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Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento

Photo of Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Community Organizing, Education


Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles. She has demonstrated how hard work can balance family and career, pressures of becoming professionally fluent in a second (or third) language, and a solid belief that any problem can be solved.

PERSONAL STORY  (Her quotes are in italics.)

TEACHING  “Education will give you light wherever you go.”

Our family was mostly educators. My dad, Sotero Aguinaldo Malapit, was principal of the Lusong Elementary School. He had served as commanding officer of SULUBAD Bolo Battalion Resistance Movement in the early 1940s. He married well. His first wife, who died too young, was a wealthy woman. I learned later that dad owned land on several islands. They had 3 children. In 1945, my dad remarried a beautiful woman inside and out,my mother Carmen Saladino, and they had 4 children.

My parents urged me to pass the teachers’ civil service exam, and I was fortunate to pass with flying colors. This (and my Bachelor’s Degree) led to my first teaching job in the Malabon District in Rizal, Philippines. I was 18. It was during that time that I met my husband, Angel. I taught for 3 years, then was a school administrator for 7 years.

This all changed when Angel got a job at a fish cannery in Anchorage, and he called me to join him. We would live with his sister in Anchorage. Our 3-month old daughter remained with my mother and sisters and our son, age 1, came to Alaska 

“If you are determined to make it a happy life, you can do it.”

After a brief, menial job as a kitchen helper for Northwest Airlines Fight kitchen cleaning the lint off glasses that airline passengers used, Elsa got a job as a teacher’s aide. In spite of the extreme winter weather and a 50-mile, round-trip commute, it was the beginning of her 23 years as an elementary teacher with the Anchorage School District.


BRIDGE BUILDERS OF ANCHORAGE    Somehow, I always felt I was a second-class citizen in this great country of ours until in 1996, Angel and I received a letter from the mayor at that time, Rick Mystrom. He invited us to be at a gathering to launch something he called “Bridge Builders of Anchorage”. He had sent similar letters to three couples from 14 different cultures in our city.

Six years later, I was chosen to be one of the team of 23 people to go to the national finals of the All-America City awards program in Kansas City, Missouri. My job was to recite “The Pledge of Mutual Respect” that Bridge Builders had written and donated to our city as a gift for the new millennium. As we rehearsed on the Kansas City stage, I noticed that my fellow Alaskans were reading their speaking parts from decorated binders and I spoke up. “We must all know and memorize our own speaking parts by tomorrow, or we will not win this award.”

Mayor George Wuerch agreed and the next day before thousands in a great auditorium with the judges sitting in the front row, I looked into the eyes of every judge as I recited the following pledge:                                            

“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska  pledge to respect one another celebrating the differences that make us unique our customs, our colors, dreams, and ancestral traditions.   Standing together hand-in-hand, young and old we affirm that through mutual respect  we can build a stronger more harmonious community, a more unified nation, and a better, safer world.”

We all performed well and won the day and the All American City title. The crowd stood up and applauded, and we were the unanimous choice of the judges. That was a turning point in my life. Ever since, I have been in the front lines of community leadership and have served in state government.   

Another Bridge Builders project of Elsa’s began in 2006 when she was president of the organization. She was committed to the idea that each of the international cultural communities in Anchorage should be invited to honor one of their members for their Excellence in Community Service. Nominations should be decided by the individual communities. This annual UNITY GALA event has become a wonderful dinner-dance – complete with entertainment, photos, and speeches. Since it was initiated, Bridge Builders Honorees have been from the entire spectrum of our diverse communities – honoring more than 150 individuals and organizations. Elsa’s leadership has been the core of this event. As a result, Bridge Builders is known and valued throughout Anchorage.

ALASKA FEDERATION OF FILIPINO-AMERICANS (AFFA”)       As mentioned in the earlier part of this biography, Elsa was a key to the organization of 12 of the 15 Filipino organizations into a single group. With 7,100 islands in the Philippines and more than 100 languages in addition to the national language of Pilipino, it is easy to imagine separate organizations, cultures, and families. Since its incorporation in 2003, AFFA has established itself as one of the most welcoming, involved, celebratory cultural groups in Alaska. 

“I do my best and go the extra mile. I show the way. I get results and win their trust and they are with me all the way.”

FILIPINO RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS CHOIR GROUP of Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church  Every third Sunday of the month is Filipino Mass at Saint Benedict’s Church, Anchorage. This wonderful choir and community has benefitted from Elsa’s joy and leadership for nearly 20 years. In addition to the happiness of the Filipino Mass, the Community has had a special internationally-welcoming aura to all its activities.

GOVERNMENT SERVICE                            

Walker  Administration  2014 to present

Policy and Program Specialist (Office of Governor Bill Walker, Anchorage): Sargento is often called upon as the Governor’s connection to our culturally-diverse Alaska citizens and reaches back out for the Governor to a number of their concerns.

Education Transition Team: Pre-inauguration of Governor Walker, Sargento was one of the 15-member team   that provided perspective and priorities in public education.

Murkowski Administration   2002-2006  Executive Director of the Alaska State Community Service Commission which promoted volunteerism and ethics of service.

ACADEMIC DEGREES  When I was young, my family was mostly educators. My father channeled his leadership skills as Principal of Lusong Elementary schoool .

Alaska:  School Administrative Certificate – University of Alaska (UAA)  1981

Master of Elementary Education UAA  1977

Alaska Teaching Certificate (UAA) 1974

Philippines: Philippine Normal College – Manila Master’s Equivalency 1970

Philippine National Teachers’ Civil Service Exam  1965

Northern Luzon Teachers’ College – Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education    1965


Elsa holds an Alaska Real Estate license and has been an active partner with her husband in Manila Realty since 1986.


Elsa and Angel were married June 4, 1971 and they have three adult children and six grandchildren.  Achilles “Lex” Sargento was born March 23, 1972. He has 2 sons, Aliyas (12) and Jericho (7).  Golda Sargento was born October 3, 1973. She has a son Micah (15) and a daughter Mahalya (12).  Ryan Sargento was born September 3, 1981. He has a son Esco (10) and a daughter Lahliya (9).

My life has not all been a “bed of roses.” There have been challenges for our family like anyone else. However, because of Elsa’s generous spirit and being there for her community, they have been there for her and given her the love and support to get through whatever challenges the family has had to face.

NATIONAL HERITAGE                                                                                                                                    

Elsa is Filipino by birth. She migrated to Alaska, January 5, 1974 and became a Naturalized American Citizen in 1979.


Founder’s AwardBridge Builders of Anchorage  2013

Honored by Founder and former Mayor Rick Mystrom, Sargento,  was honored  for her steadfast leadership, courage and commitment which benefitted her community, all cultures in Anchorage, and beyond.

President’s Award – Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Inc.  2012

Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation   Dan Sullivan 2010

Outstanding Leadership – Filipino Community of Alaska 2009

20 Outstanding Filipino-Americans of US and Canada Washington, DC  2006 Sargento was honored for her ”dynamic leadership and unwavering support to activities enhancing a positive Filipino-American image in the US and Canada.

Mayor’s Award for Public Service  Mark Begich 2005 Public Safety Advisory Commission

Asian Academy – Hall of Fame  Albuquerque, NM  2004   Sargento was 1 of the 7 global honorees “knighted” in this ceremony and the first Filipino-Alaska woman to receive this honor.

Fil-Am Showtime – Outstanding Achievement Award 2000

BP Teacher of Excellence Certificate 1998

Teacher of the Year   Chinook Elementary School  1997-98

Golden Award – Delta Kappa (education honor sorority) 1997

MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT  When interviewed for the ALASKA WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME honors, Elsa had to think carefully about her most significant accomplishment. Capturing her comment . . . The connection with Bridge Builders is probably her most significant. Beyond the wonderful beginnings of forming the Community of Friends . . . the teams of friends from all races and backgrounds and their support in all aspects even in the toughest of all times over 20 years . . . the success of determination to make it live beyond challenging financial time . . . to the positive ripple effect that resulted in AFFA . . . to the current assignment with Governor Bill Walker and First Lady Donna Walker. Elsa’s former students are now coming into her office as inspired, pro-active adults. It’s an honor to have been part of all this as our city and state have become a unique and welcoming place.

Thank you to the Board of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for this inclusion in your valuable group.   Elsa 

(This is pending publication. It provides a valuable understanding of the Filipino-American culture.) 

Celebrating Filipinos in Alaska By Elsa Malapit Sargento

It is a pleasure to write about Filipinos and what we have brought and continue to bring: our cultural heritage. I would like to highlight a few characteristic traits that stand out to this day.

Survivability Filipino presence in Alaska speaks to our mastery at survival as a people. There is a saying that comes to mind: what won’t kill you will make you strong. That our culture is intact and our people continue to populate the world even in places one would least expect- even in a place like Alaska- is a testimony to our ability to survive, AND thrive. Earliest presence of Filipinos in Alaska on record, according to a book Filipinos in Alaska by the late Thelma Buchholdt, goes back to 1788.

“It appears that the first Filipinos to reach Alaska’s shores came as merchant seamen seeking fur trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. The earliest record accounts for at least one unnamed Filipino seaman who, in 1788, arrived as a crew member on a merchant ship which bartered with Alaska Natives for sea otter furs.”

The ability to survive as people presupposes endurance, the ability to bare suffering by generating the power to resist, and at various times even to revolt. We emerged from an environment of oppression called colonization. What did not kill us made us strong. This is why we are survivors.

Adventuresome  That Filipinos are found in just about every corner of the world gives testimony to the Filipino spirit of adventure. Sons and daughters of islands in the pacific far-east, we became explorers by necessity. We are forced to always look for better and more suitable lands on which to build homes and start our families. Today, this exploration translates into seeking suitable livelihood to support our families and people.

Fun-loving  We are a fun-loving people. If Americans evolved a work ethic for survival, Filipinos evolved a play ethic for the same reason. We cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. A healthy sense of humor can combat the often chaotic and less-than-ideal conditions in which we find ourselves. So we share jokes, we sing songs, recite poems, and we dance. We tend to be non-confrontational. Instead, we value a kind of “smooth interpersonal relationship.” It is very difficult for us to say no. What we have developed are the many levels of meanings for the word YES, where sometimes saying YES means NO. This is because we value relationships.

Hard workers Filipinos are known to sacrifice self for family. Overseas workers (or contract workers abroad) then and now are in the millions. These individual Filipinos not only sacrifice themselves for their families but for the group. They contribute more to the Philippine economy than all of the local businesses in the country. Nothing is too demeaning for Filipinos. They’ll take on anything if it means better living conditions for their families and relatives back home. This is particularly noticeable in Alaska in the many assisted-living homes run by Filipinos. Over 90% of assisted-living homes in Alaska are owned and run by Filipinos. Taking care of the elderly and the homebound is more than a business. For Filipinos, this is an expression of a Filipino value: respect and care of elders especially when they are weak and nearing life’s end.

Utang na loob (OO-TANG’-na-loo-ob) We never forget kind deeds. We are forever indebted to someone who has shown us kindness. We therefore have developed a sense of moral obligation, a sense of indebtedness whether to another person, a neighbor, or country. The long standing relationship between the United States and the Philippines comes out of that Filipino sense of indebtedness we call “utang na loob.” We Filipinos in Alaska feel a sense of gratitude to our state and we have a sense of indebtedness towards this great state that we have adopted as our home. We want to give back to Alaska what Alaska afforded us: a livelihood and a home.

Faith Filipinos are very religious. Religion is more than going to Church to us. It is a life-style. It is deeply embedded in our customs and traditions. In a religious environment, we learn moral and ethical behavior. We are pre-dominantly Christian although we have a large population of Muslims in our southern islands. We take this religiosity and piety wherever we go.

Pakikisama     (Pa-KEE-KEE’-Sa’-ma)  The social nature of every Filipino lends itself to cultural, racial and ethnic diversity. Filipinos can get along with everybody. A fun-loving nature is only the starting point. Much deeper than the pleasure of company is the value of inter-personal relationship. There is a sense of loyalty that comes with community, with neighborhood, and in a bigger picture, loyalty to a society. This is why citizenship is so important to Filipinos. It gives them a sense of belonging and ownership and obligation.

When all is said and done, I think I am speaking for all Filipinos when I say, “We are proud to be Alaskans, and we are proud to be Americans.”Elsa Sargento is the founder of AFFA, the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans; a retired 23-year teacher in the Anchorage School District; a founder and former president of Bridge Builders of Anchorage; and a co-owner with her husband Angel Sargento of Manila Realty. She is currently Policy and Program Specialist in Governor Walker’s Anchorage office. (March 2017)

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Grace Berg Schaible

Photo of Grace Berg Schaible
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Government, Law, Philanthropy


Achievement In: Law, government and philanthropy

Grace Berg Schaible has been a major player in the shaping of this state and its institutions.

She started her law career in Fairbanks, becoming the first person admitted to practice in the newly-minted Alaska court system. A graduate of the University of Alaska, she served on its Board of Regents, 1985-87, and currently serves as a member of the UAF Board of Visitors. From her private law practice, she was appointed in 1987 as the first (and to date, only) female Attorney General . She served, again as the first woman, as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Alaska Permanent Fund from 1995-97. In 1998 to 2003, she was the President of the Board of Trustees, University of Alaska Foundation. She has been a major donor of money, land, buildings and art to the university system. Among her many, many awards, she received an Honorary Doctor of Law’s degree from UAF in 1991 and in 2000 the William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan award from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.

The recent (2009) comments of President Mark Hamilton in connection with her latest award, the University of Alaska President’s Medal for Excellence, best sums up the breadth and depth of her contributions to shaping Alaska: “Grace has been a steadfast supporter of the University of Alaska and this entire state for so long that it is inconceivable for me to think how Alaska would be today without her having touched it so tremendously. “


Alaska Alumnus, spring 1976, Grace Berg Schaible:Arctic Attorney

Ruth Anne Marie Schmidt Ph.D.

Photo of Ruth Anne Marie Schmidt Ph.D.
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Education, Geologist, Philanthropy


Ruth Schmidt entered a career as a geologist when few women were accepted into the field. She was a pioneer; how many women held an M.A. in geology in 1939 or earned a Ph.D. in geology in 1948? And, as an educator, she paved the way for future women in the field.

Schmidt grew up in a family that placed a high value on education. All four of her siblings, three of whom were sisters, earned college degrees in the 1920s. Schmidt continued in the family tradition, earning a B.A. from New York University at the age of 20, a M.A. in 1939 (at the height of the depression) and a Ph.D. in 1948, both from Columbia University, in geology. Her interest in pursuing a career in science perhaps began after NYU when she was certified and worked as an X-ray technician in a hospital and private doctor’s office. Over the years she applied her interest in and knowledge of radiography to geology, researching how that technique could be applied particularly in the field of paleontology. This work led to the publication of a number of scientific articles concerning radiographic methods and micropaleontology.

Beginning her geology career in the early years of WWII provided her with some unique opportunities which served her in many ways. As a graduate student at Columbia University in the early 1940s, she was recruited to teach two all male classes in science and military mapmaking due to the shortage of male graduate students. The professor, impressed by her knowledge of the subject matter, teaching abilities and administrative talents, provided an excellent reference. In 1943 when employed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Washington, D.C., she was one of the few women to join the agency as a geologist. She was immediately assigned to the recently formed top secret Military Geology Unit where, along with her mostly male colleagues, she applied her professional knowledge to specific war-time tasks. The job was to provide mapping and both general and specific details of terrain to the Army Corps of Engineers to enable that agency to identify suitable areas for construction of infrastructure such as airfields, ports, and landing areas overseas. After the war work was completed, Schmidt continued her professional interest in the possible application of radiography to geology by directing and planning such research at USGS.

During her years in Washington, D.C. at USGS (1943-56), Schmidt was concerned about the prevailing racial segregation that existed. In 1945 she joined The Washington Cooperative Bookshop which, in addition to selling books and records at a discount, offered a place where blacks and whites could meet for interracial, cultural gatherings, forums and lectures on art, world affairs, science and other topics. Then in 1950 and again in 1954, in the midst of the socalled “Red Scare,” her loyalty to the United States was questioned by her federal employer because of involvement in the Cooperative Bookshop which the attorney general had declared to be a “subversive” organization. A transcript of the hearing in 1950 shows that Schmidt was not intimidated by the process or the members of the Loyalty Board and, characteristically, was direct and forthright in her responses to their questions. Cleared within months, she again faced charges in 1954 when the Secretary of the Department of Interior advised her that her continued associations and activities in connection with the Cooperative Bookshop “tended to show” that she was “not reliable.” Once again she provided written answers and affidavits from fellow employees and friends demonstrating her loyalty to the country, faced questions in another hearing and again was cleared within several months. It is perhaps not mere speculation to assume that her transfer to Alaska in 1956 to establish an Anchorage field office as the district geologist (1956-63) was greeted as a positive move by both the agency and Schmidt.

In addition to her work at USGS in Anchorage, Schmidt, in 1959, initiated and taught, as the sole teacher, the first college-level geology courses at Anchorage Community College, and then continued her career as an educator at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), retiring as chair of the Geology Department in 1984. Friends believe she discovered her true passion in the teaching of the science of geology to young students. Over her long teaching career, she was particularly supportive of young women entering the sciences, acting as a mentor and helping launch many women (and men) into professional careers, an important contribution for a resource-rich state. During her 25-year teaching career, she laid the foundation for today’s UAA geological science curriculum and designed the first geology laboratory at UAA, which was in operation until 2010. She was a well respected, albeit demanding, teacher and over the years it was not uncommon for former students to approach her at public events to voice their appreciation. Schmidt was elected a Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; founder, first president and honorary life member, Alaska Geological Society; American Institute of Professional Geologists, admitted in 1964, and emeritus status in 1986.

Her support of higher education extended beyond teaching. In 1993 Schmidt established the Edward and Anna Range Schmidt Charitable Trust which provides financial assistance to students, teachers and educational groups in the sciences, particularly earth and environmental sciences, with preference given to Alaska Natives and other minorities. Over the years she and her siblings established scholarships in honor of her siblings at the colleges from which they graduated. Most recently Schmidt, in her will, provided an endowment to the University of Alaska Foundation for scholarships for geology students at UAA.

As a professional geologist, Schmidt was involved in a number of Alaska’s major historic events. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, the epic earthquake found Schmidt, three students and a U.S. Forest Service employee in the middle of Portage Lake boring holes in the ice to measure water depth. Avalanches and rock slides crashed down around the edges, the ice itself quietly moved back and forth (later measured as a five foot swing) and the ice ringing the shore broke up, creating six-foot pressure ridges and leaving open water between the ice and the shore. With Schmidt in charge, the group with its snowmachine eventually found a solid patch to get them off the ice and onto the railroad tracks. Unable to return via the unstable train tunnel they found a small railroad cabin occupied by a young couple and their baby and spent the night. The next day a helicopter took them back to the lodge where they were staying in Portage and by Sunday, another helicopter flew them back to Anchorage. On Monday, three days after Friday’s historic earthquake, Schmidt attended an emergency meeting of all the available earth scientists in Anchorage from both the private and public spheres. She was selected to coordinate the work of the 40 or so scientists who volunteered their expertise to assess and map the areas of damage and of potential damage in Anchorage. On the very next day, base maps were procured and the scientists took to the field to start the assessments before the weather or humans had the time or opportunity to change the terrain. Within days, Schmidt was able to release a preliminary report followed by a final report on May 8th which, though hastily done, was the basis for subsequent studies detailing the geological factors which would influence future building sites. Despite criticism from real estate developers and downtown business interests, Schmidt insisted the public and local officials be fully briefed on the hazards identified before any rebuilding was initiated.

Schmidt also played a role in the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline when in 1974 – 1975; she was appointed an environmental consultant to the Office of the Governor. Her job was to make inspections all along the pipeline route to report on environmental concerns, the state of restoration, cleanliness of camps, etc. Schmidt continued working as a consulting geologist on any number of private and public projects throughout Alaska well into her eighth decade. During her extensive travels around Alaska and the world, she built an impressive slide library of geologic features.

Throughout her career, she was active in a number of professional organizations starting in 1948 with membership in the Geological Society of America. She was admitted to the American Institute of Professional Geologists in 1964 and was granted emeritus status in 1986. Schmidt received a number of honors as a geologist: named a Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; to the Board of Governors, Arctic Institute of North America; and Delegate, International Geologic Congress in Prague, 1968. Along with seven men, she founded the Alaska Geological Society in 1958, served as its first president, was on the board and was a life member. In 2008 she received a special AGS award for her long years of service and membership. She became a member of the American Association of Petroleum Engineers in 1957 and is to be the first woman honored on the occasion of the association’s upcoming centennial. She served many years on the board and the advisory council for the Alaska Museum of Natural History (now the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature) and was bestowed an honorary lifetime membership. Schmidt led creation of the Brooks Range Library and served as president and trustee during 1979 – 1991. She was a longtime member, officer and supporter of Anchorage Audubon and an early board member of the Alaska Center for the Environment. For many years, Schmidt was listed in “Who’s Who in America” and in “Who’s Who in Science and Engineering.

Following her final retirement as a consulting geologist in about 2000, Schmidt devoted a substantial portion of her financial resources to philanthropy, supporting causes such as education, the environment, the arts and social justice. She took her role as a philanthropist seriously and in her later years, recognizing that dementia was approaching, Schmidt set up a plan whereby the charities she supported would continue to receive funding during her lifetime even though she no longer could manage her affairs. This generosity was further enhanced by more than 20 substantial bequests found in her will; which not only provided for groups and charities she had traditionally supported, but also included charitable organizations which had no previous support or contact from her.

Schmidt’s forthright, direct personality stood her in good stead throughout her life, particularly in her early career as a young woman in a singularly masculine profession. A long-time friend quipped that “Ruth’s personality was bigger than she was.” It is true she was short in stature, but that did not define her; she was confident, strong, quick, generous, funny, a collector of cartoons and jokes and she commanded respect. Even in her later years and with early stage dementia when she was unable to remember someone’s name or recall a word, she did not attempt to cover up the lapse or pretend. In her direct way of speaking she would forthrightly state that her shortterm memory was gone. This simple, direct declaration immediately opened up the conversation giving the person to whom she was speaking the opportunity to comment or ask a question. It was an immediate gift from a teacher who continued to educate those around her.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Photo courtesy of the Collection of Sally Gibert

  1. Ruth Schmidt papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage
  2. “Ruth Schmidt’s Obituary on Alaska Dispatch News”, Alaska Dispatch News, 07 Apr. 2014
  3. “Project 49: Ruth A.M. Schmidt, geologist, McCarthyism survivor”, Nov. 5, 2014, Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement:
  4. Saucier, Heather. “An Extraordinary, Unknown Career”.

Jo Ryman Scott

Photo of Jo Ryman Scott
Categories: 2010 Alumnae, Education


A Fairbanks resident for the past 57 years, Jo Ryman Scott is known as a passionate educator and advocate of the Arts. She has received numerous awards for her contributions in these areas, including two Governors Awards for the Arts and an honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Scott grew up on a farm in South Dakota. Her first teaching experience was at Wright School, a charming one-room country school about 14 miles south of Aberdeen. She cherishes the memories of her three years teaching the wonderful children there plus carrying water every day, starting the fires on cold winter mornings, being the janitor and playing outdoor games with the kids at noon and recess. Scott credits those years as being the spring-board for developing the courage and stamina to go on to get her college degree, something many farm girls didn’t do in those days. Scott graduated from San Jose State in 1953 and decided to go to Alaska to teach rather than go to Venezuela – as some of her friends were doing. She accepted a teaching position in Fairbanks primarily because at that time, Fairbanks was the only community in Alaska that had the University.

Scott has always had creative ideas for youth. In addition to teaching in the public schools in Fairbanks, she founded Fairbanks’ first educational pre-school (1962) and a Jr. High fine arts camp (1976) held in the Scott’s yard.

Then in 1980, Scott realized her dream of establishing a study-performance arts festival in Fairbanks. She called on her friend, Eddie Madden (Boston) who knew the talented musicians to invite and the classes and concerts to offer. This event came to be known as the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival which is produced in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Scott has received many honors over the last 30 years. To name a few: Two Governor’s Awards for the Arts; an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and this year, she is honored to be inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame. She retired last summer after 30 successful seasons of producing the Festival. She is happy to help her long-time friend, Terese Kaptur in any way she can as Terese leads the Festival onward with her own creative ideas.

Dick and Jo have three children: Julie Scott and her husband, John Ryer; Bryan and his wife Lyn Collaton and their son, Ayden; and their youngest daughter, Shirley Scott. We will remember Shirley’s son, Benji, who passed away three years ago.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Nell Scott

Photo of Nell Scott
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Territorial Politics


“Flying Nell Scott” was the first woman elected to the Alaska Territorial Legislature. Nell worked in Seattle before moving to Alaska, finally settling in Seldovia in 1934 when her husband was appointed a Deputy United States Marshall. Her campaign was famous for its lack of speeches; Nell flew around and spoke with people individually. Scott came to office with the landslide re-election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, but left the legislature after one term.

Lidia Selkregg

Photo of Lidia Selkregg
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Geologist, Land Use Planner


Born in Florence, Italy, in 1920, Lidia Lippi met Fred Selkregg at the end of WWII. They married in 1945, and moved to Alaska in 1958. Dr. Selkregg worked with communities throughout the state as a planner. She wrote the Economic Development Administration Grant for the Port of Anchorage, fought to set aside land for Anchorages watershed, and educated the community about earthquake risk. She served on the Advisory Committee to the Carter White House Conference on Balanced National Growth and Economic Development, served on the Anchorage Assembly, and developed a graduate planning program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller

Photo of Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Aleut Communities, Education


Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller was a pioneer for the Aleut (Unangan) people who blazed the way in education, public speaking, and community activism. She was an outstanding Alaska Native educator who worked for decades in rural Alaska villages and towns.

She was the first teacher in Atka, the surviving village in the central Aleutians, where she taught for four years. She was the first of her people to be a certified teacher and went on to teach in her hometown of Unalaska on the Aleutian chain, in Akhiok (Alitak) on Kodiak Island, in Tyonek, and Eklutna.

Her teaching spanned almost 40 years, all in territorial days. She became an outspoken advocate and strong activist for the rights and culture of her people and was dedicated to helping them. In her career, she influenced thousands of children and adults across Alaska.

As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn set an example of the value of education that has rarely been equaled. Through her own education and her subsequent work as a teacher, she had a deep impact on those who knew her. In 1922 Kathryn was asked to write three articles about the Aleut people. These were published in 1923 by The Pathfinder of Alaska and are of great importance to any study of the Aleut people.

Her outstanding work among the Native people of Alaska spanned the disciplines of education, midwifery, church, and social work. She was remembered in the Aleut Corporation Newsletter for her “lifelong, tireless efforts to enhance the capabilities of her people to cope with their changing way of life.” She was recognized by the Department of Interior in 1950 when she received a special award for commendable service. That same year Congress awarded her a medal for ‘outstanding service to her people.’ After she retired, she continued to lecture about Alaska and the Aleut people. She was decades ahead of her time in speaking about the terrible suffering of Aleuts who were taken from the islands during World War II and placed in substandard camps in Southeast Alaska.

Early Life:

Kathryn Pelagia Dyakanoff was born to an important Aleut (Unangan) family in Unalaska on December 7th, 1884[1]. She began her schooling when she lived at the Jesse Lee Home in 1894. She was an outstanding student who was encouraged by missionaries at Jesse Lee to continue her education. When she was twelve years old Sheldon Jackson, the first Alaska Commissioner of Education, recommended her to go to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. She earned her high school diploma from Carlisle in 1906. After she finished at Carlisle, she went to West Chester Normal School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she graduated with her teaching degree in January 1909. Before she returned to Alaska, she spent a semester doing post-graduate work at Dickson College in Carlisle. Throughout all of this time, Dr. Sheldon Jackson encouraged her.

For her first year as a teacher in 1909, the Bureau of Indian Affairs assigned her to Sitka. The 1910 U.S. Census lists Kathryn Dyakanoff (21) with Cassia Patton (48) as the U.S. Government teachers. After the school year ended, she traveled to Seattle. There on June 1, 1910, she married Harry G. Seller, who was born in England and had immigrated to the U.S. a decade earlier. He had worked as a newspaper writer and photographer and was also a teacher.

Kathryn was at the forefront of changes in Aleut identity occasioned by economic and social forces at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was a bridge between traditional 19th century Aleuts and those who would forge new directions in the coming decades. 

A Dedicated Teacher:

The Sellers were commissioned by the B.I.A. to go to Atka, first to build a schoolhouse and then to serve as the teachers there. Kathryn was the principal teacher while her husband provided manual training. He eventually managed the Atka Island Native Store, a cooperative he started for the Bureau of Education. The local villagers were hired in the construction of the new school. Two excerpts on the Alaska history website show Kathryn’s dedication and exceptional gifts (

The B.I.A. gave Kathryn and Harry one hundred seventy dollars worth of construction materials and three special items the government had conceded to Kathryn: an organ, a cow and a bull. It is interesting to note that they refunded fifty of the original one hundred seventy dollars to the government. The schoolhouse, which was also their home, was completed and ready for use in 1909. Their first daughter, Renee Lois Seller, was born in Atka in 1911; the family recorded that the villagers celebrated the birth, not of Renee, but of a calf parented by the cow and bull that Kathryn had insisted accompany them to the island. Atka was a very remote outpost; the Sellers received mail only once a year.

Adventurer and newsreel photographer Will Hudson wrote a narrative of his 1913-1914 trip to Alaska and Siberia in a book entitled, Icy Hell. He stopped at Atka, he wrote of meeting Kathryn: “The little Native school was under the direction of an Aleut girl who received her education in the States. If ever there was a saint living on earth, I am sure it was this faithful, cultured Aleut maiden, who was slaving herself half to death in an effort to help her charges in faraway, lonely Atka.” Will Hudson wrote that Kathryn shared their meager food supplies with the villagers.

Kathryn’s knowledge of the Aleut language enabled her to jump-start the education of children who had never been in school before. Being the teachers in Atka were much more than just building the school and teaching the children; the school became the heart of community activity. Harry and Kathryn’s report to the government for 1912-13, describes the whole community being involved in clearing various locations and planting many kinds of vegetables and potatoes. They built a separate building as an industrial shop for the school and men and boys learned to use tools. They offered medical care. Cooking and weaving classes were offered. Kathryn was sent a sewing machine, two other machines arrived and older girls and women learned to sew. She included in her report, “Now all of the older girls and women of the village know how to use the machines. Sewing classes were held on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and the use of the machine was free to anyone on Saturdays” (1914, p. 45).

By 1916, the Sellers were living in the village of Akhiok on Alitak Bay on the south end of Kodiak Island. The Department of Interior 1916-1917 report lists Mrs. Kathryn D. Seller as the teacher with 43 children enrolled and a very good average daily attendance record. The 1920 Census lists Kathryn and Harry still living in Akhiok with their oldest four children. Kathryn and Harry were both teaching as the U. S. Government teachers. They experienced tragedy the next year when their seven-year old son Alfred drowned in Alitak Bay.

In 1920, Kathryn became the superintendent at Tyonek and taught there. By then their children were growing so in the 1920s, they moved to Anchorage so their older children could attend high school. They were early residents of Anchorage. Harry worked for the railroad and Kathryn took time away from teaching to manage the household and help raise her five remaining children as well as volunteer in the community. Their oldest daughter Renee graduated from Anchorage High School in 1929, Marjorie in 1932, son Harry in 1934. Kathryn’s husband Harry Seller died in the summer of 1936, leaving Kathryn a widow with two children, John and Betty, still at home.

After her husband’s death, Kathryn moved back to Akhiok village and returned to teaching. Her youngest two children stayed in Anchorage to finish high school (John graduated in 1941 and Betty in 1942). Son Harry moved to Akhiok with her. Kathryn and Harry Jr. are both listed in the 1940 U.S. Census, where she was the teacher in the school, and in fact, also the census taker. That time must have been precious to her, as Harry joined the military and died at Unalaska a few days after the Japanese attack in June 1942.

In the early 1940s, Kathryn was on the staff at the Eklutna Vocational School, where she taught. Kathryn retired from teaching in 1948 and moved to California to be near her children and grandchildren. She continued to make presentations along the west coast and in the east, sharing slides and pictures and her stories at schools, churches, and other groups to promote better understanding of Alaska and her people. She died on June 17, 1980 at age 96 in San Francisco and is buried in the Valley Cemetery in Sonoma.

Impact of Kathryn’s Life:

The villages where Kathryn taught listed in various sources include: Sitka, Atka, Unalaska, Akhiok (Alitak), Wacker (Ward Cove), Tyonek, and Eklutna. Though she had earned her teaching degree, because she was Alaska Native she was granted only a temporary certificate to teach in Alaska. Visitors were sometimes incredulous that a Native woman could be the government teacher and consequently described her as her husband’s assistant. Through her outstanding teaching and persistence she was finally granted her permanent certificate in 1925. In the days when there were few if any Alaska Native certified teachers in towns and villages of Alaska, Kathryn was a path breaker, a mentor and inspiration to many. To think she was born only seventeen years after Alaska’s purchase from Russia and taught for decades, all in territory days, is amazing and inspiring.

As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn Seller faced bigotry and prejudice with intelligence and resolve. She had the highest standards and a fearless energy. As Anthony J. Diamond wrote, “I have known Mrs. Seller for twenty years or more. Her character is of the highest. She is intelligent, honorable, and reliable. I know that she will speak the truth.”

Ray Hudson wrote, “When I was a young teacher at Unalaska (in the 1960s and 1970s), I had several discussions with Edna Pelagia McCurdy. She was an Aleut who retired from teaching in California and returned home to teach in the public school and to assist forming the local corporation. Several times she spoke about how Kathryn Seller was a great influence on her life. Today a scholarship exists in McCurdy’s name, given annually by the Ounalashka Corporation.” Edna McCurdy said of her aunt Kathryn, “She was always so proud of her Aleut heritage and always used Dyakanoff as her middle name.” Ray also reported, “Anfesia Shapsnikoff, the great basket weaver and champion of Aleut culture, although a generation younger than Seller (having been born in 1900) was a friend of Kathryn and frequently referred to her work as being exemplary.”

It is fitting that Kathryn was recognized nationally for her teaching and service and that we honor her achievements and long dedication as an Alaska Native woman.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Alaska History Website:

Aleut Corporation. (~1980). Spotlight on Shareholders: Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller. Newsletter for shareholders.

Bagoy, J. (2001). Legends and legacies: Anchorage 1910-1935. Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001, p. 187-189.

Bagoy, J. (Various dates). Research files, correspondence, and writings in the archives at the Anchorage Historical & Fine Arts Museum.

Blalock, Betty Seller. (2017). Personal conversations and letters (Daughter of Kathryn).

Carlisle (n.d.). Student card for Kathryn Dyakanoff on entry 10-25-98. Card G-412.

Correspondence between Dr. Sheldon Jackson and Kathryn Dyakanoff, 1907 – 1908.

[1] Official records of Kathryn’s birth year vary from 1884-1888, but her death records & grave give 1884.

Natalya Shelikof

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Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Exploration


Natalya Shelikof, wife of Grigorii Ivanovich Shelikhof, was the first white woman to live in Alaska, arriving in 1784 to the island of Kodiak where she helped her husband set up the colony and generally establish the Russian presence. Many historians say she was a founder of the Russian American Company. A remarkable woman who bore eight children, she ably supported her husband in his business affairs and expanded them after his death. She was influential in establishing schools, developing agriculture and bringing the Russian Orthodox Church to Alaska. She taught the native women about manners and cleanliness and tried, but did not succeed, in abolishing the tradition of polygamy.

Judith “Judi” Anne Slajer

Photo of Judith “Judi” Anne Slajer
Categories: 2020 Alumnae, Government


Judi Slajer is a longtime Alaskan, mother, cancer survivor, dedicated public servant, and local government pioneer who worked for decades to help create the effective governance structures in Alaska. Slajer was involved in the creation of lasting organizations such as the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks, the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority, and the Alaska Municipal League Investment Pool. In recognition of her significant contributions to local government in Alaska, Slajer was honored with the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Alaska Municipal League (AML). 

In 1964, Slajer became the Borough Clerk for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough– its first employee. She was instrumental in the administration and set-up of the new Borough. In August 1977, after 14 years as Borough Clerk, Slajer was appointed to be first-ever woman Borough Manager in Alaska. In 1980 Slajer moved to Fairbanks with her children and in 1982 earned a BS majoring in finance and management from UAF. After receiving her degree, Slajer spent four years managing the second largest government budget in Alaska, for then-Mayor Knowles and Manager, Barbara Steckel. Budgeting soon became one of Slajer’s major passions as she led the Muni to receive a first-ever Award of Excellence in Budgeting from a national peer association, Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). Slajer moved back to Fairbanks in 1986 to join her to-be second husband Tom Rosadiuk. After a term teaching governance courses for UAA in rural Alaska, she was hired by Mayor Juanita Helms as the CFO for the Borough (FNSB). She served in that capacity until she retired in 1997 after 32 years in local government service.

Slajer has been a self-starter and charted her own path to become the first female borough manager in the state. During her career, Slajer has mentored many women through her direct role in professional organizations and by fostering and encouraging her employees during her decades in local government.

Slajer was one of 13 other local government clerks who founded the Alaska association of municipal clerks (AAMC) in 1965, comprised of borough, city, and village clerks from across the state committed to the continued growth and development of the municipal clerk profession. Slajer cherishes her role in the development of this organization because of the countless opportunities it offers to so many participants. She and the Kenai Borough Clerk, Frances Brymer, conspired and flew to New York to attend a week-long national clerks training institute hosted at the University of Syracuse and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. They returned with a ‘we can do this in Alaska’ attitude, and thus the ninth-in-the-United States clerk’s training institute was created. Over the past 40+ years, this training session has been attended by many hundreds of Alaska municipal clerks, deputies, and other local government professionals to enrich their education and provide each with an opportunity to learn from their counterparts to ensure efficient and effective local government operations. Slajer was also the first non-grandfathered, municipal clerk in Alaska to earn the coveted national designation as a certified municipal clerk.

In the mid-70’s, Slajer participated with Dave Rose and others to mirror the State of Massachusetts in helping Alaska create its own municipal bond bank (now AMBBA). Operated by the State, AMBBA is a public corporation that aids authorized Alaska-government borrowers in the financing of capital improvement projects such as schools, water and sewer systems, public buildings, harbors, and docks. At present AMBBA has assets of approximately $1.2 billion. 

As Borough Manager in Ketchikan, Slajer had a great time making in-roads in resolving traffic congestion problems in Ketchikan, initiating and completing the International Airport master plan, improving parking at the local high school, negotiating with the Inland Boatmen’s Union, discussing animal control with residents while at the grocery store or engaging in a complete re-assessment of the entire borough. It was always lots of fun as well as challenging.

For many years as a member of the AML Legislative Committee, Slajer worked with the legislature as well as state and local government officials across the state to create the process to select State lands for community development, create the bond authority and investment pool, make significant improvements in the election law, revamp the school foundation funding, and many other legislative changes to improve the operations of local government. Unique to Alaska local government, Slajer may be the only person to have been elected President, at different times, to three peer-professional associations: Municipal Clerks, Managers, and Finance Officers.

Slajer’s career continued to blossom during her 12 years as CFO at the Fairbanks Borough (FNSB), where she worked with several notable Mayors: Juanita Helms, Jim Sampson, and finally Hank Hove, where they revamped the financial management system, financed the purchase of the Borough office building, upgraded the municipal landfill, built several schools and as well as other challenging projects. Slajer designed and brought home to Fairbanks  the coveted national Award of Excellence in Budgeting. Slajer served as one of the first appointees to the board of the Alaska Municipal League Investment Pool (AMLIP)— which she and others helped launch—a non-profit corporation to provide short-term investment options to maximize revenue for boroughs, cities, school districts, and other Alaska government entities. AMLIP holds more than $2.0 billion in assets under management today.

Balancing a career while raising a family as a single mother (Charles and Slajer divorced in 1976), Slajer managed to take weekend and night classes offered through the local community college and by UAA in Ketchikan. At the age of 38, after earning over 80 credits, she moved to Fairbanks to pursue her bachelor’s degree with her two daughters, Franczeska, who was entering middle school at the time, and Veronica, a recent high school graduate. Judi and Veronica enrolled and attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the same time, and Slajer completed majors in Finance and Management graduating in 1982.

Post-retirement, Slajer and Tom moved from Fairbanks and set up home on a small-offshore island in a large fjord of Prince of Wales Island. Being 25 miles by-water from Ketchikan is a challenge, however, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Part of the year is spent in La Conner WA where Slajer is a board member of the Shelter Bay, a homeowner’s association (HOA), and currently serving as Treasurer. Judi continues to use her local government skills and training to further the HOA’s efficiency and effectiveness for the people it serves. 

Slajer is very appreciative of all the wonderful professionals, men and women, she’s worked with over the years, and she has also formed strong bonds with many.  She is also deeply aware it takes everyone working toward common goals to find solutions to the problems we face on a-daily basis.

Slajer, was born in Michigan, raised in Leavenworth, WA and Moorpark, CA, and moved to Alaska with her first husband in 1962. Slajer and her current husband, Tom, have five children between them, one in Fairbanks, one in Anchorage and D.C., two in Washington, and one in Wisconsin. They have eight grandchildren, all attending or completed college (except the 14-year-old), and nine great grand-children in Fairbanks.

Barbara Sweetland Smith

Photo of Barbara Sweetland Smith
Categories: 2014 Alumnae, Conservation, Culture, History


Barbara Sweetland Smith was born in Portland, Ore., in March of 1936 to Monroe Mark Sweetland, a newspaper publisher, and Lil Megrath. A graduate of Milwaukie (Oregon) High School, Mills College, Columbia University and the University of Washington, Smith accepted a position as administrative assistant at the prestigious Harvard Russian Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for two years and studied with Don Treadgold at the University of Washington, one of the premier Russianists in the U.S. When she returned to the Northwest, she became an assistant news analyst at KING TV in Seattle. After the birth of her first child, Barbara returned to graduate school where she did an intensive study of late 19th century Russian philosophers and theologians. In 1970 Smith and husband Floyd moved to Anchorage and she began teaching Russian history as a faculty member of the University of Alaska Anchorage. In this position, Smith was asked to study the long-lost and recently re-discovered records of the Russian Orthodox Church. The book that resulted was named by the American Association of Archivists as the best book published on religious archives in 1982.

Steve Haycox, a Distinguished Professor and historian with UAA, said: “Barbara Smith was an extraordinary person, with discerning and disciplined intellect, keen insight, unfailing courage, and deep compassion. I feel privileged to have known her.”

As a scholar, Smith also focused on identifying and collecting records of the Alaska Native corporations in the early 1970s. One of her many achievements greatly benefited the indigenous Aleuts whose culture and homes were mostly destroyed during the WWII battles in the Aleutian Islands. She put her knowledge of the language and the times into practical use assisting the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association to gain recognition of the disastrous Aleut relocation during WWII and later provided the documentation to Congress that resulted in the restoration and rebuilding of the historic churches in the Aleutians.

To further Alaskans’ knowledge of their Russian heritage, Smith curated four major exhibitions at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art: “Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier,” “Heaven on Earth: Orthodox Treasures of Siberia and North America,” and “Science Under Sail: Russia’s Great Voyages to America 1728-1867.” These popular world-class exhibits, some of which traveled the country, portrayed how the Russian presence has shaped Alaska’s history and cultures.

Smith also followed in the footsteps of her father who had served in both houses of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. She became an active advocate, testifying before the Alaska Legislature and Congress for private, state and federal funding and support for archives, historical programs and museums. She was a founder of the respected Alaska History Journal, working to get it started and continuing as an advisor — reviewing and commenting on manuscripts submitted about Russian America and the exploration of Alaska. As a member and consultant she served in many groundbreaking capacities for the Alaska Historical Society.

A friend, Jo Antonson, said of Smith: “I was new to Alaska and beginning my career. I went to work for the Alaska Historical Commission and met Barbara because she had successfully garnered a number of grants to acquire and preserve pieces of Alaska’s history. She was very helpful to me and we eventually became good friends as well as professional colleagues. Barbara was careful, thorough and exacting in all of her professional work.

“I really admired Barbara’s patience and ability to mentor many women, encouraging and training them through her projects,” Jo added.

Another friend, Dana Anderson, called Smith: “A very caring individual.”

Smith’s community involvement included a strong commitment as President for 28 years of the Anchorage Fellowship in Serving Humanity (FISH) which, in partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska, operates a food pantry supplying thousands of Anchorage poor, especially children, with delivered nutritious meals, all on a volunteer basis. Over the years, she helped distribute approximately 3 million meals to families in need.

A strong supporter of women in the professions, Smith served for many years on the board of and in leadership positions with Soroptimists International of Anchorage, the Anchorage branch of an international group devoted to improving the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.  Smith also served as a board member of the national Archives of the Episcopal Church.

During her professional career as a Russian historian, Smith published a number of books and curated many exhibits. Several of her books became widely acclaimed earning her international distinction as a scholar of Russian history in Alaska For her work, Smith was one of five Americans awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian People from the Russian government (two of the fie were U.S. astronauts) and the Order of St. Herman from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Obituary, The Oregonian, Mar. 17, 2013

Hannah Paul Solomon

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Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Leadership, Mentorship, Native Issues


A respected elder and matriarch of the Athabascan people, Hannah Solomon began her work by helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and becoming its first female mayor. Using this as a stepping stone, Solomon moved on to help form the Fairbanks Native Association and to become active in the Alaska Federation of Natives, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference. Solomon’s beadwork, a skill she learned from her mother, has been nationally recognized and collected by public and private museums and collectors.

Born in Old Rampart of an Alaska Native woman and white father, Solomon was raised by adoptive parents. After her marriage, she lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle in Fort Yukon, where she and her husband raised their 14 children and her husband’s four children. While living there, she became active in community affairs, helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and creating a school board.  She then became Fort Yukon’s first female mayor.

Solomon had only a few years of elementary school education, but was a strong advocate of education for her children and other young people, particularly Alaska Native youths moving into Fairbanks from rural villages.  Solomon spoke fluent Gwich’in and made sure her children learned to speak it as well. After moving to Fairbanks in 1965, which allowed her younger children to attend Lathrop High School, Solomon helped organize and then worked for the Fairbanks Native Association as a social worker. She developed programs for the elderly that are still operation. As an activist and leader in Native affairs, Solomon attended the initial meetings of AFN, Fairbanks Native Association, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference and continued to be an active participant throughout her lifetime. In 2011 her 102nd year, she attended and spoke at Doyan’s annual meeting.

Solomon’s beadwork is considered among the finest in the Athabascan tradition and is in the collections of museums, businesses and private collectors in Alaska and elsewhere, including the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North, Doyon’s headquarters in Fairbanks, in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. She learned beadwork from her mother, was diligent and persistent (“she was always doing her beadwork” according to a daughter) and modest about her artistic skills. She said once: “I don’t call myself an artist at all because that’s the thing that God gave me to do and I’m doing it.” Solomon loved traditional Athabascan dancing, especially jigging. In 2000 she was awarded the Governor’s Native Arts Award, and throughout the years was invited to participate in many guest-artist and artist/apprentice programs. Solomon was selected by UAF to be an Elder in Residence and was cited for the “wisdom, understanding and friendship” she provided through the program. In recognition of her contributions to the elder program, the Fairbanks Native Association named their senior care building the “Hannah Solomon Building”. She was honored also by the North Star Borough as the Pioneer of the Month, as Doyon Shareholder of the Year as an “inspiration to shareholders” and by the church where she was a longtime parishioner.

Solomon’s long life spanned World War I through the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At her death, she was survived by five generations of family. Summarizing Solomon’s influence and importance in both the Alaska Native and non-Native worlds, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner stated in its editorial of Sept. 18, 2011: “At 102, Hannah Solomon has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and wisdom unmatched by but very few in Alaska.”

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Doyon, Limited E-Newsletter, October 2011
Artist File, Hannah Solomon, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, articles on September 16, 2011, September 18, 2011 and Sept. 23, 2011, Editorial, September 18, 2011
Anchorage Daily News, article on March 26, 2000
Susan Fair. Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity. University of Alaska Press, 2007
Kate Duncan. Some Warmer Tone. University of Alaska Press, 1984
Richard Nelson. The Athabascans: People of the Boreal Forest. University of Alaska Museum, 1983
Journal of Alaska Native Arts, Jan.-Feb-March 1989

Shirley Mae (Springer) Staten

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Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Art, Civil Rights, Human Rights


Staten has given countless keynotes and impacted many lives, weaving stories and song to inspire women in prison, disadvantaged youth, young Native women, graduates at University of Alaska Anchorage, teachers with Anchorage School District and women across the world. She created and directed the Alaska Women’s Choir, which toured throughout Alaska and the International Women’s Conference in Nairobi. Children in the Home Base After-School Program that she directed from 2006-2011 published two books and produced a CD and two photo exhibits. With Staten’s guidance, the students planned, fundraised, negotiated, and travelled to Ghana to visit schools and perform there. Staten challenged the students to dream, and students learned to take charge of their own dreams. She brings diverse groups together in community dialogues locally through the Humanities Forum programs and through the Martin Luther King Citywide Celebration. Staten also inspired youth with her performances as part of the Alaska State Council of the Arts’ “Artist in Residence” Program.
Staten started school in the segregated, poor schools in the south, Georgia. Although she graduated from high school, she had difficulties with reading. She picked cotton and worked in tobacco as a child. Music was always a part of her life, whether it was singing in the fields with her grandmother, aunts Pearline and Annabelle and cousin Daisy, or listening to her mother humming a tune from the time she woke, after prayers. She left Georgia at age 17, and she moved to Anchorage in 1981 after working as an AmeriCorps VISTA in New Mexico and teaching assistant in Los Angeles, with three summers of work in Fairbanks that brought her to Alaska.
Education: 1987: Associates Degree in Human Services, Anchorage Community College; 1989: BA in Human Resource Development, Alaska Pacific University; 1996: MS in Spiritual Psychology, University of Santa Monica, California. Specialized training: 1993: Jack Canfield: Self-Esteem Facilitator’s Training; Mark Victor Hansen: Transformational Intensive; 1994: Deepak Chopra: Interpersonal Development Workshop; 2000: Re-evaluation Counseling Training, 2003: Training in the Power of Dialog; 2004: Dr. Barbara Love: Phenomenological Listening; 2005: Beverly Tatum: Understanding Racism
Professional/Work History/Community Involvement:  1985-1989: Coordinator, Anchorage Martin Luther King Citywide Celebration; 1985,1988, 2003, 2009: Developed programs and organized groups to travel to Africa and Cuba to share music, culture, and stories; 1989-1993: Community School Coordinator, Anchorage School District; 1995-1999: Project Coordinator, Anchorage School District Young Women’s and Multi-Cultural Conferences; 1996: Cultural Events Coordinator, United Nations /NGU Women’s Conference, New York/Beijing, China; 1996-1999: Alaska Humanities Forum, Coordinator, Speaker’s Bureau; 1999-2001: Exhibit Coordinator, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center: Looking Both Ways-Heritage and identity of the Alutiiq People”; 2000-2002: Project Coordinator, Community Dialog: Understanding neighbors; 2000, 2004, 2006: Coordinator of Youth Leadership Conference: Alaska Native Heritage Center; 2006-2011: Director, Home-Base After-School Program; 2002-Present: Educator, Coordinator: Cross-Cultural Immersion Program and Cultural Camp: Alaska Humanities Forum

O’Malley, J. (2011). In Fairview, Miss Shirley opens children’s eyes. Anchorage Daily News, May 5.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Ann Mary (Cherrington) Stevens

Photo of Ann Mary (Cherrington) Stevens
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Community Activism, Role Model, Volunteering


Ann Stevens was born Sept. 20, 1929, in Denver, Colo. and was adopted by a distinguished Denver couple, Dr. Ben Cherrington and wife Edith. Dr. Cherrington was a college professor who served as chancellor of the University of Denver. He was invited to Washington, D.C., in 1938 by Secretary Cordell Hull to head the Division of Cultural Relations of the State Department; and in 1945 Dr. Cherrington was asked to be an advisor to the U.S. government in San Francisco when the United Nations was chartered. There, he authored the provision setting up the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO.

Stevens learned much from her father regarding the duties of public service and diplomacy, and during her youth spent some time living in Bethesda, Md., while Dr. Cherrington served in nearby Washington, D.C… She graduated from high school in 1946 at the age of 15, and, when it came time for her to choose a college, Stevens selected the progressive Reed College in Portland, Ore., where she majored in political science and international affairs.

After graduating from college, Stevens moved to Washington, D.C. to work for State Department’s United Nations Affairs Office in the Foreign Service Officer Division. It was during this time that Stevens met a young lawyer who worked at the Department of Interior named Ted Stevens. They were married in Denver on March 29, 1952, and then returned to Washington, D.C. The following year the couple moved to Alaska. Shortly after their arrival, Ted Stevens was asked to serve as U.S. Attorney for Fairbanks, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 30, 1954.

In Fairbanks Stevens began the full time job of raising children. Three children, Susan, Beth and Walter, were born. In a 1978 article written shortly after Stevens’ death, Fairbanks resident Mary Elizabeth Lomen remembered when the Stevens’ first arrived in Fairbanks. “We knew them when they first came here. She was lots of fun. She was always so natural. She was just Ann.

In 1956, after three years in Fairbanks, Ted Stevens was appointed to be legislative counsel and solicitor in the Department of Interior and the family returned to Washington, D.C. Once Alaska gained statehood the family, with two more children, Ted Jr. and Ben, returned north, this time settling in Anchorage in 1960.

Once settled and while her husband pursued his legal and political interests, Stevens pursued interests of her own. She served as a director for the American Red Cross from 1961 to 1963. When her children became active in Girl Scouts, Stevens also became involved as a troop leader and was active in scouting from 1962 to 1966. She became a participant in the Salvation Army as well, actively volunteering her services from 1963 to 1966. Stevens joined The League of Women Voters. As volunteers, Stevens and League members researched candidates’ backgrounds and provided an objective view of individuals running for office. In addition, campaign issues were researched with information provided to voters in voter information brochures and pamphlets prior to an election. Another project Stevens and League members worked on in the early days of Statehood was a study of how to implement local government after Alaska became a state.

When the Great Alaska Earthquake struck Southcentral Alaska in March 1964, Ted Stevens was named chairman of the Red Cross Disaster Committee. Ted once reflected that he “… may have been the chairman, but Ann was the volunteer,” who worked tirelessly along with many others to help those devastated by the earthquake. Stevens also participated in the Red Cross response to the 1967 Fairbanks flood, the worst disaster in the history of that city. According to Red Cross literature, Stevens “… worked in mass care, completely relocating a boy’s school from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Later in Washington, she was amazed to hear the National Director of Disaster Services say that mass care was normally a four-month course. Ann told him her training had taken about 30 minutes.” Stevens’ last job with the Southcentral chapter was as chairman of volunteers.

Stevens’ other interests at this time included the World Affairs Council, coordinating Rotary events with other wives of Rotarians, then called “Rotary Anns”, and serving as vice-chair on a committee that was supporting Anchorage Unification efforts in the mid-70s with neighbor Frank Reed.

In addition to raising her family and her active participation as a community volunteer; her return to Alaska also was the beginning of another career that Stevens shared with her husband – politics. It began in 1962 when her husband ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate, and continued with a successful bid for a seat in the Alaska State House in 1964, a seat in which he served until 1968. During the legislative sessions, Stevens and the children would move to Juneau where she ran the household and organized the family. Stevens and other legislators’ wives managed families but also made time to sit in the gallery to keep abreast of important legislation during the first years of statehood.

Stevens developed a reputation as a tireless campaigner for her husband, becoming a favorite among Alaskans wherever she campaigned. During her husband’s 1968 campaign for statewide office, Stevens was given an honorary chauffeur’s license by Teamster head, Jesse L. Carr, when she decided to drive around the state campaigning for her husband in a motor home named “Stevens Steamer.” Stevens and the five children hauled campaign materials and traveled the state for months visiting every town on the road and marine highway systems that could manage the “Steamer.”

Although Ted lost the 1968 campaign, he was appointed to the seat vacated by the death of Senator E.L. “Bob” Bartlett; in January 1969 the Stevens family packed and headed back once again to Washington, D.C., where Ann Stevens assumed the role and duties of an active Senate wife. She soon joined the Red Cross Senate ladies in a program she called “bandage flapping.” Every Tuesday the senators’ wives met and prepared a special compress used in cancer operations. “I thought it would be World War I stuff,” Stevens said later, “but it’s one way I know to get acquainted.” And get acquainted she did. “She was well known by the wives, and she was very well liked,” reported the Anchorage Daily News Washington correspondent in 1978. Stevens formed close friendships with other Senate wives, regardless of their husbands’ political parties. Stevens, along with her close friend Rose Blakely, eventually formed two successful businesses in the Washington, D.C. area with other Washington wives. Elizabeth Dole, wife of former Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, and a former president of the American Red Cross, once remembered her friend Ann Stevens as “the epitome of today’s accomplished woman, full of life and full of joy.”

At their home Stevens was down to earth, and in welcoming everyone to their home, she could put everyone at ease. She was well known for her “hamburger noodle bake” and for cooking fresh salmon in her dishwasher. Her informal entertaining was a legend in the capital. If time was short, and number of guests large, she had been known to bring home buckets of fried chicken “and serve them with aplomb,” she once said. Besides hosting visitors to their home, Stevens would cook lunch for the senators’ Wednesday meetings with the Senate leadership, and oftentimes included Alaska salmon. A secretary to one of the other senators said her boss and others used to serve deli sandwiches, while Senator Stevens was spoiling them with Alaska salmon. Stevens welcomed Alaskans into their home, and always found extra room in her home to help a fellow Alaskan.

She served as a mentor and guide to the young Alaska staff members living in a big city far from home and had a special impact on many of the young Alaska women she met. One of former Governor Mike Stepovich’s daughters, Toni Gore, recalls Stevens had a caring, committed and outgoing nature along with a great sense of humor.

Stevens was a steadfast advocate for women’s involvement in public service and for opportunities and education for women. Stevens returned to Alaska from Washington, D.C. often, and she hosted large luncheons in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau exclusively for groups of Alaska’s women. At these gatherings, she would talk about life in Washington, D.C. and answer questions about national and state issues. These functions were well attended, and women young and old enjoyed hearing insider information about the goings-on in the Senate and in Washington, D.C.

Another example of Stevens’ interest was involving young women in important policy issues and helping mentor them, is one remembered by Gore of Stevens taking her and her sisters, Andrea and Melissa, to the U.S. Senate’s family gallery to witness the historic tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Spiro Agnew to approve the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973. Stevens wanted to share this important moment with young Alaskans.

For almost 10 years, beginning in 1968, Stevens would travel extensively across the state. An article in the Anchorage Times put it this way: “Ann Stevens, petite, blond, unaffected and unpretentious, has traveled the state for weeks at a time, ever since her husband’s appointment to the U.S. Senate … In cities and villages from Petersburg to Barrow, she has slept on the floors of homes when beds weren’t available, taken potluck with whalers, held an infant while its mother sewed sealskins in a home lit by candles …. and crawled into sleeping bags in trappers’ cabins.” Her down-to-earth quality combined with a respect for every individual she met, endeared her to people from all walks of life across the Last Frontier. Not surprisingly, Stevens had the same effect on national and international dignitaries she met over the years. Archbishop Francis Hurley said of her, “She moved easily and graciously among national and international leaders but with equal ease and grace among those from whom she came…. “

Stevens also took great pride and pleasure at being invited by the Eskimo community in Barrow and Wainwright to join them on their yearly whale hunts. “I’d be devastated if they forgot to invite me,” Stevens said in 1977 after helping the villagers pull in a whale on the ice near Wainwright.

For much of the 1978 campaign season, Stevens was the primary campaigner for her husband’s re-election. Ted Stevens spent much of that year in Washington, D.C. leading the charge in the debate on the Alaska land’s bill, and much of the credit for his runaway victory was given to his wife’s vigorous campaigning on his behalf. Stevens spent election night in Anchorage, calling her husband throughout the night as election results came in. She left for Washington, D.C. a few days later, telling friends she’d be back in three weeks.

Three weeks later, Stevens perished when the Lear jet she was riding in crashed while landing at the Anchorage (now Ted Stevens) International Airport.

The tributes from friends and admirers were many. Among them, Joe Josephson, who wrote: “By all evidence…, Ann Stevens carved out a sensible and sensitive role. Probably no woman in Alaska history has met all of the challenges as the partner of a mate in public life with equal success, in each aspect of a well rounded life. She was wife, mother, friend, advisor, and businesswoman. She could organize her time, without losing spontaneity and spark, and without a trace of brusqueness. She was comfortable with the high and the mighty, and with ordinary folks.” He went on: “Although devoted to her husband’s Republican causes, she knew the limits for partisanship, and she understood that an incumbent serves all his constituents, regardless of party.”

Oliver Leavitt, a whaling captain from Barrow, eulogized Stevens with these stirring words: “Ann Stevens shared her life with us. She was a part of us, whether on a whale hunt or in the quiet of our homes. She understood the beauty and silence of the ice….. her eyes would sparkle with the capture of a whale as she joined in the work and enthusiasm of an entire community harvesting its subsistence. She reflected the spirit of our dance, of feasts and festivals. She also understood the dramatic change that we, as a people, are experiencing and was most helpful in translating that change to ourselves and to the world that she knew. The same person hosted us and helped us feel at home in the much different atmosphere and complexity of our nation’s capitol.”

This was Ann Stevens, a woman who possessed many personal qualities regarded as characteristically “Alaskan.” She was independent, versatile and intelligent. Stevens was comfortable in any setting, whether as a hostess in Washington, D.C. working long hours on a political campaign, or doing volunteer work to aid those in need. She was a caring mentor and positive role model for Alaska women of all ages. That special blend of Alaska independence, trust and genuine concern for Alaska and her people, endeared Stevens to the hearts of many on whom she has left a permanent impression.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Times, December 5–10, 1978

Fairbanks Daily News Miner, December 5-10, 1978

Rocky Mountain News, December 06, 1978

Dr. Ben M. Cherrington Obituary, Washington Post, May 05, 1980

Dr. Ben M. Cherrington Obituary, Denver Post, May 3-8, 1980

American Red Cross, South Central Alaska Chapter Materials, 1979 and 1998

Anchorage Daily News, April 04, 1998

Version of Ann Stevens Biography penned by Barbara Andrews, 2014

Arliss Sturgulewski

Photo of Arliss Sturgulewski
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Community Service, Politics, Public Policy


Arliss Sturgulewski arrived in Alaska in 1952. She has served on many municipal and state boards and commissions, the Anchorage Assembly, and in the Alaska State Senate. She was the first woman to head a major party ticket when she was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986; she ran again in 1990. She has also served in numerous organizations, especially those dealing with public policy and educational issues.

Clare Swan

Photo of Clare Swan
Categories: 2011 Alumnae, Native Issues, Political Activism


Born and raised on the Kenai Peninsula, Clare Swan worked for decades to preserve and protect the subsistence fishing rights of the Kenaitze Indians following passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) in 1971.  She had the foresight to realize the significant impact of ANCSA on future generations of Alaska Native people.  She spent two decades immersed in research and litigation, culminating in the Kenaitze Indian Tribe receiving State regulations and rights on the eve of open fishing in June 1989.  That decision has had long reaching legal ramifications, extending to Indian grazing rights in Southwest America.

In the late 1970s Clare worked to establish the Cook Inlet Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.  While serving as Chair of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe she helped establish the Dena’ina Health Clinic and youth and community agricultural programs.  She served on the Board of Directors for Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) 1998, the latter as Chair since 2000.  In her “spare time”, Clare has advocated for women and children through the Indian Child Welfare Act, worked and supported the Women’s Crisis Center in Kenai, and volunteered with the court system.

In 2009 Clare was honored with the Alaska Federation of Natives President’s Award for Elder of the Year. She is most thankful to her husband of 60 years “who has supported me as person.”

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Carol Swartz

Photo of Carol Swartz
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Community Development, Higher Education


Carol Swartz, M.S.W., has served as the first Director of UAA’s Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC) in Homer. Since 1986, she has overseen this comprehensive campus of Kenai Peninsula College/UAA, offering successful academic, life-long learning and training programs. Today, the campus serves over 700 people each semester.

With her energetic, collaborative leadership style and with a dedicated staff, faculty and community board, Swartz established accessible and diverse cultural and educational opportunities. She recognizes that education is the key to making a transformative difference in our world.

Under her leadership, with the encouragement of many mentors, she has championed expanding adult and youth access to education and has promoted the role of the campus in Homer’s economic development. Her efforts have helped create a better local trained workforce, fostering cross-cultural community discussions and responding to the changing needs of the residents of Homer and the surrounding communities.

With clear vision and determination, Swartz has enthusiastically spearheaded the advocacy, planning, design and construction of its current facilities. She oversaw grant and budget development and management as well as student and support services.  She implemented establishment of programs including: nursing, liberal arts, education, welding, GED/ABE, maritime technology, and business development, which have enriching the economic and cultural life of the community.

Under her leadership, the Kachemak Bay Campus also organized statewide women’s conferences in the 1990’s, culminating with “Women 2000: Sailing into the New Millennium”.

Swartz is the founding director of the annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, a premier nationally recognized event sponsored by Kachemak Bay Campus. It features workshops, readings and panel presentations in creative fiction, poetry, nonfiction and the business of writing. Since 2002, the Writers’ Conference has hosted award-winning Alaskan and national novelists, essayists and poets who have inspired audiences. With its focus on community and craft, this conference strives to celebrate the connection between writers and readers.

Within two months of arriving in Alaska in 1980 Swartz helped organize South Peninsula Women’s Service (now Haven House). She was hired as the first clinical social worker of the Homer Community Mental Health Center, but quickly realized broader community needs. Until then, Homer had only an informal network of safe houses for women seeking safety from domestic violence and sexual assault, but had no formal safe home, counseling, or crisis-response system.

For a time, Swartz served both as the community mental health center clinician and as the executive director of the crisis center, but then committed herself to the latter full-time. She and others developed the core services that exist today, working with hospital, school, law enforcement, and the judiciary. She has been an effective advocate for state services and the shelter networks to address domestic violence and sexual assault.

In 1985 Swartz became the Kenai Peninsula’s first Guardian ad Litem through the Office of Public Advocacy, protecting the rights of children during court proceedings. For two years she also traveled across the state working with new rural shelter programs and developed child sexual assault intervention protocols.

Carol grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Rhode Island. After graduation from college, her first job was with an adoption/foster care agency. After backpacking for a year around Europe, she packed her bags and drove across the country to Oregon, where she attended Portland State University, graduating in 1977 with a Master of Social Work degree. Swartz then briefly worked for the US Forest Service on a trail construction and fire suppression crew, followed by work as a residential treatment center clinician and elementary school counselor.

Carol has been inspired by much of her family’s history that instilled in her a sense of history, integrity, public service, and personal responsibility. They also modeled a strong work ethic and commitment to do the best one can — to be a “change agent.” She values education, art the environment and diverse cultures.

Her husband, Robert, has served as her primary cheerleader, encouraging her in all her endeavors and mutual adventures. Significant mentors include her parents and brother extraordinary friends, women, students, and writers; especially those who are true survivors of life’s uncertainties and challenges. Jane Goodall inspired her: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  She believes it is, likewise, her responsibility to serve as a mentor to many women and young people.

Swartz is the quintessential community collaborator. There is a quotation taped above her desk that reads, “To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?” That sums her up. Where there is a need, Carol helps to fill it. She has facilitated the initiation of several local environmental, human service and cultural organizations.

Swartz serves and is a member of numerous non-profit organizations. She has served on several area and statewide boards of directors, including:  Bunnell Street Arts Center (founding), Pratt Museum, KBBI, Homer Council on the Arts, Girl Scout Susitna Council, and the former Alaska Women’s Network. She currently serves as a founding trustee of the philanthropic Homer Foundation and sits on the Bunnell St. Arts Center Advisory Council, Haven House (SPWS) Honorary Council, UAA, and Homer area committees.

She is a 31-year member of the Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and was active in its and Homer’s international service “friendship” trips to Thailand, Japan, and Russia. Her sense of adventure and love of dogs led her to serving as a volunteer with the Iditarod in McGrath and Nome in the mid ‘80’s. For over 15 years, she and her husband cared for their own “family” of sled dogs. Many of her other interests include traveling, beachcombing, reading, gardening, cooking, and advocating for human rights and social justice.

A colleague of hers stated, “The most evident and outstanding aspect of her leadership here is her connection to the community.” She is a leader, a mentor, and a friend. She is a model of the “servant leader” — leading from behind, gently pushing others to succeed.

Carol has been the recipient of several awards and recognitions honoring her contributions and public service, including the 2009 South Peninsula Haven House Woman of Distinction, 2009 Alaska Center for the Book Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Award, 2012 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities, 2013 University of Alaska Anchorage Meritorious Service Award in recognition of her significant commitment and service to the University and Homer, 2013 Homer Council on the Arts Educator of the Year, and the 2015 Alaska Adult Education Association’s John L. Hulbert Award for outstanding long-term contribution to lifelong learning. She was recently inducted into 2016 Class of YWCA/BP Women of Achievement.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Dora Sweeney

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Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Politics


Dora Sweeney served in the final two Legislatures of the Territory of Alaska and was one of six female members of the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955 and 1956. She signed the Alaska Constitution in 1956, and subsequently served three House terms in the Alaska Legislature. After retiring from the legislature, she was made the first woman sergeant-at-arms in the House of Representatives. She served as state president of both the Alaska Business and Professional Women and the Easter Seal Society of Alaska.

Nancy (Elliott) Sydnam M.D.

Photo of Nancy (Elliott) Sydnam M.D.
Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Dog Training, Flying, Medical Doctor, Music, Poetry, Woodworking


“Besides her work as a dedicated and resourceful medical practitioner, Nancy Elliott Sydnam, is a pilot and a poet, a hunter and gatherer, and an empathetic observer of human nature,” UAA news release, April 16, 2013, regarding Sydnam and her presentation of her book, Sideways Rain, 20 years of medicine, music, and good-luck landings in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands of Alaska.

Another called her, “. . . a true Renaissance woman, an outstanding medical doctor for over 50 years; private pilot; hunter, fisher, dog trainer; writer and poet; musician; and mentor to many, especially young women,” Gretchen T. Bersch, a former patient and long-time family friend.
Born January 20, 1929 and raised on a family farm in Lynden, Washington with an older and a younger sister, Sydnam married her high school sweetheart. Harold Sydnam called “Syd,” worked for Pacific Northern Airlines as a dispatcher and was transferred to Anchorage, Alaska. Unlike many women of her era she was not upset, she was thrilled, a dream come true. The two married between her junior and senior years at medical school at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She then went straight into her one year internship at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. Following her internship she moved permanently to Alaska in 1955 beginning her five and half decades of practicing family medicine in Alaska.
Growing up in Washington on a family farm there were few heroes for women. From a very early age, she wanted to be a pilot like Amelia Earhart and was heartbroken at eight when Earhart went missing. Sydnam confirmed her love of flying at 15 when she got a free flying lesson by buying a $75 war bond. Between pregnancies she eventually got her land and sea ratings. Merrill Field in Anchorage is where she received her private pilot’s license. She laughs when telling the stories of not being able to fly when she was pregnant with her third child, Bruce, because the stick kept hitting her big belly.

Her love affair with the Alaska Bush came in 1961 when she joined Dr. Milo Fritz and his wife who was an RN, in providing medical services, primarily tonsillectomies and adenoid surgery to the people in villages along the Yukon, Koyukuk and Innoko Rivers plus Venetie above the Arctic Circle on the Chandalar River. The American Cancer Society sponsored Sydnam to perform Pap smears and breast and pelvis exams to the women. This was the 60s and to look as professional as possible, both Betsy Fritz and Sydnam wore skirts and cotton stockings. Sydnam also wore her white doctor coat which she continued to do throughout her career.

Because the medical team believed the entire village population could learn from them they allowed everyone to watch the surgeries, selecting volunteers to be surgical assistants, scrub the instruments and sit with the patients afterwards. The team felt that the Native people always saw government agencies come into the villages and doing things “for” and “to” them and not “with” them. Most of the assistants were young women who did not have much formal education, probably not above the sixth grade, but they were eager to help and learn.

The Panhandle of Alaska was not left out of Sydnam’s medical practice career. She and three children joined Syd in 1967 in Juneau, after he had become an Alaska State Trooper and was transferred there. During the next five years, she slowed down and worked only part time, spending her off hours with her children fishing, hiking, mountain climbing and Dungeness crabbing. She would send the children to school and with the family’s black lab Max go duck hunting in the wetlands very close to her home.

They all moved back to Anchorage in 1972, now with four children. Sydnam soon divorced. She moved from her Sand Lake home to a quiet neighborhood downtown close to the two large hospitals where she worked. She opened her own private family medical practice by sharing office space with another doctor, Claire Renn, an obstetrician/gynecologist. She thrived, and soon the office expanded with two more family practitioners. But adventure called in 1979, she and her three boys (Claire was out of the house by then) went to Kenya, East Africa where Sydnam was a volunteer doctor for three months in a Quaker hospital in a small village near Kisumu.

Sydnam was enjoying her busy family practice providing cradle to grave care to as many three generations of families. “They came in for school exams, then college exams, when they married, and when their children needed care. It was very rewarding for me to provide continuity of care,” she said to Sandi Sumner who wrote Women Pilots of Alaska. But she was becoming very disenchanted with the increasing role of insurance companies in dictating medical conditions, what drugs would be covered, and how long a patient could stay in the hospital. The charm was being eroded.

Don Hudson, an emergency room doctor, was also in charge of coordinating the rotation of physicians to the Iliuliuk Clinic on Unalaska Island on the Aleutian Chain. He approached Sydnam about being a part of the rotation team. These doctors not only practiced medicine but supervised physician’s assistants. Sydnam had supervised PA’s in her practice as part of the WAMI program so that part did not faze her. Dr. Hudson promised that the practice would be varied and interesting and the travel and weather would be interesting, too. In her book Sideways Rain, she says, she “heard my paternal grandfather whisper from his wagon on the Mullen Trail . . . ‘You can do it. Just figure out how.’“

After working part-time in her own practice and flying out to the Aleutians for a year, Sydnam sold her practice to her two associates in 1989 and went to work solely for the clinic in Dutch Harbor.

For the next five years she spent her time at the Unalaska clinic serving the largest fishing port in the United States for a scheduled two weeks a month. The medical services she provided were indeed varied. Most of the patients were from the fishing industry, the canneries and the boats that would call in explaining the medical emergency and saying they were headed for shore and provided the weather would let them, they’d be there in a specific number of hours. The rest of the patients would, of course, come from the people of the community. Among the various medical services provided were vasectomies, the male birth control surgeries, which Sydnam said made some of the recipients very nervous.

In 1993, after her contract with Iliuliuk Clinic was completed she was contacted by the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association about being the itinerant doctor to the Pribilofs, St. Paul, St. George, plus Dutch Harbor, Atka, Adak, Umnak Islands, and Nicholski village. These villages ranged in population from 32 to several hundred people. From then until 2010, on Sydnam’s 81st birthday, she was the medical provider to these villages with the assistance of PA’s and nurse practitioners.

Prior to closing her Anchorage practice and in the process of raising her children, Sydnam’s niece Sarah had been playing the cello but wanted to sell it and suggested that her son Ben might be interested in it. He played for a couple of years but decided basketball was more interesting. Now in her 50’s, Sydnam decided to learn to play the cello. She became quite accomplished joining the Anchorage Civic Orchestra. Also her cello became her companion on many of her trips to Aleutians much to the delight of the children as well as adults living out there.

Tragedy struck when in 1999 her oldest child, her only daughter Claire, 42, died from complications of surgery in Washington state. She was also the mother of her first grandchild, Henry Storm, whom she delivered in Kotzebue in their worst storm in decades.

Dogs were a part of Sydnam’s life from the time she married. Her mother, Winnie Barclay Elliott, had taught her to shoot birds but not with hunting dogs. Max was her husband’s dog and a great duck dog. He was followed by others. Tigger was the first real field trial dog she had and together they won two Master National plates. Vita followed and was the pick of the litter. She turned into the perfect dog in many ways, hunting ducks, very friendly with people and a great dog to fly with as she was not large. She, too, won national awards. Vita traveled to the Islands with Sydnam many times, was a great companion, as well as keeping the island rats at bay.

In her later years Sydnam took up woodworking, creating many high quality pieces of furniture and winning a few prizes along the way. She won first place in a 1993 Fur Rendezvous contest for her shoji screen. She also made a captain’s desk for son, Bruce and a cradle for first grandchild, Allison, along with many boxes made from exotic woods for friends.

But her creativity doesn’t stop there. She is also a poet having a number of her poems published not only in her book but also in a number of literary journals. The first poem Sydnam remembers writing was in the third grade:
An Easter Bunny promised me a lot
All he gave me was a pot
And it was hot

Sydnam raised four children, Claire (1957-1999), Elliott (1959–), Robert Bruce (1953–), and Benjamin 1968 –). She also has four grandsons: Henry Storm, Cornelius Benjamin, Jackson and one granddaughter, Allison.

At the time of this writing, Sydnam lives alone with her black Labrador named Vita, so named after the English poet Vita Sackville-West, because she was poetry in motion. A longtime parishioner at St Mary’s Episcopal Church, she is thinking about moving into the Thomas Center which is a new nonprofit senior resident home which she is most impressed with. She said when interviewed by the Alaska Dispatch in an article of November 22, 2015, “It’s nice to be with people you know . . . and (they’ve) made it so you’re not isolated.” “You’re not shut in a room.”

Reflecting on her career, Sydnam states, “Life is what you make it . . . . Be a participant, not an observer!”

Professional/Work History/Community Involvement:
Licensed Medical Doctor, general family practice: 1955-2010

Itinerant Doctor: Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association: 1995 -2010  Dutch Harbor, St Paul, St. George, Atka, Adak, and Umnak Island, Nicholski village

Part-Time Doctor: 1988-1995 Iliuliuk Clinic, Unalaska

Private Medical Practice: 1962-1967, 1972-1989 Anchorage, headed her own corporation with two associates plus six employees

Amdocs:  1979, Volunteer doctor in Kenya, East Africa, three months in a Quaker hospital in small village near Kisumu

Family Practice Clinic:  1967-1972, With Drs. Riederer and Ray, Juneau AK

Itinerant Doctor: 1961 provided medical services primarily in villages along the Yukon River with Dr. Milo Fritz preforming tonsillectomies and adenoid surgery and other medical assistance

Family Practice Doctor: 1955-1962 Anchorage Medical & Surgical Clinic, held positions of Vice President, Secretary

Community Involvement:
Alaska State Medical Society, American Academy of Family Practice, American Medical Association, American Medical Women’s Association, Anchorage Medical Society; Anchorage Heart Association and Anchorage Board of Health, Boards of Directors

Aircraft Owners & Pilots Assoc. Recertified 1982, Board Certified 1976.

Winnie Barclay Elliott Foundation, Inc.:  Founder of a non-profit organization honoring excellence in education, given annually to outstanding educators

Other Information and Experience:
Associate Faculty, Perinatal Symposium:  Dr. Nancy Sydnam, Chairperson of Continuing Medical Education, American Academy of Family Physicians (Reported in Providence News Cache, 7(1), Spring 1978).  From: Providence Archives Seattle,
American Academy of Family Practice: Representative for Family Practice Residency, 1975-1980

Creative Institute:  1974-1975, Board member

Center for Children and Parents: 1973-1976, Board member

Catholic Social Services:  1972-1980, Consultant

Samaritan Counseling Center of Alaska: 1982, Founding Committee, President of the Board, steered the center from one half-time counselor in 1983 to an organization with six full-time and six part-time counselors, with satellite clinics providing over nine thousand patient hours and a certified teaching clinic for a theological seminary

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church: Vestry, 1974-1977, as well as other years & in other positions

St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Mendenhall Valley, Juneau, 1967-1972, founding member

Trinity Episcopal Church, Juneau: Vestry

Cellist:  Began in her 50’s to learn the cello.  Played in the Anchorage Civic Orchestra and performed various other times, including taking her cello to the Aleutians with her and performing there

Sitka Summer Music Festival, Inc., Board member multiple years of involvement and support.  Hosted national and internationally noted musicians for many years

Outdoor/Skill Related:
Pilot:  1958, Private pilot’s license, Merrill Field, Anchorage.  1965, Float Plane Rating, Owned and flew her plane for decades

Scuba Diving, 1960 certified

Woodworker creations: Shoji Screen, captain’s desk for son, Bruce, a cradle for first grandchildren, Allison, and many boxes made from exotic woods for friends

Anchorage Professional Women’s Club, 1961, Woman of the Year
Awards with her Labrador hunting dogs:
H.E. Vita Sackville-West: AFC (Amateur Field Championship) MH (Master Hunter)
Hunting dog Tigger, MH (Master Hunter)
Woodworking awards, 1993 Anchorage Fur Rendezvous: First Prize for shoji screen and captain’s desk
Chilliwack Ploughing (horse drawn) Contest, twenty-seventh annual, 1949 First prize: (Horatio Webb Trophy)

Writings by Nancy Elliott Sydnam:
Book: Sideways Rain 20 years of medicine, music, and good-luck landings in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands of Alaska, 2012, Hardscratch Press, Walnut Creek, CA
~Borrowed Shelter, Cirque: A Literary Journal for the Northern Pacific Rim. 2014, 5(2), 56
~Anticipation, ICE FLOE, International Poetry of the North, 2006, 7(1), 69
~Gift, Explorations, Tidal Echoes, Literary Magazine of UAS, 2002, p. 58
~Washington’s Birthday, ICE FLOE, International Poetry of the North, 2001, 2(1), 74
~Morning in the Aleutians, ICE FLOE, International Poetry of the North, 2000, 1(2), 52
~In a jam, Inklings, UAA Undergraduate Literary Magazine, 1999, p. 16

Articles/Books by Others Plus Presentations by Nancy Sydnam:
Alaska Dispatch News, November 22, 2015, Housing Facility Opens
Bristol Bay Times, July 4, 2014, by Jim Paulin, Sideways Rain about the Aleutians in the Aleutians. (Details about the presentation by Nancy Sydnam, assisted by Diddy Hitchins, Given in Unalaska, Alaska)
Presentation: April 25, 2014, OLE (Opportunities for Lifelong Education) college course, Sideways Rain, the Aleutians and the Pribilofs, Secondhand Sightseeing
Interview, KDLL and KBBI Public Radio, The Coffee Table, Shaylon Cochran, April 23, 2014, Long Time Bush Doctor Shares Aleutian Tales
University of Alaska Anchorage, October 28, 2013 Memoir: Sideways Rain with Dr. Nancy Sydnam, (audio podcast).  From:
Homer News, May 29, 2013, Jackinsky, McKibben, Sideways Rain adds ring of familiarity to Alaska’s remote regions, about Nancy Sydnam and her book
Presentation: May 4, 2013, Nancy Sydnam, On Sideways Rain.  Gulliver’s Books, Fairbanks, Alaska
Presentation:  April 16, 2013,  Sideways Rain in the University of Alaska Anchorage Campus Bookstore
Presentation of Sideways Rain at the Anchorage Museum of History and Fine Arts, February 2013
Women Pilots of Alaska, Sumner, Sandi, 2005, Flying Doctor: Dr. Nancy Sydnam, p 62-66, Thirty-seven interviews and profiles.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company
Medical & aviation consultant, 1996-1997 to Sue Henry on Henry’s book, Sleeping Lady: An Alaska Mystery

Fellowship: 1969/1970, Six months, Perinatology University of Washington, Seattle

Internship:  1954-1955, Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle Washington, one of the first two women to be allowed to intern there, paving the way for others

Medical degree:  1954, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Medical Doctor, Family Physician

Undergraduate degree:  1950, University of Washington, Bachelor of Science, Sociology

High School:  Lynden High School, Lynden, Washington

Induction ceremony acceptance speech