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Alice Johnstone

Photo of Alice Johnstone
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Conservation


Alice Johnstone’s many accplishments would best be characterized as enlightened activism: environmental, political, and societal. The list of accomplishments is long and involves activities ranging from co-founding the Sitka Conservation Society; to successfully working to pass federal legislation to create The West Chichagof/Yakobi Island Wilderness; to being the second woman to serve on the Sitka Assembly, serving for seven years and helping establish and then serving on the Sitka Women’s Commission.

In 1958 Johnstone started work at the local Sears Roebuck Catalogue Sales office. She rapidly rose from freight clerk to credit manager to store manager, a position she held for 20 years. She, her husband, and two other couples co-founded the Old Harbor Book Store, opened in 1975, that still continues to serve as a gathering place for community conversations and for advocacy for literacy.

In 1967 her love for the outdoors and her dedication to conservation motivated Alice and her husband to co-found the Sitka Conservation Society with other community members. Their dedication has led to numerous successes over their 40-year plus history. The history is described on their website:

The Sitka Conservation Society was born in 1967, when several Sitkans recognized the need to protect the natural environment of Southeast Alaska for the well-being of current and future generations. Specifically, Sitkans were concerned about the extensive clear cutting proposed on nearby Chichagof and Yakobi Islands. The Society’s founders rallied around the goal of designating West Chichagof and Yakobi Islands, an area of 380,000 acres, as Alaska’s first wilderness area under the recently passed Wilderness Act.

That willingness to fight all the way to Congress has stayed with the SCS through the intervening decades, and paid off in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the formal creation of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness.

While pursuing the creation of formal wilderness in the Tongass and although the prevailing attitude in the 1960s and 1970s was fiercely pro-industry, SCS expanded to work on protecting treasured spots from timber sales. In 1976, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition (SEACC), a coalition of local Southeast conservation groups with similar goals and concerns, was formed with SCS as a member organization.

In addition to her environmental activism, she was politically active. She was the second woman to be elected to the Sitka Assembly in spite of being a known conservationist in a pulp mill town. She was elected three times and served a total of seven years between 1987-1992 and 1987-1989. She had to work hard to win that first time and she won her first election by only one vote. While on the Assembly she also helped establish the Sitka Women’s Commission and went on to serve on the commission.

She spent years working to prevent substance abuse in our communities and to educate policy makers about the issue. As a board member of the Sitka Alcohol and Drug Program (17 years) and also the Alaska Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (8 years), she recognized the heavy toll the use of drugs, especially alcohol, was taking on the citizens of Alaska. She worked to promote the treatment and prevention of the disease of addiction by participating in programs to educate the public and members of the legislature in the true nature of the disease.

Johnstone has served on numerous boards, including the Kettleson Memorial Library Commission, the Salvation Army, the University of Alaska/Community College Advisory Board, KCAW, the local public radio station, the local credit union and has served on the Vestry of St. Peters Episcopal Church. She also volunteers at the White Elephant Thrift Shop, (a non-profit which has donated over $1 million dollars to Sitka non-profit organizations), and she volunteered as instructor of AARP Senior Driving Program for many years.

After taking one night course at a time while raising four children, working and achieving her many other accomplishments she earned her AA degree at the age of 67.

In 2010 when the Sitka Conservation Society received the Bob Marshall Champions of Wilderness Award from the U.S. Forest Service, she and her husband were honored to be chosen to go to Washington D. C. to receive the award from Tom Tidwell, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Communities come alive and thrive because of people such as Johnstone, who, over the course of several decades, made her mark in many different ways. Johnstone is a woman to admire and she has given her time and talent to support the causes she cares about passionately: women’s empowerment, supporting reproductive choice for women, prevention of and recovery from substance abuse, literacy for all Alaskans, and protection of our environment.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech