish and hunt for food and saving to buy materials to improve the building they lived in. During the three years Atkan families lived in Killisnoo, 17 of the 88 people died.
Alice stayed at Killisnoo for two years; she had the chance to leave and go to a boarding school in Wrangell and then transferred and graduated from Mt. Edgecombe High School, an Alaska Native Boarding school. Upon graduation from the second graduating class of the school, she returned to Atka for the first time after the war. The rest of the people had returned earlier to the charred remains, except the three homes, which had been stripped to just walls and foundation. They rebuilt the homes, church, school, and a store and tried to return to normal. She spent the summer there and then left to go to the Haskell Institute in Kansas where she received a scholarship and earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration. She returned to Alaska in 1952, and eventually she went to work in Bethel for the Indian Health Service.
There she met and married Frank Petrivelli, who was in the US Army and from Boston, Mass. They raised six children; so Alice devoted herself to family life. They moved around the country, transferred to various military posts, until Frank’s Army retirement in 1969, when they returned to Alaska. Alice and Frank remained married until his death in 1993. He supported her in her efforts to protect her land and Unangan culture and language.
When the family returned to Alaska, Alice started to attend Aleut League meetings and in 1972 found her way to a job as a receptionist for the new Aleut Corporation. Her first job was to review enrollment, which meant assembling the family histories of the people connected to the Aleut villages, so they could know who was eligible to become a shareholder. Thus, her life-long association with the corporation began.
After involvement in the corporate process for four years, she ran for election to the Board of Directors of the Corporation in 1976, with a goal “to protect the land and our culture.”
In 1977, she joined Lillie Hope McGarvey and other Aleut leaders to sue the Corporation management for sending misleading information in a proxy solicitation. In 1979, the lawsuit, McGarvey vs. the Aleut Corporation, was successful and resulted in overturning election results and a new election was held for the board members. [Source: http://www.aleutcorp.com/shareholders/who-we-are/tac=chairs-directors/%5D. For their leadership, Lillie and Alice received the AFN Citizens of the Year Award.
The next effort that Alice engaged in was to seek restitution from the US government for lands that Aleuts were not able to select on Attu after WWII and to secure assistance for the Aleuts relocated by the US government. In all, during WWII 880 Aleut people from nine villages were interned for years in drafty, abandoned fish canneries, in primitive conditions that resulted in the death of about ten percent of them. Those who returned home after the war found their houses and churches destroyed or ransacked, often by the U.S. troops who had lived in them.
The “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians” investigated the five Aleut camps in Southeast Alaska and condemned government “indifference” to “deplorable conditions” there. The official report stated, “The standard of care which the government owes to those within its care was clearly violated by this treatment, which brought great suffering and loss of life to the Aleuts.”
With vigorous support from The Aleut Corporation, in 1988 Congress authorized reparations to the Aleuts, issued a formal apology, and compensated evacuees for land, homes and churches lost because of relocation. Congress adopted the “World War II Reparations Bill” (H.R.422) into law. It provided for a trust fund to be set up to help Aleut survivors and their descendants. $1.4 million was earmarked for restoring churches in six villages as well as lost lands. Finally, the Aleut Corporation was awarded $15 million as compensation for Attu Island, which was occupied by the military after the war and remains closed to its former inhabitants to this day. Alice was the Chair or Vice Chair of the Board of Directors or the President/CEO from 1986 through 1995, so was a key figure in advocating on behalf of Aleut victims of relocation.
Another example of her leadership was one of her first acts as the President/CEO. She led the Board to affirm a contribution to the Aleutian Pribilof Island Associates to undertake production of a video tape history of the internment of Aleut people during World War II. It was later produced in a feature film underwritten by the corporation and other businesses in 2011.
As the President/CEO she led the corporation to stable financial investments and increased earnings, so the corporation established a shareholder permanent fund. Under her leadership the Aleut Corporation was recognized by the Alaska Business Monthly as one of Alaska’s Top 49 businesses in 1995. Increased profits allowed the corporation to make larger contribution for educational scholarships to the Aleut Foundation.
While living in Atka in the 80s, before she was hired as the President/CEO of the Aleut Corporations, Alice was employed as the President of her own village corporation, Atxam Corporation. She also taught Traditional Foods, History, and did Storytelling at the Urban Unangax^ Culture Camp. There she shared traditional family recipes and recipes she learned from watching others as she was growing up. She also passed on traditional values of her people to the students. As a fluent speaker of Unangam Tunuu, she naturally incorporated language into all of her activities.
Alice’s goal was always to help Aleuts recall their Unangan traditions and to also succeed in today’s world. She helped create the Aleut Foundation, nurturing its mission to assist Aleuts achieve educational and cultural goals.
In a video interview in 2001, when asked by Sharon McConnell on the 30th Anniversary of ANCSA, “What do you think the next 30 years are going to hold for ANCSA and the Native people of Alaska?” Alice said,
“I think it will go on for a long, long time because number one, our young people are getting educated. Me, I live in two worlds. During the day when you’re working you live in the Western world, and then you go home and live your own Aleut lifestyle. When I’m home I speak Aleut. Today the young people are more used to the Western culture than they are their Native cultures. They’re educated and sophisticated. They’re learning to negotiate, and they’re learning the aspects of how to do business. That knowledge could still be around for a long, long time.”
She served as a Board member for 30 years and as President/CEO for 6 years. Her life-long goal was always “protecting the land and our culture.”
She also served as the President of the Aleut Foundation and on many other Boards and Commissions, including: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Alaska Native Heritage Center Academy Board, and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Cultural Heritage Advisory Board and was a Commissioner of the Alaska Native Science Commission.
Alice devoted much time to teaching young people about her language, values and culture. But she spent more time mentoring the young Native women who were following her path to the Board of Directors or the management of the Aleut businesses and nonprofit organizations. She also raised and inspired three daughters, four sons and five grandchildren to be involved in their communities.
Alice received the AFN Citizen of the Year Award in 1990 for her continued and effective leadership in her region and her service with the AFN Board of Directors. She has been honored by the Aleut Corporation, the Aleut Foundation, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and by the Elder’s and Youth Conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives. She was a respected Elder in Alaska and passed in 2015.
- ADN for obituary 9.12.15, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/adn/obituary.aspx?n=alice-petrivelli&pid=175808801#sthash.WE4wqYkd.dpuf
- Lite Site Alaska. ANCSA at 30 2001/2 University of Alaska Anchorage
Only two women have been elected speaker of the Alaska State House and both their legal first names are Ramona. Ramona Barnes was the first, followed immediately by Ramona Gail Phillips as the second. When asked why she has been known her entire life by her middle name, Gail says when she was born there was a popular song called “Ramona.” However, an older cousin who was living with the family at that time was named Ramona so in an effort to keep the two separate, Phillips’ folks started calling her by her middle name – it stuck and she only uses Ramona when signing legal documents.
Gail is a champion promoter of Alaska and its history says one of her younger sisters in her nomination of Phillips. She continued by saying Phillips has always been outspoken for the rights and betterment of all people.
Leadership comes naturally to Phillips. She was named one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Alaskans by the Alaska Journal of Commerce four times. In 1995 she was the highest ranking woman on the Journal list placing number 7; placing number 11 in 1996, number 5 in 1997, and number 14 in 1998. Some of the reasons are obvious. She was elected twice as speaker of the Alaska State House, serving four years (1995-1998) and she was the majority leader prior to that (from 1993-1994).
Of national note: when an Alaska ferry was being held hostage by Canadian fishing boats, Phillips was not going to be bullied. She stated to the media that the ferry was much larger than any of the fishing boats and that the captain should just get himself out of there.
In the mid-nineties Phillips, with other western legislative, county and local officials, along with some business people who together represented more than 44 million Americans, formed the Western States Coalition. This was done so they could speak with one voice to the federal government about their common concerns. “This is a very good thing for Alaska so we are not so isolated,” said Phillips in a news release. She served as co-chairman of the group from 1995- 1998.
During her State House speakership, Phillips delighted in inviting and conducting the U.S. House speaker and two Florida congressmen on a Western States Coalition tour of Alaska where she had the opportunity to talk about some of favorite subjects: tourism, economic development, international trade and military and veterans’ affairs.
Even in her younger years Phillips was a leader. While in high school she was elected to the student council and became their president. She served on the legislative (student) council for three years while attending the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. A lifetime Republican, she was an active member of the Young Republicans serving as president both in high school and university.
Phillips has lived almost exclusively in Alaska, the middle of five generations of her family. Only while Walt, her husband whom she met at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, was on temporary assignment with the trans-Alaska (Alyeska) pipeline design team, did she live in Texas (1971-1973).
After coming back to Alaska in 1973, the Phillips first lived in Anchorage, and then settled in Homer in 1978. They lived there until after she left the Legislature.
Phillips was born in Juneau to the pioneering Ost family but left as an infant and was raised in Nome. She attended public schools grades 1 – 12 with her six younger sisters then went on to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Phillips graduated in 1967 with a B.A. degree in business education. She has also taken a variety of additional courses there.
Phillips life isn’t all about politics. The “Iditarod bug” bit her and her husband early in the formation of the race. They became dedicated volunteers. One of her first jobs was making presentations to many local communities with Joe Redington, known as the father of the great dog race. In 1975 Phillips and her husband arranged for a babysitter for their young daughters, Robin and Kim, spending many evening hours volunteering at the race headquarters after work. As the years passed, both their daughters also became avid supporters.
In 1975 Phillips was elected to the board of directors serving through 1979. She took on the all consuming duties of race coordinator for the 1977, 1978 and 1979 races, and was the last person to fulfill this position on a totally volunteer basis. Phillips and her husband were the first officers or board members that were neither dog mushers nor directly connected to the race. At the beginning of 2015, they were two of 11 people called The Old Iditarod Gang who authored, published and distributed a seven-pound, 422-page coffee table book, an anthology about the first 10 years of the Iditarod called Iditarod – First Ten Years. They used Kickstart to raise the initial money. Both look forward to volunteering at the next great race.
Owning and managing a business in Homer, Quiet Sports Store, from 1978-1984 just wasn’t enough for the energetic Phillips. She became active in the Alaska Visitors Association; was elected vice chair of the Homer Convention and Visitors Association (1979-1980), and then served as president of the Homer Chamber of Commerce (1980-1981). From that position she ran for city council; to quote the Homer News, Oct. 1, 1981, she was “an outspoken advocate of tourism and we believe she would do a good job.” She served from 1981-1984. No longer owning the store, she ran for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and served from 1986 to 1988 and also chaired the Alaska Municipal League’s Legislative Committee 1986-1988.
During most of this time she also was the elected state secretary (1982-1988) of the Republican Party of Alaska’s State Central Committee. She was a member of the University of Alaska College of Fellows, as well as the Kenai Peninsula College Council where she was chair and board member. The granddaughter of Methodist missionaries, she was a member of the Homer United Methodist Church. As a member of the Resource Development Council’s statewide board she continued her pro-development activities and is a long time member of Igloo #1 and Igloo#14, Pioneers of Alaska.
In 1983, Phillips and her husband, with one of her sisters and her husband (Barbara and Stan Lindskoog), combined their two last names to form Lindphil Mining Company. The two families, including their four daughters, formed the work crew that actively mined Goose Creek about 50 miles inland from Nome for about six years. They worked their medium-sized placer mine from the time the ground thawed until their sluice box froze or about the first of July through the middle of September. In 1989 they sold their claims to a larger company.
In 1988 Phillips ran for the State House but was defeated. She went to Juneau anyway working as a legislative aide to Senate President Tim Kelly for the next two years.
1990 brought a different result to her campaign for the State House. She was the top vote getter from among the Democrats and Republicans in the primary and went on to win the general election by almost 1,000 votes. Thus her Legislative career began. The last two of 10 years in the State House she served as the powerful Legislative Budget & Audit Committee chair.
In Phillips’ last election she ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2002. She has since formed Alaska Campaign Strategies and has participated in a number of winning campaigns.
Other positions Phillips has held include:
Alaska 50th Anniversary Celebration Commission Chair, 2004-2006
Industry Liaison, Dept. of Labor – Business Partnership, 2006
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, 2003-2006
Phillips has received a number of awards, some are:
Canadian Consul’s “Smashed Brick Award,” 2003
YWCA’s “Woman of Achievement” Award, 2009
Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, “Anchorage ATHENA Society” member, 2003
UAF’s “Distinguished Alumnus” Award, 2013
- Gail Phillips’ personal and business resumes State of Alaska Official Election Pamphlet, 1990, ’92, ’94, ’96, ’98,
- Alaska Journal of Commerce supplement, Top 25 Most Powerful Alaskans, 1995, ’96, ’97, ’98
- Homer News, October 1, 1981, full page political ad
- Homer News, October 15, 1981,
- Editorial Box Gail Phillips for State House, political brochures from various years
- Katherine Anderson, younger sister, quote from Nomination for 2015
- Interview with Gail Phillips by Bonnie L Jack, December 2014
- Email from Gail Phillips to Bonnie L Jack answering questions, January 2015
- Iditarod, The First Ten Years, published by The Old Iditarod Gang, LLC, 2014
Verna Pratt was raised in a big family on a small farm in Massachusetts. The flowers in her mother’s large garden fascinated her as did the wildflowers she found while wandering through the surrounding fields. Part of her fascination was that the plants “stayed still” and could be closely observed This early interest led Pratt to become a self-educated, amateur botanist who not only has shared her extensive knowledge with generalists in Alaska, but is a recognized, internationally known expert in Alaska’s native plants, wildflowers and berries. Though as a child Pratt was painfully shy, as a teacher, she is friendly, modest and generous; eager to share her knowledge and enthusiastic about helping others to learn what she knows. Pratt, whose expertise has been achieved through self-study and dedication, knows firsthand how difficult it is to learn something new and considers that her greatest accomplishment is that she has helped someone to learn about Alaska’s native plants, wildflowers and berries.
With her husband, Frank, in the military, they lived in a variety of locations throughout the country and, in each location, Pratt studied the local plant life and created flower gardens. Arriving in Alaska in 1966 she began to teach herself about the Alaska native plants but found little to guide her. With her “hobby” turning into an “obsession,” Frank realized that if he wanted to spend any time with his wife, he needed to join her on her trips. He decided to photograph the wildflowers she was trying to observe and learn about. The only materials available were big, heavy scientific books with inadequate black-and-white drawings which were very difficult to use in the field for identification. Frustrated by how difficult it was to learn about Alaska’s plants from such books, Pratt and her husband, without any prior experience, decided to write and publish a guidebook for the Alaska generalist interested in learning about native plants. They decided the guidebook had to meet three stipulations: good color photographs, scientifically correct text and stitched binding to insure the book would not fall apart after heavy use in the field. Pratt then made a creative and key decision: to organize the plants by color; not scientific classification. This decision provided a new, easy way for a novice to learn about plants, their similarities, differences and, above all, to appreciate their beauty.
Pratt’s job was to write the text, choose the photographs she or Frank had taken and, using an artistic sensibility learned in her public school art classes, design and do the layout of each page and the book as a whole. Frank’s job was to research, learn and use an appropriate software program to make the book “camera ready” for overseas printing. After much hard work, the “Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways” was published in 1989. This was followed in 1991 by “Wildflowers Along the Alaska Highway, Wildflowers of Denali National Park” in 1993, “Alaska’s Wild Berries and Berry-Like Fruit” in 1995, and in 2003, “Travel Notes for the Wildflower Enthusiast,” for drawing and field notes. Upon discovering that there were no suitable books on the market which introduced children to the plants of the forest and meadow, Pratt and her husband wrote and published “Linnaea’s World,” a children’s book, in 1996.
Pratt has shared her expert knowledge in a variety of other ways and venues as well, from teaching classes to leading field trips to conducting formal lectures. Her leadership of field trips has earned her the title of “mountain goat” from her friends and students due to her agility in navigating difficult terrain in search of that one elusive wildflower. She has conducted classes through the Anchorage Community Schools program, been an adjunct lecturer at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the Alaska Wilderness Studies Program and continues to lead Alaska Geographic Society field trips at the Murie Science and Learning Center in Denali National Park and Preserve and at the Portage Visitor Center. She has taught at the Alaska Botanical Gardens and in the Anchorage public schools. As a recognized expert, she was invited to speak at the Long Island, New York, chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society in 1991 and in 2001 lectured on Alaska wildflowers to the International Rock Garden Plant Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Pratt has long been a leader in the Anchorage gardening community and beyond. In 1982 she and her husband founded the Alaska Native Plant Society and she served as its first president from 1982-88. In 1997 she founded the Alaska Chapter, North American Rock Garden Society and also served as its first president. She holds memberships in the Wildflower Garden Club and the Alaska Master Gardeners Association. Pratt participates directly in the local community in other ways as well – by helping to care for and maintain the gardens at the Alaska Botanical Garden, Campbell Creek Science Center and she volunteers as one of the Weed Warriors with the Alaska Native Plant Society.
Pratt has received local, statewide and national honors and recognition for her contributions to educating the public about Alaska’s native plants and wildflowers. In 1991, and again in 1993, she received the Helen S. Hull Literary Award from the National Council of State Garden Clubs for “literary production of horticultural interest” and in 1999 she received the Meritorious Service Award for “producing books to help people learn.” In 2000 she was honored locally as a Woman of Achievement by the Anchorage YWCA and in 2002 was elected to the (national) board of directors, North American Rock Garden Society. Pratt also is a recipient of the Edgar T. Wherry Award given by the North American Rock Garden Society (date unknown) for “outstanding contribution in the dissemination of botanical and/or horticultural information about native North American plants.” In 2009 Pratt and her husband were the first persons awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anchorage Chapter of the Alaska Master Gardeners Association. On that occasion, it was humorously pointed out that they were being recognized: “For your ability to teach and teach and teach and run up mountains with people following you.” Anchorage garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels perhaps best summarizes Pratt’s reputation and contribution to knowledge about Alaska’s native plants and wildflowers in these words: “In the wildflower world around the country, everybody knows Verna Pratt,” and “if you want a book on wildflowers in Alaska, this (the first field guide) is the one you get, period.”
Photo courtesy Michael Dineen, copy and reuse restrictions apply.
Alaska plant pioneers receive lifetime award, Anchorage Daily News, Oct. 22, 2009 Easy Rock Gardening, Homer Garden Club newsletter, March 2010
The hills are alive: talking wildflowers with expert Verna Pratt, KTUU.COM, Aug. 4, 2010
Organizing Beauty, Lorena Knapp, ALASKAMAGAZINE.COM, July/August 2013
After an invitation from the community of Nome to establish a hospital and provide medical care, four Sisters of Providence nurses traveled by horseback, train and boat from Montreal, Canada, and arrived in Nome, a city of 10,000 people, on June 10, 1902. They went straight to work fulfilling their mission, and then in 1910 moved on to Fairbanks where they built and operated a hospital. In 1939, the Sisters of Providence established a two story, 52-bed hospital in Anchorage. As Alaska’s largest city grew, this facility was replaced in 1962. Today, they continue to operate a number of hospitals, schools and orphanages throughout Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada.
The order began in 1843 in Montreal, Canada.