Monica M Anderson
Monica Anderson has served as the Chief Mission Integration Officer for Providence Health and Services Alaska since 2002. She is its conscience and moral compass, a thoughtful, intuitive listener who speaks truth to power.
Anderson serves as the vital link between the high tech medical care of the regional Providence community and its history as a healing ministry, serving those in need medically, socially and spiritually. Through her steadfast commitment to ethical, compassionate service, she skillfully influences strategic leadership in the Providence community and throughout Alaska.
Anderson is responsible for bringing the Clinical Pastoral Education Program to Alaska. Accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Educators, this practical, hands-on theological curriculum is designed to help ministers and seminarians from Alaska and around the world meet the unique spiritual needs of those in hospitals, long-term care and other health care facilities.
Anderson has served as Chaplain and Spiritual Care Director in various locations including Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Anderson, a child of a military family, experienced life in naval stations on both U.S. coasts before choosing to make Alaska her permanent home. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Theology from Loyola College in Baltimore, MD, and a Master of Arts in Counseling from the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies in Charleston, WV. She is a board-certified, professional chaplain with over 2,000 hours of clinical pastoral education. These areas of study were an expression of her early interest in medicine and healing and the role spirituality plays in health and healing.
Anderson, a respected Alaskan advocate, has an oral legacy of leadership, knowledge and inspiration. She is a frequent speaker at nonprofit and community service events and leadership meetings across Alaska and the Lower 48.
Monica Anderson is a fierce and respected Alaskan advocate, educator, mentor and humanitarian. In her present role as Chief Mission Integration Officer for Alaska Health and Services Alaska, she is its conscience and moral compass. Anderson is a thoughtful, intuitive listener who speaks truth to power.
Anderson has an oral legacy of leadership, knowledge and inspiration. She is a frequent speaker at nonprofit and community service events and leadership meetings across Alaska and the lower 48. Through her steadfast commitment to service, she passionately and professionally influences strategic leadership in community partnerships, ethics, spiritual care and justice in the workplace.
Anderson was the child of a military family who experienced life in naval air stations up and down both U.S. coasts before choosing to make Alaska her permanent home. She learned early on that as painful as it was to leave your best friend, there was a new best friend waiting for her in the location of her family’s new home. Anderson believes all those moves helped her become resilient during change. She grew up loving art, sports, ballet and animals.
Anderson earned a Bachelor of Science in Theology from Loyola College in Baltimore, M.D. and a Master of Arts in Counseling from the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies in Charleston, WV. She is a board-certified, professional chaplain with more than 2,000 hours of clinical pastoral education. These areas of study were an expression of her early interest in medicine and healing and the role spirituality plays in health and healing.
Anderson’s career began as the Director of Spiritual Care at St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, WV and then as Chaplain for Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Oregon. In 1992 she was invited to Providence Alaska to provide leadership to the Spiritual Care Department .She went on to become Director of Mission/Spiritual Care for Providence Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, followed by Director of Spiritual Care for Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, Oregon. When she became a hospital chaplain and later a mission leader, she was able to blend her love of being a part of a person’s healing journey and exploring the role of spirituality in this journey.
In 2002, Anderson became the Chief Mission Integration Officer for Providence Health and Services Alaska, which includes Anchorage, Kodiak, Seward and Valdez. Providence Health and Services Alaska is a not-for-profit Catholic network of hospital, care centers, health plans, physicians, clinics, home health care and affiliated services guided by a mission of caring that the Sisters of Providence brought to the rough and tumble gold fields of Nome in 1902.
Anderson is responsible for bringing the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program to Alaska. Its practical, hands-on theological curriculum is designed to help ministers and seminarians from around the world meet the unique spiritual needs of those in hospitals, long-term care and other health care facilities. The program is accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education to offer Level I, Level II, Certified Education CPE programs.
Recognizing and encouraging talent and ideas are natural components of Anderson’s repertoire. She serves on the faculty of the Providence Leadership Formation Program as well as the Talent Development Program.
Anderson serves as the regional health care system’s vital link between high tech medical care of the regional Providence community, its history as a healing ministry, and serving those in need medically, socially and spiritually. This role is a critical asset to the state of Alaska. She works closely with Providence Health and Service Alaska leaders and caregivers at many levels to animate a mission-inspired culture. Key areas of influence include strategic leadership in community partnerships, ethics, spiritual care and justice in the workplace.
Numerous programs identified and developed by Anderson, in conjunction with clinical and administrative Providence Health and Service Alaska leaders have transformed Alaskan communities: Behavior Health Services advancing the continuum of mental health care, the Breakthrough Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Program, an Anchorage Health Literacy Collaborative Peer Navigator Program, a Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance & Immigration Services Workforce Development Program, Project Search, and the Nurse-Family Partnership Program.
Anderson served as an active and influential member of the Catholic Social Services Board of Directors for 9 years. She supports the Faith Community Nurses volunteer network, and the Alaska CARES Program. She also started the Pet-Assisted Wellness Services Program at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Anderson is living proof that the true test of a person’s character can be seen in what she does when no one is watching. Her brand of selfless service functions behind the scenes and under the radar. She typically is the one recognizing, rewarding and encouraging others for their achievements and contributions to the greater good.
Reyne Marie Athanas
Arriving in Bethel in 1973, Reyne Athanas became involved in art, education, and women’s rights. She started Art Club at Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) encouraging all students to express themselves. She is one of the founders of Tundra Women’s Coalition, which for 46 years has provided emergency, prevention, and outreach services, and coached volleyball ten years to show students females can coach.
Athanas became involved with Bethel Council on the Arts in 1974 and was president for many years. BCA brings state, national, and international musicians and artists to the Region to perform and do outreach and sponsors the 3-day Camai Dance Festival.
After confronting a student shooter at BRHS in 1997, Athanas took a two year hiatus during which she started the Emerging Scholars Program at UAF Kuskokwim Campus. She became director of Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, believing YPCC should not be limited to a rental facility but be the community and cultural center for Bethel and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region.
Programs started at YPCC since 2004 include Saturday Markets; Best in the West small business competition; Bethel Bowls; Taste of Bethel; Summer Youth Art Camps; Twisted River Film Festivals; annual Dog Show; Open Mic nights; Art Exhibits; and Kuskokwim Art Guild, a consortium of artists and craftsman with a gift shop.
When asked what allowed her to think of so many different activities and programs for Bethel, Athanas responded that part of her being an artist is not to limit herself and to go beyond boundaries and edges. If an idea occurs, see if it is possible to make it happen.
Athanas received the Bill Bivens Community Service Award, Alaska’s American Red Cross Hero Education Award, Lower Kuskokwim Teacher of the Year, and Coach of the Year Award twice.
Arriving in Bethel in 1973, Reyne Athanas immediately became involved in art, education, and women’s rights. As a teacher at BRHS for more than 20 years, Athanas brought in native artists to teach soapstone and ivory carving, mask making, beading, and other native arts and started Art Club, encouraging all students an opportunity to express themselves. She worked with youth and community members on how to order materials and sell their art, showing them they could make a living. For many high school students, her art class was a key motivator to continue going to school. She coached volleyball ten years to show students females could coach. Athanas was Lower Kuskokwim School District Teacher of the Year 1990 and Coach of the Year for two years.
Athanas was one of the founders and on the first Board for the Tundra Women’s Coalition, (TWC) which grew from a grassroots group to incorporate as a non-profit and start a crisis line that has led to 45 years of emergency, prevention and outreach services. TWC is now one of the largest domestic violence and sexual assault shelter/outreach providers in the state of Alaska.
She became actively involved with Bethel Council on the Arts in 1974 and was president for many years. Bethel Council on the Arts (BCA) started unofficially in 1972 to promote the arts and bring art-related activities to Bethel and is a member of Alaska Touring and Presenting Consortium. BCA brings international musicians like Socks in the Frying Pan from Ireland and Women of the World, national musicians such as Derina Harvey Band, and state and local musicians to perform and do outreach at the schools in Bethel. Camai Dance Festival, a 3-day Yup’ik cultural event, unparalleled in Alaska with over 20 dance groups participating, is under the umbrella of BCA and was started in the early 1990’s. Athanas has been a Board member of BCA since 1980 and has represented Bethel Council on the Arts on the #BethelGives steering committee for the past three years, since its inception. #BethelGives is a collaborative fundraising campaign involving 11 nonprofit Bethel-based groups.
Athanas was a Board member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts 1987-1990 and throughout her teaching years actively involved with Lower Kuskokwim Education Association (LKEA) and National Education Association(NEA) and is now a member of the Retired Teachers’ Association.
She received Alaska’s American Red Cross Hero Education Award, May 2000, for her bravery in standing up to shooter Evan Ramsey in the Bethel High School lobby February 19, 1997, asking him to give her his rifle. The principal and a student had already been shot. Ramsey chose not to shoot her as he had a good connection with her from art class. Athanas took a leadership role in the community on how to move forward and what to do next after attending a conference at Quantico by invitation of the FBI.
After a two-year hiatus from her art, Athanas made up time by starting the Emerging Scholars Program at UAF-Kuskokwim Campus (KuC) which provides college readiness skills for new college students. The program continues today and has helped many students meet their goals and graduate from KuC Campus or transfer to other campuses.
Athanas became director of Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in 2004. She believed YPCC should not be limited to a rental facility, but be the community and cultural center for Bethel and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region.
Programs started since 2004 include Saturday Markets, Best in the West small business competition, Bethel Bowls, Taste of Bethel, Summer Youth Art Camps, Twisted River Film Festivals, annual Dog Show, Open Mic nights, Art Exhibits, and Kuskokwim Art Guild.
Best in the West Economic Competition began in 2009. Athanas developed a funding partnership with businesses, organizations, and Native corporations statewide to start this competition for local start up businesses. There have been 76 winners from the YK Delta, of which 68 are minority businesses, and 58 are still in business part or full-time. Between 2009 and 2019, $282,070 awards were given.
Taste of Bethel was started three years ago by Athanas to bring diverse people together through showcasing food from their country or heritage. It was such a success it is now an annual event.
Kuskokwim Art Guild started in 2003 and runs the Gift Shop at the Cultural Center where Delta artisans can sell their crafts. It fundraises with the Steel Salmon and Raven Auction each fall for art scholarships and classes; started the Bethel Soup Bowls fundraiser for a different group each year; and runs Youth Summer Art Camps, which include art, dance, and theatre.
When asked what allowed her to think of so many different activities and programs for Bethel, Athanas responded that part of her being an artist is not to limit herself and to go beyond boundaries and edges. If an idea occurs, see if it is possible to make it happen.
Athanas and her husband Casey Burke raised three sons in Bethel and have two grandchildren.
Sarah Eliassen is a trailblazer, an educator, a leader, and a Girl Scout.
In 1958, Eliassen was the first Director at Camp Togowoods—the premier Alaska Girl Scout camp. For 61 years, over 20,000 girls have had amazing experiences at Camp Togowoods.
She began her Girl Scout career at age ten, she is a Girl Scout to the core. “Outside of family and religion, being a Girl Scout is the most important thing in my life. Not a day passes that I’m not aware I’m a Girl Scout. You have the Ten Commandments and the Girl Scout Law—with those two guiding you, you cannot go wrong.”
After Eliassen arrived in Alaska from Georgia to work for the Susitna Council, the council spent $6,000 in cookie money to buy Camp Togowoods and opened camp in 1958.
That first summer, she ran two camps with 24 girls. The girls learned new skills like cooking one-pot meals over an open fire in the pouring rain. They swam, canoed, and learned to survive in the outdoors, and they made friends for a lifetime. They learned what it means to be a Girl Scout — a girl with courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place.
A new camp wasn’t the only thing that happened that year — she met her future husband, Bob, the owner of the homestead next door. They were married over 40 years.
Eliassen is also a community activist. She worked with her Eagle River neighbors to fight and save a parcel of land from development to turn it into a park — now known as Eliassen Park. She taught for 13 years at Homestead Elementary in Eagle River where she was nominated as Teacher of the Year.
In 1958, Sarah Eliassen was the first Camp Director at Camp Togowoods—the premier Girl Scout camp in Alaska. Over the past 61 years, over 20,000 girls from across Alaska have had amazing experiences at Camp Togowoods.
Eliassen began her Girl Scout career as a “tagalong” with her sister for several years. She was too young to join Girl Scouts, but she went to camp and did as many activities as her sister and the troop would allow. When she turned ten—old enough to be a Girl Scout—she went through the investiture ceremony at Camp Martha Johnson in Georgia. Eliassen says, “That ceremony was the most important thing that had ever happened to me. I had lived for that day.” For 84 years, Eliassen has been a Girl Scout to the core. She said, “Outside of family and religion, being a Girl Scout is the most important thing in my life. Not a day passes that I’m not aware I’m a Girl Scout. You have the Ten Commandments and the Girl Scout Law—with those two guiding you, you cannot go wrong.”
One day, Eliassen received a letter that would change the course of her life—she was offered a job in Alaska by the Susitna Council CEO, Marge Bailey. Eliassen said she, “lived on excitement for three months” as she prepared for her trip to Alaska. In Alaska, she would be working directly with girls and program. Her new job was to build troops in the council and to help start a camp for Girl Scouts.
When Eliassen arrived in Anchorage in January 1957, she began her work starting new troops in Anchorage, Palmer, and Wasilla. She lived in downtown Anchorage and often ate her dinner at the Club 25—a bar/restaurant for women. At 32, Eliassen had never been in a bar. Every day and everything in Alaska was a new experience for her.
By spring of 1957, it was time to work on getting a camp started for Girl Scouts. The council used Girl Scout Cookie proceeds to purchase a homestead property from Phil Holdsworth. The homestead was past Wasilla off the Knik Goose Bay Road—it is considered remote today and in 1957, it was way out in the woods. In April that year, Eliassen, CEO Marge Bailey, the chair of the camp committee, and the board chair flew to the homestead and landed on Three Mile Lake. They hiked into the homestead on snowshoes in three feet of snow. Eliassen had never been skiing much less snowshoeing—living in Alaska was the first time she had seen snow. They surveyed as much of the property that they could with so much snow still on the ground.
The Girl Scouts had been holding camp at Kings Lake in Wasilla, but they wanted their own camp. At Kings Lake, they had to share the summer with other groups and could only offer three weeks of camp a summer. Marge and Eliassen wanted Alaska Girls to have more opportunity to be outside and live in the outdoors and to have the Girl Scout experience all summer. Purchasing and building a camp was integral to their plans.
That afternoon in April 1957, Marge and Eliassen and the others hiked around the homestead and began planning where the camp would be. Marge had done a lot of research about the weather and where the first lodge should be positioned so that it would be in the best place to keep it warm and dry. When they went back to Anchorage, they met with the Board of Directors and got the $6,000 in cookie money they needed for the camp. In addition to the homestead, they purchased 35 acres from the Bureau of Land Management to complete the outer edges of the camp.
Eliassen and Marge spent the next few months preparing for the camp. That summer, they flew out on 4th of July to see what the camp looked like with no snow covering it, and to work on building the tent platforms. When they arrived by plane again, they were met at the camp by Bob Eliassen—a nearby homesteader who came to see what was happening with his neighbors. Eliassen and Marge and others like the council board chair, Louise Brown and her husband Charles, went out every weekend to work on the camp. They were often joined by Bob Eliassen who became an important part of building the camp. On New Year’s Eve 1957, Eliassen and Bob married. Later, they moved to Anchorage where they started their family.
In July of 1958, the Girl Scouts opened their first camp with Eliassen as the first Director. She ran two one-week camps with 24 girls, four tents and four staff—some of them mothers of the campers. Not only did the girls learn new skills that summer, but the mothers learned how to be camp staff. They cooked one-pot meals over an open fire—a skill Eliassen had learned from Girl Scouts as a girl. She learned and taught others how to cook in the pouring rain and how to store the food in a hole in the ground to keep it cold and away from animals.
That summer, the girls swam, canoed, and learned to survive in the outdoors. They practiced the Girl Scout Law and made friends for a lifetime. They also helped build the camp by carrying in the supplies for the camp, including the dishes, on their backs as they hiked in.
Marge was friends with Leonard Seppala of the Iditarod fame. He told her that Balto had gotten all the credit for the famous serum run, but that it was his lead dog, Togo, who did all the hard work—Togo never got the credit. Marge asked Leonard for permission to name the new Girl Scout camp after that strong, brave dog, and Camp Togowoods was born. The girls that summer built a sign naming the camp.
Since that first camp in 1958, the Susitna Council—later renamed the Girl Scouts of Alaska—has continuously run camps for Girl Scouts. In the 61 years the camp has been running, over 20,000 Alaska girls have had a chance to camp, play, learn, and grow at Camp Togowoods. Sarah’s time and effort and willingness to come to Alaska to be the first Camp Director started a movement that continues today.
Girls today still go hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and they learn what it means to be a Girl Scout—a girl with courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place. All across Alaska, women in important leadership roles in our community had the opportunity to learn their leadership skills with the stewardship of leaders from Alaskans like Girl Scout Sarah Eliassen.
Sarah’s vision for the Girl Scout Camp Togowoods allowed Alaska girls the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a new way. The ability to live and work and play in the woods prepared them for life. They learned leadership skills, outdoor survival skills, and they had a chance to simply have fun canoeing, swimming, hiking, and meeting other girls from across Alaska. The camp started small, but it has grown and has been a place to treasure for over 20,000 girls for over 30 years. The vision of Camp Togowoods expanded over time and the GSAK opened a day camp at Camp Singing hills to provide even more experiences for girls.
As a part of the national Girl Scout movement, Camp Togowoods was also a summer spot for girls visiting from other troops across the country. Girl Scouts have long had a tradition of holding excellent camps, and Camp Togowoods is a prime example of what being a Girl Scout is all about.
Sarah was so dedicated to Girl Scouts and making a difference that at age 86 she led a troop of girls including her granddaughter, Michelle. The girls met with Sarah and co-leader, Gretchen Wehmhoff, to work on their Silver Award, sell Girl Scout cookies, and learn other skills. They did a project sewing beds for cats at a local fostering organization. Michelle knew how to use a sewing machine (because Sarah had taught her), so Sarah taught them all how to cut and measure fabric and how to use a sewing machine.
In addition to her Girl Scout work, Sarah is a community activist. Sarah worked with her Eagle River neighbors to fight and save a parcel of land from development to turn it into a park—now known as Eliassen Park.
Sarah and her teaching partner, Mel Bowns, created a program to teach their students how to grow plants and create a business. They grew African violets, made the planters, and with the help of parents, created macramé hangers. They sold the product and learned about banking, planning, building, growing, and success. With the money they raised, they bought two computers for their classrooms. For this project, Sarah and Mel won an award of $500 from the UAF economics department for their work teaching kids economics in a hands-on way.
The girls Sarah taught and influenced are the leaders in Alaska today. With over six generations of girls learning and growing at Camp Togowoods and in Girl Scouts, the chances are great that a woman leader in Alaska benefited directly or indirectly from Sarah’s vision.
As a teacher for thirteen years, she had the opportunity to shape and influence 100’s of other children in Alaska.
Sarah continues to give back to girls in Alaska. She participates in fundraisers for GSAK and has returned to camp over the years to work with girls and share the vision that became Camp Togowoods. Her son, Charlie, helps continue the Girl Scout tradition in the family by serving on the Property Committee for GSAK where he helps guide the council on all things concerning Camp Togowoods and Camp Singing Hills.
Thousands of girls and women in Alaska thank Sarah for all she’s done to help us dream big and accomplish whatever we set our mind on.
April S. Ferguson
April Ferguson was born in Seward and was raised in Fairbanks, where she earned a degree in linguistics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Like both of her sisters, she went to law school earning her Juris Doctorate from Harvard University Law School.
Ms. Ferguson has been employed at Bristol Bay Native Corporation, BBNC, for 15 years. There, she served as the Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for the Corporation. Ferguson is a shareholder of BBNC, and Choggiung Limited, which is the Village Corporation of Dillingham. She also serves as a member of Curyung Tribal Council.
Ms. Ferguson was born in Seward and raised in Fairbanks, where she earned a degree in linguistics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Like both of her sisters, she went to law school earning her JD from Harvard Law. She has one son, a daughter-in-law and a five-year old granddaughter.
She has been steadfast and effective in bringing industry and development to the Bristol Bay Region. She is the architect of a program to improve economic growth and business development for the village corporations of the region. She spearheaded a program to enhance the communication and collaboration among the regional corporation, the village corporations and the tribal councils.
As Chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Legislative and Litigation Committee, she has worked tirelessly to develop and monitor state and federal legislation and government policy issues that affected the well-being of Native peoples across the state. She led the effort to advocate for Alaska Native traditional hunting and fishing rights while recognizing the need for simultaneous responsible resource development. Ferguson consistently uses a common sense approach along with her legal knowledge of issues affecting Alaska Native people beat across the state.
A life-long Alaskan, April Ferguson has been steadfast and effective in her vision for bringing industry and development to the Bristol Bay Region. She is the architect of a program to improve economic growth and business development for the village corporations of the Bristol Bay region, created to enhance the communication and collaboration between the regional corporation and the village corporations/tribal councils. This has allowed for the sharing and leverage of knowledge and resources to bring greater opportunities for Native communities. As Chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Legislative and Litigation Committee, Ms. Ferguson has worked tirelessly to develop and monitor state and federal legislative/policy decisions for the well-being of all Alaskans.
Ms. Ferguson has provided substantial leadership at AFN and always showed a tireless capability to act and respond to challenges affecting all Alaska Native people. She led the effort to advocate for Alaska Native traditional hunting and fishing rights while also supporting the need for responsible resource development in Alaska. Ms. Ferguson consistently uses a common sense approach to bring her legal knowledge and understanding of life for rural Alaska Native people to consistently advocate for their equal rights and prosperity.
Ms. Ferguson is also a fierce advocate for a transparent and fair redistricting process in Alaska, as well as actively working with the “Get Out the Native Vote” initiative year after year. She is a life-long learner, avid reader, and is always looking for opportunities to shape the future of the Native community, whether it’s for economic development, rural energy, communication technology or through tribal sovereignty.
Ms. Ferguson began her tenure at Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) in 1997 as a Vice president and General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. She now serves on the BBNC Executive Team as an Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary. She has participated on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union; Trustees for Alaska; SpecPro Inc.; Vista International Inc.; Kakivik Asset Management, LLC; and Bristol Environmental and Engineering Services Corporation and currently serves as Chair of the AFN Legislative and Litigation Committee.
A life-long Alaskan, Ms. Ferguson received her Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and received her Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1992. She then clerked for Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Jay Andrew Rabinowitz and later attended the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Training Without Walls in 2000.
Ms. Ferguson is a strong mentor and empowers young Alaska Native professionals. She has mentored numerous interns over the years, sharing her knowledge and experience in the professions of law and business. She is known and appreciated for the high expectations she sets for each of her mentees to grow their resilience and confidence in real life situations.
Ann “Nancy” (Desmond) Gross
Ann “Nancy” Gross made significant contributions to adult basic education and local government administration in Alaska, and to the Municipality of Anchorage.
Building on her experiences as a teacher, curriculum specialist, and teacher trainer, Gross promoted and developed culturally relevant teaching materials for Alaskans, particularly for people in the state’s rural areas. She wrote the grants for funds to develop the materials and train teachers to use them. After her career as an educator, Gross became an advocate for rural Alaska communities. Starting in 1974, she coordinated community organization and infrastructure projects as a grant administrator and trainer, was a pioneer woman in working as a city manager, and completed her career as a consultant to rural communities during transitions in leadership. Gross was a community activist for the Municipality of Anchorage, promoting planning, zoning, and growth and development that considered the needs and wishes of residents during the city’s boom years when there was great pressure from developers and industry.
Born in 1931 and educated in Massachusetts, Gross moved to Alaska in 1953 to teach at Tenakee Springs, several years later taught at Fort Richardson where she met and married another educator, Joseph Gross. After teaching took them to Woody Island, Kenai, and Kodiak, they settled in Anchorage in 1963 and raised four children. In Anchorage, Gross taught Adult Basic Education for Anchorage Community College, started the Adult Literacy Lab (ALL Project), and worked for the State of Alaska administering grant programs to assist rural communities. In 1981 she started working directly with local governments in Alaska when she became a city administrator for Akutan in the Aleutian Islands. Gross moved to Unalaska in 1983 to take the position of city manager and lived there five years. She temporarily lived in Galena, Cordova, Whittier, Bethel and Atka when she worked as interim city manager for these communities. She died in 2001.
Ann “Nancy” Gross made significant contributions to adult basic education, local government administration in Alaska, and to the Municipality of Anchorage during a career that started in 1953 and continued to 1991. Cliff Groh, lawyer and long-time chair of Alaska Common Ground, wrote in a letter printed in the Anchorage Daily News in 2001, “The death of Nancy Gross earlier this month triggered a wealth of memories about this multi-faceted woman. As a public servant and activist, she worked hard to make this state work better, particularly at the local level. . . . Nancy used to say that ‘the best thing about Alaska is that its young people don’t know what they can’t do.’ Alaska was lucky that at all ages Nancy Gross lived her life with that attitude.”
Born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1931 and educated at Weymouth High School and Bridgewater State Teachers College, Gross accepted a teaching job at Tenakee Springs in 1953. The Department of Education expected the one-room school (built before 1920) would have eleven student in four of the eight grades; Gross had thirty students, nine in the first grade because that year logging started in Tenakee Inlet and a floating crab cannery opened. Gross moved to teach at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, and there she met and married another educator, Joseph Gross. After three years out of Alaska, teaching took them to Woody Island, Kenai, Kodiak, and in 1963 to Anchorage. In 1961, Nancy returned to Massachusetts and completed a Masters Degree in Education from Bridgewater State Teachers College. The couple had four children: Joseph, Jr. born in 1957, Mary in 1961, Edward in 1962, and Michael in 1964.
In Anchorage, Gross taught Adult Basic Education for Anchorage Community College. The job included conducting workshops in rural areas of Alaska, particularly Kotzebue and Bethel, to train volunteers to teach adults in villages so they could get General Education Degrees (GEDs). With her experiences as a teacher and trainer, Gross realized that for reading and other literacy programs to succeed in Alaska, particularly in the rural areas, the materials used by teachers had to be relevant to the students. They needed to be about the state and built upon what they knew and how they lived. Gross obtained federal grant funding to create the Adult Literacy Lab (ALL Project). She served as the program’s first coordinator, authored culturally relevant instructional materials for adult students in Alaska, worked with others to develop materials, and trained teachers to use them. The program continued at the University of Alaska Anchorage until 2004 and materials developed for it are in still in print and used in adult education programs.
Gross took a job as a trainer and grant administrator with the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs to help rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Aleutians Islands organize municipal governments and get needed infrastructure. In this position she also coordinated an urban housing conference. Gross moved to a position with the Alaska Division of Parks to coordinate the Land and Water Conservation Fund program, and then to the Division of Energy and Power Development to administer alternative technology grants and energy audit contracts for rural areas.
Building on her work for rural Alaska communities, Nancy and colleague Frances Rose started working with the new City of Akutan in the Aleutian Islands as the community’s first City Administrators. In 1983 Gross became City Manager for the larger city of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands, and served in that position for five years. While there, she was instrumental in creating the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. Later, Gross worked as Interim City Manager for Galena and Cordova, and as a consultant for the cities of Whittier, Bethel, and Atka when each community was in a period of transition in leadership. Colleague Kate Troll wrote “For a lot of people when problems get bigger and more complicated they start to melt down into process traps, but for Nancy it was the opposite The bigger he challenge, the better for her problem-solving skill set. Motivated by her innate desire to do good work for good people, Nancy did not let up until the problem was solved for the benefit of all involved. Her tenacious competence inspired all who worked with her.” Gross was at Unalaska during the boom years for the King Crab fishery and the establishment of huge fish processors for the Bering Sea ground fishing industry; at Cordova when the Exxon Valdez oil spill devastated that community’s salmon fishery; and at Galena when plans were announced to close the U.S. Army’s forward operating base there. In her work Gross introduced and instituted the fundamentals of local government; educated residents and involved them in their government, and helped the community obtain basic infrastructure and establish city services. In this arena Gross was a pioneer, one of the first women to be a city manager in the state.
Gross also was a community activist for the Municipality of Anchorage, promoting planning, zoning, and growth and development that considered the needs and wishes of residents during the city’s boom years when there was great pressure from developers and industry. After helping the Airport Heights neighborhood get a city park, Gross served on the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission from 1974 to 1980—the pipeline construction years when the city experienced incredible growth. She promoted green spaces and parks in neighborhoods, resident’s involvement, and planned, responsible development while meeting the critical needs for housing.
Gross long advocated for preserving, writing, and making Alaska’s history better known. She was a member of the Alaska sites and monuments committee for the 1967 Alaska Purchase Centennial Commission and worked for establishment of Anchorage’s Centennial Park campground. Later, Gross was an active member of the Alaska Historical Society, and brought her leadership and organization skills to it, serving on its Board of Directors and as its President. In the communities where she worked as city manager, Gross steadfastly supported having a library, museum, and cultural center.
Gross’s leadership to help rural Alaskans in the areas of education and local government started before Alaska became a state, and was significant through the early years of statehood when municipal governments were created where they had not existed. She continued to work in the arenas of education and local government through Alaska’s early oil-boom years. Gross travelled to many places—not only in Alaska but around the world—seeing how other rural communities flourished and learning about education programs in other countries. Ever the educator, Gross mentored many individuals in rural Alaskan communities. in academic subjects as well as in management and administration and community involvement. She was, however, not only a determined individual and activist. Her friend and colleague Frances Rose said she was smart, curious, and fun to be around. A life well-lived, Gross died in 2001. The University of Alaska Board of Regents passed a resolution recognizing her accomplishments on behalf of adult education for the university and substantial contributions to Alaska on December 6, 2001.
Karleen (Alstead) Grummett
Karleen Grummett has spent her life volunteering, advocating for causes and using her writing to effect change. These activities coalesced when she became involved in the Empty Chair Project and wondered, “How do you put your life in a suitcase and leave?” Marshaling all her skills plus the motivating forces of the information she gleaned while working with the project and her own history, she wrote, Quiet Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story.
Several years ago, Grummett was appalled to learn that a school friend had been incarcerated with her family after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After declaring war, President Roosevelt signed an executive order forcing 200 Alaskan Japanese families to one of 10 incarceration sites for 200,000 Japanese living on the West Coast. This event was never mentioned among Grummett’s family or friends, nor taught in Juneau school history classes.
While researching, she learned the graduating class of 1942 left an empty chair for John Tanaka, their valedictorian, to symbolize his and all Juneau Japanese’s sudden absence. She interviewed survivors and those who knew them, finding that, on their behalf, local businessmen gave sworn affidavits, a local lawyer gave legal services, the high school held a special early graduation for John, and tearful friends lined the dock to say goodbye.
To find some sense of justice, Karleen and her sister, Margie Shackelford, spearheaded the Empty Chair Project, raising funds, including a National Park Confinement Site grant, to build a memorial to Juneau’s incarcerated Japanese. Funds enabled 5,000 copies of Quiet Defiance, to be donated to Alaska libraries, museums, historical societies, colleges, school libraries and classrooms. Grummett’s book, which she wrote with a keen focus on family values, pride in ancestry, and social justice, fills a large hole created in Alaska history during that dark period.
Karleen (Alstead) Grummett is an excellent role model for women of all ages. As someone who has spent her life volunteering, advocating for causes and using her writing to effect change, she observes what needs to be done and sees that it gets done. From writing a book and meticulously fact checking every detail to hosting a beautifully set lunch for friends, Grummett can do it. Whatever project she’s involved in, there will be efficiency and order. Women appreciate her recognition of their skills, her tact and respect for their feelings and her gratitude for whatever collaboration is offered. They appreciate her calm assurance that all will work out. She has devoted herself to volunteering for worthy causes and to caring deeply for her family.
Grummett grew up with her sister, Margie, on the Gold Street hill side of Juneau, Alaska, in the 1940s. Her sister, Mary, was born at the end of that decade. Grummett’s Norwegian immigrant grandparents lived three blocks away where she spent many happy hours. The Alsteads valued hard work to provide for their family. Her father and grandfather fished halibut in an era when fishing was a year-long profession. Her mother was a transplant during the Depression from a tough farm life in Vale, Oregon. Alone much of the time, she and her mother-in-law were essentially single parents who learned the resilience necessary to persevere in an isolated community during those years.
Grummett is a product of such an upbringing, but it wasn’t all work and no play. Grummett said, “The wonderful story tellers in my family, who often peppered their expressions with a strong sense of humor, influenced every bit of my life and writing, for I didn’t have one mentor in my life, but a collection.” This included a fun-loving aunt who took them on rollicking rides to the beach to swim or the lake to ice skate, singing most of the way. And a great aunt cared for Grummett when she was ill and she can still hear her aunt’s soft giggle while telling a funny story. She also showed Grummett that no one should be above hard work by taking a job as a janitor after her husband died.
As an adolescent, her seventh-grade teacher instilled in her a love for the written word, and it was while creating an eighth grade newsletter that she learned the power of those words. In high school she wrote for the high school newspaper. Afterward, Grummett began college at Oregon State University in the 60s and returned to Juneau summers to work. She worked with the Alaska Marine Highway where she served as a hostess aboard the M/V Malispina’s duting its first season. Returning to Oregon, she interrupted college to substitute teach with her sister Margie in Washington.
The following summer she married Roger Grummett. They’ve been together 56 years in Juneau, and Grummett calls him her secret editor, because when she needs to hear a piece of writing out loud, he’s her guy. She figured if he didn’t understand it, no one would. Grummett gloried in becoming a mom to John and Stacy and the ability to stay at home to raise them. During that time, she turned some of her energy to volunteering for such organizations as the Gray Ladies who brought books, treats and comfort to patients in St. Ann’s Hospital, and the March of Dimes where she coordinated clinics for visiting University of Washington physicians. In fact, throughout her life Grummett amassed a community network by continually volunteering and serving for community groups whether it was producing the first Juneau Lyric Opera grand opera, Carmen, writing about alternative health options, which she published in the state funded Alaska Holistic Health Association’s newsletter, advising the Chancellor’s University of Alaska Southeast Campus Council as a member and president, or helping to impact opinion on the Juneau Empire Editorial Board.
After she returned from her long academic hiatus to attend college, this time at the University of Alaska Southeast, Grummett joined a transformative group in the 1970s as a board member, lead singer and public relations person for the St. Paul Singers which was directed by her friend Dixie Belcher. An ecumenical group, the singers promoted music with a message while touring throughout Alaska, and Grummett learned how music can effect change. She took that awareness and co-founded the Juneau Friends and Neighbors singers with Belcher where she coordinated the tour and publicity for traveling to Alaska communities in support of the Save the Capital campaign in 1982.
Once while Grummett was complaining about something, Belcher told her, “You can change that.” Those proved prophetic words for Grummett. When she saw thick woodstove smoke inundating the Mendenhall Valley, she turned her anger and public communications skills into action joining two other women who also wanted to improve air quality. Along with a public health physician, the women made a presentation to the City and Borough of Juneau assembly, which resulted in the city requiring a secondary heat source, a program that was phased in over a few years. Now when an inversion occurs, the city provides public service announcements to alert residents.
In 1984, Grummett completed her Bachelor of Arts in Public (Magna Cum Laude). While studying, one of her instructors, Joey Wauters, encouraged her to teach, eventually hiring her to learn on the job while she studied for her Master of Arts in Writing. Meanwhile, Grummett simultaneously continued freelance writing with assignments in public relations and for newspaper and magazine articles. Along the way, she received an award from the Alaska Press Women for Feature Writing. She also started her own writing and editing business, A Second Opinion and spent two years researching and writing Territorial Sportsmen 1945-1988, A Chronological History. A year later, she again collaborated with Belcher and publicized her Alaska Performing Artists for Peace’s trip to Russia.
In 1997, Grummett received her masters degree from Northeastern University. She said, “I decided I could be 56 with a masters or be 56 without one. I chose the former.” Grummett’s daughter, Stacy, said she learned from her mother’s example “that there is never an age when you stop achieving in life. She is authentic and has lived a full life of commitment to my dad and my brother and me.”
Grummett’s next writing project involved playing every golf course in Alaska with her husband and writing a book about it. She said her purpose was to finally get to see Kodiak, but the result was Golf Alaska! The Great Alaska Golf Guide in 2001. Other projects followed, including editing a history with Historian Bob DeArmond, Movie Man: The Life and Times of William David Gross 1879-1962 and documenting her family heritage with The Alsteads: From Berngarden to Juneau. As a member of P.E.O., a philanthropic group that awards scholarships and promotes continuing education for women, she wrote The Founding Sisters of Chapter G.
For Grummett, writing is a process of getting the words right, to get them to say what she means. She says, “It’s a lofty goal I don’t often reach, but it’s the trying that matters.” She finds writing a necessary isolation, but also wishes there were colleagues close by to discuss ideas. She learned a lot from the pressure of meeting deadlines and taking on a long project that she didn’t have a passion or curiosity for. Grummett said, “I spent two years mired in file cabinets and minutia writing about a subject that didn’t hold my interest.” She says it wasn’t until she was 40 that she heard validation from an editor that she had the ability to write. “I guess you could say I was a late bloomer,” she says with a laugh. “And I was 56 when I achieved my masters degree in writing,” she said. “That was 22 years ago. It’s never too late to follow your bliss.”
Grummett found her touchstone project a few years ago that required every bit of what she had acquired through her lifetime when she learned that her sister’s best friend, Mary Tanaka Abo, had been unjustly incarcerated during World War II. She consulted with local Historian Marie Darlin, who told her of Juneau’s war-time story involving classmates Walter Fukuyama and John Tanaka. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 sending all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to be incarcerated in 10 prison camps. This order affected 120,000 people, 200 of them from Alaska, including Native wives and children.
When John Tanaka, who was to be the valedictorian of the 1942 graduating class, left with his family before graduation, his classmates left an empty chair for him on the gym stage. Grummett, along with her sister, Margie Shackelford, saw an opportunity for Juneau to acknowledge the injustice that occurred in their town. They organized the Empty Chair Project Committee in 2011, which envisioned a Japanese American memorial, the first in Alaska. (wwwemptychairproject.wordpress.com)
The funding campaign began in 2012 and ended in 2014 with generous community donations and a National Park Service Confinement Site grant to commission the sculptor, Peter Reiquam, to design a bronze memorial. It is a replica of a 40s folding wooden chair set atop planks resembling a gym floor and is located in Capital School Park. For the dedication, elderly survivors and their families returned to Juneau for a welcoming homecoming.
As a result of their efforts, the Empty Chair Project has won the Alaska Historical Society’s Esther Bilman Certificate of Excellence and received an Alaska Legislature Citation in 2015 co-sponsored by state representative Sam Kito, Jr., III, whose father and grandfather were incarcerated, and by state senator Dennis Egan. The memorial was also recognized nationally with an Americans for the Arts Best in Public Arts award and given the Alaska Association of School Librarians Service Award in 2018.
To make sure Juneau’s World War II story was historically documented, Grummett wrote Quiet
Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story. Published in 2016, it includes historic photographs, interviews from primary sources and historical documents such as military lists with names of every person removed from their place of residence in Alaska. Grummett said, “Learning, researching and writing in collaboration with those who were incarcerated was by far and away the main highlight of my writing career.” Alice (Tanaka) Hikido, Abo’s sister, who often conferred with Grummett, said, “Karleen’s book not only lifted up the inspiring story of the Juneau community’s support during a period of wartime hysteria, she also recorded the history of the small immigrant Japanese community which would now be remembered.” Abo said, “Grummett’s book filled a large hole in Alaska’s history during that dark period. She wrote with a keen focus on social justice, family values, and pride in ancestry.”
The Empty Chair Project funds provided for the printing of 5,000 copies of Grummett’s book. It was accepted into the Juneau School District’s social studies curriculum and distributed to all Alaska schools, libraries, museums, historical societies and colleges. Additionally, it has been given to the Japanese consul in Washington D.C, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, and the Alaska Japanese American Citizen League.
To reach a wider audience, the book is available from nonprofit bookstores of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (Juneau, AK), the Alaska State Museum (Juneau AK), the Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA), the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (San Jose, CA) and the Minidoka Interpretive Center (Twin Falls, ID). Grummett is gratified that her book has reached beyond Juneau, Alaska. “I think it’s a cautionary tale that should never be forgotten, and it especially resonates in today’s climate of prejudice and injustice to immigrants and their incarceration along our border with Mexico.”
Jennifer “Jane” Wainwright Mears
Jennifer “Jane” Wainwright Mears (also known as “Jennie” or “Johnnie”), better known as Jane Mears, was a dynamic, energetic pioneer woman. She was prominent in Anchorage’s early history because of her activities on behalf of the original development of Anchorage’s public school system from 1915 to 1923. In 1965, the Anchorage School Board recognized her contribution to public education by naming Mears Junior High School (now Mears Middle School) in her honor.
Mears and her husband Frederick Mears were significant figures in early Anchorage due to her prominence in early civic and community affairs and her husband’s role with the Alaskan Engineering Commission (AEC) and builder of the Alaska Railroad. During the time the Mears family lived in Anchorage, 1915-1923, the AEC built its first two schools in 1915 and 1917. The first school was the Pioneer School House, located originally on Fifth Avenue between F and G Streets.
Mears was the “prime factor” leading to the organization of the Anchorage Woman’s Club, and served as its first president from 1915-1917 and, later, 1921-1922. Meeting in her home, the AWC was organized on September 16, 1915, by a group of thirty-four women who recognized the need to establish a public school. She directed a committee of the Woman’s Club which solicited donations from local businesses to pay for the salaries of the first teachers and other operating costs for the school. With school age children of her own, Mears understood the plight of the Anchorage School Board, which had no funds to educate the children who continued to arrive with the spouses of the workers.
Mears devoted herself to the community and inspired community participation in music and theater, fostering the beginnings of cultural activity in Anchorage.
Born at Fort Walla Walla, Washington on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1880, Mears was the second of three children, the second eldest daughter of a family with a strong military tradition. Her father, Major Robert Page Wainwright (1852-1902), was a U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate, class of 1875. He fought Indians on the western frontier and commanded a cavalry squadron in the Battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War. He died in 1902 while on active duty in the Philippine Insurrection. Her brother, Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV, the commanding general of Filipino and U.S. Army forces in the Philippines (1941-1942), led delaying tactics on Bataan and Corregidor during World War II against superior Japanese forces. The military base at Fairbanks, Alaska was named in his honor.
Little is known about Mears’ early life. She studied music and voice at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and planned an operatic career.
Mears met her future husband, Frederick Mears, while he was stationed as an Army Lieutenant at the Army Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1907, she married Mears at Fort Clark, Texas. She accompanied her husband to Panama, where he spent the next eight years building the Panama Railroad and coping with a multitude of problems involving the building of the Panama Canal. They lived in Cristobal, Panama, near Colon. In Panama, their daughters were born, Josephine “Jo,” in 1908 and Elizabeth “Betty” in 1910. In April 1914, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Frederick Mears to the Alaskan Engineering Commission.
Mears Wainwright Mears arrived in Ship Creek in May 1915 with her two daughters, Jo and Betty. While they awaited completion of a cottage, the family occupied a plank-floor tent of their own, cooked over a wood stove, and burned kerosene for light. Their home, AEC Cottage No. 6, was built on Government Hill atop a bluff to the north of the terminal yards. In January 1917, the Mears family moved to AEC Cottage No. 29, a two-story residence overlooking Cook Inlet, across the flats of Ship Creek and up C Street toward West Second Avenue.
Mears took wholeheartedly to the Alaskan lifestyle. She accompanied her husband, who was at ease in the out-of-doors, on wilderness outings and held her own in marksmanship. Her family enjoyed sharing the wilderness with visitors and official dignitaries, often taking them hunting, fishing, and camping. For those who had never been to Alaska, it was the experience of a lifetime.
Through her husband, Mears helped convince the federal government a school should be built with federal funds. Since Anchorage was a federal government boomtown, the AEC had to accept the responsibility for public education. In 1915, the AEC designed and built the school, now known as the Pioneer School House. Federal funds were allocated under the Alaska Railroad Act for construction of a two-story building, located at Fifth Avenue between F and G Streets, on the School Reserve, a full square block platted by the AEC. After the second school was completed (1917), the school was moved across the street (southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and E Street).
Mears was the principal organizer of the Anchorage Woman’s Club (AWC), and served twice as president. The public subscription money raised by the Anchorage Woman’s Club, with a small grant from the territorial government, was a temporary solution to the dilemma in providing for public education in Anchorage, which was not solved until the following year. The members of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce volunteered to fund construction of a school building. Classes in the first public school opened on November 15, 1915, with one hundred students and four teachers, with Orah Dee Clark as principal. The four-room structure was built in less than a month by the AEC, in the late summer of 1915. The school lacked paint, running water, restrooms, a satisfactory heating system, and a solid foundation.
The AWC had an interest in education, home economics, art, and literature, and represented those directions taken in club work. They also formed the first Parent Teacher Association. By the summer of 1917, Anchorage’s population had grown to over five thousand and school enrollment stood at over two hundred. By the fall of 1917, the AEC built a new, larger school (Anchorage Public School), a $45,000, two-story frame building located on Fifth Avenue between F and G Streets. This second school was used for elementary and secondary classes until it was torn down and replaced by Central Grade School, which later became the Old City Hall Annex. As a result, public bonding was not required to finance school construction until 1928.
Educated in the fine arts and music, Mears devoted herself to the Anchorage community. She inspired community participation in musical and theatrical performances and often held rehearsals for local musicians and theatrical groups in her living room, accompanying them on her Steinway piano. These amateur performances were the beginnings of cultural activity in Anchorage.
During World War I, Frederick Mears resigned from the AEC and left the Alaska Railroad project to enter active duty in France. The people of Anchorage held a gala farewell banquet and reception for Frederick and Mears on January 3, 1918 in the Anchorage Labor Temple. After the Armistice, Frederick Mears resumed his work on the Alaska Railroad, taking over as chairman of the AEC and chief engineer to complete the railroad. In July 1923, Mears, with his family, left Alaska for Seattle to start work for the Great Northern Railroad. He became chief engineer in 1925, remaining in this capacity until his death in 1939 at the age of sixty.
Mears died on December 17, 1953, in Los Angeles, California.
The first school, known today as the Pioneer School House, was later used as the Pioneer Hall by the Pioneers of Alaska. The AWC, on its fiftieth anniversary in 1965, spearheaded a drive to save the original building and to relocate it to its present site in Ben Crawford Memorial Park at Third Avenue and Eagle Street. Owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, the building is managed by the AWC. The building is a community gathering place and is used for meetings of various groups, school tours, and for special occasions. The Pioneer School House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Mears Junior High School (now Mears Middle School) in Anchorage was named in honor of Mears in 1965 in recognition of her work to establish public education in Anchorage and in the development of the Anchorage public schools.
Anchorage Woman’s Club Records. Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage; https://archives.consortiumlibrary.org/collections/specialcollections/hmc-1200/.
Crittenden, Katherine Carson. Get Mears!: Frederick Mears: Builder of the Alaska Railroad. Portland, OR: Binford & Mort, Publishing, in cooperation with the Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage, Alaska, 2002.
File: Mears, Jane Wainwright. Cook Inlet Historical Society. Legends and Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, Project Research Files, Box 8 (2017.004). Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum.
Frederick Mears Family Papers. Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage; https://archives.consortiumlibrary.org/collections/specialcollections/hmc-1063/.
Parham, R. Bruce. “Mears, Jane Wainwright.” Cook Inlet Historical Society. Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940; https://www.alaskahistory.org.
Pioneer School House,” (AHRS ANC-244), Anchorage, AK. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service; https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/index.htm.
Margaret Mary “Peggy” Mullen
Peggy Mullen is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in the Soldotna area on a homestead. She is a retail entrepreneur and is dedicated to community service. Mullen is a civic leader, conservation advocate, health care policymaker, former City Council member, and non-profit organizer. She is a mother, grandmother, aunt, daughter and sister.
Mullen started three small businesses. The first, in the 1970s, was The Four Seasons, a restaurant, offering healthy Alaska fare. The second was North Country Fair, a whimsical gift shop and finally, River City Books, a bookstore where folks come to read, visit and break bread. It is a community gathering place.
She is deeply connected to her community roots, says daughter Mara Carnahan.
“When I was 12 years old, I asked Mom, ‘Why do you live here? Why don’t you go somewhere where everyone else thinks a lot like you do? Like Berkeley?’” And she said, “You have the responsibility for improving the place you live.”
Ride a bike on the Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna, hike local trails, fish the Kenai River, visit the Soldotna library, picnic in Soldotna Creek Park, attend the Kenai River Music Festival, use Planned Parenthood services, you have been the recipient of Mullen’s efforts.
Mullen was an early climate-change activist-circulating petitions, talking to senators, “always encouraging a young, smart person to run for office,” says her son-in-law.
Daughter, Mara, remembers as a teenager:
“It was embarrassing as a teenager to have my mother talking about things like climate change when no one else seemed to know a thing about it…and there she was ordering 40 books called “Earth in the Balance” and passing them out.”
Mullen is now the idol of her daughter and grandsons.
Not only is Mullen creative and a visionary, she is also a passionate conservationist and steward of the environment.
She still lives on the homestead property where she grew up. Last summer, she built the third incarnation of her bookstore, River City Books, on a corner of the homestead near the highway to Homer. It is elegantly designed with every “green and sustainable” element possible —from solar panels to edible plants surrounding it.
The Mullens were the first homesteading family in Soldotna and the town grew up around them. (Soldotna has a population of nearly 5,000 now.) Surely, in earlier years, and even today, no hitchhiker on the highway near the Mullen homestead would ever go hungry. Mullen or her siblings or her mother Margie usually came and collected them and took them home for dinner. There was always a place under the kitchen table for an extra sleeping bag.
Mullen is devoted to Soldotna and Alaska. If you applaud the creation of walkable places, seek out nature trails, buy a book, eat gourmet food, buy a charming or beautiful present for your kitchen or a friend, recycle your newspapers and pop cans, you have been the happy recipient of Mullen’s spirit of good works, her passion, humor, her intelligence, and her dedication.
If you see someone collecting trash at the side of the highway or down on her hands and knees pulling out invasive weeds along the roadside, it is also likely to be Mullen. As she once said, invasive species are so hard to control, but it is so important to try. It is all for the protection of Alaska’s beautiful streams, rivers, and waterways.
Mullen has made significant contributions to Soldotna and Alaska in very tangible forms. She started four elegant small business in a wilderness town. The first, in 1978, was “ Four Seasons,” a lovely little restaurant, the first of its kind in Soldotna (and, impressively for its time, an architecturally-designed building!) set back in the woods on the homestead property with a gourmet Alaska fare. The second was Northcountry Fair, a small design shop with household wares and gifts—a little of everything—like an upscale general store for folks far from a city. It really showcased Mullen’s delightful and whimsical humor and her touch of the artist by adding a little elegance in the woods. It surely nurtured another side of the community heart. The third business which she now still runs is River City Books. This small bookstore with an incredible selection is where folks come for books and talks or to gather and eat at another one of her former businesses, “now placed in very capable young hands,” she says. She opened a little market and deli, which is still in the same store as the bookstore, and now is called Lucy’s Cafe.
Food, art, and books—these are all at the core of any happy community. But, in addition, Mullen has worked in very concrete ways to expand other places and activities that make a community a home—the kinds of things that connect people and bring a shared happiness, such as walking trails, bike trails, city parks, festivals, and medical services like Planned Parenthood. In essence, her gift is looking at how people spend time with other people in community (or time alone in nature) and helping to make those places blossom.
On a statewide/national level, Mullen helped start the League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood for Soldotna. She’s been intimately involved in the protection of watersheds and clean water for Soldotna Creek and Kenai River. She has worked to slow the spread of invasive species. She helped build the momentum for the creation of a river park. The list goes on. If it has anything to do with a civilizing touch, preservation of wild places, creating a healthy, livable town, or marching in the streets for good causes, you will probably find Mullen somewhere at the heart of it.
Finally, something often overlooked in our busy worlds, but so important to those who helped to build a town, Mullen, as a three-term member of the Soldotna City Council, helped bring home—to the heart of town—a cemetery plot. As one old homesteader said, “A cemetery plot was proposed 50 years ago. Mullen buttoned it up, persuaded the council to put it right in town near the river, and she nailed it this time. It is now a place where town folk can easily go and visit their elders.” (In the past, a majority of Council members had apparently wanted to put it “a taxi-cab ride away from town” making it very difficult for many elderly to go visit their loved ones.)
“In her humble way, Mullen has demonstrated for me over the last 40 years what it means to be a passionate, gentle, effective leader, making a difference in one’s community and state which will enhance the quality of life for generations to come,” said Carol Swartz, director of the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College/UAA in Homer, Alaska.
Mullen has an undergraduate degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, and a graduate degree in education from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Mullen’s mother, Marge Mullen, was inducted in 2010 to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
Citations: Many interviews and book “I’d Swap My Old Skidoo For You”: A Portrait of Characters on The Last Frontier by Nan Elliot, published 1989. Chapter: “First Homesteading Family in Soldotna.”
Sandy Poulson has been the co-editor and co-publisher, with her husband Thad Poulson, of the Daily Sitka Sentinel since 1969. Poulson’s professional and personal high standards, work ethic and empathy have contributed immeasurably to Sitka’s civic and cultural life.
The middle child of a large family, Poulson is a gifted mediator, never taking sides, offering compassion and a non-judgmental ear to employees, grandchildren, and disgruntled citizen alike.
Poulson grew up all over the Southwest. Her mother inspired all her children with the love of education and literacy, and all seven went to college.
Poulson majored in journalism at the University of Tulsa and edited the Collegian her junior and senior years. Her senior year the Collegian was named Oklahoma’s Outstanding Newspaper by the Oklahoma Collegiate Press Association.
Poulson was a reporter at the Oklahoma City Times when she met Thad Poulson, an editor at the Daily Oklahoman. They married in 1964, and moved to Salt Lake City, where Thad worked for the Associated Press and Poulson worked at the Salt Lake Tribune. The AP transferred Thad and family to New York City in 1965.
Poulson and Thad came to Juneau in 1968 as a team for the Associated Press, then in 1969 to Sitka to run and eventually buy the Sentinel. Their five children, then grandchildren, spent their early years at the Sentinel office.
For the last five decades, Poulson has worked seven days a week, rising before dawn and leaving after dark every weekday, editing, writing, laying out pages, managing staff, and even delivering routes, for more than 13,000 issues of the Sentinel, consistently meeting the highest standards of community journalism.
Through her hard work, high standards, and compassion, she has built democracy, and inspired those around her to be kinder human beings.
Sandy Poulson has been the co-editor and co-publisher, with her husband Thad Poulson, of the Daily Sitka Sentinel since 1969. Over the past 50 years, Poulson’s tireless work as manager and editor has built and sustained this remarkable community institution. Her work meets the highest standards of journalism, and in her personal and professional life, she has contributed immeasurably to civic life and society with her warm approach and steadfast adherence to the values of kindness and justice.
Poulson was born on February 21, 1940 at home, a “little shotgun house,” in Seminole, Texas. She was christened Amabel Frances Gay Montgomery, but nicknamed Sandy as a baby. She was the fourth of seven children in a family who moved frequently all over the Southwest. Fortunately, she loved to move and loved going to a new school. Her first move was at the age of 6 months, to Hobbs, New Mexico. She graduated high school in Nowata, Oklahoma; the list of towns they lived between those places is part of the Montgomery mythology, reading like a road song: Blanding Utah, Coffeyville Kansas, Artesia New Mexico (twice), Cortez Colorado, Truth or Consequences New Mexico, Lenapah Oklahoma and Farmington New Mexico (this is not the entire list), as her father worked in oil and farming, and at one point owned a filling station.
Poulson’s inspiration is her mother. Grace Whelan Montgomery did not always have electricity or running water, or even a well at one house, but would do all the family’s laundry, even ironing her husband’s underwear with sad irons, heated on top of the stove. “Mom set the standards.” It is hard to imagine the labor of washing all those clothes, diapers, and menstrual rags, even without having to haul water – by truck or wagon – and build the fire, using a wash board and hanging it all on a line, much less in August in New Mexico.
A memory Poulson has is of one of those moves, in her spot on the Pontiac’s floorboards behind her mother’s seat, driving through the night, listening to the border radio play ”Deep in the Heart of Texas,” seeing just the lighted tips of her parents’ cigarettes as they talked.
Poulson’s mother was “a good strong mom. Home was always a safe place. Even if we didn’t have a bathroom.” “We always felt we were better than everybody else. And my momma was the smartest.” Her mother inspired all her children with the love of education and literacy. At every new town they moved to, Poulson’s mother would first get a library card and a subscription to the local newspaper. All seven went to college.
Poulson won a scholarship to the University of Tulsa by winning the “T.U. Going to College Quiz” contest. She majored in journalism, and was editor of the college newspaper, the Collegian, her junior and senior years. In 1962, her senior year, the Collegian was named Oklahoma’s Outstanding Newspaper by the Oklahoma Collegiate Press Association.
Poulson interned at the Oklahoma City Times between her junior and senior years, which is where she started reading while walking, on the two miles to work. She then went to work as a reporter there when she graduated in 1962. She met Thad Poulson, an editor at the Daily Oklahoman, the morning paper published in the same office. In 1964 they married, and moved to Salt Lake City when Thad signed with the Associated Press. Sandy worked at the Salt Lake Tribune.
When Poulson left the Tribune at the birth of her first child, she began a humor column, “Hearth Throbs,” for the Tribune, which she wrote until 1981. The family moved to New York City when Thad was transferred there by the Associated Press, and child number three was born.
In 1968 Poulson and Thad came to Juneau as a team as reporters for the Associated Press; just a year later, in January 1969, they had the opportunity to come to Sitka to run the Sentinel. The newspaper had been purchased by Lew Williams Sr., publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News, who persuaded the young couple to manage and eventually buy the paper. Both were there full time, working long days, in the beginning doing nearly all the work themselves, from writing copy to running the printing press: they had a young woman come after school to help typeset. The enormous amount of work in the early years did not diminish, with more employees, with always new challenges of small-town Alaska.
The first year in Sitka the Poulson kids had a babysitter, then when child number four was born in 1970, the Sentinel became their daycare and they grew up playing with paper computer tape and film opaquing pens, stuffing papers with grocery ads, and selling and delivering newspapers. Child number five, then grandchildren, also spent their early years at the Sentinel office.
This dedicated, reliable and humble woman has been the spine of a daily newspaper that connects community members to each other, the state, the nation and the world. For the last five decades, Poulson has worked seven days a week, rising before dawn and leaving after dark every weekday, working behind the scenes to edit national and state stories, write headlines, manage the staff and circulation, make assignments, lay out pages, ensure public announcements and legal notices are printed, cover the courts and police and write obituaries, and even deliver a route. The daily is put out five days a week, 51 (of 52) weeks a year. When you multiply that by 51 years (January 1969 through January 2020), that’s 13,005 issues of the Sentinel, and counting.
While it is one of the smallest circulation dailies in the nation, the Sentinel maintains the very highest standards for journalism with comprehensive, even-handed, accurate coverage of local government, issues and events by two full-time reporters plus coverage by other staff. This comes from Poulson’s and Thad’s commitment to the ideal of journalism as essential to an informed public, fundamental to a functioning democracy. As a journalism professional who came of age before the Watergate scandal, Poulson’s idea of the press is not a glamorous or dramatic profession, but a vital service that depends on diligent effort.
The Sentinel with its emphasis on informative, and truthful, local news coverage has allowed the citizens of Sitka to participate more fully in their government, make informed policy decisions and build a stronger and healthier society. The Sentinel is the newspaper of record, a responsibility Sandy and Thad take seriously. The Sitka Sentinel publishes divorces, marriages, new businesses, estate settlements, court settlements, death notices, and public meeting notifications. This approach and steady commitment to accuracy is ever more rare, as news coverage is increasingly sensational or partisan, and local coverage disappears.
Sitka, the state of Alaska, and the nation are stronger today because of the Sentinel’s work to inform the public. From time to time an event of national significance happens in Sitka, and the presence of this trusted institution is critical in bringing regional and national attention to an issue, helping citizens make meaningful change. These events are often tragic; the Sentinel’s compassionate and accurate coverage makes a difference, promoting resilience and recovery. As a recent example, Sitka experienced a deadly landslide in 2015 in which two young carpenters and the City Building Inspector were killed. There was tremendous loss of property, fear, grief and uncertainty. The Daily Sitka Sentinel reported on the tragedy and its aftermath with sensitivity and thoroughness. The Sentinel’s coverage of the tragedy, of community meetings and visiting experts, catalyzed new state efforts to conduct hazard and risk-mapping in the mountainous towns up and down Alaska’s coastline. Community organizations went on to secure federal dollars to conduct landslide research and develop a local warning system, which could be a model for the rest of the country.
Building trust and maintaining high journalistic standards has been in addition to the complicated work it takes to publish and distribute a newspaper in rural Alaska, every day, dealing with power outages, printing equipment failures 800 miles from the nearest technician, communications that go down, and the increasing social and economic challenges of operating a small business in rural Alaska.
Poulson works tirelessly without wanting recognition and without ego. While the Sentinel has won many Alaska Press Club awards for its journalism, Poulson’s greatest achievements may be the kind that don’t have award categories, like working with families to write warm and wonderful obituaries; training and empowering new generations of journalists; making all the staff feel part of the family at the Sentinel, especially the paper boys and girls; buying the paintings no one else wants at a nonprofit art auction, so no one’s feelings are hurt. When employees have personal challenges, Poulson will do everything she can to support them, from time off to babysitting.
It is hard to describe the influence of Poulson’s compassion, knowledge, intelligence and ideals at the Sentinel – as a journalist, business owner and mother – on the community of Sitka. Poulson insists on a policy of not charging a fee or setting a word limit for obituaries — in a true democracy everyone’s story is important and newsworthy.
Poulson’s motivation behind the hard work and long hours: “I really love working there. I just enjoy it. I love the news, my co-workers are just the best – they are good friends, and family.” She finds it interesting to be part of the community, but “believe it or not, I’m a shy person.” Sandy considers herself the “luckiest woman in the land.” For fun, she says she goes to the office. She also does crosswords, and always has a “walkabout book,” a paperback, usually a whodunnit, that she reads as she takes papers on her route or walks to the police station to pick up the blotter. She reads history and biography, but now reads mostly magazines and newspapers.
Her main challenge? “Time.” Her main frustration is “being slow” and feeling inefficient, even when there aren’t diapers to change. In earlier days, when stories came over the wire and were coded onto computer tape, new leads would come in over the day that would have to be spliced into the story. Now that everything is done visually, and electronically, that work and the work of physically pasting up the newspaper copy isn’t needed, but the small staff at the Sentinel, especially in the early days, means one person being sick puts a strain on the operation. Another new problem is having kids not show up to do their routes as life gets ever more complicated.
As editor of the Tulsa University student newspaper, Poulson once wrote an editorial “against motherhood” as exemplified in a white mother smugly barring the school door against a black child. UPI (United Press International) picked up the story about her editorial. All her life, Poulson has been passionate about justice and fairness; the middle child of a large family, she is a natural mediator, never taking sides, offering compassion and non-judgmental ear to employees, grandchildren, and disgruntled citizen alike. This is perhaps her most remarkable and outstanding attribute.
No matter the news subject, no one has ever heard her say “I don’t care.” Poulson has a lack of cynicism (but not skepticism), an immense compassion and an incredible ability to take whatever time necessary to hear out, calm down and reason with even the most irate reader. Poulson has been a role model as a professional woman, and as a steady, dependable, caring human being. A granddaughter is now in college pursuing journalism, and many other grandchildren and former employees and members of the community have been inspired by her kindness and professionalism and dedication to fairness.
Her advice to people coming up in journalism? “Choose your parents very well.” Her other advice: “Do work hard. Be kind. And always proofread.”
Her passion for justice, fairness and responsibility to our neighbors is reflected in her service on the Salvation Army community advisory board and other boards, and membership in the Soroptimists then the Sitka Women’s Club. Sandy is notorious for buying the unwanted items at charity auctions, so no-one’s feelings are hurt. Her family teases her about this but are genuinely proud of her boundless compassion. Thad and Poulson are known for supporting community organizations, especially arts and culture. The Sentinel has won awards for community service as well as for journalism and photography.
Poulson has dedicated her life to the betterment of her community, the state and the nation through quality journalism and the hard work to publish a newspaper and build a workplace that reflect her values of truth and fairness.
The quality and approach of the Sentinel builds faith in our democracy and in our society. Poulson has helped to build a better, more caring, more democratic and connected community. She has done this not only professionally but through her relationships with employees, family, peers and community members. She is a role model in her gentle way of not drawing a hard line between work, community and family. Through her example, of hard work, high standards, and of listening and caring, she teaches those around her how to be a better human being.
Frances Helaine Rose
For over 55 years, Frances (Fran) Rose has quietly and effectively contributed to building an education system in Alaska that serves a large segment of our diverse population. For over 10 years she taught adult basic education to many in Anchorage. More than a few of her students had achieved success in their work world, but lacked a high school education diploma or GED. At a time when the entire system was undergoing challenges of expansive growth, Rose continued building a stronger University of Alaska
by serving as a regent for 8 years from 1999-2007. Rose’s business experiences include founding, with three partners, the Anchorage Downtown Deli, a New York style deli restaurant bringing authentic lox, bagels and the Sunday New York Times.
Rose’s most significant role in business was Senior Vice President of Administration for Alaska Permanent Capital Management Co., a financial investment corporation which she formed with her husband David Rose. The Corporation (APCM) has hired a diverse group of financial experts from all over Alaska. Rose retired from the firm in 2017, completely turning over the reins to her son, Evan Rose. Rose and her husband created The Frances and David Rose Foundation in 1997. As a community and civic organizer over the past 40 years, Rose was a founding member of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and served on the Alaska Tourism and Marketing Council, the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, and the State Advisory Counsil for vocational and career education. Rose has been a generous contributor to many aspects of what makes Alaska and Anchorage a great place to live.
Rose graduated from Queens College of New York in 1959 with a Bachelor in History and a Master in Education from UAA in 1975.
A half-century resident of Alaska, Bronx born alum, Frances (Dushman) Rose never envisioned living a life quite so far North from where she was born and attended college. Rose has taught GED classes to adults, GIs, and prison inmates as well as consulted on adult education teacher training for Native villages in Alaska.
Reflecting on her various new experiences in Alaska, Rose shared watching moose munching as its antlers clonked on her mailbox at her downtown Anchorage home as her favorite.
Rose grew accustomed to spectacular wildlife even when it wandered downtown. Her historic home in Anchorage once housed mink pelt storage.
Rose and her late husband, David Rose, were pillars of the community even before the 1980s North Slope oil development brought boom times to the railroad hub and major port of Anchorage, Alaska.
Rose’s 5 decades in Alaska reflected a “can do” spirit in every enterprise she undertook; especially in vocational education and civic causes.
When their two sons were infants, to cope with the “outrageous” cost of living, Rose did clerical work on military bases.
Rose served ten years on the State Advisory Council for vocational and career education, of which 2 years were as Chair. During this period, she served on the task force to develop the first 5 year statewide plan for vocational education. Starting in 1968, she worked as an instructor at the Adult Basic Education Program (ABE) at the Anchorage Community College and became the director of the program in 1977-79. One of her earliest assignments for ABE was teaching in an Anchorage correctional facility in 1968-69. Although it was outside her comfort zone, she developed a rapport with the inmates as she assisted them in obtaining their General Equivalency Diploma (GED).
After Rose’s 10 years with ABE she consulted for Tanana Chiefs Land Claims College in Fairbanks. Rose developed a training program for teachers from Athabaskan Villages. She also consulted with the Alaska Department of Education to conduct staff development workshops in Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue.
Prior to moving to Juneau with her husband in 1982, Rose was a co – City Administrator for the city of Akutan with Nancy Gross.
While in Juneau, from 1983-89, Rose was a special assistant to the Commissioner of Administration mini cabinet on women’s issues as part of the job.
Rose purchased and owned a women’s apparel shop named Victoria’s from 1985 to 1989.
Rose was Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development assisting in various economic development projects for small businesses from 1990-91.
For many years the Roses were business partners with Susan and Tony Knowles (he became mayor of Anchorage and later Governor of Alaska), in Anchorage’s popular New York style Downtown Deli, a New York style deli restaurant bringing authentic lox, bagels and the Sunday New York Times. On any given day movers and shakers; business, government and Native affairs men and women would hold court at the Deli as they charted Alaska’s future.
Rose’s most significant role in business was Senior Vice President of Administration for Alaska Permanent Capital Management Co. (APCM), a financial investment corporation which she formed with her husband David Rose. APCM grew to over $2 billion in assets under their management. Individual clients are accessing the same technology and expertise that is applied to management of funds for State and local governments, Alaska Native Corporations, financial institutions, health care organizations and The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. APCM has hired a diverse group of financial experts from all over Alaska. A significant portion of the staff is women. Rose retired from the firm in 2017, completely turning over the reins to her son Evan Rose.
Rose and her husband created The Frances and David Rose Foundation in 1997. As a community and civic organizer over the past 40 years, Rose was a founding member of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and served on the Alaska Tourism and Marketing Council, the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, and the State Advisory Counsil for vocational and career education. Rose has been a generous contributor to many aspects of what makes Alaska and Anchorage a great place to live.
Rose was a charter member and founder of the Alaska Jewish Museum, which highlights the contributions of Jewish history in Alaska.
In 1959 Rose earned a bachelor degree in history from Queens College in New York and continued her education in 1975 where she earned a Master in Education (adult education) from the University of Alaska.
Fran’s family emigrated from Austria to America in the late 1800s and eventually lived in a multi-family tenement house in the Bronx. While growing up, Fran spent many hours with her grandmother who had lost her sight at age 55. During “Fran” time with her grandmother, she learned Yiddish. Because Fran’s grandmother did not know how to read or write, Fran developed a penchant for education. Fran is a voracious reader of history; the last book she enjoyed reading was “Catherine the Great”.
Rose is the mother of two sons, Evan and Mitch Rose, daughter-in-laws Barbara Saenz-Rose and Dale Rose. Rose has five grandchildren, Thomas and Joshua Saenz, and Ben, Shelby and Haley Rose.
Judith “Judi” Anne Slajer
Judi Slajer is a longtime Alaskan, mother, cancer survivor, dedicated public servant, and local government pioneer who worked for decades to help create the effective governance structures in Alaska. Slajer was involved in the creation of lasting organizations such as the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks, the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority, and the Alaska Municipal League Investment Pool. In recognition of her significant contributions to local government in Alaska. Slajer was honored with the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Alaska Municipal League (AML).
In 1964, Slajer became the Borough Clerk for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough–its first employee. She was instrumental in the set-up of the new Borough. In August 1977, after 14 years as Borough Clerk, Slajer was appointed as the first-ever woman Borough Manager in Alaska. In 1980 Slajer moved to Fairbanks with her children to earn a BS from UAF. After receiving her degree, Slajer spent four years managing the second largest government budget in Alaska, for Mayor Knowles and Manager, Barbara Steckel. Slajer moved back to Fairbanks in 1986 to join her to-be second husband Tom Rosadiuk. After teaching governance courses for UAA in rural Alaska, she was hired by Mayor Juanita Helms as the CFO for the Borough (FNSB) serving there for 12 years.
Slajer has been a self-starter and charted her own path to become the first female borough manager in the state. Slajer has mentored many women through her direct role in professional organizations and by fostering and encouraging her employees during her decades (32 years) of local government service.
Slajer’s home, with her husband Tom, is a remote site in Dora Bay, 25 miles by water from Ketchikan and spends wintertime near La Conner, WA as well as Kona, HI.
Slajer has been a self-starter and charted her own path to become the first female borough manager in the state. During her career, Judi has mentored many women through her direct role in professional organizations and by fostering and encouraging her employees during her decades (32 years) of local government service.
Slajer makes her home with her husband Tom, at a remote site in Dora Bay, 25 miles by water from Ketchikan and spends wintertime near La Conner, WA as well as Kona, HI.
Judi Slajer is a longtime Alaskan, mother, cancer survivor, dedicated public servant, and local government pioneer who worked for decades to help create the effective governance structures in Alaska. Slajer was involved in the creation of lasting organizations such as the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks, the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority, and the Alaska Municipal League Investment Pool. In recognition of her significant contributions to local government in Alaska, Slajer was honored with the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Alaska Municipal League (AML).
In 1964, Slajer became the Borough Clerk for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough– its first employee. She was instrumental in the administration and set-up of the new Borough. In August 1977, after 14 years as Borough Clerk, Slajer was appointed to be first-ever woman Borough Manager in Alaska. In 1980 Slajer moved to Fairbanks with her children and in 1982 earned a BS majoring in finance and management from UAF. After receiving her degree, Slajer spent four years managing the second largest government budget in Alaska, for then-Mayor Knowles and Manager, Barbara Steckel. Budgeting soon became one of Slajer’s major passions as she led the Muni to receive a first-ever Award of Excellence in Budgeting from a national peer association, Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). Slajer moved back to Fairbanks in 1986 to join her to-be second husband Tom Rosadiuk. After a term teaching governance courses for UAA in rural Alaska, she was hired by Mayor Juanita Helms as the CFO for the Borough (FNSB). She served in that capacity until she retired in 1997 after 32 years in local government service.
Slajer has been a self-starter and charted her own path to become the first female borough manager in the state. During her career, Slajer has mentored many women through her direct role in professional organizations and by fostering and encouraging her employees during her decades in local government.
Slajer was one of 13 other local government clerks who founded the Alaska association of municipal clerks (AAMC) in 1965, comprised of borough, city, and village clerks from across the state committed to the continued growth and development of the municipal clerk profession. Slajer cherishes her role in the development of this organization because of the countless opportunities it offers to so many participants. She and the Kenai Borough Clerk, Frances Brymer, conspired and flew to New York to attend a week-long national clerks training institute hosted at the University of Syracuse and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. They returned with a ‘we can do this in Alaska’ attitude, and thus the ninth-in-the-United States clerk’s training institute was created. Over the past 40+ years, this training session has been attended by many hundreds of Alaska municipal clerks, deputies, and other local government professionals to enrich their education and provide each with an opportunity to learn from their counterparts to ensure efficient and effective local government operations. Slajer was also the first non-grandfathered, municipal clerk in Alaska to earn the coveted national designation as a certified municipal clerk.
In the mid-70’s, Slajer participated with Dave Rose and others to mirror the State of Massachusetts in helping Alaska create its own municipal bond bank (now AMBBA). Operated by the State, AMBBA is a public corporation that aids authorized Alaska-government borrowers in the financing of capital improvement projects such as schools, water and sewer systems, public buildings, harbors, and docks. At present AMBBA has assets of approximately $1.2 billion.
As Borough Manager in Ketchikan, Slajer had a great time making in-roads in resolving traffic congestion problems in Ketchikan, initiating and completing the International Airport master plan, improving parking at the local high school, negotiating with the Inland Boatmen’s Union, discussing animal control with residents while at the grocery store or engaging in a complete re-assessment of the entire borough. It was always lots of fun as well as challenging.
For many years as a member of the AML Legislative Committee, Slajer worked with the legislature as well as state and local government officials across the state to create the process to select State lands for community development, create the bond authority and investment pool, make significant improvements in the election law, revamp the school foundation funding, and many other legislative changes to improve the operations of local government. Unique to Alaska local government, Slajer may be the only person to have been elected President, at different times, to three peer-professional associations: Municipal Clerks, Managers, and Finance Officers.
Slajer’s career continued to blossom during her 12 years as CFO at the Fairbanks Borough (FNSB), where she worked with several notable Mayors: Juanita Helms, Jim Sampson, and finally Hank Hove, where they revamped the financial management system, financed the purchase of the Borough office building, upgraded the municipal landfill, built several schools and as well as other challenging projects. Slajer designed and brought home to Fairbanks the coveted national Award of Excellence in Budgeting. Slajer served as one of the first appointees to the board of the Alaska Municipal League Investment Pool (AMLIP)— which she and others helped launch—a non-profit corporation to provide short-term investment options to maximize revenue for boroughs, cities, school districts, and other Alaska government entities. AMLIP holds more than $2.0 billion in assets under management today.
Balancing a career while raising a family as a single mother (Charles and Slajer divorced in 1976), Slajer managed to take weekend and night classes offered through the local community college and by UAA in Ketchikan. At the age of 38, after earning over 80 credits, she moved to Fairbanks to pursue her bachelor’s degree with her two daughters, Franczeska, who was entering middle school at the time, and Veronica, a recent high school graduate. Judi and Veronica enrolled and attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the same time, and Slajer completed majors in Finance and Management graduating in 1982.
Post-retirement, Slajer and Tom moved from Fairbanks and set up home on a small-offshore island in a large fjord of Prince of Wales Island. Being 25 miles by-water from Ketchikan is a challenge, however, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Part of the year is spent in La Conner WA where Slajer is a board member of the Shelter Bay, a homeowner’s association (HOA), and currently serving as Treasurer. Judi continues to use her local government skills and training to further the HOA’s efficiency and effectiveness for the people it serves.
Slajer is very appreciative of all the wonderful professionals, men and women, she’s worked with over the years, and she has also formed strong bonds with many. She is also deeply aware it takes everyone working toward common goals to find solutions to the problems we face on a-daily basis.
Slajer, was born in Michigan, raised in Leavenworth, WA and Moorpark, CA, and moved to Alaska with her first husband in 1962. Slajer and her current husband, Tom, have five children between them, one in Fairbanks, one in Anchorage and D.C., two in Washington, and one in Wisconsin. They have eight grandchildren, all attending or completed college (except the 14-year-old), and nine great grand-children in Fairbanks.