Dixie (Johnson) Belcher
Achievement In: Activism for Social and Political Change
Dixie Belcher has been and continues to be a tireless and conscientious visionary for achieving political and social change through music, which brings people together in unique ways.
Belcher’s childhood included connections with the Salvation Army, and her nominator says she’s been “banging the drum” for issues that move her ever since! Belcher organized Juneau’s St. Paul Singers, a 36-member folk rock group that performed in the 1970s throughout Alaska and Canada. Her later musical enterprises included Performing Artists for Peace, bringing together Siberia and Alaska families that had been separated during the Cold War by the Bering Straits boundary between Russia and the U.S. She founded “CAMAI” in 1987 to open that border and lectured extensively throughout the U.S., including lobbying in Washington D.C. and Moscow. Her success meant reunions for indigenous families on both sides who hadn’t seen each other in forty years.
As a former Girl Scout leader and outdoor enthusiast, Belcher formed the Alaska Wilderness Experience in 1979 for teens to learn environmental awareness with a focus on indigenous Native culture. Over her lifetime, she founded or co-founded several public service organizations, including Juneau Hospice, homes for troubled teens, prison inmate programs, and a halfway house for re-integration from prison.
Belcher’s activism continues today, using music and environmental awareness through Turning the Tide, a non-profit group focused on education about the effects of pollution, acidification and warming on the world’s oceans. She is active in Ocean Beat, a program that brings youth in different countries together via the internet to sing together with a goal of raising awareness and inspiring action.
Belcher is an international speaker and a published author and is the recipient of several honors from the Alaska State Legislature as well as the recipient of the Soviet Peace Award.
Belcher has been and continues to be a tireless and conscientious visionary for achieving political and social change through music. She has also developed unique ways to bring people together to change the world.
Dixie Johnson was born and raised in Juneau. During her youth, she developed her love for the outdoors and honed her leadership skills as a Girl Scout. She expanded her love of music by playing the piano, organ and trumpet. She graduated from Northwestern University with a major in sociology and a minor in music and then returned to her home community of Juneau. There she married Fred Belcher and worked as a probation officer for the Alaska State Dept. of Corrections until her first daughter, Jaylene, was born. She and Fred agreed it was important for Dixie to stay home to raise Jaylene and their second daughter, Janet.
When Fred Belcher died in a 1971 helicopter crash while on a state photo assignment, Belcher became a single mother and realized that if she was careful with her finances, she could stay home with her children and do community project, such as directing and arranging music groups or pursuing prison projects after she discovered that children as young as twelve were being incarcerated in an adult prison. From these early beginnings, Belcher focused her life toward community activism and matters of social and political change.
Belcher has had a variety of interests and experiences. She formed and was the music director of the St. Paul Singers of Juneau from 1970-1980. They sang folk music throughout Alaska and Canada and also garnered an invitation from the President of Romania to perform in that country. Belcher was also interested in nutrition so in 1979, she applied for and secured a $20,000 state grant entitled, “Alaska Holistic Health Association” for educating local and state populations about the benefits of alternative health principles. That same year she worked on creating a wilderness experience to give Alaska teens an immersion opportunity to learn outdoor survival skills in Southeast Alaska with advice and assistance from Paul Petzold, the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
In 1983, she organized 40 Goodwill Ambassadors who sang their way from Juneau to Anchorage and Fairbanks with a simple mission: to foster state unity and to convince residents that Juneau should remain the state’s capital. Alaska Committee chairman Jim Clark said their efforts had a definite effect on the positive outcome of that year’s vote for keeping the capital in Juneau.
Later Belcher organized another group, Performing Artists for Peace, to reunite Siberian and Alaska Yup’ik relatives across the Bering Sea. They had been separated for 40 years. Performers included the Tanqik Theatre from Chevak, the Juneau Folksingers and Dancers, the Nunamta Dancers from Bethel, the Savoonga Comedy Players and five black gospel singers from Anchorage. The 67 performers spent more than a year studying Russian music, culture, history and language in preparation for a month long tour that took them across 11 time zones and 7,800 miles from Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East to Leningrad in the West. When the performers left Alaska in October 1986, they were accompanied by press and film crews, eight Eskimo elders and former Governor Jay Hammond and his wife, Bella, who is part Yup’ik. Thousands of Soviets came to see the Alaskans, and once again, music and dance successfully bridged geographic, linguistic, cultural, political and ideological barriers. The Alaskans returned home determined to work to open the border.
Performing Artists for Peace evolved into CAMAI, the Yup’ik word for “Hello,” in 1987 and Belcher lectured and lobbied in Washington D.C. and Moscow to open the border. In the summer of 1988, the Bering Strait opened with Alaska Airline’s Friendship Flight to Providenia and the sailboat voyage of Alaska Eskimos to Novo Chaplino. CAMAI lobbied extensively in Moscow for both ventures, and Eskimo families on both sides celebrated first reunions. The effort spawned numerous exchanges and joint ventures in athletics, music and the arts.
Next Belcher organized other concerts in Alaska and the lower 48 aimed at fostering understanding among Christian, Muslim and Jewish people through the use of music. Her activism continues to this day, most notably with Turning the Tides, an educational initiative to focus attention on the effects of pollution, acidification, temperature warming and plastics on the world’s oceans.
She also travels internationally to promote the program OceanBeat where young people connect around the world via the internet, using music as an international language, to share ideas across political, cultural and religious borders to discover commonalities with one another other to work toward common environmental goals. She is in the process of linking students interested in working for change with schools in Myanmar, India, Gaza, Peru, Ecuador, Ghana and Kenya. The experimental program is combining three schools at a time to brainstorm environmental and/or peace projects, learn upbeat songs and sing together via the internet. OceanBeat is also connecting Alaskan students with North Indian Tibetan refugees and tribal young people in the Brazilian jungle. On a weekly basis youth exchange recordings of music and dance and then they meet monthly on the internet to sing together and to talk about environmental awareness. The ultimate goal is an international internet concert featuring young people singing together to raise awareness and inspire action. It is a culmination incorporating what she has learned about the environment and how music can inspire change. In her travels she has been adopted by four Native tribes, two in Alaska and two in the South Pacific.
Over her life time Belcher is well-known in Juneau for making a difference in the local community through projects she designed to help prison inmates as well as young people. She also facilitated bringing Buckminster Fuller to Juneau to address the issues of affordable housing. Belcher has served on the World Affairs Council board and on the Empty Chair Project board, which built a memorial to honor Juneau’s Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. It is the first memorial of its kind in Alaska.
The Alaska State Legislature has recognized Belcher twice for the difference she’s made in shaping events in the state. In 1988, members of the Fifteenth Alaska Legislature recognized her receipt of the Bahai’s Kempton Award for Service to Humanity. It is given to an individual “who displays outstanding and selfless service to humanity and whose efforts reflect contributions to peace and equality.” In 2006, members of the Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature honored Dixie for her “belief in music to dissolve barriers, sideline anger, and help people to envision and build a better life.”
Belcher also has an international presence. She was an invited speaker to the Global Forum on Saving the Environment in 1988, a conference addressed by Mikail Gorbachov and sponsored by the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s governing body, and the Soviet Academy of Scientists. Following that conference, she attended the Citizen’s Summit on the Environment where she and Gennady Gerasimov were presented the Soviet Peace Award for their accomplishments in opening the Bering Strait to travel and commerce between the Soviet Union and the United States. She was invited to speak at the 2012 International Environmental Conference in Lima, Peru where she is on the board of that country’s Organization for the Research and Conservation of Marine Mammals. She authored an article being published now in the next issue of India’s International Journal for Transformation of Consciousness.
Through her leadership, Belcher has served as an example of social and political activism locally, nationally and internationally to effect positive change. With her deep convictions and willingness to devote her life to bringing about such change, Belcher has inspired many and is still working to make the world a better place.
1988 Fifteenth Alaska Legislature Citation honoring Dixie Belcher recognizes Bahai’s Honor Kempton Award for Service to Humanity.
2006 Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature Citation Honoring Dixie Belcher, Exec. May 4.
Gehman, G. (1994). Peace broker Dixie Belcher puts faith and people’s money in ‘Hope.’ The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, November 13.
Mauer, R. (1989). Soviet rock-and-roll bridges the Bering Strait. The Anchorage Journal, Special to The New York Times, February 27.
Turn of the Tide, theme song for Turning The Tides, uploaded August 12, 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9bapkrCPXg
Mary Kathryn (Kay) Brown
Achievement in: Public Policy and Politics
Mary Kathryn (Kay) Brown has championed progressive ideals throughout a 40-year career spanning service in state government, the non-profit sector, and the media. Brown has served as a state legislator, Director of the State of Alaska’s Divisions of Oil and Gas, and Executive Director of the Alaska Democratic Party. She has also been a reporter, editor, and author.
Achievements impacting Alaska include implementation of oil and gas policies to maximize the state’s income, fighting for open meetings and access to public records, and her work establishing the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
Brown served from 1987-1996 in the Alaska House of Representatives from Anchorage. She chaired subcommittees and held leadership positions as a 10-year Finance Committee member, and was a co-chair of the bi-partisan Anchorage Caucus.
While serving in the House, Brown helped pass legislation on fiscal policy, environmental protection, domestic violence, privacy, housing, health, and energy conservation. Brown was an outspoken advocate for civil liberties, women’s rights, and the poor and disadvantaged.
“I tried to be a voice for those who didn’t have a voice,” she said.
The Alaska Civil Liberties Union honored Brown as “Civil Libertarian of the Year” in 1994 for her advocacy and courage on behalf of civil rights and social justice. It noted that Brown had fought steadfastly “for the rights of individuals in the face of annual attempts by many of her peers in both political parties and in both houses of the Alaska Legislature to legislate away the liberties that we Alaskans of the Last Frontier hold sacrosanct.”
After retiring from the legislature Brown, continued to be active in progressive politics by recruiting, training and electing many public officials to national, state and local positions. She said her greatest accomplishment has been to empower others to run for office and successfully influence the political process.
The Anchorage Daily News, in a 1994 endorsement of Brown’s candidacy for reelection, said: “Commenting on the legislative career of downtown state Rep. Kay Brown requires a lengthy trip to the thesaurus of political superlatives. She is exceptionally smart. She keeps a workaholic’s pace around the Capitol and in her district. She has an excellent sense of the challenges facing Alaska, and the courage to tackle them, even when the solutions prove politically unpopular in the short term.
For years, she has labored to steer her colleagues away from fiscal irresponsibility and put state finances on a more sustainable, long-term footing. When powerful legislators are ready to go off half-cocked and pass bad bills, Rep. Brown raises piercing questions. She is a consistent, responsible voice for environmental protection, the interests of disadvantaged people and more responsive government.”
“If Alaska had 59 other lawmakers of Kay Brown’s stature, the state would be better prepared for the beginning of the 21st century, and citizens wouldn’t be so disgusted with the legislature,” the ADN said.
Brown was the prime sponsor of laws setting thermal and lighting standards for publicly financed houses and buildings; mandating reduction of and regulating hazardous waste; establishing family and medical leave for public employees; controlling access to tobacco; providing public access to electronic information; consolidating state housing agencies and increasing support for low income and rural housing; establishing confidentiality of communications between domestic violence counselors and victims; and instituting a “solicitors, don’t call me” option for consumers to increase telephone privacy.
Brown chaired a House Finance Fiscal Policy Subcommittee that conceived the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), which was passed by voters in 1990 to deal with the problem of short-term oil revenue variability and to help maintain a stable level of public spending. Brown played a key role in the CBR’s passage. “Over nearly two decades, the CBR has almost single-handedly staved off massive budget shortfalls,” the Department of Revenue’s Tax Division wrote in 2009.
The Alaska Civil Liberties Union honored Brown as “Civil Libertarian of the Year” in 1994 and said, “This past legislative session Kay Brown worked tirelessly to hold the line against legislators looking for easy solutions to respond to the citizenry’s growing concerns for the level of crime and violence in Alaska’s urban and rural communities. Her successful work against reinstatement of the death penalty in Alaska, and her tireless but fruitless efforts against treating juveniles accused of certain crimes as adults are examples of her valiant efforts in the face of an uninformed public, well organized victims’ rights advocates, gleeful prosecutors, and demagoguery from the leadership of both Houses and top Department of Law officials,” the ACLU said in a resolution honoring Brown.
“Kay also spent much of the session fighting to maintain protections for indigent women, men, and children. Kay fought for and won a budget amendment to provide over $700,000 in additional funding needed to continue the efforts of Alaska’s Child Support Enforcement Division. In the face of what looked like sure passage of Representative Hanley’s workfare legislation, she also worked to maintain benefits for AFDC mothers, getting an amendment passed that exempted mothers of children under 6 years old from the forced work or community service program, while at the same time helping to defeat any attempts to eliminate or restrict funding for Adult Pubic Assistance and Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” the ACLU said of Brown.
“In a year when the Alaska Legislature seemed bent on increasing the government’s police and prosecutorial powers, with no respect for the privacy, due process, and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitutions of Alaska and the United States, Kay Brown’s action shone forth. Her intelligent, well-researched, and reasonable arguments for her positions brought Kay Brown respect and admiration from her peers and Alaskans across this state, even as they disagreed with and often ignored her and her sound advice. She often seemed a lone voice for respect for individual freedoms,” the ACLU said.
Throughout her career, Brown championed open government. “It’s essential that citizens have access to what the government is doing,” said Brown. “Open meetings and open records are fundamental to democracy.”
As a freshman legislator, one of Brown’s first acts was to refuse to attend a closed meeting of the Majority Caucus, which led the group to open their caucuses to public view. “As soon as she got to the Legislature, Kay Brown put her political future on the line with a stand that infuriated many of her overwhelmingly male colleagues,” Alaska Dispatch News Columnist Charles Wohlforth wrote in a recent column. “She sent an open letter to her first majority caucus meeting saying she would refuse to attend unless the media and the public were let in. By legislative tradition deliberations happened in private, although the law said otherwise. “
“It was a unique moment of courage, as Anchorage Daily News columnist Suzan Nightingale noted at the time,” Wohlforth wrote. “The showdown over open meetings in 1987 stands out as an example of how a leader should behave.”
In 1991, Brown and the Alaska State Employees Association successfully sued Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill to force release of public records detailing the new Hickel Administration’s plans to reorganize state government. The lawsuit was filed after Coghill repeatedly denied requests by reporters and Brown to unveil his controversial “red-dot, gold-dot” charts and associated documents. A state Superior Court ordered the state to allow immediate access to all files and materials regarding the administration’s review of the organization of state government.
When the legislature was not in session, Brown worked as an analyst and consultant for PlanGraphics, a firm specializing in implementation of Geographic Information Systems. In that capacity, she helped utilities and local government agencies assess data systems and address organizational issues. With other PlanGraphics’ staff, she co-authored the book, Geographic Information Systems: A Guide to the Technology, published in 1991 by Van Nostrand Reinhold and reprinted by Chapman & Hall Inc.
Brown retired from the legislature in 1996, not seeking reelection that fall. She said at the time she was doing so to spend more time with her infant daughter and husband and because she was disillusioned with the Republican-led Legislature. Brown said issues being pushed by Republican leaders, such as a ban on same-sex marriages and opposition to health insurance for employees’ unmarried domestic partners, entered into her decision not to seek reelection. “It’s getting harder to remain calm, cheerful and constructive in the face of ignorance and bigotry,” the AP reported Brown as saying at the time.
Before running for the legislature, Brown worked in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for seven years. As Director of the Divisions of Oil and Gas and Minerals and Energy Management, Brown supervised the leasing, exploration and development of Alaska’s oil and natural gas resources. While she was Director, state North Slope royalty interests brought more than a billion dollars a year to the state treasury. Brown helped develop and institute a net profit leasing system so that the public treasury could capture a greater share of rent from state-owned oil, and instituted competitive bidding for sales of royalty oil, increasing income to the state treasury. She instituted a regular leasing schedule and oversaw the leasing of more than 2.5 million acres of state land for oil and gas exploration. Brown was a key witness in several major successful lawsuits against the industry for failing to pay the full amount of royalties owed.
After retiring from the Legislature, Brown became Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance and Alaska Conservation Voters. As the first executive director of this statewide coalition of Alaska environmental groups, she built the membership to 45 groups representing more than 45,000 individuals. She identified and articulated values shared by conservationists and mainstream Alaskans including support for a sustainable economy. Brown produced a daily drive-time show on KBYR featuring discussion of politics, conservation and social issues. Talk with Kay Brown began as a weekly show in 1996 and became a daily show in 1998.
Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. She continued working throughout her treatment, and is now thankful to be a 20-year survivor due to the excellent care of doctors and support of friends and family.
In 2000, Brown began working full time as a consultant as President of Kay Brown Communications. Under contract with the Alaska Conservation Voters (ACV), she managed its political program for several years. From 2001-2004, Brown led a progressive coalition that recruited, trained and supported candidates for public office. In 2002, Brown organized the Alaska Progressive Coalition, a diverse group of several hundred progressive activists. She managed the coalition’s five regional PACs that supported progressive candidates in local and state legislative elections in 2003 and 2004.
Brown helped progressives realize their goal of articulating a positive economic vision for Alaska by organizing the Prosperous Future Development (PFD) Coalition in 2003. Brown oversaw a work group of about 75 individuals who participated in developing the vision. She was editor and co-author of the resulting report, “An Economic Vision for a Prosperous Alaska.”
In 2005, Brown became the Alaska Communications Director for the Democratic National Committee, one of the initial wave of staffers from Gov. Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, and marking the first time that the national party had invested significant resources in Alaska. Brown worked for the national and state Democratic Parties and Democratic candidates in various capacities from 2005-2017.
In 2006, the Alaska Democratic Party sued the Division of Elections seeking to force release of public records needed to verify the 2004 election results. Through her work for the party, Brown uncovered a number of discrepancies including, in half of the House districts, more ballots being recorded as cast than there were registered voters in the district, according to the state’s official election tally. The Division of Elections refused for more than nine months to release the public records, but it did so just before a hearing was scheduled to begin in the lawsuit. A review of the audit trail of the electronic database for the 2004 elections, once released, showed that modifications were made to the database on July 12 and July 13, 2006, the ADP said. The Division of Elections refused to explain why changes were made to the electronic file so long after the 2004 election. “It may have been incompetence on the part of some employees, or it may have been malicious, but the whole episode is a dark blot that eroded public confidence in the integrity of our election,” Brown said.
Although the remarkable 2004 results were publicly posted on the DOE web site for many years, that web page has been removed and the 2004 General Election results are no longer part of the state’s chronicle of past election results.
Brown served as Statewide Director for the 2008 Democratic Coordinated Campaign and as the Alaska Democrats’ Coordinated Campaign Director in 2010. In 2010-11, Brown was project manager for Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a coalition of 17 organizations including unions, Alaska Native organizations and non-profits, that sought to prevent partisan gerrymandering by the Republican majority controlling the Redistricting Board.
Brown served as Executive Director of the Alaska Democratic Party from 2011 until retiring in early 2017. The Alaska party’s longest serving Executive Director; Brown helped Democrats pick up 3 seats in 2016, which was enough to flip the 40-member Alaska State House to Democratic control for the first time in 25 years. Alaska was one of 3 states in the country to flip a legislative chamber from red to blue in 2016.
In 2014 Brown helped orchestrate formation of the winning “unity ticket” of Governor Bill Walker, an Independent, and Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, a Democrat, and helped Democrats pick up two seats in the 60-member legislature. She helped elect a majority of progressives to take control of the Anchorage Assembly in 2013, and strengthen their majority to 8-3 in 2016.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1950, Brown was an only child, whose mother died when she was 15 and her father when she was 21. “Their early deaths made me self-reliant,” she said.
Brown received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Baylor University in 1973. She worked for United Press International in Atlanta for a few years, before moving to Alaska in 1976.
Her first job in Alaska was a feature writer for the Anchorage Times, where she and other reporters attempted to establish a union to push back on management’s interference in the newsroom. She worked next as a reporter, editor and co-owner of the Alaska Advocate, a statewide news magazine specializing in investigative and political reporting. In 1978 Brown went to work as an aide to Senate President John Rader.
Following Sen. Rader’s retirement, Brown worked as a Policy Analyst at the Legislative Research Agency and in several capacities at the Department of Natural Resources. Brown became Deputy Director of DNR’s Division of Minerals & Energy Management (DMEM) in 1980, and its Director in 1982. Under Gov. Sheffield’s administration DMEM was reorganized into two divisions, and Brown then became Director of Oil and Gas.
Brown married Mark Foster in 1991. They have one daughter, Katy Foster, who they adopted from the People’s Republic of China in 1996. Katy, graduated with honors from Anchorage’s West High School, is currently pursuing a degree in dietetics and nutrition at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Brown’s hobbies include yoga and travel. She is an active member of First Presbyterian Church Anchorage, where she is an Elder, Clerk of Session, sings in the choir and plays hand bells.
Honors and Awards
Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions, Alaska Conservation Foundation (2004)
Legislative Award, American Society of Landscape Architects, Alaska Chapter (1999)
Civil Libertarian of the Year, Alaska Civil Liberties Union (1994)
Champion of Children, Anchorage Association for the Education of Young Children on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund (1994)
Service Award, Kidpac (1993)
Advocate of the Year, Alaska Craftsman Home Program (1990)
Voted Outstanding Freshman Legislator by colleagues (1987)
Community Connections and Leadership Positions
Volunteer and supporter, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (1999- ). Worked to convince Anchorage School District to stop routine spraying of pesticides and to adopt a least-toxic pest management policy.
Chair, Environment and Resource Management Committee, Western Legislative Conference (1991-1992). Worked with Western state legislators on recycling and pollution prevention.
Alaska Women’s Political Caucus [now Alaska Women for Political Action]; Anchorage President (1996 and 2002).
Pacific Northwest Hazardous Waste Advisory Council (1988-1990). Participated in regional working group convened by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to address hazardous waste management.
Mentor, Leadership Anchorage (1999).
Alaska Common Ground Board of Directors (1997-98).
Legislative Member, State of Alaska Telecommunications Information Council (1991-1992) (1995-1996).
Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Board of Directors (1995-96).
Alaska Special Olympics Board of Directors (1994-1996).
Delegate, White House Conference on Library and Information Services (1991).
Board member (ex officio), Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (1990-1996).
Additional Resources (publications)
How Kay Brown’s toughness and ethics helped shape Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News, Feb. 20, 2017, by Charles Wohlforth
Revenue Source Book, Alaska Department of Revenue – Tax Division, Fall 2009 – The Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund: It’s Purpose, History and Use
Kay Brown’s Career a Model for Lawmakers, Anchorage Daily News editorial endorsement, Nov. 2, 1994
Lawmaker’s Absence, Letter Prompt Opening of House Majority Caucus, Anchorage Daily News, Feb. 4, 1987, by John Lindback
Lawmaker Likely to Pay For Standing up to Peer Pressure, Anchorage Daily News, Feb. 8, 1987, by Suzan Nightingale
Rep. Brown to Retire, by Associated Press, Juneau, April 15, 1996
Achievements in: Advocacy for Responsible Development of Alaska’s Resources
Paula Easley’s years of service to Alaska come in many forms, especially in the public policy arena regarding sound land-use policy, natural resource development, and mental health trust land guidelines. She was the first woman to serve as Executive Director of the Alaska Resource Development Council and served on numerous state, and federal boards and commissions. Paula held appointments by three presidents – Reagan, Clinton and Bush – to national public land policy boards and served on the National Council of Women Advisors to Congress.
Her advocacy is based on the conviction that public decision-making must reflect a balance between environmental protection and enhancing the state’s economy.
Easley is a business owner, author, and columnist for local and national publications. Her business, Easley Associates, advocates for multiple-use land policies by federal and state land owners in Alaska. Her philosophy on the role of resource development as the critical foundation for economic development has influenced state and federal land management policies since the 1970s. Her legacy is one of passionate advocacy for responsible resource development.
Easley has been listed in the Heritage Foundation’s “Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts” since 1995; was named by the U.S. Small Business Administration as its “Women in Business Advocate of the Year” in 1993 and was instrumental in helping to create the national “unfunded mandates bill” that became the first piece of legislation included in the 1994 Contract with America. Easley collaborates with fiscally-conservative think tanks around the nation and maintains grassroots lobbying networks on regulatory and policy issues affecting Alaska.
Gail Phillips, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives said, “Alaska has benefited greatly from Paula Easley’s contributions to sound resource development policies that have benefited our economic well-being”.
Easley also serves as a Trustee of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
Paula Easley’s contributions to Alaska come in many forms, especially in the public policy arenas advocating sound natural resource, land-use and energy policy, and expanding the state’s mental health services.
Stony River village on the Kuskokwim River was a far cry from suburban Louisville, Kentucky, where she grew up. However, her introduction to Alaska in this remote community of about 100 residents in the early 1960s set her on a path that would include leading Alaska’s largest resource advocacy organization and also shaping economic and land-use policies by mayors, governors and three US presidents.
Paula (nee Shain) married James B. Pence II in 1956. An undergraduate of the University of Louisville and graduate of Bryant-Stratton Business College, Paula had been raised in a large family where self-sufficiency was instilled as a basic principle. At age 21 she tested the principle, starting her own secretarial business serving small Louisville companies.
Paula, her husband Jim and daughter Kathryn, born in 1960, moved to Stony River to help run a lodge and fur trading post with her sister Diane and husband Dr. Bob Carpenter. Together they planned to build log cabins on skids for barging to treeless western communities, using local labor. The project included an arts and crafts component that would enable Native residents to market their handmade crafts. At the time, Alaska’s rural communities teetered on the brink of change from a subsistence-to- cash economy with few or no jobs available, as was the case in Stony River.
While the first cabins were built, villagers were proud of finally being able to earn a living. To the families’ great disappointment, however, the project was ultimately abandoned due to government agency requirements and insurmountable equipment, production and shipping challenges. Paula and Jim moved to Anchorage in late 1963 where her mother, Margaret Vollertsen and young brothers, Rick and Steve Vollertsen, lived.
Not realizing it at the time, Easley’s bush experience inspired a life-long course of advocating for a diversified Alaska economy. She began researching everything available on development policies of other sparsely-populated states and sought help from the country’s top think tanks. With virtually no infrastructure off Alaska’s limited road system and great distances from national and international markets, it became apparent that Alaska manufacturing was not feasible. The most realistic option was natural resource exploration and production, if people could be encouraged to risk investing in them.
In 1964, while working for IBM in Anchorage, Easley and family experienced the Great Alaska Earthquake. The lure of independence struck again, and from 1965 to 1970 she managed a company providing secretarial, employment and logistics services to rural businesses and communities across Alaska. Conference services were provided to organizations such as the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Centennial Commission, the Governor’s Economic Development Policy Council and numerous government agencies.
Through her research and travels, Easley learned about both Alaska’s urban and rural economies. In the late 60s, as staff to the Alaska Business Council, she staged several Alaska Travel and Trade Fairs in Washington, Oregon and California, thanks to funding by Western Airlines. She worked with the part-time Anchorage Mayor, George Sullivan and hundreds of Alaskans to promote tourism and trade. Many thousands of people attended each event, excited to learn about the 49th state. At the time was the new world-class Prudhoe Bay oil discovery also attracted attention
Easley’s second daughter Laura was born in 1966. In 1967 tragedy struck the family when Jim, her husband and business partner, became ill with melanoma cancer and died that same year, leaving Paula the children’s sole supporter. Juggling family and a demanding company that involved frequent travel proved her greatest challenge. Earlier she, Jim, and Paula’s mother had bought a large home to accommodate their combined families; chaos and many memorable adventures were shared during the five-year period.
In 1970 Paula married George Easley, then Anchorage Deputy City Manager. George accepted an engineering assignment in California soon after, and the family headed south. In 1971 Governor Bill Egan appointed George Commissioner of Transportation and Public Facilities. So the family moved back north, to Juneau.
The Prudhoe Bay oil discovery brought an era of optimism and excitement over Alaska’s ability to become self-supporting. George and Paula became spokespersons advocating a trans-Alaska oil pipeline route as opposed to a Canadian route. Vice President Spiro Agnew broke a tie vote in Congress to affirm construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline and the project, which was completed in 1977.
In early 1975, the Organization for Management of Alaska’s Resources (OMAR), was formed to advocate a second pipeline that would carry Prudhoe Bay natural gas south to a deepwater port near Valdez. Easley became OMAR’s executive director and headed a three-year national grassroots campaign, as the route decision required federal approvals. Countless Alaskans paid their own expenses to travel to other states and Washington DC to gain support for an Alaskan route. President Jimmy Carter ultimately chose a trans-Canada route, which was a shocking disappointment to Alaskans. Nearly forty years later, there is still no pipeline to carry gas from the Arctic to any market, domestic or foreign.
Easley is given much credit for bringing together a coalition of industries, labor and communities as a powerful force with the OMAR gas pipeline campaign. The organization broadened its focus in 1978 and became the Resource Development Council (RDC), Alaska’s largest development advocacy group.
In Easley’s writings, speeches and participation on national land-use and regulatory panels, her advocacy was always based on the conviction that public decision-making had to reflect a balance between economic development and environmental protection, and to recognize that both must be achieved to protect all interests.
Under Easley’s leadership between 1975 and 1987, OMAR/RDC and its 78-member statewide board focused on expanding transportation, mining, timber, petroleum, tourism, fishing, agriculture and assuring multiple-use of Alaska lands. She worked with nine RDC presidents, a small staff and hundreds of volunteers on multiple state and federal issues. All required research and preparation of comments for countless public hearings in and outside Alaska.
During her tenure RDC’s leaders played a major role in public policy debates and decisions ranging from ANILCA land classifications to regulations promulgated under the major national environmental laws, particularly the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
RDC continues to be Alaska’s largest resource development organization and Easley remains a strong supporter, having served on its board for 25 years. After retiring from RDC in 1987, Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink appointed her to serve as the Economic Development and Planning Director and focused on federal policies affecting municipalities.
At the height of the late 1980s recession, Anchorage faced many new federal environmental mandates. She and the mayor feared their new compliance costs were becoming unaffordable to taxpayers. Working with department heads, Easley and the mayor documented the city’s costs and shared their research with 2200 mayors across the nation. The project culminated in a national network of policy leaders from community governments, think tanks and grassroots organizations determined to bring about change at the federal level. The coalition’s Unfunded Mandates legislation was the first bill to become law under the 1994 “Contract with America.”
Easley served as the mayor’s Government Affairs Director for five and a half years until the end of Mayor Fink’s second term. She then formed a public policy consulting firm, Easley Associates, focusing on federal issues affecting Alaskans and the western public land states.
A prolific writer on economic and environmental policy issues, Easley has had 130 commentaries published in newspapers, magazines and trade journals. Sixty of those articles appeared monthly in the Anchorage Daily News between 2002 and 2007. Her policy-related reports include “Alaska’s Role in National Energy Policy: Policy Guidance for Cities and Counties,” “Wetlands of the United States: A Report to Congress,” “Paying for Federal Environmental Mandates” and others. She’s given over thirty speeches to Outside organizations, promoting Alaska’s development and addressing policies affecting Alaska and the Western states. Today, her primary focus is on energy and climate change policy.
President Bill Clinton appointed Easley to the national Regulatory Fairness Advisory Board and Presidents Reagan and Bush appointed her to the National Public Lands Advisory Council, on which she served for eight years. The US Small Business Administration named Paula its “Women in Business Advocate of the Year” in 1993. She has been listed in the Heritage Foundation’s Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts since 1995 and served on the National Council of Women Advisors to Congress, National Policy Forum’s Environmental Task Force, the Clean Water Industry Coalition, National Wetlands Coalition, National Grassroots ESA Coalition, the Environmental Conservation Organization and the National Grassroots Campaign to Stop Unfunded Mandates. Paula is featured as one of fifty-three “real environmentalists” in William Perry Pendley’s book, “It Takes a Hero.”
Unrelated to resource development, her 2001 book, “Paula Easley’s Warehouse Food Cookbook,” has been particularly popular with rural Alaskans who are avid Costco and Sam’s Club shoppers. It is available from amazon.com
Today Easley is serving her second 5-year term on the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s Board of Trustees which develops the state’s mental health program serving people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and other disorders. Revenues to support beneficiary programs come from Trust fund earnings and development of Trust lands. Her major interests have been growing the rural health workforce and improving rural mental health services and also generating revenue from real estate investments and projects on the Trust’s one million acres of land holdings.
Gail Phillips, former Speaker of the House of the Alaska State House of Representatives said, “Paula’s philosophy and continuing legacy is one of passionate advocacy for responsible development leading to strong economies and healthy communities. Her career as an acknowledged and respected spokesperson for resource development issues has made her a role model for Alaskans in the resource and environmental industries and organizations.”
Easley’s daughters Laura Hill, and Kathryn Easley and her 30-year partner Allison Hewey, live in Anchorage, as do two grandchildren, Gavin and Paige. Paula and George Easley, the girls’ adoptive father, parted ways after ten years but remained friends until his death in 2000. Today she enjoys cooking, entertaining and hosting discussion groups on current events.
Awards and Recognition Received
U.S. Small Business Administration’s “Women in Business Advocate of the Year” Award 1993
National Register of Prominent Americans
Outstanding Young Women in the United States
Outstanding Civic Leaders of America
Heritage Foundation’s Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts – Since 1995
National Council of Women Advisors to Congress
- Personal conversations and interview with Gail Phillips, February 2017
- Personal phone calls and emails with Gail Phillips, February and March 2017
- Written information from Carl Portman of the Resource Development Council
- Biographical Board Member sketch from the Alaska Mental Health Lands Trust
- Information from sources on-line through Google
Dr. Elizabeth (Fuller) Elsner
Achievement in: Medicine and Education
“Alaska is no place for a woman doctor” were among the first words to greet Dr. Elizabeth Elsner when she arrived at her new job at a Fairbanks medical clinic. Her medical career proved him wrong.
Born in 1923, Elizabeth Fuller attended Mt. Holyoke College and Yale School of Medicine. Her thesis work at Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research became an accepted method for treating certain cancers. Though she wanted to become a surgeon, the field was unwelcoming. She instead focused her medical school energy to specialize in pediatrics.
Dr. Elsner and her husband came to Fairbanks in 1953, and she immediately began as the town’s pediatrician. She was one of only two females out of 12 doctors, total, in the entire Territory. She was later responsible for the northern half of Alaska as a public health doctor.
Dr. Elsner was the first practitioner to proactively address children’s health in Alaska’s rural villages and communities. Wherever she went, she set up well-baby clinics to protect children’s health. She facilitated the first statewide immunization and disease screening efforts (e.g. against polio, measles, and tuberculosis). Alaska became the first state fully immunized against polio. She trained nurses to continue statewide rural health initiatives.
At the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center she initiated well-child exams, health education, immunizations and disease screening. The center’s public health nurses still provide these key services to all of Interior Alaska.
In the 1970s and 80’s, Elsner had multiple assignments at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She served as campus doctor, taught nurses to provide better health care in the villages, and instructed medical students under the WAMI program.
When her work was done, it was clear that Alaska was exactly the right place for a woman doctor.
Dr. Elizabeth “Betty” (Fuller) Elsner was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1923. The second of five children, she grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts. She went to public school in her hometown for her early years and then attended Lincoln School for Girls in Providence, Rhode Island, because her parents wanted her to have a more rigorous academic education than was available in her hometown. She was fortunate to be the daughter of enlightened parents, who provided her a good quality education, equal to that of her brothers.
Although she comes from a long line of lawyers and judges, her family discouraged her from considering the law as a career. Instead, she followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, Dr. Edward Kidder.
Elsner attended Mt. Holyoke College for three years before enrolling in the Yale School of Medicine. At the completion of her first year of medical school, Mt. Holyoke awarded her a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her medical studies included a stint conducting thesis research at Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research where she did research involving rats. The technique that she developed to isolate and perfuse tumors with anticancer drugs became an accepted method of treating some cancers. While she briefly flirted with the idea of going into research, she decided on a different direction. She next considered being a surgeon, but the field was not welcoming to women, so she focused her energy on pediatrics. Elsner and five female classmates all received their medical degrees in 1948 from the Yale School of Medicine. She interned and did her pediatrics residency at three hospitals in New York City: NY Foundling, Knickerbocker, and Willard-Parker, the city’s infectious disease hospital. She continued her pediatrics training at the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Seattle, Washington.
Dr. Elsner married her husband, Bob, a research physiologist, in 1946. They managed to weave their special backgrounds into two highly successful careers in Alaska, Washington, California, Peru and Australia. Together, they came to Alaska in 1953. He had a job as a research physiologist at USAF Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory at Ladd Air Force Base where he worked on the physiological effects of cold and high altitude and taught emergency arctic survival techniques to military pilots.
Dr. Elsner was the only pediatrician in the entire northern half of Alaska in the early 1950s, and one of the first female doctors. Upon arrival in the Territory, she joined the staff at Fairbanks Medical Clinic where one of her medical colleagues greeted her with the observation that “Alaska is no place for a woman doctor.” In fact, Alaska was a tough place for any doctor, regardless of gender. (She delivered a baby in the back of a jeep; she delivered another baby in a log cabin.) And given the shortage of doctors in Alaska in the 50s, Elsner wore multiple medical hats. Besides working at the clinic, she treated people privately in her own home– examining patients on her kitchen table. (Office calls were $5 for adults; $3 for children.) She travelled by mail plane to rural villages (Nome, Barrow, Arctic Village, Steven’s Village, Beaver, Fort Yukon, Venetie and Anaktuvuk Pass) as Public Health pediatrician for the state and conducted intensive field clinics – sometimes at her own expense. Although her specialty was pediatrics, when the sole obstetrician was out of town, she was responsible for delivering the babies, about 20 in all. These experiences included a breech presentation with a delayed delivery, which gave her time to brush up on a few topics in a textbook beforehand, and a set of twins. She even delivered the daughter of William Egan, the future first governor of Alaska!
Alaska became the first U.S. state to be fully inoculated for polio, thanks to Elsner’s efforts as a doctor in Public Health in the 1950’s. She was the first to proactively address children’s health across Alaska’s rural villages and communities. Elsner initiated well-baby clinics for the Territorial Health Department, and facilitated the first state-wide immunization and disease screening efforts (against such maladies as polio, measles and tuberculosis). She also trained numerous nurses involved in these state-wide rural health initiatives.
Before Elsner arrived in town, the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center did not offer well-baby clinics, well-child exams, immunizations, disease screening, health education or family planning. Today, public health nurses at the Fairbanks center still provide these key services to all of Interior Alaska, including the Fairbanks North Star Borough and its rural communities. No one is turned away because of an inability to pay.
Dr. Elsner truly made an impact on medical care– particularly for Alaska’s children– in the three brief years that she and Bob were initially in Alaska. For the next seventeen years, they pursued their respective careers in Washington, Massachusetts, Peru, California and Australia, before returning for good to Alaska in 1973.
However, while Dr. Elsner was outside Alaska, one life experience demonstrates the measure of the woman and her toughness—the birth of Steven, her third child in 1957. It was while Bob was on assignment in Australia, and she and their two children, 5-year-old Wendy and 3-year-old Peter, were in a remote location on Bainbridge Island, WA. In the middle of the night, on the day after Christmas, long after the last ferry had left for Seattle, Elsner went into labor. The only alternative transport to hospital was to wake up a neighbor to drive her clear around Puget Sound on a long and bumpy road to town. She quickly ruled out that option, however, as the neighbor was a nervous guy to begin with, and not a particularly good driver.
Instead, Elsner collected towels, a Kelly clamp and ergotamine; climbed into the bathtub and delivered her son all by herself. She crawled into bed with her new baby, while her other two children slept nearby, and waited until dawn to call neighbors for help.
Elsner’s medical career in Alaska the second time around began in 1973—with her role as both a practitioner and educator. Once again, as a public health doctor, she promoted well-baby clinics, examined, screened, immunized and treated children in villages all over the state. Rural village flights, as many Alaskans well know, are not without danger. One native nurse, who had, by chance, been given Elsner’s empty seat on a missed flight, tragically lost her life, when the plane went down in bad weather near the west coast.
Her final employment was as campus physician with the student health service at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Elsner not only treated students, she also taught first-year medical students in the WAMI program, a compact of the western states to train medical students during an acute shortage of medical personnel and facilities in rural communities. Her medical students remember her mentorship fondly, as well as her unique and oldest medical license of all the doctors— issued by the Territory of Alaska. She trained nurses to become nurse-practitioners to better provide healthcare to rural Alaskans. Her nurse trainees remember her for the tender loving care she gave to all the students on campus who needed the human touch as well as her medical care.
Dr. Elsner was simultaneously caring, democratic and strong. She was assertive, particularly for those less fortunate, and especially if she thought someone was being treated poorly or unfairly. While Dr. Elsner led the university staff, she thought they were all colleagues, and stood up for them, perhaps even more so than herself. When she retired in 1986, she was as highly educated as any professor, yet not equally compensated. She advocated for her replacement (a former female WAMI student) to receive at least double the salary.
Perhaps the best proof of her impact the second time around is Dr. Jean Tsigonis, who was another first-year medical student when Elsner taught in the WAMI program. Today Dr. Tsigonis practices medicine in Fairbanks, Alaska where Elsner lives, and this month saw her newest patient: Dr. Elizabeth Elsner! Elsner’s son Peter was present during the visit and reported that Dr. Tsigonis was thorough, thoughtful and caring of her new patient. So, in a stroke of kismet, Elsner’s life’s work has come full circle and she is now the beneficiary of her own teachings.
All told, Elsner practiced medicine for 38 years. But even in retirement, she never retired. She remained in Fairbanks as a docent at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, taught elementary school children, served on the state and local boards of the League of Women Voters, and Planned Parenthood. She was elected to serve on the State’s Violent Crimes Compensation Board, and participated in the Adolescent Health Coalition, Substance Abuse Task Force and the Fairbanks Coalition for Privacy in Pregnancy Decisions.
Looking back at her life and medical care, Dr. Elsner said that her most satisfying work was having established the well-baby clinics so that the nurse-practitioners could carry on and ensure that good health care was available to all babies, and bringing medical care to poor, young women of color – people in the margins of the health care system.
In my February 2017 interview with Dr. Elsner, at her home in Fairbanks, just one month after celebrating her 70th anniversary with husband Bob, I asked her if she had any regrets – if there was anything she wished she had done. She answered in a word:
Van Cleve, M. 1991. Dr. Elizabeth Elsner is interviewed by Margaret Van Cleve on April 16, 1991. Series title: On the road recording old timers. Oral Histories 91-28, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Rasmuson Library, mp3 (90min).
Wilson, G.G. 1991. History of medicine in Alaska—The Elsners: Elizabeth Fuller, M.D. and Robert Ph.D. Journal of Alaska Medicine 32(1), issue 4: 39-40.
Tennys Thornton (Bowers) Owens
Achievement in: Art Frontiers and Business
Although not an artist herself, Tennys Owens has transformed the “business of art” into the art of community service, demonstrating that art does matter.
Using art for the good of the community ultimately became Owens legacy shortly after arriving in Alaska as a young Air Force wife in 1967.
Opening in 1971, Artique Ltd. was the first gallery established in Alaska. Over its 45 years, the gallery broadened its focus from original art to a gamut of mediums, developing extensive marketing and publishing capabilities for over 80 artists.
As a publisher, Artique marketed fine art prints to a network of galleries throughout Alaska. Owens implemented her concept of “prints for a purpose,” raising money for more than100 non-profit and community causes, including the new millennium, Alaska’s 50th anniversary, and Anchorage’s 100th anniversary, plus some great projects in-between.
Early on, Owens forged her own way in the business world, contributing an important perspective to influential business boards, all the while opening doors for other women to contribute and help make key decisions about Alaska’s future.
With an impressive record of business achievement, demonstrating business excellence, and inspiring leadership and community awareness, Owens’ awards and honors are many, including recognition as one of the most esteemed business leaders in the state when she was inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame.
She has been honored by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce with the ATHENA Society membership and she has received the YWCA Women of Achievement award. A founding member and first woman chair of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation board, Owens served many profit and nonprofit boards and committees throughout her career, including 27 years on boards for National Bank of Alaska and Wells Fargo.
“Tennys Owens is not an artist herself, but if you’ve been in Anchorage, Alaska for any length of time you’ve seen her work,” said John Tracy in a tribute to her on KTVA Reality Check when she closed her “love child,” the art gallery Artique Ltd. on December 15, 2016. “She always has loved art, but her real passion is the challenge of marketing it, making a living for her artists, her employees and herself, and learning to move quickly to ride Anchorage’s booms and busts,” according to Kim Fararo in an Anchorage Daily News article.
Owens was born in the small, coastal town of Washington, North Carolina. Since she had always been interested in fashion design, her first choice for college was a college in New York City. However her parents “would hear nothing of the sort,” so like many women of that era, she elected to stay closer to home. She attended St Mary’s College in Raleigh, N.C. and the University of North Carolina graduating with a BS degree in education.
During her third year in college she began dating a local boy who was in his senior year at the Air Force Academy by the name of Tom Owens Jr. On December 19, 1961 they were married in a formal evening wedding in their home town of Washington, N.C. with a memorable reception at the home of the Bowers grandparents. Tom went back to his tour of Duty at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio while Tennys stayed in North Carolina to finish college and then on to life as an Air Force wife. From Ohio they moved to Durham, N.C. for Tom to enter law school at Duke University (taking a temporary leave of absence from the Air Force) while Tennys took a job as a third grade teacher with the Durham County school system. Thomas Preston Owens, III was born on April 1, 1965 at Duke University hospital.
In 1966, the couple moved back to Wright Patterson AFB. In 1967, they were transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska with Tom working in the JAG division of the Air Force. Tennys was inspired to put her three years of teaching experience to work again a couple of years later and helped develop and teach in a nursery school on the air force base with young “Tommy” as one of the attendees. In 1969 their second son, Christopher Tayloe Owens was born at Elmendorf.
In 1970, Owens and friend artist, Jean Shadrach, realized the huge void of art galleries in Anchorage. A few small businesses took some art on consignment such as Howard’s Gun Shop and a paint store named The Color Center. However, the absence of a traditional gallery, representing artists on a consignment basis and working for artists as a marketing agent, was woefully absent. Owens and Shadrach set about changing that equation by contacting art professors and artists attending the University of Alaska as well as other artists of note, while leaving the gallery door open for unknown talent. In 1971, Alaska was teeming with new people including new artists. Artique Ltd. Alaska’s first “real” art gallery quickly became the art business center in the oil boom era of the Alaska frontier.
The small 950 square foot gallery, located downtown in the Central Building on G Street, was a huge success. The gallery was warm and inviting and customers were encouraged to make art a part of their life in one way or another. The gallery made efforts to increase public awareness about the creation of different art forms, visited numerous organizations and sponsored artists to throw pots in the gallery windows as well as other art demonstrations to promote public interest. Owens’ motto was that “no one should be intimidated or over whelmed by an art gallery.” She and her partner were also determined to make it possible for artists to live and work in Alaska.
As oil boomed in Alaska, so did the art community and major artists such as the famous Fred Machetanz and Byron Birdsall requested representation that lasted for over 35 years. The gallery continually added very talented regional painters and hosted noted national artists in invitational exhibits including Jamie Wyeth, Dale Chihuly, Yasu Eguchi, Robert Bateman and others. The Owens new motto became “Onward and Upward” for the duration of the gallery.
In 1983, at the invitation of U.S. Senator Ted and Catherine Stevens, Owens and her Artique staff created a major Alaska art exhibit which was displayed in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The exhibit celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s Passage of the Alaska Statehood Act. Numerous Alaska artists attended the exhibit.
Artique opened a second gallery in midtown. In 1984, Alaska celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Statehood and Artique Ltd became the sole fundraiser for the Anchorage celebration. Owens developed a marketing plan and solicited the assistance of major art print publisher, Mill Pond Press. Owner Bob Lewin had recently become the designated publisher of art work by Fred Machetanz. Owens and Lewin coordinated the sale of 950 prints entitled “Heritage of Alaska” by Machetanz for benefit of the Anchorage Silver Anniversary Celebration. Each print was hand signed by each of Alaska’s living governors and Fred Machetanz. Owens coordinated the print signing, marketing and distribution. Both galleries handled the “first of its kind” print sale the morning of January 2, 1984. The entire edition of 950 prints was sold out in two hours. Owens, Artique Mill Pond Press and Fred Machetanz declared “Mission Accomplished!”
Owens became sole owner of the gallery in 1985. Shadrach moved on to paint and Owens moved on with the art business.
When the Alaska economy went into a deep recession in1986, Owens saw the wisdom in consolidating the business into the original location downtown once again. 1987 found Anchorage still economically languishing due to the recession and Anchorage Mayor Tony Knowles tapped Owens to be one of the new founding members of an Anchorage economic development board. She agreed and began nourishing a business interest in economic development that would remain with her throughout her career. She served as the first woman chair of the board in 1993 and served on the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation board in excess of 30 years.
In 1990, Tennys received an offer to acquire the Alaska Souvenir and Gift Shop as part of the Duty Free Shoppers contract at the Anchorage International Airport. This presented another learning opportunity and challenge to add to her gallery experience. She readily accepted and worked in the business until 1996. As the economy recovered, so did the art business overall. A corporate and residential art design department was developed within the gallery to better serve local business art needs and that of residences. With a rebounding economy, the gallery moved “onward and upward.”
Owens decided that the time was right to expand her publishing business to give Alaska artists additional opportunities to compete in the new burgeoning print market. A network of wholesale dealers was developed inside and outside of Alaska to represent the artists on a print level. The publishing opportunity also gave Artique the ability to work with nonprofit organizations on fundraising projects. She went about the process of broadening the “business of art” into community service, demonstrating that art does matter.
With gallery publishing capabilities available, Owens implemented her concept of “Prints for a Purpose.” raising money for more than 100 nonprofits and community causes from the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to the Loussac Library, Alaska’s 50th Anniversary and Anchorage 100th Anniversary. Other special projects surfaced as well, such as “Artful Violins,” working in conjunction with the Anchorage Symphony.
Owens did fundraising for Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. over 15 years, by developing and marketing a custom designed print collection published especially for the organization. “It is very important that businesses within the community work with the community as a team. When people work collectively, the results are more powerful and longer lasting,” Owens said.
In a 1993, an article of the Alaska Business Monthly, Owens was asked, “Is Alaska a good place for women entrepreneurs? What kind of advantages does Alaska have for women entrepreneurs? What advice would you give other women interested in starting their own businesses in Alaska?” Her reply spoke to who she was,
“Find your niche. The challenge for women entrepreneurs is to run the business in a manner which is respectable and honest. But I don’t tend to think in terms of men and women but in terms of good or not good business people. . . . learn something about business basics, maintain high standards, be adaptable to change, treat your employees with courtesy and kindness, and strive for a balance between your business and personal life.”
Tennys Owens was able to test and further develop her passion for working with community in 1998 when asked by Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom to develop and implement a plan for Anchorage to celebrate the arrival of the new Millennium. This was a daunting request and certainly something she had never done before. After days of somber contemplation, she decided to “strap it on.” She had a talented staff at the gallery to help her out and besides, it was a personal challenge she could hardly refuse.
The next two years were spent developing plans for “The Millennium at the Top” and Anchorage 2000 became a reality. Plans were drafted for a huge celebration on New Year’s Eve 2000 and a winter festival that would hold events until March. Additionally, a large July 4th multicultural celebration was planned for the grand finale. Anchorage 2000 came to be known as the “People’s Millennium Celebration, Working Together to Make a Difference.” Owens wore many hats during those two years, including serving as the event director and chair of a 35 member civic board of directors.
In an Anchorage Assembly Resolution, Owens was recognized and applauded along with event staff and volunteers for their countless hours coordinating the celebration. The Resolution said they had enabled the citizens of Anchorage to celebrate the Millennium through unity amongst people of all ethnic backgrounds and diverse cultures.
In 2005, she was recognized as one of the most esteemed leaders in the state by Alaska Business Monthly due to her with her record of business achievement, demonstrated business excellence, vision and innovation, inspiring leadership and community awareness. The magazine further stated “As a successful female business owner in Alaska, Owens has proven a woman can forge a niche in the business world and achieve.” In the same article, Owens was quoted as saying “By participating and offering a different perspective to a board, it opens the doors for other women to contribute and help make key decisions about Alaska’s future and I want to inspire leadership for women’s issues.”
According to an article written when Owens was selected to become an Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate, she felt participating in economic decisions for Alaska’s future served to create a sense of community. She continued to serve on multiple boards and committees. She has been honored by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce with membership in the Anchorage ATHENA Society and has received the YWCA/BP Women of Achievement award.
Owens also served on the private sector boards of National Bank of Alaska and Wells Fargo for 27 years. See the complete list of her activities and awards at the end of this article.
In 2016 Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz surprised Owens with a proclamation dedicating November 4th as “Artique Day,” at the final closing reception dedicated to artists and the community. Artique Ltd. closed on December 15, 2016.
Using art for the good of the community ultimately became Tennys Owens’ legacy and demonstrated “Art Matters.”
Community Involvement: Mayor’s Advisory Council on the Anchorage Centennial Celebration January 2013-December 2015; Co-Planner and State Coordinator for Anchorage Statewide Celebration of Alaska’s 50 Years of Statehood 2008-2009; Anchorage Downtown Partnership President 2006-2008; Anchorage Civic and Convention Center YES, Executive Committee to Promote Convention Center, Co-Chairman January 2005-April 2005, Member 2004-April 2005; Mayor Mark Begich’s Economic Development Council Member 2004-2007; University of Alaska College of Business and Public Policy Business Policy Advisory Council Member 2003-2007; American Heart Association Fund Drive Co-Chairman 2003; Mystrom for Anchorage Mayoral Campaign Co-Chairman 2003; Anchorage Civic & Convention Center YES, Executive Committee to Promote Convention Center, Secretary 2001-2002;
Anchorage Economic Development Corporation Founding Board Member, Chair of the Board (first woman) 1992, Executive Committee 1987-1999, Ex-Officio 1999-Present; Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. Founder of “Lend a Hand” Program 1999-2015; Anchorage 2000 (millennium event celebrations & community projects) Millennium Celebration Plan author and event planner, Chairman, Board of Directors 1998-2000; Anchorage Fine Arts Commission Member 1997-2001; Anchorage Museum Foundation Board Member 1997-Present; Alaska Command Civilian Advisory Board, Elmendorf AFB Member October 1994-2013; National Security Forum, Montgomery, Alabama, The Alaska Representative, May 1994; Anchorage Rotary Downtown Member 1988-1996; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors 1988; Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors 1984-1991, Chairman, Annual Banquet Committee 1991, Chairman, Operations Personnel Committee 1988, Chairman, Community Membership Relations Committee 1987, Special Task Force Member 1986, Chairman, Elections Committee 1985-1986; Alaska Statehood 25th Anniversary Celebration Chairman, Fund Raising Project; Performing Arts for Peace Board of Directors 1985-1987; and Iditarod Fund Raiser Project Chairman 1985.
For Profit Boards: Wells Fargo Bank Statewide Advisory Board 2001-Present; National Bank of Alaska Board of Directors 1991-2001
Awards: Heart of Anchorage, George M. Sullivan leadership award, April 28,2017; Mayor’s Proclamation, Nov 4, 2016, Artique Ltd. Day; VISIT ANCHORAGE Special Community Award for Service 2016; ADN Best of Alaska-Best Art Gallery (Artique) every year since 2007; Anchorage Convention & Victors Bureau Seymour Award 2009; Community Organization Anchorage Statehood Celebration; Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate 2005; Mayor’s Public Service Award 2001; Municipality of Anchorage Mayor’s Distinguished Leadership Award 2000; Municipality of Anchorage Gold Pan Millennium Achievement Award 2000; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA membership 2000; YWCA/BP Women of Achievement Award 1994; Anchorage Economic Development Corporation Outstanding Leadership Award as Chairman of the Board 1992; and several sponsorship awards for the Artique including: Alaska Run for Women 1994 & 1996; Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. 1998; KAKM Celebrity Art Auction 1982-1983.
Sources: KTVA, Dec. 15, 2016, Reality Check with John Tracy: Mayor’s Proclamation, Nov 4, 2016, Artique Ltd. Day; Alaska Dispatch News, November-December 2016, Letter to people of Anchorage, After 45 years, Artique Ltd. Is now closed, Tennys Owens and your Artique family; Alaska Life Publishing, 2016, Alaska Home, The Art of Buying Art, Sarah Gonzales; Tennys Owens made Anchorage her canvas; Alaska Dispatch News, 61 North Magazine, Sep 2014, Culture Affairs, Gallery Guide; http://www.alaska.org/advice/native-arts-and-crafts; Anchorage Daily News, Tennys Owens, Jan 2, 2007, Downtown plan full of exciting changes; Alaska Journal of Commerce, Sep 17, 2005, Alaska art grows up and into a viable market; Alaska Business Monthly, Michelle Martin, Jan 2005, Tennys Owens: Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate, JA: Artique Ltd; Municipality of Anchorage, Assembly Resolution AR 2000-25 (S), Jan 25, 2000, A Resolution of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly recognizing and applauding the Anchorage 2000 organizers, board members and staff for their efforts and commitment in making the “Night of Light” New Year’s Eve millennium celebration a success; Anchorage Daily News, Jan 2, 2000, Bomb Scare Led to Magical Moment; Anchorage Daily News, November 8, 1999, Millennium drum is taking shape, New Year’s Eve Party to have big beat, Sheila Toomey; Alaska Business Monthly, Jeannie Woodring, Aug 1, 1993, Alaska: a mecca or myth for business women; Anchorage Daily News, Kim Farraro, Feb 22, 1993, Doing Business Mastering the Art of the Deal, and Vice Versa.
Elizabeth “Betty” Parent
Achievement In: Educational Leadership, Mentorship, Advocacy for Native Peoples
Elizabeth “Betty” Parent is an educational leader and a trailblazer. She is the first Alaska Native woman to earn a PhD, and the first Alaska Native woman to become a full professor. Along the way she has mentored many and fought for justice for Alaska Native people.
Parent was born in Western Alaska into a blend of Athabascan and Yupik culture. She experienced hardship early in life with the death of her father and two siblings before she reached school age. She took strength from school and developed a deep love of learning. She was encouraged by her beloved aunt, Alice Harris.
She excelled at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks where she was a successful student, an early childhood/Head Start advocate, and the busy mother of three young children.
During the late 60s she also became involved in community activism for Alaska Native people. She helped found the Alaska Native Club on the UAF campus. She was involved in the early days of the Alaska Native Land Claims and was a founding member of the Tundra Times Board of Directors.
She decided to apply to Harvard University for her master’s degree and was awarded a fellowship. Upon graduation, she pursued her doctorate at Stanford University. Her seminal dissertation on the educational experience of Native people in Moravian missions in Western Alaska is a definitive work on cultural assimilation. She accepted a professorship at San Francisco State University, where she retired as a tenured professor emerita in 2000 after 20 years.
Throughout these busy years Parent raised three successful children- Brian, Siobhan and Liam Wescott. She also always mentored students throughout Indian Country. The Betty Parent Achievement Award is presented annually to promising Native American students at San Francisco State University.
Elizabeth (Betty) Parent began her life in the small Alaskan village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River. In an area known for the blending of Athabascan and Yupik cultures, her family lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle steeped the culture of Deg Xinag (or Deg Hit’an) Athabascan people.
Early life was challenging for her. She and her two sisters suffered the loss of their parents through death and tragedy before school age. Betty subsequently lost her two sisters to childhood disease. She moved from family to family but always excelled in school and grew to love learning. She was guided in her life by her aunt Alice Harris who taught her to maintain a positive attitude and to work hard. Along the way, Betty acquired a great sense of humor which allows her to laugh at the ups and downs of life.
Parent spoke the Yup’ik language exclusively until she was five years old. Yet when she began primary school in the single room schoolhouse, the school only taught in English so she lost her bilingualism.
At the age of 18, she moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska. Right away she became involved in college and community life in the Interior. The 1960’s were historic times of change for Alaska Native people and Parent was in on the ground floor of many important movements. She helped organize cultural and social supports for Alaska Native students on campus through the Alaska Native Club; she worked in a leadership position in Head Start, moving seamlessly between parent advocacy and administrative roles. She organized Head Start parents to fight for culturally relevant education for young children in the Fairbanks School District.
Parent became involved in the early advocacy for the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act. Important to that work was the publishing of the Tundra Times, a weekly newspaper that gave a political and cultural voice to Alaska Native people. Parent served on Tundra Times Board, supporting editor Howard Rock during many years as the paper operated on a shoestring but produced important political advocacy.
While at the University of Alaska she met a brilliant UAF professor Gene Wescott. They married in 1961 and had three children Brian, Siobhan and Liam.
In 1964 Parent earned a B.A. in Anthropology, with minors in English and Education, as well as the dubious distinction of being only the thirty-second Native to graduate from the university.
Given the lack of support for Native students in the UA system at the time, she did not feel encouraged to continue graduate study in her home state. In later years, the University of Alaska Fairbanks honored her for her contributions.
After graduation she took advantage of Native student support opportunities at Harvard University, where she earned an M.A. in Education Administration, was awarded a Certificate of Advanced Studies, and was the first Native American to serve on the Editorial Board of the Harvard Educational Review – all while balancing the responsibilities of being a single mother of three small children.
She was awarded another fellowship to pursue her doctorate at Stanford University. Her dissertation, “The Educational Experiences of the Residents of Bethel, Alaska: A Historical Case Study,” focused on educational challenges faced by Alaska Natives students enrolled in Christian missionary schools, the predecessor to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Dr. Parent then held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, during which time she also hosted a bi-monthly radio show on Pasadena Community College’s KPCC and became known as the ‘Treaty Lady’ because of her attention to issues of Native American treaty rights.
Parent worked hard to bring the Native American perspective to the forefront in academic life. During her time as a doctoral candidate at Stanford she was a lecturer in Native American Studies at Berkeley—traveling several hours around the Bay area by bus each week to fulfill her teaching and research responsibilities.
When she obtained her doctorate, she accepting a tenure-track appointment as an assistant professor of American Indian Studies in the nation’s only College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She took on the responsibilities of chairing the program, guiding American Indian Studies to department status, developing the minor emphasis, and became the department’s first full professor. After establishing a precedent of excellence in teaching, research, and community service that many American Indians academics and programs seek to emulate, Dr. Parent retired and earned Professor Emerita status in 2000.
She worked hard to integrate Native American Studies into the general education requirements so that students could choose these courses to satisfy their core requirements. This innovation made Indian studies accessible to a broad audience in the student body of SFSU.
Her academic career was marked by so many firsts—first Alaska Native woman to earn a PhD, one of a very few Alaska Native students to successfully gain degrees from both Harvard and Stanford University and the first Alaska Native woman to obtain tenure as a full professor. Upon her retirement, San Francisco State established the Elizabeth Parent Achievement Award in her honor. The award is bestowed annually to deserving students who exhibit academic success and leadership in American Indian communities.
Beyond the formal recognitions, most meaningful are the hundreds of young people who were mentored by Parent in their academic, social and cultural development. She was known on the Stanford campus for hosting student gatherings in her tiny on-campus apartment—always with a good home cooked meal.
When she learned of a new student who might need support, she would call them up- sometimes several times- until she made contact to let them know she was there if they needed help. She attended student presentation for moral support, she cooked thousands of meals for student potlucks and she was a strong supporter of Native American cultural centers wherever she lived. Sometimes the smallest gesture meant a huge amount to students who were struggling far from home.
Dorothy Pender, an Alaska Native student who completed her PhD, wrote, “Betty took me under her wing when I was an electrical engineering grad student at Stanford University. She proudly supported me as I defended my doctoral thesis, and both Stanford professors and students assumed she was my mother!
Likewise Karen Perdue, a young Stanford undergraduate from Fairbanks came to rely on the Parent household as a second family –for parental advice, food and the ability to decompress including hosting sleepovers in the Stanford dorm for Betty’s daughter Siobhan.
Pender also remembers how Parent encouraged her to become involved in assisting others. Parent is a Sequoyah member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), which is a lifelong membership- “Betty encouraged me to become an AISES Sequoyah member, and a board member.”
In her 75th year, Parent remains an active participant in Native American education and journalism circles, as well as broader Bay Area Native community organizations and events, such as her role on the Board of Directors for the Native American Cultural Center in San Francisco. She continues to be honored and recognized by her peers for her contributions.
Over her lifetime, Dr Betty Parent has progressed from a one room school house in a remote Alaskan village to the academic halls of America’s most prestigious Universities. She has never forgotten her roots. All through her career she has focused on the needs of young people by teaching and mentoring on a daily basis. She has committed herself to social and educational justice for Native American people.
Cathryn “Cathy” (Robertson) Rasmuson
Achievement In: Philanthropy, Community and Public Service
When Cathy Rasmuson moved to Alaska nearly 50 years ago to teach speed reading in Anchorage, she had no idea she would spend her life dedicated to the betterment of all Alaskans, especially its most vulnerable citizens. Cathy is best known as a loyal friend and mentor, an advocate for at-risk youth, and as a philanthropist. She has served on the Rasmuson Foundation Board of Directors since 1997, as well as the boards of Covenant House Alaska, Alaska Children’s Services, and McCauley Home, which is a safe place for pregnant and homeless teen girls to stay.
Through the Rasmuson Foundation work, Cathy has focused on bringing better access to healthcare to Alaska. She chaired the capital campaign for the Providence Hospital Cancer Center and was also instrumental in establishing the Pediatric Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Providence.
Rasmuson came from a Canadian family of modest means, who were her role models by example of being empathetic and caring. After earning a BA in English from the University of Alberta, she worked there in public relations before deciding to seek adventure in Alaska. Shortly after arriving, she attended a Valentine’s party where she fortuitously met Ed Rasmuson, who became her loving partner for the next 48 years.
One of her most memorable adventures has been dog-mushing the Iditarod Trail with Joe Reddington in 1993. She and her colleagues followed after the race had started and experienced the hospitality of Alaskans across the state. Her affection for rural Alaska was greatly influenced by that experience.
Cathy Rasmuson’s life reads like a fairy tale, where she has been fortunate enough to serve as actual fairy godmother as the Vice-Chair the Rasmuson Foundation. She is known as the heart of the Rasmuson Foundation.
Cathy Rasmuson’s impact as active Vice-Chair of the Rasmuson Foundation since 1997 is immeasurable. Her caring influence can be felt everywhere—from Alaska’s Native villages and urban cities to health care and the arts—with thousands of Alaskans every day benefitting from her passion to make Alaska a better place to live.
Rasmuson has been guided by a generous heart her entire life. She grew up in a modest household in Canada, but one rich in empathy and compassionate awareness for others. Her parents’ faith and their example as role models gave her a strong moral compass.
She believes everyone has strengths and gifts and it’s important to recognize who you are, what your gifts are, and make the most of them. As a young girl, she realized that she had a particular gift for organization and strategic thinking. These gifts have served her well in all her endeavors—from her service on the Rasmuson Foundation championing causes to hosting innumerable events, receptions, and dinners for a myriad of organizations from The Foraker Group to Sitka Fine Arts and many others.
One of the Rasmusons’ significant achievements has been to nourish the growth and expansion of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Rasmuson has a particular love of the arts and museums. When she is traveling, she never misses a museum.
Some of Rasmuson’s personal commitments include being the co-chair of the successful capital campaign for the Providence Cancer Center and as a founder and long-time Board member of Covenant House. She has been instrumental in establishing the pediatric/newborn intensive care unit at Providence, as well as being involved in supporting Catholic Social Services and the McAuley Moms. Rasmuson has initiated and shepherded many Rasmuson Foundation programs, such as expanding dental services in rural Alaska. In the last thirty-five years, she has served on numerous boards, including Alaska Children’s Services and the Alaska Repertory Theatre, in addition to countless committees. Rasmuson commented that the board and committee experiences have taught her to listen and to be grateful.
It was her sense of adventure that brought her to Alaska, where she met her lifelong mentor and loving partner, Ed Rasmuson, appropriately enough at a Valentine party. It was also this sense of adventure that provided her with one of her most memorable experiences. One year, Joe Reddington, the father of the Iditarod, offered a trip to anyone who would like to actually do the Iditarod trail. Joe schooled them in the art of dog-mushing and gave them each their own team—and then they began the 1200 mile journey! This is not for the faint of heart—it is cold, hard work and dangerous. They were all novices making their way to Nome. Those who made this journey became lifelong friends—as you do when you go through adversity together. The compassion that each had as they helped each other through some very rough times has stayed with them. Accomplishing this goal required enormous mental strength and determination, lessons that were transferred to the rest of her life.
Rasmuson loves to dance and is usually game for when “volunteers” are called for, be it the hula, flamenco, Irish, or Native dancing. Of course, she does extensive community volunteering. For example, when in the desert, she makes weekly visits to an elementary school for underprivileged children in Indio.
Ironically, Rasmuson dislikes fundraising, though she knows it is essential to seek funds to support causes she cherishes. However, her passion for a cause and commitment transcends that challenge, which takes her out of her comfort zone.
It is her temperament to wake up every morning and want to make the best of each day. She greatly values her friends, particularly their loyalty. She also enjoys reading—and thus her support of statewide libraries is well-known. She does enjoy cooking and her favorite specialty cuisines are Moroccan, Indian, and Italian. Rasmuson loves to golf, but has yet to hit that elusive hole-in-one. In addition to golf, she loves hiking, which led her to another adventure of hiking the historic Chilkat Trail with friends.
Her travels have included nearly every region of Alaska. Through these onsite visits, she sees firsthand the needs of each of these communities by meeting with elders and community leaders and hosting town meetings to learn about their vision of how their villages and towns can move toward a brighter future.
Key to Rasmuson’s character is not to seek the spotlight or acclaim for her many achievements and spheres of influence. Rather, she always gives credit and recognition to her partners, collaborators, and teams for the successes that were achieved. She has been honored, though, with the Ed and Cathryn Rasmuson Hall at UAA, the Lizzie Award from Covenant House and has been recognized as a YWCA “Woman of Achievement”. Her bio on the Rasmuson Foundation website is modest and brief, simply stating her board service with the Rasmuson Foundation and that her family is important to her life. She has three children and eight grandchildren and devotes her time to being a friend, a grandmother, the Rasmuson Foundation, and travel.
Rasmuson has truly been the heart of the Rasmuson Foundation. Her generous spirit and heart have touched many. As Alison Kear of Covenant House Alaska states: “She tirelessly gives her time to her friends, to those in need, and to the community. She is a selfless and powerful role model.”
She has always been powered by a passionate commitment and she has done a great deal of good for the state of Alaska.
Individual comments from Barbara Baugh, Pamela Brady, Alison Kear, Julie Fate Sullivan, Diane Kaplan and direct conversation with Cathryn Rasmuson
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
Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento
Achievement in: Education and community leadership
Growing up in the Philippines in the 1940s, Elsa Saladino Malapit couldn’t imagine she would become a prominent leader of 30,000 Filipinos in Alaska.
She credits her father who said, “The best inheritance I can give you is your education. It will give you light wherever you go.” Elsa’s completion of an education degree and exceptional success in the national teachers’ civil service exam launched her career.
Elsa and Angel Sargento, an accountant/police investigator/musician, met in Rizal and married 2 ½ years later. In 1973, the Filipino economy struggled, and Angel migrated to Alaska. In 1974, Elsa left their infant daughter with family and came to Alaska with their 1-year old son.
Elsa worked as a bi-lingual tutor and earned credits at University of Alaska to obtain a teaching certificate. In 1977, she received her Master of Education and obtained her School Administrative Certificate in 1981. Her many awards during 23 years in the Anchorage School District tell this heartfelt story.
In 1996, Elsa and Angel helped launch Bridge Builders of Anchorage, a non-profit organization connecting diverse racial and cultural groups. Elsa’s warmth and professionalism as a board member-president-team leader has sent ripples through both the long-term and new-citizen communities of Anchorage over the last 20 years.
Elsa’s leadership was key in the creation of the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Incorporated. In 2003, 12 of 15 Filipino organizations consolidated with the goal of intermixing with mainstream society, sharing cultures, experiences and strengths to cause a change that benefits the community.
Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles.
(pronounciation: El’-sa Sa-la-DEE’-no Ma-La’-pit Sar-HEN’-to)
Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles. She has demonstrated how hard work can balance family and career, pressures of becoming professionally fluent in a second (or third) language, and a solid belief that any problem can be solved.
PERSONAL STORY (Her quotes are in italics.)
TEACHING “Education will give you light wherever you go.”
Our family was mostly educators. My dad, Sotero Aguinaldo Malapit, was principal of the Lusong Elementary School. He had served as commanding officer of SULUBAD Bolo Battalion Resistance Movement in the early 1940s. He married well. His first wife, who died too young, was a wealthy woman. I learned later that dad owned land on several islands. They had 3 children. In 1945, my dad remarried a beautiful woman inside and out,my mother Carmen Saladino, and they had 4 children.
My parents urged me to pass the teachers’ civil service exam, and I was fortunate to pass with flying colors. This (and my Bachelor’s Degree) led to my first teaching job in the Malabon District in Rizal, Philippines. I was 18. It was during that time that I met my husband, Angel. I taught for 3 years, then was a school administrator for 7 years.
This all changed when Angel got a job at a fish cannery in Anchorage, and he called me to join him. We would live with his sister in Anchorage. Our 3-month old daughter remained with my mother and sisters and our son, age 1, came to Alaska
“If you are determined to make it a happy life, you can do it.”
After a brief, menial job as a kitchen helper for Northwest Airlines Fight kitchen cleaning the lint off glasses that airline passengers used, Elsa got a job as a teacher’s aide. In spite of the extreme winter weather and a 50-mile, round-trip commute, it was the beginning of her 23 years as an elementary teacher with the Anchorage School District.
LEADERSHIP IS ONE OF ELSA’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR COMMUNITY AND STATE.
BRIDGE BUILDERS OF ANCHORAGE Somehow, I always felt I was a second-class citizen in this great country of ours until in 1996, Angel and I received a letter from the mayor at that time, Rick Mystrom. He invited us to be at a gathering to launch something he called “Bridge Builders of Anchorage”. He had sent similar letters to three couples from 14 different cultures in our city.
Six years later, I was chosen to be one of the team of 23 people to go to the national finals of the All-America City awards program in Kansas City, Missouri. My job was to recite “The Pledge of Mutual Respect” that Bridge Builders had written and donated to our city as a gift for the new millennium. As we rehearsed on the Kansas City stage, I noticed that my fellow Alaskans were reading their speaking parts from decorated binders and I spoke up. “We must all know and memorize our own speaking parts by tomorrow, or we will not win this award.”
Mayor George Wuerch agreed and the next day before thousands in a great auditorium with the judges sitting in the front row, I looked into the eyes of every judge as I recited the following pledge:
“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska pledge to respect one another celebrating the differences that make us unique our customs, our colors, dreams, and ancestral traditions. Standing together hand-in-hand, young and old we affirm that through mutual respect we can build a stronger more harmonious community, a more unified nation, and a better, safer world.”
We all performed well and won the day and the All American City title. The crowd stood up and applauded, and we were the unanimous choice of the judges. That was a turning point in my life. Ever since, I have been in the front lines of community leadership and have served in state government.
Another Bridge Builders project of Elsa’s began in 2006 when she was president of the organization. She was committed to the idea that each of the international cultural communities in Anchorage should be invited to honor one of their members for their Excellence in Community Service. Nominations should be decided by the individual communities. This annual UNITY GALA event has become a wonderful dinner-dance – complete with entertainment, photos, and speeches. Since it was initiated, Bridge Builders Honorees have been from the entire spectrum of our diverse communities – honoring more than 150 individuals and organizations. Elsa’s leadership has been the core of this event. As a result, Bridge Builders is known and valued throughout Anchorage.
ALASKA FEDERATION OF FILIPINO-AMERICANS (AFFA”) As mentioned in the earlier part of this biography, Elsa was a key to the organization of 12 of the 15 Filipino organizations into a single group. With 7,100 islands in the Philippines and more than 100 languages in addition to the national language of Pilipino, it is easy to imagine separate organizations, cultures, and families. Since its incorporation in 2003, AFFA has established itself as one of the most welcoming, involved, celebratory cultural groups in Alaska.
“I do my best and go the extra mile. I show the way. I get results and win their trust and they are with me all the way.”
FILIPINO RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS CHOIR GROUP of Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church Every third Sunday of the month is Filipino Mass at Saint Benedict’s Church, Anchorage. This wonderful choir and community has benefitted from Elsa’s joy and leadership for nearly 20 years. In addition to the happiness of the Filipino Mass, the Community has had a special internationally-welcoming aura to all its activities.
Walker Administration 2014 to present
Policy and Program Specialist (Office of Governor Bill Walker, Anchorage): Sargento is often called upon as the Governor’s connection to our culturally-diverse Alaska citizens and reaches back out for the Governor to a number of their concerns.
Education Transition Team: Pre-inauguration of Governor Walker, Sargento was one of the 15-member team that provided perspective and priorities in public education.
Murkowski Administration 2002-2006 Executive Director of the Alaska State Community Service Commission which promoted volunteerism and ethics of service.
ACADEMIC DEGREES When I was young, my family was mostly educators. My father channeled his leadership skills as Principal of Lusong Elementary schoool .
Alaska: School Administrative Certificate – University of Alaska (UAA) 1981
Master of Elementary Education UAA 1977
Alaska Teaching Certificate (UAA) 1974
Philippines: Philippine Normal College – Manila Master’s Equivalency 1970
Philippine National Teachers’ Civil Service Exam 1965
Northern Luzon Teachers’ College – Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education 1965
Elsa holds an Alaska Real Estate license and has been an active partner with her husband in Manila Realty since 1986.
Elsa and Angel were married June 4, 1971 and they have three adult children and six grandchildren. Achilles “Lex” Sargento was born March 23, 1972. He has 2 sons, Aliyas (12) and Jericho (7). Golda Sargento was born October 3, 1973. She has a son Micah (15) and a daughter Mahalya (12). Ryan Sargento was born September 3, 1981. He has a son Esco (10) and a daughter Lahliya (9).
My life has not all been a “bed of roses.” There have been challenges for our family like anyone else. However, because of Elsa’s generous spirit and being there for her community, they have been there for her and given her the love and support to get through whatever challenges the family has had to face.
Elsa is Filipino by birth. She migrated to Alaska, January 5, 1974 and became a Naturalized American Citizen in 1979.
Founder’s Award – Bridge Builders of Anchorage 2013
Honored by Founder and former Mayor Rick Mystrom, Sargento, was honored for her steadfast leadership, courage and commitment which benefitted her community, all cultures in Anchorage, and beyond.
President’s Award – Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Inc. 2012
Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation Dan Sullivan 2010
Outstanding Leadership – Filipino Community of Alaska 2009
20 Outstanding Filipino-Americans of US and Canada Washington, DC 2006 Sargento was honored for her ”dynamic leadership and unwavering support to activities enhancing a positive Filipino-American image in the US and Canada.
Mayor’s Award for Public Service Mark Begich 2005 Public Safety Advisory Commission
Asian Academy – Hall of Fame Albuquerque, NM 2004 Sargento was 1 of the 7 global honorees “knighted” in this ceremony and the first Filipino-Alaska woman to receive this honor.
Fil-Am Showtime – Outstanding Achievement Award 2000
BP Teacher of Excellence Certificate 1998
Teacher of the Year Chinook Elementary School 1997-98
Golden Award – Delta Kappa (education honor sorority) 1997
MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT When interviewed for the ALASKA WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME honors, Elsa had to think carefully about her most significant accomplishment. Capturing her comment . . . The connection with Bridge Builders is probably her most significant. Beyond the wonderful beginnings of forming the Community of Friends . . . the teams of friends from all races and backgrounds and their support in all aspects even in the toughest of all times over 20 years . . . the success of determination to make it live beyond challenging financial time . . . to the positive ripple effect that resulted in AFFA . . . to the current assignment with Governor Bill Walker and First Lady Donna Walker. Elsa’s former students are now coming into her office as inspired, pro-active adults. It’s an honor to have been part of all this as our city and state have become a unique and welcoming place.
Thank you to the Board of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for this inclusion in your valuable group. Elsa
(This is pending publication. It provides a valuable understanding of the Filipino-American culture.)
Celebrating Filipinos in Alaska By Elsa Malapit Sargento
It is a pleasure to write about Filipinos and what we have brought and continue to bring: our cultural heritage. I would like to highlight a few characteristic traits that stand out to this day.
Survivability Filipino presence in Alaska speaks to our mastery at survival as a people. There is a saying that comes to mind: what won’t kill you will make you strong. That our culture is intact and our people continue to populate the world even in places one would least expect- even in a place like Alaska- is a testimony to our ability to survive, AND thrive. Earliest presence of Filipinos in Alaska on record, according to a book Filipinos in Alaska by the late Thelma Buchholdt, goes back to 1788.
“It appears that the first Filipinos to reach Alaska’s shores came as merchant seamen seeking fur trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. The earliest record accounts for at least one unnamed Filipino seaman who, in 1788, arrived as a crew member on a merchant ship which bartered with Alaska Natives for sea otter furs.”
The ability to survive as people presupposes endurance, the ability to bare suffering by generating the power to resist, and at various times even to revolt. We emerged from an environment of oppression called colonization. What did not kill us made us strong. This is why we are survivors.
Adventuresome That Filipinos are found in just about every corner of the world gives testimony to the Filipino spirit of adventure. Sons and daughters of islands in the pacific far-east, we became explorers by necessity. We are forced to always look for better and more suitable lands on which to build homes and start our families. Today, this exploration translates into seeking suitable livelihood to support our families and people.
Fun-loving We are a fun-loving people. If Americans evolved a work ethic for survival, Filipinos evolved a play ethic for the same reason. We cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. A healthy sense of humor can combat the often chaotic and less-than-ideal conditions in which we find ourselves. So we share jokes, we sing songs, recite poems, and we dance. We tend to be non-confrontational. Instead, we value a kind of “smooth interpersonal relationship.” It is very difficult for us to say no. What we have developed are the many levels of meanings for the word YES, where sometimes saying YES means NO. This is because we value relationships.
Hard workers Filipinos are known to sacrifice self for family. Overseas workers (or contract workers abroad) then and now are in the millions. These individual Filipinos not only sacrifice themselves for their families but for the group. They contribute more to the Philippine economy than all of the local businesses in the country. Nothing is too demeaning for Filipinos. They’ll take on anything if it means better living conditions for their families and relatives back home. This is particularly noticeable in Alaska in the many assisted-living homes run by Filipinos. Over 90% of assisted-living homes in Alaska are owned and run by Filipinos. Taking care of the elderly and the homebound is more than a business. For Filipinos, this is an expression of a Filipino value: respect and care of elders especially when they are weak and nearing life’s end.
Utang na loob (OO-TANG’-na-loo-ob) We never forget kind deeds. We are forever indebted to someone who has shown us kindness. We therefore have developed a sense of moral obligation, a sense of indebtedness whether to another person, a neighbor, or country. The long standing relationship between the United States and the Philippines comes out of that Filipino sense of indebtedness we call “utang na loob.” We Filipinos in Alaska feel a sense of gratitude to our state and we have a sense of indebtedness towards this great state that we have adopted as our home. We want to give back to Alaska what Alaska afforded us: a livelihood and a home.
Faith Filipinos are very religious. Religion is more than going to Church to us. It is a life-style. It is deeply embedded in our customs and traditions. In a religious environment, we learn moral and ethical behavior. We are pre-dominantly Christian although we have a large population of Muslims in our southern islands. We take this religiosity and piety wherever we go.
Pakikisama (Pa-KEE-KEE’-Sa’-ma) The social nature of every Filipino lends itself to cultural, racial and ethnic diversity. Filipinos can get along with everybody. A fun-loving nature is only the starting point. Much deeper than the pleasure of company is the value of inter-personal relationship. There is a sense of loyalty that comes with community, with neighborhood, and in a bigger picture, loyalty to a society. This is why citizenship is so important to Filipinos. It gives them a sense of belonging and ownership and obligation.
When all is said and done, I think I am speaking for all Filipinos when I say, “We are proud to be Alaskans, and we are proud to be Americans.”Elsa Sargento is the founder of AFFA, the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans; a retired 23-year teacher in the Anchorage School District; a founder and former president of Bridge Builders of Anchorage; and a co-owner with her husband Angel Sargento of Manila Realty. She is currently Policy and Program Specialist in Governor Walker’s Anchorage office. (March 2017)
Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller
Achievement in: Aleut Culture and Alaska Native Education
Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller was a pioneer for the Aleut (Unangan) people who blazed the way in education, public speaking, and community activism. She was an outstanding Alaska Native educator who worked for decades in rural Alaska villages and towns.
She was the first teacher in Atka, the surviving village in the central Aleutians, where she taught for four years. She was the first of her people to be a certified teacher and went on to teach in her hometown of Unalaska on the Aleutian chain, in Akhiok (Alitak) on Kodiak Island, in Tyonek, and Eklutna.
Her teaching spanned almost 40 years, all in Alaska’s territorial days. She became an outspoken advocate and strong activist for the rights and culture of her people and was dedicated to helping them. In her career, she influenced thousands of children and adults across Alaska.
As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Seller set an example of the value of education that has rarely been equaled. In 1922 she was asked to write three articles about the Aleut people. Published in 1923 by The Pathfinder of Alaska, they are of great importance to any study of the Aleut people.
Her outstanding work among the Native people of Alaska spanned the disciplines of education, midwifery, church and social work. She was remembered in the Aleut Corporation Newsletter for her “lifelong, tireless efforts to enhance the capabilities of her people to cope with their changing way of life.” She was recognized by the Department of Interior in 1950 when she received a special award for commendable service. That same year Congress awarded her a medal for ‘outstanding service to her people.’ After she retired, she continued to lecture about Alaska and the Aleut people.
Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller was a pioneer for the Aleut (Unangan) people who blazed the way in education, public speaking, and community activism. She was an outstanding Alaska Native educator who worked for decades in rural Alaska villages and towns.
She was the first teacher in Atka, the surviving village in the central Aleutians, where she taught for four years. She was the first of her people to be a certified teacher and went on to teach in her hometown of Unalaska on the Aleutian chain, in Akhiok (Alitak) on Kodiak Island, in Tyonek, and Eklutna.
Her teaching spanned almost 40 years, all in territorial days. She became an outspoken advocate and strong activist for the rights and culture of her people and was dedicated to helping them. In her career, she influenced thousands of children and adults across Alaska.
As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn set an example of the value of education that has rarely been equaled. Through her own education and her subsequent work as a teacher, she had a deep impact on those who knew her. In 1922 Kathryn was asked to write three articles about the Aleut people. These were published in 1923 by The Pathfinder of Alaska and are of great importance to any study of the Aleut people.
Her outstanding work among the Native people of Alaska spanned the disciplines of education, midwifery, church, and social work. She was remembered in the Aleut Corporation Newsletter for her “lifelong, tireless efforts to enhance the capabilities of her people to cope with their changing way of life.” She was recognized by the Department of Interior in 1950 when she received a special award for commendable service. That same year Congress awarded her a medal for ‘outstanding service to her people.’ After she retired, she continued to lecture about Alaska and the Aleut people. She was decades ahead of her time in speaking about the terrible suffering of Aleuts who were taken from the islands during World War II and placed in substandard camps in Southeast Alaska.
Kathryn Pelagia Dyakanoff was born to an important Aleut (Unangan) family in Unalaska on December 7th, 1884. She began her schooling when she lived at the Jesse Lee Home in 1894. She was an outstanding student who was encouraged by missionaries at Jesse Lee to continue her education. When she was twelve years old Sheldon Jackson, the first Alaska Commissioner of Education, recommended her to go to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. She earned her high school diploma from Carlisle in 1906. After she finished at Carlisle, she went to West Chester Normal School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she graduated with her teaching degree in January 1909. Before she returned to Alaska, she spent a semester doing post-graduate work at Dickson College in Carlisle. Throughout all of this time, Dr. Sheldon Jackson encouraged her.
For her first year as a teacher in 1909, the Bureau of Indian Affairs assigned her to Sitka. The 1910 U.S. Census lists Kathryn Dyakanoff (21) with Cassia Patton (48) as the U.S. Government teachers. After the school year ended, she traveled to Seattle. There on June 1, 1910, she married Harry G. Seller, who was born in England and had immigrated to the U.S. a decade earlier. He had worked as a newspaper writer and photographer and was also a teacher.
Kathryn was at the forefront of changes in Aleut identity occasioned by economic and social forces at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was a bridge between traditional 19th century Aleuts and those who would forge new directions in the coming decades.
A Dedicated Teacher:
The Sellers were commissioned by the B.I.A. to go to Atka, first to build a schoolhouse and then to serve as the teachers there. Kathryn was the principal teacher while her husband provided manual training. He eventually managed the Atka Island Native Store, a cooperative he started for the Bureau of Education. The local villagers were hired in the construction of the new school. Two excerpts on the Alaska history website show Kathryn’s dedication and exceptional gifts (alaskahistory.org):
The B.I.A. gave Kathryn and Harry one hundred seventy dollars worth of construction materials and three special items the government had conceded to Kathryn: an organ, a cow and a bull. It is interesting to note that they refunded fifty of the original one hundred seventy dollars to the government. The schoolhouse, which was also their home, was completed and ready for use in 1909. Their first daughter, Renee Lois Seller, was born in Atka in 1911; the family recorded that the villagers celebrated the birth, not of Renee, but of a calf parented by the cow and bull that Kathryn had insisted accompany them to the island. Atka was a very remote outpost; the Sellers received mail only once a year.
Adventurer and newsreel photographer Will Hudson wrote a narrative of his 1913-1914 trip to Alaska and Siberia in a book entitled, Icy Hell. He stopped at Atka, he wrote of meeting Kathryn: “The little Native school was under the direction of an Aleut girl who received her education in the States. If ever there was a saint living on earth, I am sure it was this faithful, cultured Aleut maiden, who was slaving herself half to death in an effort to help her charges in faraway, lonely Atka.” Will Hudson wrote that Kathryn shared their meager food supplies with the villagers.
Kathryn’s knowledge of the Aleut language enabled her to jump-start the education of children who had never been in school before. Being the teachers in Atka were much more than just building the school and teaching the children; the school became the heart of community activity. Harry and Kathryn’s report to the government for 1912-13, describes the whole community being involved in clearing various locations and planting many kinds of vegetables and potatoes. They built a separate building as an industrial shop for the school and men and boys learned to use tools. They offered medical care. Cooking and weaving classes were offered. Kathryn was sent a sewing machine, two other machines arrived and older girls and women learned to sew. She included in her report, “Now all of the older girls and women of the village know how to use the machines. Sewing classes were held on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and the use of the machine was free to anyone on Saturdays” (1914, p. 45).
By 1916, the Sellers were living in the village of Akhiok on Alitak Bay on the south end of Kodiak Island. The Department of Interior 1916-1917 report lists Mrs. Kathryn D. Seller as the teacher with 43 children enrolled and a very good average daily attendance record. The 1920 Census lists Kathryn and Harry still living in Akhiok with their oldest four children. Kathryn and Harry were both teaching as the U. S. Government teachers. They experienced tragedy the next year when their seven-year old son Alfred drowned in Alitak Bay.
In 1920, Kathryn became the superintendent at Tyonek and taught there. By then their children were growing so in the 1920s, they moved to Anchorage so their older children could attend high school. They were early residents of Anchorage. Harry worked for the railroad and Kathryn took time away from teaching to manage the household and help raise her five remaining children as well as volunteer in the community. Their oldest daughter Renee graduated from Anchorage High School in 1929, Marjorie in 1932, son Harry in 1934. Kathryn’s husband Harry Seller died in the summer of 1936, leaving Kathryn a widow with two children, John and Betty, still at home.
After her husband’s death, Kathryn moved back to Akhiok village and returned to teaching. Her youngest two children stayed in Anchorage to finish high school (John graduated in 1941 and Betty in 1942). Son Harry moved to Akhiok with her. Kathryn and Harry Jr. are both listed in the 1940 U.S. Census, where she was the teacher in the school, and in fact, also the census taker. That time must have been precious to her, as Harry joined the military and died at Unalaska a few days after the Japanese attack in June 1942.
In the early 1940s, Kathryn was on the staff at the Eklutna Vocational School, where she taught. Kathryn retired from teaching in 1948 and moved to California to be near her children and grandchildren. She continued to make presentations along the west coast and in the east, sharing slides and pictures and her stories at schools, churches, and other groups to promote better understanding of Alaska and her people. She died on June 17, 1980 at age 96 in San Francisco and is buried in the Valley Cemetery in Sonoma.
Impact of Kathryn’s Life:
The villages where Kathryn taught listed in various sources include: Sitka, Atka, Unalaska, Akhiok (Alitak), Wacker (Ward Cove), Tyonek, and Eklutna. Though she had earned her teaching degree, because she was Alaska Native she was granted only a temporary certificate to teach in Alaska. Visitors were sometimes incredulous that a Native woman could be the government teacher and consequently described her as her husband’s assistant. Through her outstanding teaching and persistence she was finally granted her permanent certificate in 1925. In the days when there were few if any Alaska Native certified teachers in towns and villages of Alaska, Kathryn was a path breaker, a mentor and inspiration to many. To think she was born only seventeen years after Alaska’s purchase from Russia and taught for decades, all in territory days, is amazing and inspiring.
As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn Seller faced bigotry and prejudice with intelligence and resolve. She had the highest standards and a fearless energy. As Anthony J. Diamond wrote, “I have known Mrs. Seller for twenty years or more. Her character is of the highest. She is intelligent, honorable, and reliable. I know that she will speak the truth.”
Ray Hudson wrote, “When I was a young teacher at Unalaska (in the 1960s and 1970s), I had several discussions with Edna Pelagia McCurdy. She was an Aleut who retired from teaching in California and returned home to teach in the public school and to assist forming the local corporation. Several times she spoke about how Kathryn Seller was a great influence on her life. Today a scholarship exists in McCurdy’s name, given annually by the Ounalashka Corporation.” Edna McCurdy said of her aunt Kathryn, “She was always so proud of her Aleut heritage and always used Dyakanoff as her middle name.” Ray also reported, “Anfesia Shapsnikoff, the great basket weaver and champion of Aleut culture, although a generation younger than Seller (having been born in 1900) was a friend of Kathryn and frequently referred to her work as being exemplary.”
It is fitting that Kathryn was recognized nationally for her teaching and service and that we honor her achievements and long dedication as an Alaska Native woman.
Alaska History Website: http://www.alaskahistory.org/detail.aspx?ID=176.
Aleut Corporation. (~1980). Spotlight on Shareholders: Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller. Newsletter for shareholders.
Bagoy, J. (2001). Legends and legacies: Anchorage 1910-1935. Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001, p. 187-189.
Bagoy, J. (Various dates). Research files, correspondence, and writings in the archives at the Anchorage Historical & Fine Arts Museum.
Blalock, Betty Seller. (2017). Personal conversations and letters (Daughter of Kathryn).
Carlisle (n.d.). Student card for Kathryn Dyakanoff on entry 10-25-98. Card G-412.
Correspondence between Dr. Sheldon Jackson and Kathryn Dyakanoff, 1907 – 1908.
 Official records of Kathryn’s birth year vary from 1884-1888, but her death records & grave give 1884.
Achievements in: Higher Education and Community Development
Carol Swartz has served as Director of the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College/UAA in Homer for 31 years. With her energetic and collaborative leadership style, and together with dedicated faculty, staff and community board, she created and expanded accessible and diverse cultural and educational opportunities on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
Swartz early recognized that education is the key to making a transformative difference in our world and to people’s well-being. Accordingly, she championed adult and youth access to education, as well as promoted the role of the Campus in Homer’s economic development, fostered community discussions, and responded to the changing needs of the area. Carol enthusiastically spearheaded the advocacy, planning, and design of the Campus’s facilities and programs.
Swartz is the founding director of KBC’s annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, a premier cultural event that has earned significant national recognition. Since 2002, this conference has hosted award-winning Alaska and national novelists, essayists, and poets who have inspired many through their creative work and presentations.
After arriving in Homer in 1980 to serve as the first clinical social worker/co-director at the new Community Mental Health Center, Swartz founded South Peninsula Women’s Services in cooperation with dedicated community members and agencies. As its director, she and others developed core services and collaborated with hospital, school, law enforcement and judicial system staffs to advocate for the state’s developing legal, public safety, and social services and shelter networks to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
Dedicated to community service, Carol has served on many boards of directors and has been the recipient of various awards, including the Alaska Woman of Achievement, Governor’s Award for the Humanities and the University of Alaska Meritorious Service Award.
Carol Swartz, M.S.W., has served as the first Director of UAA’s Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC) in Homer. Since 1986, she has overseen this comprehensive campus of Kenai Peninsula College/UAA, offering successful academic, life-long learning and training programs. Today, the campus serves over 700 people each semester.
With her energetic, collaborative leadership style and with a dedicated staff, faculty and community board, Swartz established accessible and diverse cultural and educational opportunities. She recognizes that education is the key to making a transformative difference in our world.
Under her leadership, with the encouragement of many mentors, she has championed expanding adult and youth access to education and has promoted the role of the campus in Homer’s economic development. Her efforts have helped create a better local trained workforce, fostering cross-cultural community discussions and responding to the changing needs of the residents of Homer and the surrounding communities.
With clear vision and determination, Swartz has enthusiastically spearheaded the advocacy, planning, design and construction of its current facilities. She oversaw grant and budget development and management as well as student and support services. She implemented establishment of programs including: nursing, liberal arts, education, welding, GED/ABE, maritime technology, and business development, which have enriching the economic and cultural life of the community.
Under her leadership, the Kachemak Bay Campus also organized statewide women’s conferences in the 1990’s, culminating with “Women 2000: Sailing into the New Millennium”.
Swartz is the founding director of the annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, a premier nationally recognized event sponsored by Kachemak Bay Campus. It features workshops, readings and panel presentations in creative fiction, poetry, nonfiction and the business of writing. Since 2002, the Writers’ Conference has hosted award-winning Alaskan and national novelists, essayists and poets who have inspired audiences. With its focus on community and craft, this conference strives to celebrate the connection between writers and readers.
Within two months of arriving in Alaska in 1980 Swartz helped organize South Peninsula Women’s Service (now Haven House). She was hired as the first clinical social worker of the Homer Community Mental Health Center, but quickly realized broader community needs. Until then, Homer had only an informal network of safe houses for women seeking safety from domestic violence and sexual assault, but had no formal safe home, counseling, or crisis-response system.
For a time, Swartz served both as the community mental health center clinician and as the executive director of the crisis center, but then committed herself to the latter full-time. She and others developed the core services that exist today, working with hospital, school, law enforcement, and the judiciary. She has been an effective advocate for state services and the shelter networks to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
In 1985 Swartz became the Kenai Peninsula’s first Guardian ad Litem through the Office of Public Advocacy, protecting the rights of children during court proceedings. For two years she also traveled across the state working with new rural shelter programs and developed child sexual assault intervention protocols.
Carol grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Rhode Island. After graduation from college, her first job was with an adoption/foster care agency. After backpacking for a year around Europe, she packed her bags and drove across the country to Oregon, where she attended Portland State University, graduating in 1977 with a Master of Social Work degree. Swartz then briefly worked for the US Forest Service on a trail construction and fire suppression crew, followed by work as a residential treatment center clinician and elementary school counselor.
Carol has been inspired by much of her family’s history that instilled in her a sense of history, integrity, public service, and personal responsibility. They also modeled a strong work ethic and commitment to do the best one can — to be a “change agent.” She values education, art the environment and diverse cultures.
Her husband, Robert, has served as her primary cheerleader, encouraging her in all her endeavors and mutual adventures. Significant mentors include her parents and brother extraordinary friends, women, students, and writers; especially those who are true survivors of life’s uncertainties and challenges. Jane Goodall inspired her: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” She believes it is, likewise, her responsibility to serve as a mentor to many women and young people.
Swartz is the quintessential community collaborator. There is a quotation taped above her desk that reads, “To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?” That sums her up. Where there is a need, Carol helps to fill it. She has facilitated the initiation of several local environmental, human service and cultural organizations.
Swartz serves and is a member of numerous non-profit organizations. She has served on several area and statewide boards of directors, including: Bunnell Street Arts Center (founding), Pratt Museum, KBBI, Homer Council on the Arts, Girl Scout Susitna Council, and the former Alaska Women’s Network. She currently serves as a founding trustee of the philanthropic Homer Foundation and sits on the Bunnell St. Arts Center Advisory Council, Haven House (SPWS) Honorary Council, UAA, and Homer area committees.
She is a 31-year member of the Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and was active in its and Homer’s international service “friendship” trips to Thailand, Japan, and Russia. Her sense of adventure and love of dogs led her to serving as a volunteer with the Iditarod in McGrath and Nome in the mid ‘80’s. For over 15 years, she and her husband cared for their own “family” of sled dogs. Many of her other interests include traveling, beachcombing, reading, gardening, cooking, and advocating for human rights and social justice.
A colleague of hers stated, “The most evident and outstanding aspect of her leadership here is her connection to the community.” She is a leader, a mentor, and a friend. She is a model of the “servant leader” — leading from behind, gently pushing others to succeed.
Carol has been the recipient of several awards and recognitions honoring her contributions and public service, including the 2009 South Peninsula Haven House Woman of Distinction, 2009 Alaska Center for the Book Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Award, 2012 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities, 2013 University of Alaska Anchorage Meritorious Service Award in recognition of her significant commitment and service to the University and Homer, 2013 Homer Council on the Arts Educator of the Year, and the 2015 Alaska Adult Education Association’s John L. Hulbert Award for outstanding long-term contribution to lifelong learning. She was recently inducted into 2016 Class of YWCA/BP Women of Achievement.