Class of 2016
Back L-R: Margy K. Johnson, Shirley Mae (Springer) Staten, Janet (Walker) McCabe, Jo (Hayenga) Michalski. Front L-R: Anne P. (Pelizzoni) Lanier, M.D.,Sandra “Sandy” (Gross) Harper, Eliza (Peter) Jones, Nancy (Elliott) Sydnam, M.D.
Not Pictured: Annie Aghnaqa (Akeya) Alowa, Kathleen “Mike” Michael (Fitzpatrick) Dalton, Juanita Lou (Lauesen) Helms, Crystal Brilliant (Snow) Jenne, Alice (Snigaroff) Petrivelli
Annie Aghnaqa (Akeya) Alowa
Achievement in: Health and Justice Advocacy for Native People
During her lifetime, Alowa served as a midwife, community health aide and advocate for health and justice. During 1955-1956 Alowa became a midwife, tending women in childbirth. Shortly thereafter, she became a community health aide, receiving training at the Kotzebue Hospital. Communication was very limited between mainland Alaska and Savoonga, on Saint Lawrence Island. The only radio available was at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ school and communications could only occur at scheduled times. Therefore, life and death health issues were handled locally by innovative community health aides.
Alowa moved to Northeast Cape and lived there from 1963 to 1970 working as a community health aide, for which she received no compensation, and maintaining a paying job at the U.S. Air Force base. During that time, she began to notice serious health problems among island residents – including members of her own family. She began to see cancer, low birth weights and miscarriages among her people.
When the military vacated Northeast Cape in 1972, Alowa saw they had left a huge amount of hazardous material in landfills, including massive amounts of oil and fuel products, paint, batteries and metal garbage. Buildings were left intact. Later, she learned of hazardous materials buried at the site, including asbestos, PCBs, pesticides, solvents, lead-based paint, fuel tanks, and barrels full of lubricants and fuel. She became concerned these hazardous materials posed a long-term health risk for island residents and began to address these concerns with the Alaska delegation in Washington, D.C., with state and federal agencies and with the military to ensure responsible cleanup. As a result, there was a massive cleanup of Northeast Cape and all material was removed. Alowa served on the board of the Norton Sound Health Corporation. She later developed cancer and continued her tireless work for the health and justice of her people until her death in 1999.
Healer, Charismatic Leader and Advocate
Annie was born, in 1925, the daughter of Horst and Olga Akeya. She was born in Savoonga, a Yupik village on St. Lawrence Island located in the northern Bering Sea forty miles from Russia. She grew up there with 5 sisters and 3 brothers – Agatha Mokiyuk (nee Akeya), Barbara Kogassagoon (nee Akeya), Helen Kiyukhook (nee Akeya), Lila Akeya, Sarah Tate (nee Akeya), Alexander Akeya, Calvin Akeya and David Akeya. She married in 1944 to Jackson. He died 1 year later. In 1945 she married Nelson Alowa. Their children are Christina, Jeannette, Julius, Richard, Roland, Rose, Sheldon and Timothy.
During the summer the family spent most of their time at their hunting and trapping camp, known as Tamniq. Alowa loved to cook and was always cooking, for everyone. Picking berries and sewing were two of her favorite pastimes. She was known for her skill as a traditional skin sewer and as an artist for her doll making.
Education was very important to Alowa and always made her children take their school work to camp. Her daughter Christine said, “She was a hard teacher”.
During the period 1955-1956, Alowa became a midwife, tending women in childbirth. She was first trained by Harriet Penayah, another healer in her Savoonga community. Her first training was at the hospital in Kotzebue. Beginning in 1971 she received training by the Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome through the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP). At first village healers on St. Lawrence Island worked largely on their own as midwives. They were first responders for all health issues. They identified tuberculosis and treated accidental injuries and other health problems suffered in the community. Later when telephone service was installed, the health aides received more immediate support from physicians in Nome.
Alowa moved to Northeast Cape, St. Lawrence Island from 1963 to 1970 and continued her work as a community health aide, while maintaining a paying job at the Air Force base. She received no compensation for being a health aide. Annie worked as a health aide for thirteen years. First she served as a volunteer traditional healer; and (later) as a Village Health Aide for Savoonga.
In 1952, the U.S. Air Force established a base at Northeast Cape on the Island. When the military vacated Northeast Cape in 1972, they left at least thirty-four polluted sites in a nine-mile-square area which included a building complex, transformers, and large bales of copper wire left behind on the surface. She later learned other hazardous materials were buried at the site, including asbestos, PCBs, pesticides, solvents, lead-based paint, fuel tanks, and barrels full of lubricants and fuel. Two decades later Alowa began to notice serious health problems among Island residents who lived, worked, and harvested marine mammals, greens, berries, fish, and reindeer from the Northeast Cape area. For the first time, she began to see cancer among her people as well as significant increases in low birth-weight infants and miscarriages.
She became concerned these hazardous materials posed a long-term health risk for island residents and began to address these concerns with the Alaska delegation. Alowa attempted for twenty years to get the military to clean up Northeast Cape to no avail. When she visited friends and family in Anchorage, she went to the government for assistance to appeal for help. She was repeatedly sent from one state and federal agency to another without a hearing. Eventually Alowa met Pamela Miller in spring of 1997 at a Greenpeace-sponsored environmental health conference. That summer, Greenpeace flew her and Pam from Savoonga by helicopter to Northeast Cape to examine the abandoned military site and to take environmental samples and photographs.
In 1982, government contractors noted that one of several barrel dumps contained more than 29,500 rusted drums; they reported miles of wire littering the landscape which had trapped and killed reindeer by starvation. Much of the contamination at Northeast Cape was caused by transformers and fuels, including large volume spills from accidental puncturing of above ground storage tanks. The government contractors reported at least 220,000 gallons of spilt fuels, as well as heavy metals, asbestos, solvents, and PCBs (a known carcinogen).
In 1998, after Miller founded Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), Alowa went with Miller to meet with a colonel of the Army Corps of Engineers to urge him to clean up the site. Seventy-three year old Alowa spoke quietly but eloquently about the thirteen people in her village who died of cancer in the past few years, all of whom had lived and gathered wild foods from the Northeast Cape area. But the colonel was inattentive and rudely dismissed her concerns. As he rushed them out the door, he stated that St. Lawrence Island was low on the list for cleanup. Before Alowa returned home to Savoonga, she and Miller discussed strategies to get the abandoned site cleaned up. Following her year of work to raise attention and awareness the Northeast Cape sure went from near the bottom of the priorities list for cleanup to the top. Although there is much yet to be done to restore the lands and waters at Northeast Cape, the Corps has spent $123 million on the cleanup thus far. This would not have been done without Alowa’s work.
As part of their strategy, she participated in a December 1998 conference at a Mat-Su Valley venue sponsored by the Alaska Women’s Environmental Network (AWEN). She described the plight of her people. During the conference, she became seriously ill and had to leave. A week later at an Anchorage hospital, Alowa was diagnosed with liver cancer; her previously diagnosed breast cancer was still in remission. Preparing to go home to die surrounded by family, she realized she probably would never return to Anchorage; so she asked Miller to interview her about her concerns. Miller videotaped her as she sat at a kitchen table sipping tea and telling her story. Alowa listed the names of the families who were dying of cancer—those who hunted and fished at Northeast Cape. She asked that the agencies come to Northeast Cape and clean it up, but warned that her people and agency officials should avoid conflict and work together to make things right. She acknowledged that she had cancer, as her family was one of those who are from the Northeast Cape area, but she did not give up trying to get help for her community, even though she knew that she was dying. She said to Miller during the interview, “I will fight until I melt.”
Miller was unwilling to accept that Alowa was going to die so she put the videotape in her top desk drawer. The next two months, she kept contact with Alowa by calling on the phone to her in Savoonga. When Miller called two weeks before Alowa died, she said, “I was just thinking of you.” Miller asked “What were you thinking? Alowa replied, “Keep it up, Miller!”
Alowa’s spiritual faith, perseverance, and hope even in the face of overwhelming odds served as a catalyst for her community, and Miller, to move to protect the people of St. Lawrence Island and other Alaska Native villages from the effects of environmental contaminants. Alowa continues to serve as an impetus for action, both during unrelenting challenges and through joyful successes, as her spirit lives on in people’s hearts.
She serves as a role model to her daughter Chris (Alowa) Seppilu. When Chris learned that her mother was being considered for the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, she said, “My brothers and I want the work of my mother to continue on. We are grateful that word got around about the need for a cleanup. She fought hard for this and got it going. In my mother’s own words, ‘I will fight until I melt.’”
Alowa is a role model of faith, perseverance, and hope to other Indigenous women because her story and video have been passed on to Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and First Nations in Canada, as well as to Indigenous women in Greenland, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands, Russia, Europe, and Africa. Representatives from all of these groups have participated in gatherings where her story was told, and they have taken that story to their communities. These empowered Indigenous women are making changes for good in their own communities, regions, and countries while they also prompt officials of the United Nations to protect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities throughout the world.
Alowa continues to have an impact on women of all ages in her community—even those women who were too young to know her before she died. Those who have been empowered directly or indirectly by her have taken up her mantle to work toward justice, health, and wellbeing for their people now and for future generations. They are members of the St. Lawrence Island Restoration and Advisory Board that provides counsel to the Army Corps of Engineers concerning the Corps’ mandate to clean up the military toxics on the Island. They serve on the Working Group that advises ACAT’s research team. Some are employed by ACAT as Community Health Researchers on St. Lawrence Island, and others serve as staff members in Anchorage for ACAT. They participate in women’s talking circles that focus on justice and human rights issue. To seek justice, health, and wellbeing for their people, the women in Alowa’s community have traveled to speak with policymakers and other activists in Juneau, Washington D.C., New York City and Europe for United Nations meetings, and Vieques (Puerto Rico). During peaceful demonstrations in Anchorage, the women from her community sometimes hold up signs that say “I will fight until I melt.”
Vi Waghiyi is from Savoonga. She works for ACAT in Anchorage as the Environmental Health and Justice Program Director. Vi said, “It’s an honor to continue Annie’s work. What keeps me going is that she fought hard for our people. She still inspires all of us.”
Miller said, “It’s like Annie is sitting on my shoulder and urging me on. ‘Keep it up, Miller! What an inspiration. Yes, I can still see her eyes all lit up with energy and sometimes with just a touch of mischief; like when she saw that I was having trouble keeping up with her when we were walking across the tundra at Northeast Cape.”
Alowa serves also as a role model to the professional women of ACAT, AWEN, and other organizations; she demonstrated how a combination of quiet perseverance, spiritual faith, and inner strength is an effective method for advocacy in the face of overwhelming resistance.
When asked about Alowa, Lorraine Eckstein, ACAT’s Research Anthropologist, said, “I remember her well! I only met her three times; she was soft spoken and unpretentious. A couple of times when she came to Anchorage, we took her to eat at a Mongolian barbeque, and I sat across from her at the table. I found I was hanging on her every word. She reminded me of a certain nun (Sister of Mercy) who taught my college psychology classes. Now I know that Annie was a wife and mother of eight children, but both of these women – in spite of their unassuming manners – made me want to sit up, pay close attention, and go change the world. Not many people have that effect on me”.
In spring 1999, ACAT produced a short video of Annie’s interview entitled “I Will Fight Until I Melt.” By 2001, ACAT had disturbed 350 copies of the tape and ACAT spoke to members of a variety of federal agency staff members in Washington D.C. using the video to get attention to environmental health and justice issues in Alaska. As a result:
1) The people of St. Lawrence Island were galvanized by Annie’s work, after watching her two-decade effort to help her people that culminated in success at the time of her premature death. As they grieved for her, they actively supported the community-based research and advocacy inspired by Alowa and initiated by ACAT;
2) The Army Corps of Engineers prioritized the military sites on St. Lawrence Island to be cleaned up;
3) Other Alaska Native communities sought assistance from ACAT with military toxics;
4) The Special Assistant to Secretary of the Interior was inspired to support the United Nations’ treaty to identify specific persistent organic pollutants for global elimination; and
5) Leslie Campbell of the Centers for Disease Control used the video to train agency staff about environmental health and justice issues;
In autumn of 1999, ACAT staff was inspired by Alowa’s legacy to initiate community-based research and in 2000 ACAT received a four-year grant to collaborate with the people of St. Lawrence Island under the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) program entitled Environmental Justice Partnerships for Communications. Since that time, the NIEHS has supported the community-based participatory research with Annie’s people. ACAT’s current five-year project (Protecting the Health of Future Generations) addresses endocrine-disrupting chemicals in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Island community and faculty at two universities. ACAT’s research team includes residents of the Island community and faculty at two universities.
YouTube video of Annie during interview and the responses she elicited in her people, community researchers, university researchers, and /ACAT’s staff and board. https://youtu.be/CvhEfxLE9A0
CLEANING UP A LEGACY OF POLLUTION ON AN ALASKAN ISLAND (August 3, 2015; by Kirk Johnson. The New York Times. The article gives an overview of the clean up work on St. Lawrence Island with helpful photos, and mentions Annie Alowa as a crusader who succeeded in getting attention to the contaminated sites by “refusing to be quiet about it.” Here is a quote from the article:
“Annie Alowa, who lived in Savoonga and died of cancer in 1999, led a one-woman crusade to clean up Northeast Cape, mainly by refusing to be quiet about it. When newer technology made the old listening devices obsolete and the base closed in 1972, barrels of chemicals sat in the elements for decades or were simply plowed under. Ms. Alowa’s rallying cry helped spur the creation in 1997 of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, which works to clean up military sites by involving residents like Ms. Waghiyi, the group’s environmental health and justice program director.”
As part of the article in the New York Times, a slide show is included and a 4-1/2 minute video entitled Science at the End of the Earth by Jim Wilson, Kirk Johnson, and Channon Hodge.
The link to the article, slide show, and video is below:
Kathleen “Mike” Michael (Fitzpatrick) Dalton
Achievement in: Public Advocacy and Community Service
Kathleen “Mike” Dalton is an activist whose efforts have made waves since she arrived in Alaska from Arizona in 1949. Her six-year tenure in Barrow and later Aleutian residency gave her an understanding of remote regions. As for Fairbanks, her home base for half a century, Dalton has played a major part in shaping its social, political and economic future, as well as that of Alaska.
Dalton arrived in Alaska with a degree in English from Northern Arizona University took a job with Arctic Contractors. Shortly thereafter she wed Jim Dalton, a brilliant engineer who played an integral part in developing the United States’ petroleum reserve on the North Slope, and who long served as a contractor to the U.S. Navy in oil and gas exploration.
In 1957 the couple settled just outside of Fairbanks and Mike found herself raising two toddlers while her husband commuted to the high arctic. Although her family always came first, Dalton joined the Republican Women’s Club and later worked for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. She was top vote getter for a seat on the Fairbanks North Star Borough on its foundation in 1964, serving for five years.
Dalton went on to manage the Alaska office for U.S. Senator Ted Stevens from 1971 – 1978. A member of the Alaska Pioneers, she has served in every office in Women’s Igloo #8. She was one of the first non-Natives to be honored by the Fairbanks Native Association. She is an award-winning member of the Alaska Outdoor Council and has been named Republican Woman of the Year. Yet it is Dalton’s community service at grass-roots level; quiet generosity and often self-sacrificing contributions to the lives of others that will be remembered best.
Achievement in: Helping shape Alaska social, political and economic future, plus quiet charity.
Kathleen “Mike” Dalton is a seemingly tireless activist whose efforts have made waves since her arrival in Alaska from Arizona in 1949. Her six-year tenure in Barrow gave her an understanding of remote regions and those who live there. Residence in the Aleutians broadened her scope. As for Fairbanks, Dalton’s home base for more than half a century, she has played a major part in shaping its social, political and economic future as well as that of the state, while preserving a valuable part of our history.
Until the age of 10, Dalton was raised on a Navajo reservation in Arizona where her father worked. A carpenter and construction worker, he and her mother then moved their four children to Tucson where Catholic schooling was available. Following high school, Dalton graduated with a degree in English from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Then, to escape the heat and sun, she followed her friend and former schoolmate, Rosie Losonsky, to Alaska. There she took a job with Arctic Contractors and was introduced to the sport of dog mushing through the Libby Wescott Kennels.
Shortly after arriving, Mike met Jim Dalton, the son of Klondike gold rush legend Jack Dalton for whom the original Dalton Trail to Dawson was named, and married him in 1950. At the time, Jim owned nothing but a station wagon and a bean pot, but he was a brilliant engineer who played an integral part in developing the United States petroleum reserve on the North Slope and served as a contractor there for the Department of U.S. Navy in oil and gas exploration. The couple lived in the Inupiat village of Barrow for six years. Following the birth of son George in 1954 and daughter Libby in 1957, they bought 30 acres off Yankovich Road in the Fairbanks area and built a classic log house.
The problem was that Jim’s job kept him on the North Slope for weeks at a stretch, and Dalton found herself in the role of a single mother with two toddlers, living in the wilds a considerable distance from downtown Fairbanks. Despite this, she became active in her community with children in tow, although it was no small job. Just driving Yankovich Road on ice at 50 below zero today remains a challenge.
In the summer of 1962, Fairbanks pioneer Sylvia Ringstad asked Dalton to lick stamps and stuff envelopes for Republican candidates and the young mother joined the Republican Woman’s Club in which she now has 50 year tenure. As secretary of that organization she kept the records, dealt with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, raised funds and knocked on doors for an astonishing number of diverse candidates. She has created countless phone and “walking” lists, and collected thousands of email addresses which she still utilizes to keep members and the public informed. She has also participated in most of the party’s district and state conventions, while never attending the national event.
Over a ten year period as a reporter for The Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Dalton covered major stories like the 1964 central Alaska earthquake, the 1967 Fairbanks flood, and the oil discovery in Prudhoe Bay through the construction of the 500 mile haul road that opened it to industry. She also ran for a seat on the Fairbanks North Star Borough on its formation in 1964, becoming top vote getter and serving for five years.
“I remember her working all day, coming home, fixing dinner then leaving to town for assembly meetings,” daughter Libby recalls. “It happened a lot.”
Dalton went on to head Alaska’s office in Washington, D.C. under the Jay Hammond administration. Her job as Interior Alaska field office manager for U.S. Senator Ted Stevens ran from 1971 to 1978. In addition, she was on the staff of Sen. Jack Coghill when he served in the Alaska Legislature.
Dalton also managed to attend University of Alaska Fairbanks where she got a two-year degree in petroleum technology and studied Japanese. She followed up with a year at Middlebury College in Vermont for a Japanese program and then traveled to Japan three times on work-related issues.
Yet despite her demanding career and that of her husband, the Daltons were a tight family. Jim Dalton’s death in 1977 was a staggering blow, but by that time Mike was so used to doing heavy lifting on the home front, she kept the survivors afloat with little or no interruption to the many community assignments she shouldered and scant financial backing.
Dalton’s experience broadened in 1990-91 when she worked for the City of Unalaska helping organize the 50th commemoration of the bombing of Dutch Harbor and the Japanese occupation of Attu and Kiska Islands. In 1991 as the U.S.S.R. was collapsing, she helped organize and participated in the first American delegation visit to Russian Far East and Kamchatka Peninsula.
A dedicated member of the Alaska Pioneers, she has served has in every office including that of president of Women’s Igloo # 8 in 1997.
Dalton was one of the first non-Natives to be honored by the Fairbanks Native Association. Her support of early Native leaders played a key part in helping organize the Alaska Native land claims fight.
And, while she claims no expertise as a historian, she has managed to rescue sizable chunks of Alaska’s legacy that were imperiled. Typical is the time a Fairbanks News Miner editor, new to Alaska, moved all the newspaper’s World War II photo archives to a dumpster and Dalton, waiting until after dark, dived in, dusted them off, and preserved them. She was one of the first to record interviews with old-timers for the University of Alaska Archives. She was also responsible for returning to the state from California 24 painting by Sydney Laurence, Alaska’s most famous artist, and documenting the original owner’s colorful history.
Because she is as outspoken as she is enthusiastic on her political beliefs, many fail to recognize Dalton’s other outstanding community service, quiet charities, and often self-sacrificing contributions to the lives of others.
Few take their community duties as seriously as Dalton, especially at a grass roots level. Be it fund-raising to build a much-needed new hospital, capturing the neighbor’s straying dog, concern for ill-cared for muskox under early state stewardship or just showing up daily for the long trial of a good friend thought to be unjustly charged, Dalton has always made the time to be there.
She won’t just bring her prized oatmeal cookies to the benefit for an old-timer. She’ll transport the old-timer, too, if he or she doesn’t have a ride, even if that old-timer lives 50 miles out of town over a nasty dirt road. It’s safe to bet that more Fairbanks people have memorized Dalton’s phone number, than any other private number you can name.
Dalton has a knack of surreptitiously supporting newcomers to the Alaska who are troubled by its bumpy road to survival. Quicker than most to notice those in need, she provides assistance so gracefully that often those at risk do not realize the depth of her charity or feel any embarrassment in accepting it.
And, shunning recognition, Dalton has always been quick to help fill needs when government fails. Who else each spring would recruit family and ever-present house guests to help jack-up remote road culverts that have been squashed by winter traffic so that they would not dam the spring break-up to overflow, flooding the lowlands?
Dalton is not focused simply on Alaska, but remains current on national issues, too. After the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1995, she planted two young spruce trees in her yard in their honor. Recently Nicole’s family heard about the Alaskan memorial and expressed their appreciation for the far north commemoration. Those trees are full grown now, and so are Dalton’s interests in women’s rights and many other national concerns.
While many who have track records similar to Dalton’s political involvement have sought office for themselves or personal glory, Dalton has preferred to work behind the scenes on behalf of others. She is an award winning member of the Alaska Outdoor Council and has been named Republican Woman of the Year, but she is so adamant about self-aggrandizement she refused to attend any event honoring her 90th birthday and did so only when others were honored for their community involvement at the same time.
Because of her broad experience in rough and remote country, many—especially young women—have looked to Dalton for advice. And, although she is outspoken on her political beliefs, her discretion in personal matters have long make her an excellent confidant, which might well be her greatest claim to this honor.
Achievement in: Cultural Entrepreneurship and Collaboration
Prior to founding Cyrano’s Theatre Company, Sandy and her husband Jerry Harper created Cyrano’s Bookstore and Cafe featuring everything from music to cinema to special events. In 1992 they built Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse and co-founded its resident theater company. Its mission was not only to produce cutting edge, classic, contemporary and original plays, but to provide the opportunity for Alaska theater artists to participate in professional theater and practice their craft, whether actor, playwright, director or technician. As producing artistic director, Harper chose the plays, selected and nurtured the artists and commissioned new work. Under her spirited leadership and vision, CTC established itself as a vibrant presence in the life of downtown Anchorage and an important incubator of Alaska’s theatrical talent with a strong focus on women and Native cultures.
Harper believes that awareness of the arts must be part of public life and actively joined, served and collaborated with various businesses, civic and non-profit organizations from the Anchorage Downtown Association to the national board for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. Where possible, she coordinated theater activities with municipal events such as commissioning new plays to complement Anchorage’s centennial celebration. As a cultural entrepreneur, she initiated and organized cultural activities such as the founding of the Alaska Center for the Book.
Her numerous honors and awards recognize her contributions to and her effectiveness as an advocate of the arts. Examples include: Governor’s Award for the Arts; the 2016 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities; UAA’s Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts; YWCA Woman of Achievement; Anchorage Cultural Council; Alaska State Legislative Citation, and Mayor’s Arts Award.
Harper earned a bachelor’s degree from Immaculate Heart College in L.A. and a master’s degree in Human Development from Pacific Oaks in Pasadena, Calif. Harper is a risk-taker who demonstrates what determination and a clear vision can build and accomplish.
Achievement in: Cultural entrepreneurship and collaboration
Sandy grew up with an older brother and an entrepreneurial mother who owned a womenʼs clothing store and a father who was responsible for the storeʼs public relations. While growing up in this small town in the midwest (Centralia, IL), she eagerly participated in her schoolʼs plays and dramatic events. Her parent supported these interests, taking her to see major theatrical productions in the near-by city of St. Louis. Then, at the age of sixteen, she received a scholarship to a summer theatre camp and fell in love with theatre and the course of her life was set. Determined to be in the theatre world, Harper, at the urging of the life-long friend met at the camp, enrolled in Boston Universityʼs well-known theatre department. She then was invited to attend the highly regarded Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. Following the conventions of the day, Harper entered into a marriage at too young an age. The marriage did not last. Harper credits the social and political ferment and upheavals of the 1960ʼs-the anti-war protests, the black power, racial justice and womenʼs movements-as teaching her how to grow up. That exposure to the social and political movements inﬂuenced her approach to theatre and taught her to value plays with a social message. Her education in the theatre arts continued through summer stock opportunities and in Los Angeles where she and Jerry, the love of her life, trained together in an innovative new theatre form under Rachael Rosenthal known as “Instant Theatre” and “Instant Fairy Tales”. This new technique involved training in how to be totally present in the moment and how to engage in instant improvisation. Harper considers theatre to be a life-long education, since all experiences can be “grist for the mill”, providing stimulus for a lifetime of continuous curiosity and never-ending exploration and discovery. Harper followed up her interests in human consciousness, awareness and the creative imagination with formal academic study, obtaining a Masterʼs degree in Human Development at Paciﬁc Oaks College in 1985. Earlier in 1979 she had received an undergraduate degree from Immaculate Heart College. She further explored human consciousness through performing the research for a book entitled “The Aquarian Conspiracy” written by Marilyn Ferguson, which discusses consciousness research and social transformation and popularized the idea that society and individuals were experiencing a paradigm shift. Arriving in Anchorage in the late 1980ʻs when husband Jerry inherited the historic 1915 Loussac Building from his stepfather, they opened a cultural mini-mall in the building featuring a bookstore and movie theatre. When competition later crippled the proﬁtability of the bookstore, they decided to build a theatre in that space and thus created, in 1992, Cyranoʼs Off-Center Playhouse, the home of Cyranoʼs Theatre Company. Under Harperʼs leadership the company has provided an eclectic menu of professional quality performances of cutting-edge, classic, contemporary and original plays. It has established itself as a vibrant presence in the life of downtown Anchorage and is known
throughout Alaska. From the beginning, the theatre’s mission has been not only to provide stimulating and thought-provoking entertainment, but to offer the opportunity for Alaskan theatre artists to participate in live theatre and to practice their craft as playwrights, actors, directors and technicians. In recognition of the time and talent dedicated by artists, Cyrano’s has, from the beginning, offered participants a small stipend to underscore the professional nature of their work. Additionally, the company has always offered affordable ticket prices as part of their mission. As the Producing Artistic Director of Cyrano’s Theatre Company, Harper nurtured, encouraged and commissioned Alaskan playwrights, leading to Alaskan and national premieres of new works. Over the years, she sought to identify, foster and mentor new talent from throughout Alaska, with a strong focus on women and Native cultures. Harper believes that in the theatrical world you learn your craft by “doing it” so when talent was identiﬁed, she encouraged the writer, challenged the inexperienced to direct and recruited the shy one to act. She is particularly proud of the theatre’s history of providing opportunities to women artists, including directors and playwrights. Important aspects of her programming choices were the inclusion and reﬂection of Alaska’s diverse demographics as well as the playʼs social message. Under her spirited leadership and vision, Cyrano’s Theatre Company became an important incubator of Alaska’s theatrical talent and has been the original home of “Scared Scriptless”, “Arctic Entries”, and “Black Feather Poets”, among others. The company’s ability over the years to successfully mount a different play nearly every month of the year is solid proof of the multiple training opportunities this small theatre company with little money has provided to the immediate community and the state overall. Cyranoʼs has also taken several productions to underserved areas of the state, such as Homer, Seward, Yakutat and Kodiak. Cyrano’s Theatre Company is an active participant in the annual Valdez Last Frontier Conference, frequently presenting new works at this nationally famous, important theatre conference. Harperʼs insistence that all productions, wherever performed, meet a high professional standard has set the bar for quality productions throughout the state. In addition to the various formal positions Harper has held in Cyranoʼs Theatre Company, she is best known in the community as a cultural entrepreneur and collaborator. These traits, talents and skills were perhaps inherited, in part, from her parents, particularly her mother. Harper believes strongly in partnering and collaboration. By its very nature, theatre depends on collaboration and awarenessbetween the playwright and actor, between the actor and the audience, between the director and the actor. As a way to collaborate with the audience, Harper added contextual richness to the company’s productions by organizing lobby displays and special panels or talkback discussions. Collaboration with UAA’s theatre department over the years has provided graduates with their initial professional experience. In another example, she invited a number of prominent local citizens to partner with the company and play a role in the play when “Adam’s Rib” was produced in 2006. Believing that awareness of the arts must be part of public life, Harper made a point of joining and collaborating with various business, civic and nonproﬁt organizations. Her
direct civic involvement includes: former president, Anchorage Cultural Council; board member in Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Anchorage Downtown Association and Rasmuson Foundation; member, national board, Last Frontier Theatre Conference; creator and ten-year co-host, Alaska Radio Reader Rambler at public radio station KSKA. In addition to partnering with civic entities, Harper tried to coordinate theatre activities with municipal and state activities and celebrations. A prime example of her emphasis on the importance of civic engagement is the 2015 summer celebration of Anchorage’s centennial wherein “Anchorage:The First 100 Years—A Theatrical Tour” was presented. This involved a new play being written and produced each week to highlight each of Anchorage’s ﬁrst ten decades. In 2009, she commissioned ﬁve new works from Alaska writers to celebrate Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood while in 2011 she hosted a ﬁrst-time reading of nine new plays from Alaska Native writers organized by the Alaska Native Heritage Center. As a cultural entrepreneur, she initiated and organized cultural events, always striving for collaboration with other artistic organizations and civic activities. For example, Harper saw a need in the cityʼs cultural life, created a coalition of booksellers, educators and libraries as “Partners in Literacy”, which resulted in the founding of the Alaska Center for the Book and the Reading and Writing Rendezvous. It was often her practice to invite a nonproﬁt organization whose social mission is aligned with a play’s theme to participate in the opening night and to give the evening’s proceeds to that organization. For example, for “Pinkalicious!” the honored non-proﬁt organization was Best Beginnings, which promotes early childhood literacy and love of books. Her numerous awards and honors demonstrate the communityʼs regard for her theatrical contributions, civic involvements, and recognition of her effectiveness as an advocate for the arts. They include: Governor’s Award for the Arts to the Cyrano Theatre Company for outstanding arts organization, 1975; “Contribution to Literacy in Alaska” award to Sandy Harper as founder of Alaska Center for the Book, 2002; Harper Performing Arts Touring Fund, initiated by Rasmuson Foundation, in recognition “of the contributions made by both Jerry and Sandy Harper to Alaska’s quality of life, both as artists and long time Rasmuson Foundation Board members”, 2005; Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Arts Organization to Eccentric Theater Company (now Cyrano’s Theatre Company, 2005; YWCA Woman of Achievement award 2005; ATHENA Society inductee, 2009; Soroptimist Award for encouragement of women in the arts, 2010; Alaska State Legislative Citation honoring Cyrano’s Off-Center Payhouse, “a standing ovation” to Jerry and Sandy Harper “for their inﬂuence and consistent quality of state theatre that has made a lasting impression on the statewide progress of the performing arts culture”,2011; Lorene Harrison Award (Special Lifetime Achievement Award) Anchorage Cultural Council, 2011; UAA, Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, “In recognition of a lifetime of fostering the arts in Alaska”, 2011; and, the 2016 Governorʼs Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities to Cyranoʼs Theatre Company. While husband Jerry was a gifted actor and director and performed many roles, Harper preferred to operate behind the scenes, creating the opportunities and environment for events to come together. As Producing Artistic Director over many years, she selected
the plays to be produced, appointed the directors, chose the actors and commissioned new works. Harper frequently described her role in this phrase: “I throw the party.” According to a long-time colleague of Harperʼs, her outstanding talent as a producer was her ability to create a team for each play, from the director to the set designer, which led to successful productions. Another admirer credits her success to Harperʼs having a “great vision” for theatre and a “steady hand” on its production. Harperʼs theatrical training, combined with her interests in human awareness, consciousness and creativity provided a very natural and successful foundation for her career in the theatre. When asked to judge her own accomplishments, Harper pointed to three: co-founding the bookstore and theatre; creating the Alaska Center for the Book and working with her life partner on something they both loved. And, on a different level of accomplishment, she is proud of having raised a daughter and being a grandmother to two grandchildren. Her advice to young women about achieving goals echos her own experience: have the courage to try, keep your focus and be persistent in facing and overcoming the inevitable obstacles that will spring up. Through her personal efforts, Harper has demonstrated what a strong, determined woman with a clear vision can build and accomplish. After twenty-three years of producing a different play almost every month of the year, in 2015, management of Cyranoʼs Theatre Company initiated a shift from a “founders” board to a “governing” board, effective in 2016. Harper relinquished her direct role in the workings of Cyranoʼs Theatre Company, but It is a certainty that she will continue to be engaged in the artistic and theatrical cultures of Anchorage and Alaska. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Porco, Peter. Sandy Harper Northern Lights. American Theatre Magazine. March 2011, p. 40-44. Stadem, Catherine and Strohmeyer, John. The History of Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska 1915-2005: From a Wilderness Tent to a Multi-Million Dollar Stage. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009. AK Alaska Public Media http://www.alaskapublic.org/sandy-harper/ Lit Site Alaska$ http://www.litside.org/index.cfm?section=Libraries-andBooksellers&page=Bookstore-Proﬁles&viewpoint Anchorage Press$ http://www.anchoragepress.com/search/node/Sandy%20Harper
Juanita Lou (Lauesen) Helms
Achievement in: Leadership and Politics
Juanita Lauesen Helms arrived in Alaska with her family in 1951. They lived briefly in Anchorage, then moved to McKinley National Park in 1952 where the family lived for three years before moving to Fairbanks.
Helms graduated from Lathrop High School and then attended several professional and career training courses as she moved through her career. She married Orville R. Helms in 1962 and they remained together until her demise. They raised their four children in Fairbanks.
Helms started her career as a clerk for Superior Court Judge Jay Rabinowitz, then moved to administrative work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As Helm’s family increased, she shifted her focus to the management of family rental properties and volunteer projects with PTAs and neighborhood land-use issues such as transportation and parks. She volunteered on political campaigns where education, public safety and parks impacted families. Helms began her political career as a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, then as assembly chair and then as borough mayor.
Helms was the first woman to be elected to the mayor’s position, a glass ceiling she was proud to have shattered. Her terms as mayor coincided with the advent of “glasnost” and the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Russia. She was a driving force in building relations between Interior Alaska and Russia.
On Sept. 10, 2015, the Fairbanks borough assembly honored her for 11 years of service and her trusted leadership by naming the borough administrative center, in downtown Fairbanks on the Chena River, the Juanita Helms Administration Center. In the 1990s Helms received recognition for her work building the Carlson Center and supporting the Sister City Commission from the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Rotary Club. She also was awarded the Queen Bess Award from the Democratic Party for her open-door leadership in Fairbanks.
Achievement in: Leadership and Politics
Juanita Lou (Lauesen) Helms arrived in Alaska with her family in 1951, living most her life in Interior Alaska, including a cherished three years in the Denali National Park. Together with her devoted husband of 45-years, Orville “Sam” Helms, she raised four children in Fairbanks.
Helms started her professional career as an in-court clerk for Superior Court Judge Jay Rabinowitz, and then moved to administrative work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As Helms’ family grew, her focus shifted to the management of family rental properties, volunteer projects with the Girl Scouts and parent-teacher groups, and serving as an active advocate for neighborhood planning and land use issues. She volunteered on political campaigns to champion, promote, and support policies that impacted families.
In 1980, Helms began her political career as an elected, at-large member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. She ran successfully for a second term, serving five-years, including a year as Presiding Officer of the Assembly.
In 1985, distressed by the state of Fairbanks North Star Borough affairs, she ran for borough mayor. In what the media dubbed a “stunning upset” Helms unseated a two-term incumbent to gain the borough’s top spot.
After a successful re-election bid, winning over 60% of the vote, Helms served another three-year term as mayor. Helms stewarded the borough through difficult financial times, while accomplishing the construction of a community convention center, improving air quality, creating an Office of Economic Development, and establishing sister-city relationships with Japan and the Soviet Far East. She was known for her open-door policy, valuing and respecting all input from supporters and critics alike.
Helms was a long-time friend and strong supporter of interregional and international relations between Alaska and the Sakha Republic, and between the United States and Russia. Her diplomatic efforts led to the Treaty of Friendly Relations between the cities of Fairbanks and Yakutsk, signed 20 years ago, at a time when democratization was just starting to take hold in the USSR.
As the first woman to be elected as borough mayor, and through numerous organized efforts to mentor, educate, inspire, and bring women together through professional workshops and conferences, both internationally and locally, Helms served as a powerful leader and role model to generations of women in Fairbanks and beyond.
Upon her death in 2009, many community members reflected on her contributions, management, and leadership. A colleague, Melissa Chapin said, “She was so open-minded and so accepting, and just carried a practical, down to Earth, realistic, pragmatic approach to everything,” Dermot Cole wrote in a Column in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “Two reasons for Juanita’s success in politics are that she knew how to be tough and how to get along with people. People enjoyed being around her, and Juanita liked to laugh.”
Last September, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly honored Helms for her 11 years of trusted leadership with a resolution to name the borough administrative center after her. The center, located in downtown Fairbanks along the Chena River, is now labeled the Juanita Helms Administration Center. Over the years, she received recognition and accolades from numerous entities, organizations and foreign officials, for her diplomatic efforts in developing and supporting sister-city relationships. To Helms’ tribute, after objectively serving in a non-partisan capacity for most of her career, the Alaska Democratic Party honored her posthumously with the Queen Bess Award for selflessly giving her time and energy to promote democratic principles.
At the end of her life, Juanita took the most comfort from the company of her grandchildren who she considered her life’s joy. Through them, she has helped prepare a new generation to carry on her life of service.
Crystal Brilliant (Snow) Jenne
Achievement in: Politics, Arts and Government
A persistent pioneer, Crystal Snow was an extraordinary Alaskan.
In 1934 Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was the first woman to run for the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives in the Alaska Territory. Her campaign was unsuccessful; but in 1940 Jenne ran for the house again and became the second woman elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives, serving from 1941 to 1944. Jenne was chairman of the Engrossment and Enrollment Committee and also served on the Education and Public Health committees. Two years later, she was the first woman candidate to file for Alaska Territorial Senate. Although unsuccessful in that campaign, her political career continued until 1956.
Jenne served as Juneau’s postmaster from 1944 through 1955; instituting home mail delivery in Juneau during her tenure.
Jenne was born into a family of adventurous performers. She was a talented child actress, dancer and soprano. The Snow family moved to Juneau in the spring of 1887 to entertain miners. When her father joined the Klondike Gold Rush, the family moved to Circle City where her father built an opera house. After graduating from high school in 1905, Jenne went on to earn a degree in music from the University of California Berkeley. After teaching in California and in Douglas, Alaska, Jenne spent the summer of 1908 singing for miners in Skagway, Haines, Dawson, Fairbanks and Nome.
She was married in 1916 and had three children. In 1939 she published a volume of historical poetry. Meanwhile, she worked in church choirs, taught, and ran a flower shop.
Her ease with the public and her polished stage presence were valuable assets as she became prominent in Juneau history. In civic affairs, she was a member of numerous national and Alaska women’s clubs.
Quoting Jenne: “When you cease to grow, you become like a potato…I will never be a potato.” And she certainly was not. She was an inspiration to many.
Achievement In: Political Activist, Community Activist, Educator, Poet, Visual Arts, Business Owner
A persistent pioneer, Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was an extraordinary Alaskan. Her name helps to tell her story.
Crystal Snow Jenne was born on May 30, 1884, in Sonora, California. In 1887, when only three years old, she emigrated to the Alaska Territory with her parents, who worked as a troupe of actors entertaining Alaska’s gold miners. When her father joined the Klondike Gold Rush, the family moved to Circle City, where her father built an opera house. At one point, Jenne’s father discovered gold, so the family moved to Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, her father lost his investments, and so the Snows returned to the Alaska Territory.
For a number of years, Jenne’s mother tutored her, but the child was ten years old before she was enrolled in school for the first time. She attended an Alaskan mission school, where she learned “singing, praying, and knitting.” When the family moved to Juneau, Jenne was sixteen. Despite her age, she was placed in a fifth grade class. Being behind in formal education did not stop Jenne from achieving. She graduated from Juneau High School in 1905 at the age of twenty-one, the only member of her class.
Following her high school graduation, Jenne enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in music. She also earned a teaching certificate. After her college graduation, Jenne taught in Paso Robles, California. Alaska’s history abounds in stories about lionhearted pioneers who were also chalkboard champions. From 1907 to 1908, Jenne taught school in Douglas, Alaska. A talented musician, Jenne performed concerts for gold miners in the Alaska and Yukon Territories when she was not in the classroom.
Always thirsty for knowledge, the venturesome teacher attended the Spencerian Commercial School in Cleveland, Ohio, where she studied business and shorthand. Following her graduation from business school, Jenne returned to Alaska, where she continued her career in education, teaching in Skagway, Sitka, and the Mendenhall Valley, and also at her alma mater, Juneau High School.
In 1916, she married Dr. Charles Percival Jenne, a Juneau dentist, and the couple had three children. Even after she started her family, Crystal continued to teach and give concerts. In 1923, she performed her mother’s composition, Alaska and the U.S.A., for President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, during their visit to Juneau.
Charles Jenne passed away in 1938.
From 1938 to 1944 Jenne owned and operated the Forget-Me-Not Flower Shop. She was a talented creative writer who penned poetry (publishing a volume of historical poetry) and music and kept journals. Meanwhile, she pursued community activities, participating in church choirs, and continuing with her teaching career.
Her ease with the public and her polished stage presence were valuable assets as she became prominent in Juneau history. In 1934 Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was the first woman to run for the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives in the Alaska Territory. Her campaign was unsuccessful; but in 1940 Jenne ran for the house again, and became the second woman elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives. Jenne was a Democrat, and served in the first Division of House of Representatives, which included Juneau (16 members). She served with such political contemporaries as Territorial Senators Anthony Diamond, and E.L. Bob Bartlett, and a young representative from Valdez named William Egan. She was chairman of the Engrossment and Enrollment Committee, and served on several other committees (Banking and Corporations; Education, Public Health, Quarantine and Morals; Printing and Purchasing; and Territorial Institutions Committees). Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her first term. Sample Legislation Sponsored: HB 39 – creating a home for destitute women – passed without the Governor’s signature; HB 78 – requiring registration of nurses in the territory, and creating a nurses examination board – passed; HB 85 – (cosponsored) provision to build a territorial building – did not pass; HB 11O – appropriating $6,000 for an addition to the Skagway school building (where she once taught) – did not pass.
In 1942, she was the first woman re-elected to the Territorial Legislature. She was chairman of the Labor, Capital and Immigration Committee, and served several other committees ( Election Laws and Mileage, Rules Committees, and Committee on Committees). Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her second term. Sample Legislation Sponsored: HB 22 – requiring a doctor’s certificate declaring freedom from infectious and venereal diseases, epilepsy, insanity and drug or alcohol addiction before a marriage license can be issued-passed the House, died in the Senate; HB 42 – requiring employers to provide short term disability compensation and medical assistance to injured workers (an early form of Workers Compensation) – did not pass; HB 62 – (Sponsored by request) a bill that forbid the consumption of hard liquor on the premises where it was sold (bars) – did not pass.
In 1944 she became the first woman ever nominated for a seat in the Alaska Territorial Senate; withdrawing to become the Juneau Postmistress. She was appointed to the postmaster position by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jenne advanced public knowledge about postal service in the Juneau area during her tenure as Postmaster by participating in local radio programs which alerted Juneau residents to Post Office special mailing policies and procedures. House-to-house city delivery was initiated during her tenure.
In 1956, she resigned as Postmistress and ran for the Senate again, but was defeated.
In civic affairs, she was a member of the National Professional & Business Women’s Club, the Juneau Woman’s Club, the Alaska Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Democratic Women’s Club and various other committees and organizations.
Throughout her life, Jenne was interested in serving her community and promoting women as instruments of change. She spoke often to local and national clubs on the role of women in the political arena. A quote contributed to Crystal: “When you cease to grow you become like a potato…I will never be a potato.” And she certainly was not. Her active life spanned the ages of 3 to 72 years of age. She was and continues to be an inspiration to women. Crystal passed away at the Sitka Pioneer home in 1968 at the age 84.
Margy K. Johnson
Achievement in: Public Service and Community Involvement
Margy Johnson’s contribution to Alaska can be summed up in this manner: she is a driving force in Alaska’s growth and economic progress and her public service and community involvement have enriched the lives of many Alaskans.
Born and raised in Montana, Johnson always felt an affinity for Alaska since her father had served in the military on Shemya and told stories of his time in Alaska. After graduating from high school, she left Montana for Alaska and explains her feelings about Alaska in this way: “Coming to Alaska was like coming home. It’s a big, beautiful place and I love being part of it. People either live where they are born or choose where to live, but in my case, Alaska chose me. It embraced me when I came as a young woman and it still embraces me.”
After working in Anchorage, Johnson and her husband moved to Cordova where they owned and operated the Reluctant Fisherman Hotel and Restaurant. It was during her time in Cordova that she started a long list of firsts in her life: first woman elected as mayor of Cordova, first woman elected president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce and first woman elected as president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
Her professional and public career is comprehensive and varied. She has served on numerous boards and commissions at the local and state levels, served Alaska on the international level as the State director of International Trade, and she continues her mentorship role in a wide variety of organizations.
Johnson was the 2013 recipient of the William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan of the Year Award by the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. No biography of her is complete without reference to her role as “the hat lady” and her special “high teas.”
Achievement in: Public Service, Elected Office and Community Involvement
As a young person growing up in St. Mary, Montana, Margy Johnson’s hometown was located on the western border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. She grew up with hard-working parents in a loving family that operated Johnson of St. Mary, a restaurant owned by her family for many years and operated today by her sister, Kristin.
During her childhood, Johnson loved listening to her Dad’s stories of Alaska and hearing her mother read his letters from Shemya, where he had been stationed during World War II. “Mother kept all the letters from Dad in a little bundle carefully wrapped with a satin ribbon. The letters carried a sense of mystery and they had little parts cut out by military censors. Listening to them, I knew I would someday go to Alaska.”
Johnson graduated from high school in 1966, got married and at age eighteen and took a different route than her father in coming to Alaska. Along with her Air Force husband, she headed up the Alaska Highway. However, unlike her father, she never left. Her contribution to Alaska can be summed up in this manner: she is a driving force in Alaska’s growth and economic progress and her public service and community involvement have enriched the lives of many Alaskans.
Coming to Alaska was like coming home and the State gave her opportunities she wouldn’t have had anywhere else, Johnson says. “It is a great big, grand, beautiful place, Alaska, and I love being a part of it. People either live where they are born, or choose where to live, but in my case, Alaska chose me. It embraced me when I came here as a young woman and it still embraces me. I came here right after Statehood and was able to watch history being written right before my eyes!”
Arriving in Anchorage, Johnson worked an office job at an engineering firm. In 1972, her son, Wade Pitts, was born and she divorced her husband. “As a single mom, I did whatever was necessary to pay the rent and feed my son. I worked at a dress shop downtown and sold ivory trinkets on Fourth Avenue.”
When construction started on the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline in 1974, Johnson got a job at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) to monitor union recruitment and dispatching of Alaska natives to construction jobs on the Pipeline. While at AFN, she established close relationships with native elders and leaders and during her employment there, Johnson began a life-time interest in collecting Alaskan artifacts and art work. Today, she has a remarkable collection of unique Alaskana.
Gail Schubert, president and CEO, Bering Straits Native Corporation, remembers that Johnson got to know Alaska’s native people and their strengths and concerns at a critical juncture – right after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971. “Margy also developed a true respect and appreciation of our cultures. She has been a strong supporter of Alaska native artists and her collection of art is a testament to that,” Schubert says.
Today, Johnson has a remarkable collection of unique Alaskana. In fact, her knowledge and fondness for Alaska native arts and crafts led to a contract with the Smithsonian Institution to accompany a group of Alaska native artists and dancers to the 1976 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC.
One of her jobs at that time was buying fish eggs on the Yukon for. She needed a letter of credit from an American Bank so she went to National Bank of Alaska. She didn’t get the letter of credit, but there she met Dick Borer and in 1978 they were married and decided to move to Cordova.
They purchased and managed the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, a local gathering place for residents and visitors alike. She said “after all those years of growing up in one, there I was in Cordova, running another restaurant.” Anyone fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to stay at the Reluctant or spend time with Margy while there, soon understood her deep commitment to the people of Prince William Sound and to Alaska.
It was during her years in Cordova that Johnson began her life and career of many “firsts”: she was the first woman mayor of Cordova, elected to three terms; the first woman president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce and the first woman president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
Life in Cordova revolved around salmon fishing and Johnson soon fell in love with the fresh Copper River salmon and noted that the fish did not get the attention they deserved. “For so many years we had stuck that magnificent fish into a can or shipped it frozen to Japan. Once we got it out of the can, we realized how good it was.”
While serving as president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, Johnson began working with Alaska Airlines, various fishing groups and Trident Seafoods of Seattle to promote the region’s fresh salmon. “Margy would place a box of fish under her arm and go up and down the West Coast, trying to convince high-end restaurants and retailers of the fine taste of fresh salmon,” said John Garner, a vice president at Trident Seafoods.
Two companies were crucial for these promotions. “Trident provided fresh fish and Alaska Airlines flew me to any place I wanted to go,” Johnson said. “We held many salmon and wine parings in Lower 48 restaurants. Sometimes it was just me and a fish, and I often slept at airports.”
The hard work paid off. It increased the cachet and allure of Copper River sockeye salmon, elevating it to elite status in restaurants across the nation. “Not only did Johnson promote the fish, she also helped arrange the logistics of moving the fish from the off-road remote community of Cordova by seeking help from Alaska Airlines as well as Lynden Transport and Alaska Marine Lines,” Garner says.
Garner credits Johnson for transforming the market for Copper River fish by helping create domestic demand. “Before Margy came along, we froze our Copper River salmon for export to Japan. Today, 100 percent of our king salmon and 90 percent of the sockeye are sold fresh in the domestic market.”
The promotions of Copper River fish, such as the Copper River Nouveau which Johnson helped to establish, also helped increase domestic sales of other Alaska salmon, Garner says. Later, as the Director of the Office International Trade, Johnson travelled to foreign capitals, such as Tokyo and Seoul, working to expand foreign sales of Alaskan salmon.
Alaska Airlines flies a lot of salmon out of the State, including the first catch of Copper River salmon. In 2005, it paid homage to Alaska’s salmon by painting one on one of their 737-400 airplanes and named it “Salmon-30-Salmon”. “That great fish on the plane was just a dream in my heart. I presented the idea to John Kelly, who was the Alaska Airlines chairman at the time,” Johnson says.
In addition to her love of fish and the fishing industry, Johnson is also realistic about the need for developing and managing all of Alaska’s natural resources and is well aware that the oil industry is vital to the State. “We are essentially a resource state. But I like reasonably-paced development. Government should be the gentle breeze on the back of business and not a stiff wind of opposition. The State and our industries – oil, timber, mining and fish – all need to be partners.”
As a member of the newly organized Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council which was formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Johnson was instrumental in trying to find the truth after the destruction in the Sound caused by the oil spill in 1989. Through the work with the PWSAC, she met a Valdez neighbor, Bill Walker, and they became life-long friends. Because of the differing opinions about the damage caused by the spill, and the lack of concrete information in Alaska, Johnson was part of a group that traveled to Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands to look at the North Sea oil facilities and how they handled their industry. “They had oil production there but also a safe environment for many years and we wanted to see what safeguards they had that we lacked” she said.
Governor Bill Walker, former mayor of Valdez, was also on the trip to the Shetland. “During our discussions, Margy made sure the discussion stayed focused and everyone had a chance to voice their opinion,” he recalls.
Information gathered from the Shetlands and other places helped bring many changes to the oil industry’s operations in Prince William Sound. “Today we have escort vessels, double-hulled tankers and depots of equipment around the Sound to dispatch if it occurs again. You simply cannot beat citizen involvement,” Johnson says. Today, there are regional oil spill response organizations, escort vessels and equipment depots strategically placed around the coastlines of Alaska.
The oil spill changed her town. “Our town expanded to meet the demands of the disaster but it was taking a long time to get back together.” Johnson wanted Cordova to become a community again and get back to mundane things such as concern for streets, water and sewer, and schools – the nuts and bolts of a community. So – she ran for mayor in 1990 and helped pull the town together again.
“It was a hard-won contest and I won by one vote. When my opponent demanded a recount, I picked up another vote. So I won by two votes.” Johnson went on to win the next election and another after a three-year hiatus. “Cordova was a perfect place to raise Wade. We had fishing, skiing, school sports, the swim team and the encompassing sense of belonging to life in a small town,” said Margy.
When Frank Murkowski was elected Governor of Alaska, Johnson moved to Anchorage to work in his administration as Director of International Trade. In this position, she continued her quest of selling Alaska salmon all over the world. She was the perfect “pitch man” for Alaska in this position!
No story about Johnson is complete without mentioning her famous hats. The hats into being a few years ago when she had cancer. She buys hats in vintage shops and friends bring them back to her from their travels. Her hats number “around one hundred”. And – these hats all serve a purpose.
After losing a brother and sister to cancer, Johnson was not surprised to be diagnosed with breast cancer herself. Her cancer was caught early, and thanks to the support she received from friends and family, she soon put cancer in her rear view mirror. Cancer changed her though and she wanted to give others the same understanding and compassion that her friends had given her.
After her cancer was cured, Johnson began working with cancer patients at the Providence Cancer Center in Anchorage. Another of Johnson’s passions is mermaids and her home in Anchorage is named “The Enchanted Mermaid”. Johnson often invites cancer patients to her home and gives them a choice of hats to wear and provides them with a lovely high tea. Somehow, sharing tea, attired in a grand hat, puts a smile on the face and Johnson is able to explain various cancer treatments and provide friendship. She says that “cancer is a club you never want to get an invitation to join, but once you are in, it is good to have friends”.
These high teas have become a coveted invitation and many friends and acquaintances have been blessed to spend special time with Johnson at “The Enchanted Mermaid” where lively discussions revolve around such topics as local and state politics, best places to pick berries, direction for Alaska’s fiscal future and other pertinent topics of the da
Over the years, Johnson has been involved with many organizations and in activities throughout the State. She is a life-time member of the Pioneers of Alaska; has served on the Board of Directors of the First National Bank of Alaska for over fifteen years; serves on both the BP Alaska Citizen’s Advisory Board and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company Advisory Board; serves on the Board of the Ted Steven’s Foundation; is on the Advisory Board for Breast Cancer Focus Alaska; serves as a mentor for Leadership Anchorage and is the Honorary Chair of the Jewish Cultural Gala Committee.
Johnson is the 2013 recipient of the William A. Egan “Outstanding Alaskan of the Year” Award, by the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce “Athena” Award in 2010 and the YWCA “Woman of Achievement” Award in 2002.
Johnson was recognized by His Holiness John Paul, for helping people suffering from alcoholism. She was also honored by her work in reaching out to those with breast cancer and always being there from Breast Cancer Focus.
Johnson is the Executive Vice President of the Alaska Dispatch News (a position she describes as “Chief of Stuff”) and continues to help move our State onward and upward. As Norman Vaughn used to say – “It is a marvelous adventure.”
In spite of all accolades, tributes and recognition, Johnson says her favorite title in life is that of “Mon and Grandmother”. She says she raised a truly remarkable son, who is now married to Nicole, a woman filled with kindness, and they have graced her with a perfect grandson by the name of Tristan.
Margy Johnson is a unique Alaskan. We pride ourselves on having a country full of characters and Johnson certainly fits this respected description! Her public service and community involvement have enriched the lives of many Alaskans.
Biographical information written and compiled by Gail Phillips, January 2016
1. Margy Johnson’s personal business resumes
2. Alaska Business Monthly – “Margy Johnson – A Driving Force in Alaska’s growth and success” by
Shehla Anjum, published November 7, 2013
3. Anchorage Chamber of Commerce – “William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan of the Year” award
4. Nomination form submitted by Gail Phillips, 2016 nominee
5. Personal interviews with Gail Phillips, December 2015
6. Personal emails with Gail Phillips, December 2015 and January 2015
7. Alaska Dispatch News – February 15, 2015
8. Alaska Dispatch News – “The 49th Estate: Land of Enchanted Mermaids” by Bryan Dunagan,
November 01, 2010
Eliza (Peter) Jones
Achievement in: Advocacy and Preservation of the Koyukon Athabascan Language
Eliza Jones, born in a camp near Cutoff and raised in Huslia, devotes her life to teaching the Koyukon Athabascan language (Denaakk’e) and writing about its culture and traditions. She taught for many years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – where she co-authored the Koyukon-Athabascan Dictionary – as a Koyukon Athabascan linguist, and, upon her retirement in 1990, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters.
Alaska’s Native languages have tied generations of Native people together, giving each generation a sense of identity. Western education, assimilation and the passing of traditional Native language speakers have threatened many language dialects with extinction. Jones has taught in villages, schools and urban community gatherings. She has written and translated stories, developed and taught curriculum and conducted research on the language of the middle Yukon and Koyukuk rivers. Recently she has translated documents for the Tanana Chiefs Conference for their “tobacco free” campaign; phrases for Doyon, Ltd; election ballots for the State of Alaska; Arctic Council announcements; closer to home, helped other people write traditional memorial songs for potlatches. Her willingness to share the Koyukon language has reenergized language revitalization efforts in Interior communities.
In addition to her formal work with the language, Jones served on the for-profit Gana-a’ Yoo board of directors (serving several Yukon River villages), the Ella B. Vernetti School Community Committee in Koyukuk and Yukon River Fisheries advisory board.
Jones and her husband of 58 years, Benedict Jones Sr., make their home in Koyukuk. There and in Fairbanks, they raised nine children. In her 77 years Eliza has humbly dedicated herself to others. Her life’s work of teaching the Koyukon language continues to inspire new generations of language learners and culture bearers. Jones quietly speaks her language and teaches the old ways demonstrating that one person can make a difference.
Achievement in: Advocacy and Preservation of the Koyukon Athabascan Language
Eliza Jones, born either at Toyenaalyeez Denh (Cut-Off) or at a nearby camp, and raised in Huslia, Alaska, devotes her life to teaching Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan) language and writing about its culture and traditions. Eliza taught for many years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a Koyukon Athabascan linguist. Upon her retirement in 1990, she was bestowed with an honorary doctorate of letters.
Eliza’s parents were Josie and Little Peter. They lived in camps along the Koyukuk River. Her dad died when she was seven. There was a measles epidemic in 1942 or ’43. Her mother Josie remarried to Francis Olin, who also raised Marie Yaska and Catherine Attla. Her late grandpa Olin told them stories every night. Late Catherine Attla published several books in which she retold these stories in Denaakk’e and Eliza translated them.
Eliza’s siblings, from oldest to youngest were: Elsie, Ellen, Cecelia, Joe, Eliza, Attla and Josslin. Eliza’s clan, which follow the matrilineal side, is Toneedze Ghelseełne ‘middle of the stream’ clan. This clan is a similar to a liason between the Bedzeyh Te Hʉt’aane (caribou) and Noltseene (bear) clan. The former is related to things of the sky and the latter to things of the earth.
When Eliza was a child they lived off of the land in two different camps. They trapped small game like rabbits and ptarmigan for food and trapped weasels, mink, lynx, and fox for the furs. When they were growing up they were close to other camps, especially Lydia Simon’s camp. Being around all these great storytellers and culture bearers provided Eliza with a strong foundation in which traditional values and beliefs were instilled.
Eliza’s Denaakk’e name is Neełtenoyeneełno, which means ‘she has versatile talent’. Her grandmother, Mrs. Cecelia Happy, who helped raise her, gave her this name. The name is apt, because she often has more than one project going on at a time.
In 1958 Eliza and Benedict Jones married and she moved to his hometown of Koyukuk. Benedict’s Denaakk’e name K’øghøt’o’oodenoo¬’o means ‘he works with a lot of people’. It was his grandfather, Louis Pilot of Kokrines’ name. He was born at “ 9 Mile“, which is the family fish camp below Koyukuk. His parents were Jessie “Deggeyenee” Edwin and Harry Jones and step-father Andrew Edwin. His maternal grandmother, Julia “Ts’ooghoołeen’ ” Nelson, was one of the village’s matriarchs.
Ben and Eliza’s had ten children: JoAnn Malamute, Josie Dayton, Cora Jones, Charlene Jones (dec.), Cindy Pilot, Vernon Jones (dec.), Susan Paskvan, Benedict Jones, Jr. (dec.), Cecelia Grant, and Julie Jones (dec.). They raised their children in Koyukuk and Fairbanks. In the summer they moved to fish camps where they taught them a strong work ethic through hauling water, chopping wood, cleaning, cutting and hanging fish. The elder’s say it is bad luck to count your grandchildren, but to count your blessings. Of that there are many.
Alaska’s Native languages have tied generations of Native people together, giving each generation a sense of identity. Western education, assimilation and the passing of traditional Native language speakers have threatened many language dialects with extinction. Eliza devotes her life to teaching the Koyukon language and writing about its culture and traditions. She taught in villages, schools and urban community gatherings. Eliza’s willingness to share the Koyukon language has reenergized language revitalization efforts in Interior communities.
Through her career at Alaska Native Language Center she interviewed elders throughout the Doyon region. She meticulously documented stories, songs, genealogical information, place names, and “high words” in Denaakk’e. She continues to work for Yukon-Koyukuk School District as a Language Specialist. She continues to travel to villages to help transcribe songs that were composed in the early 1900s to present. In addition, in working with local elders, they give the youth of today Denaakk’e names, which belonged to the children’s ancestors.
Eliza has written and translated stories, developed and taught curriculum and conducted research on the language of the middle Yukon and Koyukuk rivers. Recently, she has translated documents for Tanana Chiefs Conference for their “tobacco free” campaign; phrases for Doyon, Limited; election ballots for the State of Alaska; Arctic Council announcements; closer to home, helped many people write traditional memorial songs for potlatches. In 2013, she went on a boat trip from Koyukuk to Hughes with scientists and youth to research place names.
In addition to her formal work with the language, she served on the Gana-a’ Yoo board of directors (serving several Yukon River villages), the Ella B. Vernetti Community School Committee in Koyukuk; the Catholic church pastoral councils and Yukon River Fisheries advisory board. She has presented at conferences around the state, the nation and in Japan.
Eliza and her husband of 58 years, Benedict Jones Sr., make their home in Koyukuk. In their retirement, Both Ben and Eliza enjoy putting away tl’eeyegge baabe (Native food) such as salmon, berries, moose, beaver, and waterfowl. They are active in teaching these skills plus others such as sewing, story telling, and positive Athabascan values. Ben puts in a net as soon as the ice goes out and keeps it out until freeze up. As soon as the ice is thick enough he sets an under-water net. Eliza can be found making traditional kkaakkene (boots), mittens, and beadwork for her grandchildren.
In her 77 years, Eliza has humbly dedicated herself others. Her life’s work of teaching the Koyukon language continues to inspire new generations of language learners and culture bearers. Eliza quietly speaks her language and teaches the old ways demonstrating that one person can make a difference.
Anne P. (Pelizzoni) Lanier, M.D.
Achievement in: Cancer Research, Health Advocacy
As a family practice physician, medical epidemiologist, researcher and administrator, Anne Lanier has worked to improve health among Alaska’s Native people since 1967. Starting as a physician at the Alaska Native Medical Center, she saw too many young Alaska Native people dying of cancer. She asked why and, finding no answers, she determined to seek them.
In 1974 Lanier created the Alaska Native Tumor Registry, one of 18 National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registries, to determine cancer rates and patterns throughout the U.S. Her data-driven research has led to dramatic declines in incidence and mortality rates in pediatric liver and cervical cancer among Alaska’s Native people. She always published her data so others could review her conclusions.
Lanier was the first female director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Arctic Investigations Program. She initiated the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center and later created the Alaska Native Health Consortium’s Office of Alaska Native Health Research. Lanier currently is a consultant for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage.
In 1982 Lanier became a Fellow of the American Board of Preventative Medicine. In 2011 she received the inaugural Carol Frieden Award for Extraordinary Leadership in Comprehensive Cancer Control from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After graduating from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., in 1962, Lanier earned her M.D. degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1966 and completed a Masters of Public Health degree at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in 1975. She did an internship at Presbyterian Hospital in Denver, Colo., before taking her first job in Alaska. Lanier has three children and five grandchildren. She is a reader, skier, kayaker, and traveler. She has mentored several generations of health researchers and personally funds a scholarship at the University of Alaska Anchorage for those pursuing master’s degrees in public health.
Achievement in: cancer research, health advocate
As a family practice physician, medical epidemiologist, researcher, and administrator Anne Lanier has spent a lifetime promoting health and wellness among Alaska Native people. Her career in Alaska began in 1967 when she arrived at the Alaska Native Medical Center and she saw many young Alaska Native people dying of cancer. She asked why, and finding no answers she sought them herself.
By 1974, Lanier had created the Alaska Native Tumor Registry that collects information about Alaska Native people diagnosed with cancer. Her registry has become one of 18 registries used by the National Cancer Institute to determine cancer rates and patterns throughout the U.S. Lanier’s data-driven research had led to dramatic declines in incidence and mortality rates in colorectal, pediatric liver, and cervical cancer among Alaska Native people. She has published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles so others can review her conclusions.
Lanier continued to be a pioneer through her public health career. She was the first female director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Arctic Investigations Program. She established the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center, and later created the Alaska Native Health Consortium’s Office of Alaska Native Health Research. Lanier conducted medical research for the State of Alaska, Alaska Native Medical Center, Centers for Disease Control, and the University of Alaska Anchorage.
She has been nationally recognized for her accomplishments. In 1982, Lanier became a Fellow of the American Board of Preventative Medicine. In 2011, she received the Inaugural Carol Frieden Award for Extraordinary Leadership in Comprehensive Cancer Control from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Indian Health Service, Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, and the Alaska Public Health Association have recognized her, as well.
Lanier has mentored several generations of health researchers. One, Melanie Cueva recounts, “I was hired to work on a six-month breast health project that turned into almost two decades of collaboration. Anne has become a mentor to my daughter who is working on doctorate degrees at Harvard in public health and nutrition.” To encourage Alaska Native young people in the health profession, Lanier personally funds a scholarship at the University of Alaska Anchorage for those pursuing master’s degrees in public health.
Dr. Lanier was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1962, Lanier got her M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine and a Masters of Public Health degree at the University of Minnesota. She did an internship at Presbyterian Hospital in Denver, Colorado before taking her first job in Alaska. Lanier has three children and five grandchildren. She is a reader, skier, kayaker, and traveler. Of her travels, those to the Galapagos Islands have been especially fascinating.
Alaska journalist Lael Morgan met Lanier in the 1960s and followed her career: “She was way ahead of her time doing what she did for Alaska Native children. Dr. Lanier has never stopped asking why and has not stopped being an advocate for improved health for Alaska Native people.” During her more than 45-year career she has met her goals to define and reduce the health disparities of Alaska Native people and to greatly improved health care in the state.
Janet (Walker) McCabe
Achievement in: Justice System Reform and Historic Preservation
Janet McCabe is gifted at bringing people together to accomplish public service goals. She has been a catalyst to improve the justice system through creation of Alaska’s therapeutic courts for addicted offenders and the development of Partners Reentry Center. In another arena, she championed congressional designation of Alaska’s first National Heritage Area. The designation has resulted in federal funding for over 70 locally initiated projects that preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the Kenai Mountains’ Turnagain Arm region.
McCabe came to Alaska in 1960 and worked professionally in community planning for state and federal entities, including the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, Alaska Housing Authority and National Park Service, from which she retired in 2000. Since then she has volunteered with organizations which address reduction of criminal recidivism, cultural and historic preservation, and engagement of Alaskans in public policy issues.
McCabe joined others in forming Partners for Progress, a nonprofit organization with a goal to reduce unnecessary incarceration. In 1999 they advocated to establish the Anchorage Wellness Court, Alaska’s first therapeutic court. Over the next decade, the coalition went on to change state law and secure public and private funds that expand therapeutic courts to Bethel, Juneau, Ketchikan, Palmer and Fairbanks.
Under McCabe’s leadership as board chair, they also started Partners Reentry Center in 2013 to provide support, including: employment services, transitional housing services, and counseling, to individuals leaving prison. For these efforts, Janet McCabe was awarded the 2014 Jay Rabinowitz Public Service Award by the Alaska Bar Association.
In discussing her efforts, McCabe said, “I was inspired by my father, Joseph Walker, to make the justice system fairer, and have been supported in my community involvement and career by my husband, David McCabe. We have been a team in civic engagement and family life for 58 years.”
Achievement in: Justice System Reform and Historic Preservation
Janet McCabe has made significant contributions to Alaska in her profession as a community planner and in her civic involvement in justice system reform, preservation of Alaska’s history, and community engagement in public issues.
McCabe grew up in Massachusetts, where her father, Joseph Walker, started the first criminal lab in the state in 1934. As a chemist, he demonstrated that scientific evidence could eliminate the guess work of crime scenes and provide evidence about perpetrators, such as shooting distance, chemical residue of bullets, identification of blood type, and the use of finger prints to identify a criminal. He frequently took his young daughter, Janet, to court to listen to the use of scientific evidence in criminal cases. He told her its use made the criminal justice system fairer. That lesson has remained with her for her entire life.
She graduated from Smith College and did an internship her senior year with the Boston City Planning Department, where she developed her interest in planning. When she and her husband, David McCabe, came to Alaska in 1960, she worked for the Fairbanks City Planning Department reviewing zoning and subdivision regulations. That practical experience assisted her with her graduate studies in City Planning at Harvard.
Returning to Alaska with a Master’s Degree after the 1964 Earthquake, McCabe found opportunity as a community planner with the Alaska State Housing Authority, where she worked in small villages, such as Yakutat, Goodnews Bay and Kwethluk as well as larger communities, such as Palmer, Sitka and Ketchikan.
In 1973, McCabe had the opportunity to work on a statewide scale as Staff Planner for the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission. The commission was established to study issues about federal, state and Native owned lands and to make recommendations to the U.S. Congress to be used in drafting the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which was adopted in 1981.
When the Commission ended its work, McCabe was selected by Secretary of Interior Udall as Regional Director for the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS), which strengthened her interest in the preservation of Alaska History. She later shifted to the National Park Service as Special Assistant to the NPS Regional Director. Her assignments there focused on intergovernmental projects such as the development of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, the acquisition of Kennicott Mine as part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and liaison with the Alaska Visitors Association. Her emphasis throughout her planning career was to bring diverse voices into the discussion of public policy issues. She retired from the National Park Service in 2000.
McCabe received the YWCA Woman of Achievement award in 2005. Her nominator wrote, “Normally, retirement means taking time for oneself, relaxing and enjoying the fruits of free time. Janet made the opposite choice: retirement meant taking on new projects and devoting her free time to them. Retirement for Janet meant working harder and being paid nothing.”
Since 2000 Janet has been a full-time volunteer with community service organizations, primarily in fields of therapeutic justice, reduction of criminal recidivism, cultural and historic preservation for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm region and civic engagement with Alaska Common Ground, which engages Alaskans in respectful conversations about public policy issues through community forums.
Partners for Progress – Therapeutic Justice
McCabe’s goal to make the court system fair to all led her to join with Alaska District Court Judge Jim Wanamaker and the Municipality of Anchorage to start Partners for Progress, which is a nonprofit with a goal to reduce unnecessary incarceration. She has Chaired the Board of Directors since 1999.
They initiated Alaska’s first therapeutic court for substance abusing offenders, the Anchorage Wellness Court. These courts are run using teamwork between the judges and lawyers, cooperation with the offender, and a supportive, treatment-based program. Public protection is enhanced because participants in the therapeutic courts overcome their addiction and become functioning members of the community. Through the efforts of Partners for Progress therapeutic courts are now operating in Anchorage, Fairbank, Bethel, Juneau and Ketchikan.
Partners worked to provide legislative information and education contributed to a series of laws that strengthened and expanded the therapeutic court program, culminating in 2006 with the passage of AS 28.35.028 that established a consistent sentencing system for therapeutic courts and included felony DUI and drug offenders for the first time. Legislation is now in place making the courts an integral part of the Alaska Court System. And through the efforts of Partners for Progress, Alaska is recognized as one of the states with exemplary therapeutic programs. A report published in 2005 by the National Drug Court Institute and the National Judicial College cited the Anchorage Wellness Court as an example to other courts considering establishing a therapeutic court. (“DWI / Drug Courts: Reducing Recidivism, Saving Lives” by C. West Huddleston, Director, The National Drug Court Institute and Robin Wosje, Program Attorney, The National Judicial College.)
A graduate of Anchorage Therapeutic court said,
“Before, when I was in trouble, it was the State of Alaska against me. In this court program, the judge, the case coordinator, the treatment provider, the prosecutor, the defender and myself – are all working together against my addiction.”
Recognizing that achieving a significant reduction in incarceration and criminal recidivism will require a more comprehensive approach, Janet and other members of the Board expanded their mission to encompass support for “therapeutic justice” programs that go beyond the therapeutic courts and include sentenced offenders under the Department of Corrections. To implement this change she and Partners’ board and staff:
Initiated a grant-funded program and signed an agreement with the Department of Corrections to coordinate with probation officers to provide temporary housing assistance to probationers who are reentering the community and striving to become employed and self-sufficient.
Collaborated with Alaska Common Ground, the Department of Corrections, the Mental Health Trust and others to sponsor a successful Cost-Effective Justice Forum including national experts on the subject. The program incorporated extra outreach measures to involve State Legislators.
Collaborated with the Anchorage Chief of Police, the Municipal Prosecutor, members of the Alaska Court System and others to plan and open Alaska’s first 24/7 Sobriety Monitoring test site on July 23, 2011. The site helped maintain the sobriety of participants who would otherwise lose custody of their children, and provided a useful example of a method of protecting the public against DUI while reducing incarceration.
In 2013 Janet led a successful effort to obtain a funding for Partners Reentry Center and worked with others to greatly expand an existing collaborative effort to reduce recidivism through reentry assistance. National research showing that combining employment with other types of assistance is most effective in cutting recidivism. Thus, the program combines employment services with transitional housing, basic needs assistance, and case management, counseling and mentoring. Opened in August 2013, Partners Reentry Center was assisting 30 to 50 reentrants a day by January, 2014.
In 1999 McCabe initiated the formation of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association (KMTA CCA). The primary purpose was to establish a National Heritage Area (NHA) to give Congressional recognition to the outstanding and nationally significant scenic, historical and cultural values of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm region, and to provide funding for local efforts to preserve these resources. The federal law creating Alaska’s first NHA was enacted in 2009. As President of KMTA CCA, McCabe managed a federal grant to prepare the management plan for the new NHA and to assist with locally initiated projects. With the help of an excellent Program Manager and community leaders throughout the region, this work has resulted in completion of over 35 National Heritage Area projects, ranging from School District approved curricula and student field trips on NHA history and culture to historic preservation and museum development projects.
As a Board Member and Treasurer of the Association, she helped obtain and manage a grant that provided funding for historic preservation projects, museums, oral history collections and public pavilions in the seven communities of the mountainous region between Bird-Indian and Seward. A recent accomplishment is the publication of “Trails Across Time”, a book by Kaylene Johnson providing a vivid history of this scenic and historic region of Alaska.
Hope and Sunrise Historical Society – McCabe and other like-minded people initiated the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society to help preserve Alaska’s Gold Rush history. The organization has flourished, building a museum and working with others to restore an historic mining camp and schoolhouse on the museum campus in the village of Hope. In 2009 McCabe chaired a committee that obtained a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation and restored Hope’s original log cabin schoolhouse to its 1904 appearance, complete with Victorian wallpaper and the voice of the schoolteacher describing the school and reading his students a story from McGuffey’s Reader.
McCabe served as Chair of the “We Are Alaskans Committee” of Alaska Common Ground . Working with Esther Wunnicke and a group of people who wanted to combat racism in Alaska, Janet led an effort to use television media to celebrate the diversity of Alaskans. The “We Are Alaskans” Committee has coordinated with Al Bramstedt of Channel 2 to produce two award-winning television Public Service Announcements. The Committee’s plan is to expand this effort to create a series of PSAs celebrating cultural diversity in Alaska and highlighting the message that Alaskans of different races and ethnic backgrounds share a common human bond.
As a member of Commonwealth North, McCabe served on the Executive Committee for the Urban Rural Unity Study and helped write the report.
She also served on Board of Directors, Anchorage Festival of Music and represented the Festival on the Board of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts while the Festival was a Resident Company. In this capacity, she and Manju Bhargava organized the “World in Alaska” performances, a series of Sunday afternoon events that showcased the dance and music of a wide variety of cultural groups. These performances frequently included both children and adults and were designed to encourage more widespread use of the Performing Arts Center as well as to share the cultural arts of the community.
McCabe has also been involved in her neighborhood by serving as the President of the Downtown and South Addition Community Councils and the Harvard Club of Alaska. She also served on the Board of Directors of Alaska Common Ground for decades.
Ms. McCabe has been honored by many organizations for her contributions and accomplishments. Among the Honors she received are:
Recognized by the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Certified Planners as an APA Charter Member
Award of Distinction, Anchorage Federal Executive Association, 1988, for leading the development of Alaska Public Lands Information Centers
Certificate of Appreciation, Commonwealth North, 2000, Urban Rural Unity Study
Outstanding Service Award, Alaska Bar Association, 2002
Woman of Achievement, YWCA, 2005
Jay Rabinowitz Public Service Award by the Alaska Bar Association, 2014
Janet McCabe has been married to her greatest supporter, David McCabe since 1960. Together they have raised their daughter, Sarah and two sons, Mitchell and David. The McCabes are happy to be the grandparents of three wonderful children.
As her life in Alaska has reflected, Janet McCabe believes that women should get involved in their communities and practice giving back.
Jo (Hayenga) Michalski
Achievements in: Entrepreneurship, Business, Philanthropy and Education
Jo Michalski is recognized as one of the most successful business women in Alaska and a highly respected philanthropist. She is also very well known for her years of community involvement and leadership roles in numerous organizations throughout the state.
Many folks, however, are not aware of Michalski’s professional career in education. She and her husband came first to Juneau in 1971 where she started her Alaska career as an education curriculum consultant for the State of Alaska. Later, the family moved to Fairbanks where she continued her work in education and received a masters’ degree in Secondary School Administration.
After the family moved from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Michalski and her sister, Jana Hayenga, opened the first of many stores in the Anchorage area including Country Classics, Classic Toys, Once Upon a Time, Alaska Bookfair Company and Flypaper. She was also the sole proprietor for two women’s clothing stores, Classic Woman and Portfolio, both of which she sold in 2012.
As a business owner, Michalski focused on hiring and promoting women in the workplace. She is a valued contributor to women’s conferences, focusing on women’s issues in the workplace.
In recognition of her many talents and contributions to a wide variety of organizations, Michalski has received numerous awards and tributes both at state and national levels from a wide variety of organizations including the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the YWCA Alaska, the Alaska State Legislature, the Alaska Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cook Inlet Soroptimists and the University of Alaska, where she served as chair of the UA Foundation from 2012 to 2014. In 2015 Michalski was inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame.
Retirement has not slowed her down at all – in fact, she continues to serve many local organizations through her personal involvement and by contributing her expertise and countless hours towards fundraising activities.
Successful entrepreneur and businesswoman, philanthropist and educator
Jo Michalski is recognized as one of the most successful business women in Alaska and is a highly-respected philanthropist and fundraiser. She is also very well known for her years of community involvement and leadership capabilities.
Michalski was born in Wisconsin and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. From a very young age, it was apparent to those around her that she had the leadership tendencies needed to be a success at whatever she tackled. Elected the first girl to be president of her high school’s student council, it wasn’t long before these leadership qualities set the pattern for her life and contributed to her and her sister, Jane Hayenga, being inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Political Science, she taught ninth grade Social Studies for the Minneapolis School District. It was during this time that she met her husband, Peter, on a blind date, and as they say “the rest is history”. Peter was attending the University Of Minnesota’s law school and they were married in 1969.
Unknown to them at this time, Alaska was on the verge of becoming a major player in the energy world with the advent of Prudhoe Bay and the Trans Alaska Pipeline. John Havelock, then Attorney General for the State of Alaska, didn’t have enough attorneys on staff to handle all the additional work this new industry imposed upon the State, and he sent his team to the law schools in the rest of the country to find good people to recruit to come to Alaska to work on Alaskan issues.
The Michalskis were intrigued with the offer to come to Alaska and so something so different – it would be a grand adventure for them. In 1971 Peter signed a two-year contract to work for the Department of Law in Juneau and that was all it took – by the end of their contract, they were “hooked” and committed to building a good life for themselves in Alaska.
While in Juneau, Michalski learned about a vacancy in the Alaska Department of Education to help develop a statewide curriculum for environmental education in Alaska through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Since she had worked on curriculum development issues while teaching in Minneapolis, this opportunity fit both her and the State very well. For three years, she traveled all over Alaska, conducting environmental education workshops for the schools.
At the end of their two-year contract, they decided to move to Fairbanks where Peter continued his work in the Fairbanks District Attorney’s office. Michalski took her Department of Education job with her to Fairbanks, frequently traveling between Fairbanks and Juneau while at the same time working on her Masters’ Degree in Secondary School Administration at the University of Alaska (she received her degree in 1976). Her plan at that time was to prepare herself for a job as a High School Principal.
While working for the Department of Education, Michalski was responsible for organizing the first Governor’s Conference on Environmental Education in Alaska under Governor Egan. Several years later she helped organize the second conference under Governor Hammond.
Their first son was born in Fairbanks and shortly after that, the family moved to Anchorage and Peter continued working with the Department of Law. Their second son was born in Anchorage. Michalski’s plan was still to pursue a career in Anchorage with the school district as a principal, but that goal never came to fruition. Instead, she found that she really enjoyed being a businesswoman and this set the course for the next thirty-two years of her life.
Michalski’s younger sister, Jana Hayenga, moved to Anchorage from Minnesota in 1979. Their maternal grandmother had recently died and left them each some unfinished quilt tops. They were unable to find the supplies they needed to finish the quilts in Anchorage, so – on a whim – they decided to open their own quilting store. At that time, quilting supplies had to be ordered from the Lower 48 and they thought there was room in the market for their business. They opened the first quilt shop in Alaska.
They knew that many folks in Anchorage enjoyed quilting and it seemed like this would be a good business idea. After numerous attempts to get bank loans – all unsuccessful – they determined to go forward with their plan anyway and with help from their family, their first business venture got underway and they launched Country Classics. And – it was a success!
Starting a business was a big change from the craft fairs the two sisters had been doing, plus teaching school and raising a family. However, it was a start and they provided a comfortable local spot where quilters and others could come for supplies and advice. It was a hit and it filled a need and this has been the guiding principle for all the retails stores they opened and operated since.
It was during the start-up of this first business that Michalski discovered not only did she like being a retailer, but more importantly, she liked making money! She firmly believed that a business could only be successful if it was making money and making a profit – and she was right.
Making a profit enabled Michalski to stock excellent goods in her retail stores, to pay her employees a fair and decent wage and to give back to the community. Michalski says “if you are in business to make money, to make a profit, then you are going to line everything else up correctly. You are going to buy the right inventory, you will hire the right employees and train them correctly. You are a better retailer because this is your guiding principle”.
In addition to Country Classics, Michalski and her sister owned four other stores together: Alaska Book Fair Company from 1988 to 1996; Classic Toys from 1985 to 1998; Flypaper from 1996 to 1999 and Once Upon A Time from 1988 to 1996. Michalski also separately owned two fashionable boutiques – Classic Woman clothing, which she opened in 1990 and Portfolio clothing, which she opened in 2000. She sold both of these stores in 2012.
In balancing her life between family and career, Michalski said the secret was in running a successful business so that she could hire good staff who would free up her time to spend as needed with her family. Both of her sons helped and worked in her businesses as they were growing up, and even though they followed their father’s footsteps in becoming lawyers, both have expressed an interest in opening a retail business.
Asked about her relationship with her sister during all these ventures, Michalski said it was simple:
“My sister and I got along very well because we totally trusted each other to handle the various responsibilities we had”. She said she could not imagine having anyone else as a business partner. When they first started their joint businesses, they would meet every day to go over their daily schedules and jobs. She also credits the Calais Company with part of their success – she said they were incredible landlords who helped them immensely.
Michalski said she loved being in business and being around people and the challenges this provided. She never was hesitant about wanting to go into work and said she loved challenging herself to do better and be better at what she was doing. In the retail industry, “it is easy to challenge oneself and to measure your success – all you have to do is look at your bottom line to make sure you are exceeding your last financial statement!” She also said that if it wasn’t fun, she wouldn’t do it.
In her businesses, Michalski credited great staff with her success. In her thirty-two years of retails business she never once advertised for employees. They would come to her. She provided a fair and equitable wage and was one of the forerunners in the Alaska retail world to offer her staff with flexible hours for working. She claims that retired teachers and nurses made very good staff because they had the innate ability to multi-task – something that is crucial in a retail environment.
Although she never felt as if she was challenged with a “glass ceiling”, she did recall her early attempts at getting bank loans as one of the real challenges she had in starting her retail career. It was probably these naysayers that can be credited with challenging her to pursue her dreams in spite of their inability to understand what she was attempting to do.
Asked to discuss a highlight of her career, Michalski said “Being inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame. Very few women and fewer retailers ever get this acknowledgement and my sister and I were honored to receive this recognition.”
Michalski’s mother was a prominent political figure in Minnesota; she was the first woman to run for statewide office and she worked for the Minnesota House of Representatives for more than twenty years. She ran Senator Hubert Humphry’s congressional office and worked on both his senatorial and presidential campaigns. With this family background in politics and politics being such a personal thing in Alaska, I asked Michalski if she ever toyed with the idea of running for public office, she replied that “although she had been asked to run for public office, it was never the right place or the right time”. She further said she got too busy being in business to run for public office.
Volunteerism and fundraising for organizations to which she belongs has always been part of Michalski’s life. She said from her very early years she was tagged as a leader and these activities have always been a part of whom she is.
Michalski has held leadership positions with various non-profit organizations including the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Alaska Public Media, Camp Fire Alaska, the Anchorage YWCA, the Bunnell Arts Center in Homer, Alaska Junior Theater, the League of Women Voters and the Alaska Community Foundation. She recently finished ten years as a trustee on the University of Alaska Foundation Board and served two years as board chair. She says that “volunteer work in Alaska is sort of a curious animal. Once you become involved and active, you are asked to do other things. If people find out you are willing to sit on a board, they want you to sit on their board also. Once you get started, it just takes on a life of its own.”
Since retiring, she is spending more of her time with development and fundraising activities for the various organizations she is a part of. “I find development fundraising to be the most interesting. It is the most significant job that board members are asked to do – to raise money for the organization and to watch over how the money is spent. I’ve always enjoyed the fundraising element of volunteer work and that is something not everyone is comfortable with. A lot of people go onto boards and dread that part of it” she says.
Michalski has a real gift for fundraising for the organizations in which she is involved. She shared her philosophy – “I don’t mind asking people for donations. I don’t mind when others ask me for a donation. I’m old enough that I can say ‘yes’ and determine at what level I am willing to give, or I can say ‘no’, but good luck in your fundraising. Other people that I might ask for donations from have the same ability to make a yes or no choice. The key to fundraising is to never take it personally. There are hundreds of wonderful, deserving organizations in our state. All of them need to raise money for their case, but everyone cannot support everything.”
Michalski is a very generous person. She financially and personally supports many organizations throughout Alaska. “We give back to the community,” Michalski says. “If you are a business person and you live in this community and it is where you make your money, it is imperative that you give back to the community.”
Since both Michalski and her husband are now retired, they are looking forward to traveling and seeing places around the world they had only seen before in pictures. “I want to go and see places that I never thought I would ever be able to see”, she says.
1997 Athena Award presented by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
1998 Outstanding Small Business in Philanthropy Award – given by the Association of
Fundraising Professionals (awarded to Jo and her sister Jana Hayenga)
1998 Woman Entrepreneur Award given by YWCA of the United States
1999 Gold Pan Award for Outstanding Community Service presented by the Anchorage
Chamber of Commerce
2001 Women in History Month Citation, Alaska State Legislature as an “Outstanding Businesswoman
2002 YWCA Women of Achievement Award
2006 Philanthropists of the Year Award presented by the Association of Fundraising
Professionals (award to Jo and Peter Michalski)
2011 Alumni Achievement Award for Business and Professional Excellence presented by the
University of Alaska Fairbanks Alumni Association
2015 Inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame presented by Junior Achievement of Alaska,
Biographical information written and compiled by Gail Philips, January 2016
1. 2016 Nomination form submitted by nominator Sharon Richards
2. Telephone conversation and review with Sharon Richards, January 2016
3. Alaska Business Monthly – “Longtime Alaskans Inducted to the Business Hall of Fame”,
4. Alaska Business Monthly – “Jana Hayenga and Jo Michalski”, January 2015
5. UAF Alumni Association – 2011 Alumni Achievement Awards, Fall Quarter, 2011
6. The Statewide Voice – “Q and A Conversation with Jo Michalski: Ravenclaw”, November 2012
7. Betty Hayenga Obituary – Janssen Funeral Home – Anchorage, Alaska March 2008
8. Personal Interview with Gail Phillips, January 2016
9. Personal emails with Gail Phillips, January 2016
Alice (Snigaroff) Petrivelli
Achievement in: Advocacy for the Aleut People
Alice Petrivelli will be remembered as a strong advocate for Aleut people. Her fundamental goal was “protecting the land and our culture.”
Born in Atka in 1929, Petrivelli lived a traditional lifestyle, learning from her father after she lost her mother when she was five years old. During WWII, her entire village was relocated to Killisnoo Island in southeastern Alaska and this Aleut relocation experience fueled her efforts to secure reparations from the United States for the relocation and internment of 881 Aleut people during the war. She attended Wrangell Institute and Mount Edgecombe boarding schools and graduated from Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kans., with an associate’s degree in Business Administration. After college, she met Frank Petrivelli, became an Army wife and raised six children.
The family returned to Alaska in 1969 and Petrivelli started working at the Aleut Corporation in 1972 as a receptionist. One of her duties was to enroll Aleuts in the newly created corporation formed as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Over the next 36 years, she learned the workings of the corporation, eventually becoming the first woman president and CEO from 1990 to 1996. She was also the longest-serving board member: 1976 until 2008.
As president/CEO Petrivelli directed the corporation toward stable investments and increased earnings; she helped to establish the shareholder permanent fund. Under her leadership, the Aleut Corporation was recognized by the Alaska Business Monthly in 1995 as one of Alaska’s Top 49 businesses. Petrivelli also was one of the founders of the Aleut Foundation, an organization at the heart of her mission to assist Aleuts with educational and cultural goals.
Petrivelli received numerous awards from the many organizations in which she served and shared her time and talent. She emphasized family, culture and education and inspired her two daughters, four sons and four grandchildren.
In 1929 Alice was born in Atka village to Cedor and Agnes (Zaochney) Snigaroff, where she lived a traditional Aleut life. Alice remembered the house always being full because her mother helped raise many other relatives in the village along with her three brothers and a sister. But that all changed when she was five years old and her mother died, soon after, her two younger brothers also died. Her family became her father, sister, and brother. She was then the youngest in the family and often describes herself as a “tomboy.”
Normally in the village, women and girls, men and boys carried out gender specific tasks in everyday life. Women had tasks like gathering grass to weave baskets, picking greens and berries, and sewing clothes. Men hunted for seals, sea lions, ducks, geese, reindeer, and trapped fox to earn cash. Fishing was usually carried out as a family activity. Of course, the lines were not always that rigid, because the whole family traveled to seasonal camps to carry out some of these activities and Alice was always fond of saying it never felt like work when she was involved in gathering activities since she was outside and she loved being out of the house. Because of her mother’s death, when her father left to trap foxes, she and her sister were left with other relatives, but sometimes, she was able to convince her father to let her come along on the trips to trap on island of Amchitka and at Old Harbor on the north end of Atka Island.
Then in 1942, when she was 12 years old, after Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japan, the United States military relocated Atka families to Killisnoo, an abandoned fish cannery near Angoon in Southeast Alaska, where she lived for two years. Aleuts from eight other villages were also evacuated to other locations in Southeast Alaska. The Atka people were only allowed to pack one suitcase, the night before they left they were told by the Navy to go to their fish camps. During the night they saw flames in the village. When they left the next morning, everyone thought that they whole village had burned, but three houses were left standing one of which was theirs. Those years were very difficult. Alice and the other Aleut people experienced limited food, substandard housing in unheated, abandoned buildings that lacked operating running water, sewer and lighting systems. There were no schools or health care. The transport ship dropped Atkan families at Killisnoo with the suitcase, four days worth of food, and a mattress for each person.
The whole family went to work in a nearby fish cannery, earning money to try to improve their living conditions, eventually getting a boat, guns, nets, and other equipment to fish and hunt for food and saving to buy materials to improve the building they lived in. During the three years Atkan families lived in Killisnoo, 17 of the 88 people died.
Alice stayed at Killisnoo for two years; she had the chance to leave and go to a boarding school in Wrangell and then transferred and graduated from Mt. Edgecombe High School, an Alaska Native Boarding school. Upon graduation from the second graduating class of the school, she returned to Atka for the first time after the war. The rest of the people had returned earlier to the charred remains, except the three homes, which had been stripped to just walls and foundation. They rebuilt the homes, church, school, and a store and tried to return to normal. She spent the summer there and then left to go to the Haskell Institute in Kansas where she received a scholarship and earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration. She returned to Alaska in 1952, and eventually she went to work in Bethel for the Indian Health Service.
There she met and married Frank Petrivelli, who was in the US Army and from Boston, Mass. They raised six children; so Alice devoted herself to family life. They moved around the country, transferred to various military posts, until Frank’s Army retirement in 1969, when they returned to Alaska. Alice and Frank remained married until his death in 1993. He supported her in her efforts to protect her land and Unangan culture and language.
When the family returned to Alaska, Alice started to attend Aleut League meetings and in 1972 found her way to a job as a receptionist for the new Aleut Corporation. Her first job was to review enrollment, which meant assembling the family histories of the people connected to the Aleut villages, so they could know who was eligible to become a shareholder. Thus, her life-long association with the corporation began.
After involvement in the corporate process for four years, she ran for election to the Board of Directors of the Corporation in 1976, with a goal “to protect the land and our culture.”
In 1977, she joined Lillie Hope McGarvey and other Aleut leaders to sue the Corporation management for sending misleading information in a proxy solicitation. In 1979, the lawsuit, McGarvey vs. the Aleut Corporation, was successful and resulted in overturning election results and a new election was held for the board members. [Source: http://www.aleutcorp.com/shareholders/who-we-are/tac=chairs-directors/%5D. For their leadership, Lillie and Alice received the AFN Citizens of the Year Award.
The next effort that Alice engaged in was to seek restitution from the US government for lands that Aleuts were not able to select on Attu after WWII and to secure assistance for the Aleuts relocated by the US government. In all, during WWII 880 Aleut people from nine villages were interned for years in drafty, abandoned fish canneries, in primitive conditions that resulted in the death of about ten percent of them. Those who returned home after the war found their houses and churches destroyed or ransacked, often by the U.S. troops who had lived in them.
The “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians” investigated the five Aleut camps in Southeast Alaska and condemned government “indifference” to “deplorable conditions” there. The official report stated, “The standard of care which the government owes to those within its care was clearly violated by this treatment, which brought great suffering and loss of life to the Aleuts.”
With vigorous support from The Aleut Corporation, in 1988 Congress authorized reparations to the Aleuts, issued a formal apology, and compensated evacuees for land, homes and churches lost because of relocation. Congress adopted the “World War II Reparations Bill” (H.R.422) into law. It provided for a trust fund to be set up to help Aleut survivors and their descendants. $1.4 million was earmarked for restoring churches in six villages as well as lost lands. Finally, the Aleut Corporation was awarded $15 million as compensation for Attu Island, which was occupied by the military after the war and remains closed to its former inhabitants to this day. Alice was the Chair or Vice Chair of the Board of Directors or the President/CEO from 1986 through 1995, so was a key figure in advocating on behalf of Aleut victims of relocation.
Another example of her leadership was one of her first acts as the President/CEO. She led the Board to affirm a contribution to the Aleutian Pribilof Island Associates to undertake production of a video tape history of the internment of Aleut people during World War II. It was later produced in a feature film underwritten by the corporation and other businesses in 2011.
As the President/CEO she led the corporation to stable financial investments and increased earnings, so the corporation established a shareholder permanent fund. Under her leadership the Aleut Corporation was recognized by the Alaska Business Monthly as one of Alaska’s Top 49 businesses in 1995. Increased profits allowed the corporation to make larger contribution for educational scholarships to the Aleut Foundation.
While living in Atka in the 80s, before she was hired as the President/CEO of the Aleut Corporations, Alice was employed as the President of her own village corporation, Atxam Corporation. She also taught Traditional Foods, History, and did Storytelling at the Urban Unangax^ Culture Camp. There she shared traditional family recipes and recipes she learned from watching others as she was growing up. She also passed on traditional values of her people to the students. As a fluent speaker of Unangam Tunuu, she naturally incorporated language into all of her activities.
Alice’s goal was always to help Aleuts recall their Unangan traditions and to also succeed in today’s world. She helped create the Aleut Foundation, nurturing its mission to assist Aleuts achieve educational and cultural goals.
In a video interview in 2001, when asked by Sharon McConnell on the 30th Anniversary of ANCSA, “What do you think the next 30 years are going to hold for ANCSA and the Native people of Alaska?” Alice said,
“I think it will go on for a long, long time because number one, our young people are getting educated. Me, I live in two worlds. During the day when you’re working you live in the Western world, and then you go home and live your own Aleut lifestyle. When I’m home I speak Aleut. Today the young people are more used to the Western culture than they are their Native cultures. They’re educated and sophisticated. They’re learning to negotiate, and they’re learning the aspects of how to do business. That knowledge could still be around for a long, long time.”
She served as a Board member for 30 years and as President/CEO for 6 years. Her life-long goal was always “protecting the land and our culture.”
She also served as the President of the Aleut Foundation and on many other Boards and Commissions, including: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Alaska Native Heritage Center Academy Board, and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Cultural Heritage Advisory Board and was a Commissioner of the Alaska Native Science Commission.
Alice devoted much time to teaching young people about her language, values and culture. But she spent more time mentoring the young Native women who were following her path to the Board of Directors or the management of the Aleut businesses and nonprofit organizations. She also raised and inspired three daughters, four sons and five grandchildren to be involved in their communities.
Alice received the AFN Citizen of the Year Award in 1990 for her continued and effective leadership in her region and her service with the AFN Board of Directors. She has been honored by the Aleut Corporation, the Aleut Foundation, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and by the Elder’s and Youth Conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives. She was a respected Elder in Alaska and passed in 2015.
- ADN for obituary 9.12.15, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/adn/obituary.aspx?n=alice-petrivelli&pid=175808801#sthash.WE4wqYkd.dpuf
- Lite Site Alaska. ANCSA at 30 2001/2 University of Alaska Anchorage
Teri May (Laws) Rofkar
Achievement in: Tlingit culture and traditional weaving
Teri Rofkar, a Raven from the Snail House, was a renowned Tlingit artist, a weaver know nationally and internationally for her spruce tree root baskets and Ravenstail robes. She explored and mastered the gathering and Ravenstail weaving technique of twining used in the 6,000 year-old Tlingit traditional culture. Then, throughout her thirty-year career as an artist Rofkar generously shared this traditional knowledge by leading workshops, teaching and giving demonstrations and, of course, through the examples of the baskets and Ravenstail robes she created.
Born in California, she moved to Anchorage as a young child, graduated from Dimond High School in 1974, was married in October 1974 and arrived in Sitka, Alaska, in 1976. She grew up in a household where both parents were artists. In the summers Rofkar visited her maternal grandmother in the village of Pelican, Alaska who introduced her to traditional Tlingit weaving and gathering techniques at an early age.
Her Ravenstail robes and spruce root baskets are in the collections of museums throughout the country. She received many distinguished awards for her art, such as the NEA Heritage Fellowship Award for Traditional Arts in 2009 (the nation’s highest award for traditional folk arts and crafts), the Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist Award in 2013 and an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Alaska Southeast in 2015.
The more Rofkar practiced her art utilizing the traditional techniques, the more she gained insight into Tlingit culture and its connections between the present and the past, the culture and the natural world, science and math. As an individual, she cared deeply about how to live, and create, responsibly in today’s world.
Teri Rofkar, a Raven from the Snail House, was a renowned Tlingit artist, a weaver known nationally and internationally for her spruce tree root baskets and Ravenstail robes.
At an early age, she was introduced to traditional Tlingit weaving techniques by her maternal Tlingit grandmother, Eliza Monk, whom she visited in the summers in the village of Pelican in Southeast Alaska. Both her parents, Bud and Marie, were artists who experimented with multiple art forms. While Rofkar did not begin her professional thirty-year career as an artist until 1986, she credits her grandmother’s early teachings as inspiring her interest in the traditional gathering and weaving techniques.
From careful examination of traditional baskets, discussions with elders and experimentation with the Ravenstail techniques of twining, Rofkar was able to learn the 6,000 year-old traditional Tlingit methods of gathering and weaving natural materials. She created both waterproof baskets from spruce tree roots and dancing Ravenstail robes. Since both were created through the same twining technique Rofkar sometimes referred to her robes as “dancing baskets”.
To use these traditional methods requires an artist to have an enormous capacity for work, a great deal of time, and a tenacious dedication. Rofkar estimated that each hour of digging spruce roots resulted in 8 to10 hours to prepare the roots for use. Weaving a small basket could take 40 to 210 hours, or 80 to 2300 hours for a large basket. To create a Ravenstail robe first required 6 months of spinning and then 800 to 1400 hours to twine the robe on a frame.
Once Rofkar learned and mastered the 6,000 year-old gathering and weaving techniques, she realized she needed to re-introduce this ancient knowledge to others. She did not considered herself a teacher, but believed that spreading her understanding of traditional Tlingit cultural practices was a necessary and obvious obligation. She acknowledged her role as a culture bearer by commenting: “I get to carry the culture for a little while, and then I’ll hand it off.”
While Rofkar did not have the same passion for teaching as she did for basketry, she taught the ancient gathering and weaving method widely and in a variety of ways. She led school children on field trips into the woods and taught them how spruce roots could be gathered from the same trees, year after year, without damage, so they would continue to be a renewable resource. For many years she conducted workshops for professional artists throughout the country, as well as leading spruce root harvesting classes in Cordova, Sitka and Yakutat.
Rofkar was recognized and honored by her peers by being chosen to deliver keynote addresses, lectures and master classes around the country from California to Minnesota to the East Coast. For a number of years she was an artist in residence at the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center in Sitka, the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She taught Ravenstail weaving classes at the University of Alaska Southeast and conducted apprenticeship programs. In addition to teaching the traditional cultural techniques to others, she worked with the National Museum of the American Indian to develop a protocol for the care and conservation of Tlingit baskets that was shared with other museums.
In 2013 she worked with an educational consultant to create an indigenous science curriculum based on the processes of gathering, planning a design and weaving a robe. For a number of years, Rofkar was an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that houses the country’s largest collection of Northwest baskets. Her work involved examining and identifying which spruce root baskets had been made in the 6,000-year-old traditional Tlingit way and exploring the connection between science and art in the basketry. Rofkar documented this work in a book she wrote which, at the time of her death, was in the final stages of editing and review. She perhaps best summarized her roles as artist and teacher when she stated: “I’m hoping that the pieces that I create are the teachers. They’ll be looking at them, you know, 200 years from now. ‘Ah, this is what they were doing’ “.
As an artist, Rofkar was not afraid to experiment or incorporate contemporary design or new materials with traditional methods and techniques. She wove cedar bark and pine needles into her baskets, incorporated tiny maidenhair ferns for decoration, and experimented with adding copper, silk, and glass beads. She honored the utilitarian roots of her baskets by filling each one, at least once, with berries.
In order to weave an all-mountain goat wool Ravenstail robe, the first in 200 years, she had to learn from local “oldtimers” how, where and when mountain goat undercoat could be gathered. Then, after learning how to spin the hair into wool, she wove a robe utilizing the traditional Ravenstail twining method. In the side panels she incorporated the very modern design of the double helix of the Baranof Island mountain goat’s unique DNA.
In recent years, Rofkar was working on what she called her Superman series of regalia that included the mountain goat robe and two others. One proposal was to use Kevlar material for a bulletproof Ravenstail robe, but trying to procure such material proved difficult. Her third idea was to create a robe of illumination that could shine like the northern lights when triggered by audio signal by weaving luminescence and nanotechnology into the fabric. She did succeed in creating a prototype of this robe using fiber optic wire.
Rofkar’s seventeen Ravenstail robes and numerous spruce root baskets are exhibited at museums and other facilities throughout the country. These locations include: the Denver Art Museum, Chicago Field Museum, Natural History Museum in New Your City, Portland Art Museum, Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (depicts Good Friday Quake in Ravenstail robe design), University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of British Columbia Museum, Fairbanks Court House, UAF Museum of the North, Doyon Corporation, Visitors’ Center, US Forest Service in Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska High School.
On the occasion of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Southeast in 2015, Rofkar worked with the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka to bring her robes back to Sitka from collections around the country. She commented at the time that: “This will be the first occasion in historic time that this many of this type of robe will be dancing”. At the May 1, 2015 ceremony, dancers wore her robes and danced during the commencement celebration. The University’s invitation to the ceremony included the following:”Teri’s robes are a repository of her research, math, and science not separate from, but including, spiritual, functional, and historic ancient culture. These artifacts and Teri’s continued work are a porthole into indigenous methodology that keeps all of these disciplines living and dancing into the future. Please join us as witness to this once in a lifetime gathering of traditions…”
Throughout Rofkar’s thirty-year career as a professional artist she received a number of significant awards and honors, including the following:
2001-2010: Artist in Residence, Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, Sitka;
2002: Commissioned to weave a basket for “2002 Governor’s Art Awards”;
2003: Native Arts “Smithsonian Visiting Scholar” at the National Museum of the
2003: Artist in Residence, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA;
2004: Governor’s Award for Native Arts in Alaska;
2004: Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership (Ecotrust);
2005: First place, Twined Miniatures, TOCA National Basketweaver’s Conference;
2005: Solo Exhibit, Anchorage Museum of Art and History;
2005: Alaska Native Art Festival, National Museum of the American Indian and
Natural History Museum,Washington, D.C.
2006: United States Artists Fellowship (inaugural class);
2006: Selected to demonstrate traditional art of Tlingit basket weaving,
Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, 6/30/06-7/4/2006;
2008: National Native Master Artist Initiative grant;
2009: NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award (the nation’s highest award for
traditional folk arts and crafts; awardees known as “Living Cultural Treasures”);
2009: Artist Fellowship Awards, Rasmuson Foundation;
2012-2014: Received support from Creative Capital for her Superman series;
2013: Distinguished Artist Award, Rasmuson Foundation, “recognized as an artist with stature and a history of creative excellence”;
2013: Artist Fellowship for Traditional Arts, Native Arts & Cultures Foundation award;
2013: Selected to deliver keynote address, Art Alliance Communities Conference,
San Jose, CA.;
2014: All mountain-goat wool Ravenstail robe awarded first place, Sealaska
Heritage Institute Juried Art Show;
2015: Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus;
2015-2020: Rofkar’s work included in ”Native America Voices: The People-Here
and Now” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology
and Anthropology. She also served as a content advisor for the exhibit.
According to her sister, Rofkar was always a planner, thinking ahead to the next steps to take. She was a meticulous note taker, resulting in precise journals recording her research. She was practical and pragmatic and knew when it was time to create items for commercial gain and when she could create art. When she realized that operating the gallery in which she had partial ownership took too much time from her work as an artist, she sold her share. She was not afraid to try and fail; simply noting that something had not worked out. An “aha” moment, which changed her life, came about in 1996 when she stepped on a fragment of a spruce root basket that had been buried in the mud and preserved. The fragment was subsequently dated as being about 5,000 years old. Rofkar realized that the fragment was woven in exactly the way her grandmother had taught her when she was ten years old.
Her sister has made the point that Rofkar was more than just her art. Diane Kaplan, President and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation, which gave a number of awards to Rofkar, stated: “Not only is she an artist of amazing talent and stature, she is also the most delightful, generous and patient person you probably will every meet.” She cared deeply about how best to live and create art, responsibly, in the environment, from eating locally to gathering spruce roots in the same manner and from the same trees as her ancestors had. The more Rofkar worked as an artist utilizing these traditional gathering and weaving techniques, the more she gained insight into ancient Tlingit culture. She explored her culture at great length and the more she learned, the deeper her appreciation.
Rofkar’s artist statement summarizes the connections she made between the present and her cultural past; contemporary and ancient culture, nature and art, and her role as a culture-bearer. “I am following the steps of my Ancestors, striving to recapture the woven arts of an indigenous people. The ancient ways of gathering spruce root, with respect for the trees’ life and spirit, are a rich lesson in today’s world. Traditional methods of gathering and weaving natural materials help me to link past, present, and future. Decades of weaving have opened my eyes to the pure science that is embedded in Tlingit Art. The arts and our oral history together bring knowledge of ten thousand years of research to life. My goal is to continue the research, broadening awareness for the generations to come.”
Teri Rofkar was a Tlingit, daughter of Raven from the Snail House (T’akdeintaan), a clan originating in Lituya Bay. She was a member of the Sitka Tribes of Alaska and a shareholder in the Sealaska Native Corporation. Born in California, she lived in Anchorage, Alaska, throughout her school years, graduating from Dimond High School in 1974 and was married in October 1974. She credited her grandmother, the encouragement and help from various elders, and college courses in her art form for her further education. She and her husband Dennis settled in Sitka in 1976 and raised three children.
Conversations with Dennis Rofkar and Shelly Laws (Teri Rofkar’s husband and sister, respectively) and Diane Kaplan, President and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation
Teri Rofkar’s website http://terirofkar.com
Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 5, 2016, Article by Michelle Theriault Boots
Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 24, 2016, Article by Mike Dunham quoting from 2009 interview with Teri Rofkar
Diane Kaplan quotation from article in “First Alaskans Magazine”, Aug./Sept. 2013, p.58
Anchorage Museum Artist File
Shirley Mae (Springer) Staten
Achievement in: Human and Civil Rights through Arts and Culture
A performer, educator and “cultural activist,” Staten brings change through dialogue and the arts. She has been a keynote speaker, inspirational workshop facilitator and is a well- known performing artist with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Development and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology.
Staten stimulates dialogue across race and gender with cultural activities. She has served as coordinator for cultural events at the 1996 United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing, China. She functions as a cultural ambassador, bringing her music and message of community to many countries.
Music has been a large part of Staten’s life, beginning in the Georgia cotton fields with her grandmother when she was a child. She has performed across the world, including China, Cuba, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, India, Russia, France, Uruguay, Argentina and across the United States.
Staten has contributed to many programs such as New Initiatives: The Anchorage Cultural Summit, in September 2016, a Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Lullaby Project to change the lives of imprisoned mothers and their children, and Camp Kaleidoscope, a creative cross-cultural experience for eight to 14 year-olds. With The Alaska Humanities Forum’s Educators Cross-Cultural Immersion Program, she prepared 400 professors and teachers to go to rural Alaska to gain an understanding of the cultures of Alaska Native students. She created “Home Base” in Fairview to teach science, math and technology in a safe after-school environment and to expose children to things “outside their usual world.”
Julia O’Malley described Staten in 2011:“She’s one of those people who seem to look exactly the same when you’re grown up as when you were in third grade . . . part no-nonsense mother figure, part inspirational speaker, with close-cropped hair, a penchant for dangling, jewel-tone earrings and a vibrato singing voice I can still hear in my head.”
Achievement in: Human & Civil Rights through Arts & Culture
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. http://www.adn.com/article/20110505/fairview-miss-shirley-opens-childrens-eyes.
Nancy (Elliott) Sydnam, M.D.
Achievement in: Medicine, Flying, Dog Training, Writing, Poetry, Music and Woodworking
“Nancy Sydnam is a true Renaissance woman – an outstanding medical doctor for more than 50 years, private pilot, hunter, fisher, dog trainer, writer, poet, musician and mentor to many, especially young, women,” Gretchen T. Bersch, former patient and longtime friend said.
Growing up on a family farm, Sydnam knew of few women heroes. From an early age, she wanted to fly like Amelia Earhart and she was heartbroken at eight when Earhart died. Sydnam confirmed her love of flying at 15 when she received a free flying lesson by buying war bonds. She received her license in 1958 after she married, then went on to become a doctor and move to Alaska.
Sydnam began practicing medicine in Anchorage in 1955. Her love affair with the Alaska Bush began in 1961 when she joined Dr. Milo Fritz in providing medical services to Yukon River villages.
After 22 years, Sydnam and her husband divorced and she and her children volunteered for three months in a Kenya Quaker hospital. She learned to play the cello in her 50s, taking it with her to the Aleutians and playing it for the people there. She also performed with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra. She trained Labrador dogs, winning field-trial competitions. In her later years she has taken up woodworking, creating many high quality pieces of furniture. All along the way she has written poetry.
At a 1988 reading of her book, “Sideways Rain,” Sydnam stated she had become disenchanted with the role of insurance companies in dictating medical conditions, what drugs would be covered and how long a patient could stay in the hospital. At that point, she became an itinerant doctor in the Aleutians until 2010, spending weeks at a time in the Aleutian communities.
Sydnam’s philosophy, “Life is what you make it. Be a participant, not an observer!”
Achievement in: Medicine, Flying, Dog Training, Writing, Poetry, Music and 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
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, http://providencearchives.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15352coll9/id/675
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
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: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/memoir/id727309266?mt=10
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