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Born in California in 1937 to a French Canadian father, Francis Conat, and a French and Spanish Mexican mother, Maria Magdalena Bustos, Francine Lastufka Taylor moved to Alaska with Chuck Lastufka, her new husband in 1961. Although her mother was a traditional over-protective Hispanic parent, her father and her husband were adventurous master hunters and fishermen. Francine learned outdoor survival skills and independence from them. When left alone much of the time by a husband who traveled frequently with his job, she sought ways to meet people and share her talents with her new state. In 1961 she volunteered at the Alaska Crippled Children’s Association before the Anchorage School District mainstreamed disabled children into schools throughout the district. Aside from its medical and physical therapy services, it ran its own elementary school. From this experience she learned a great deal about disabilities that later helped her when two of her own children and two of her grandchildren were discovered to have dyslexia.
As a musician she recognized the Association needed a music program for the children and the hard-working staff. Every Friday at the end of a physically and emotionally exhausting week, she did a musical activity and sing-along program. This program was such a hit that the Anchorage School District — with no money for art resource teachers — asked her and other local artists to volunteer their artistic talents to elementary schools throughout the Anchorage district. Taylor said she believes people need to be “lifted up and that is what music does”. An accomplished pianist and singer, Taylor immersed herself in the Anchorage arts scene joining the Anchorage Opera, the Anchorage Community Chorus, Anchorage Chamber Singers, and the Alaska Festival of Music along with other musical groups.
In the late 1960s Mike Gravel threw his hat into the race as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alaska. Taylor joined his campaign team as a volunteer and traveled to remote villages across the state, seeing first-hand the Alaska Native cultures and learning that many village economies depended, to some extent, on income from crafts. “I saw that often the only cash going into a small village came from the sale of baskets, carvings and skin sewing,” she said. A campaign film about Gravel was created during his campaign, and Taylor became intrigued by the power of compelling sound and moving images, seeing how — in the hands of talented, astute political consultants and film makers — they could significantly influence voters. She believed that if this medium could teach and influence voters, it could also be a compelling, powerful instructional tool for educators. This medium, film, was to become one of the great loves of her life.
As a result, Francine enrolled in the University of Alaska Anchorage as a journalism student, at a time in which there was no journalism degree offered. She cobbled together an inter-disciplinary program and eventually became the first Communications graduate of the school. Her studies at the university led to an invitation by the legendary Kay Fanning of the Anchorage Daily News to write a television column for the paper, which she did, joining three other columnists – Steve Cowper, a future Alaska governor at that time, Satch Carlson, and Mr. Whitekeys. Taylor also took advantage of a visitor to Alaska, the highly respected Margaret Mehring, author and director of Filmic writing at the University of Southern California, School of Education. She talked Mehring into designing an instructional design, screen-writing, and production program for her and staff at UAA TV production services where she was working. Mehring compressed an eight-hour-a-day program on the production of features and documentaries. Some years later in Ohio where her second husband, Richard Taylor, was working on his doctorate, she took graduate courses on instructional design and evaluation systems at the University of Toledo (Ohio).
A close friend over the years and another early television personality in Alaska, Beverly Michaels Dubie, said Taylor has great foresight and, once she has set her sights on a goal, pursues that goal with great personal investment. “When she approaches her projects, it’s in a very human way,” Dubie said. “It’s easier to gather the information and put it out, but Fran really probes to find the human story behind any topic. That makes the difference between a piece that is technically good and one that moves you.”
Taylor’s love of video and other media led her to the realization in the late 1980s that Alaska’s historic moving images and audio recordings would soon be irretrievably lost to future generations unless someone stepped up to help preserve them. Bringing what Dubie calls “her infectious enthusiasm and optimism” to that leadership role, Taylor created the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association in 1991. “AMIPA was very forward-thinking, even on a national level,” AMIPA’s archivist Kevin Tripp said. “And Francine was pivotal in the organization’s formation. She is a real presence, a force of nature. She has convinced me things could be done that I’d thought were impossible.”
Through Taylor’s connections and energy, funding for AMIPA grew until the organization became a reality. Today, AMIPA has gone from an all volunteer staff to one with paid curatorial, technical and administrative staff. In September 2004, AMIPA entered into a preservation partnership with the UAA/APU Consortium Library and during the spring of 2005 installed its then 17,000-item collection, dating from the 1920s, into modern film and magnetic media vaults adjacent to the office space. The vaults have temperature and humidity-control, air filtration, and a high level of security. Today, important events in Alaska’s history, such as statehood, the 1964 earthquake, pipeline construction, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and a wide range of others are preserved and available to the public.
With all she’s done in the realm of film over the years, Taylor also found time to help preserve and elevate the visibility and importance of Alaska’s Native arts and crafts. Taylor was the first director of the Alaska Native Arts Festival which ran as part of the Festival of Music for six years. Taylor said she had no knowledge of the destructive programs of the federal government and missionaries in taking away Alaska Native cultural practices. “For the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and government,” she said, “it was to make them better American citizens. For the religious, it was about converting them to Christianity.”
When the Alaska Festival of Music began, Taylor challenged festival staff about the exclusion of Alaska’s indigenous peoples with their rich cultural traditions of song, dance, storytelling, arts and crafts. The staff turned the challenge back to Francine asking her to bring in the Native culture she championed. “I had a difficult time finding artists, dancers and storytellers because we were down to our last Attu basket maker, Anfesia Shepsinikov, and had only a couple of baleen basket makers in Barrow,” Taylor said. Fortunately, however, a group of King Island dancers had settled in Anchorage and they became the central performers for their culture at the festival.
Taylor said the King Islanders were lucky that the Jesuit priests, particularly Father Hubbard, the “Glacier Priest”, celebrated the Native culture and collected much of the art work that was being produced. Preserving this collection, along with a collection of work at UAA became Taylor’s first task in establishing AMIPA.
When Taylor’s second husband was production manager at UAA’s production facility, one of his goals, and Taylor’s as well, became preserving what had been the dying culture of Alaska’s Native people on sound and moving images. They produced the first statewide broadcasts of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, the Alaska Native Arts Festival and individual storytellers, artists, historical and cultural traditions and subsistence lifestyles of Alaska Natives. “It was the first time Alaska’s Native people saw themselves on statewide television broadcasts,” Taylor added.
In 1972 and working with Visual Arts Center Founder George Federoff, she became one of the founding directors of the Visual Arts Center, serving for 15 years of its 20 years of existence. “Francine helped provide a means for Alaska Native artists and craftspeople to showcase and sell their work,” Irene Rowan, a former president of Klukwan, Inc. and now a director of Northrim Bank, said. As well as working to promote these arts and crafts, Taylor also came to understand the value of cinematography in cultural preservation. “It was this realization that steeled her determination to help make sure that Alaska’s history and our culture would live forever on film,” Rowan added.
For all that Taylor has contributed to Alaska, she has been recognized as a finalist for the National Federation of Press Women, Communicator of Achievement Award in 1998. She won the Alaska Press Women’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and was a finalist for the YWCA/BP Women of Achievement Award in 1996. Today, Taylor owns Taylor Productions and produces documentaries for and about Alaska. She also provides voice for television and radio advertising.
She is mother to her natural daughter Marta Lastufka Bucy, and mother-in-law to Michael Bucy, adopted son Carlos Lastufka, stepmother to Anna and Andrew Taylor, and grandmother to Anna’s children Corvin Zaochney and David Drost.
Telling the story of life in Alaska, Tay Thomas is the author of eight books, including Free from Fear and An Angel on His Wing, and of many articles appearing in such magazines as National Geographic. In addition, she is a founder of F.I.S.H. (Fellowship in Serving Humanity), a food distribution agency.
A community and church activist, Tay is also a philanthropist, contributing monetarily and through personal service to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, YWCA Anchorage, Alaska Conservation Society, and Alaska Pacific University. A role model for women and girls, she is known for her generosity of spirit and willingness to help others, as well as her dedication and loyalty to the people in her life and to enterprises that appeal to her values. Tay’s calmness, perhaps shaped by events of the 1964 earthquake that she wrote about in Free from Fear and her ability to mediate differences within contentious situations, make her a rock in whatever situation confronts her.
Tay married Lowell Thomas, Jr. in 1950 and they and their two children moved to Alaska in 1960. She served two terms on the Anchorage School Board from 1968 to 1974. Her husband became Lt. Governor of Alaska in 1975 serving one four-year term.
Peg was raised in Indiana, received her college education at Earlham College and has participated in Continuing Education in Political Science and History at UAA.
Peg arrived in Alaska in 1972 with husband Jules and three daughters. Ever since, she has engaged in a variety of important Alaskan and community issues in meaningful and substantial ways. Peg helped establish a number of organizations, and then continued her involvement by serving as a volunteer, director, chair or advisor. She co-founded, and helped govern, such organizations as: Alaska Common Ground; Trustees for Alaska; Alaska Center for the Environment; Alaska Women’s Environmental Network (1994), and the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Additionally, she has served as a director and/or officer of a number of community organizations including: Chugach Electric association; Anchorage Parks and Recreation Council; Alaska Conservation Alliance; Alaska Conservation Voters; Commonwealth North Fund Permanent Committee, Alaskans for Better Media and the Anchorage Recycling Task Force. Peg has served in an advisory capacity to the governor through appointments to the Alaska Highway Natural Gas Policy Council and Alaska Water Resources Board. In 1980-83, she served on the National Board of Directors of the Sierra Club.
The University of Alaska Anchorage, in granting Peg an Honorary Doctorate of Laws, May, 2009, accurately summarized the multiple contributions this community activist has made in shaping Alaska, by awarding the degree “…in recognition of her dedication to conserving the beauty and resources of this Great Land, as well as encouraging all Alaskans to engage in respectful dialogue on issues of importance to them”. Peg currently manages the “What’s Up” environmental list serve which provides a weekly summary of pending environmental actions and meetings throughout the state in which the public can participate. She is the President of Tileston & Associates.
In recognition of her activism on behalf of environmental and community issues, Peg has received a variety of honors such as: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alaska Conservation Foundation (2004); the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award (1998); Alaska Public Interest Research Group Award; inclusion in Who’s Who of American Women and the Feinstone Environmental Award (1995). In an unusual twist, Peg and husband Jules have been honored, for their individual contributions, by the Alaska Conservation Alliance and the Resource Development Cuncil through the creation of the “Tileston Award”, given jointly by these two organizations to honor an individual, organization or business “that create solutions advancing both environmental and development goals”.
In addition to the lasting contribution Peg has made through her leadership roles in a variety of community organizations, perhaps her greatest and most enduring influence will prove to be her role as mentor to young women leaders. One such young woman summarized her experience by stating that Peg was able to “identify young women leaders and then mentor them into professional paths. She has kept a watch on these young leaders and then maintained relationships with them as a colleague, something that is difficult for many people of her experience and involvement”.
Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Tower graduated from medical school in 1951 and moved to Anchorage in 1954. She worked for 25 years for the Alaska Division of Public Health. As a public health physician, Dr. Tower directed a major program to combat hepatitis. During her early years in Anchorage she set up an office in her home to attend to the medical needs of prostitutes.
After retiring in 1986, she began researching and writing about prominent people in Alaska’s history including biographies of Sheldon Jackson, Austin E. “Cap” Lathrop and William Egan. Her work has provided other authors, such as Edna Ferber and Rex Beach, with back stories and inspiration for some of the colorful, real-life personalities appearing in their fiction. She has also written a guide to skiing in Alaska, several prize-winning magazine articles, a book, Icebound Empire, a history of the Kennecott Copper Company that earned her the award Historian of the Year from the Alaska Historical Society in 1996. While raising three children who have all settled in Alaska she led an active professional career and traveled widely in the Bush. She is past president of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage and an active member of the Cook Inlet Historical Society. She holds a pilot’s license and is a talented artist.