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Raised by an Episcopal clergyman and educated at a Quaker School, Caroline Wohlforth developed a deep understanding that “each person has some of God in them.” Caroline knew she was being educated for a reason and was expected to contribute to the betterment of the world. Later experiences in education, both her own and those of her children, led her to the realization that not all education is created equal. As a result, Caroline began her work to try to ensure the children of the Anchorage School District could enjoy the quality of education she experienced as a child.
As a parent to two children in the 1970s, Caroline volunteered in the Open Classroom in Juneau where her younger son, Charles, went to school. It was there she witnessed and supported the work of Shirley Campbell, who she describes as the “most brilliant teacher I have ever known.” Upon their return to Anchorage and with no similar options available, Caroline joined Wendy Baring-Gould and Una Tuck in an effort to create Chugach Optional School. As soon as the plans for Chugach Optional were in place, Caroline led a new group called the Committee for Alternate Secondary Education (CASE) to ensure that these children would have an equally innovative secondary school waiting for them upon completion of elementary school; the result was Steller Secondary. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a “proud” Steller graduate, states: “I am certain that education made a decisive difference in my life, allowing me to develop the entrepreneurial skills that led to my success in business and politics. Caroline Wohlforth certainly deserves some of the credit for my career as a mayor and now as a U.S. senator.” Caroline calls her role in the creation of Chugach Optional Elementary and Steller Secondary her “proudest achievement,” and added that she hopes (and believes) that the school district can now provide a broader variety of learning experiences to fit the needs of students than it would have without the examples of Chugach and Steller. Her service to Anchorage and Alaska, however, is not limited to public education.
To ensure that these schools would remain strong and to give something back to the Anchorage School District, she joined the ASD Board, first as an appointee and later as an elected member. She served as the president for two terms. Gov. Tony Knowles, then the mayor of Anchorage, noted: “As board president, she calmed the waters in conflict between the district and municipality, and brought about a new period of cooperation when these institutions were able to work together productively, pursuing a common goal of education of young Alaskans rather than a conflict of bureaucracies.”
Wohlforth went on to co-found KSKA public radio and KAKM public television, and was appointed to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission in 1980 by Governor Jay Hammond. She served on the boards of Planned Parenthood and Childcare Connection, now known as Thread, which supports quality child care. For more than 30 years, Caroline has volunteered for and led Fellowship in Service to Humanity (FISH), which provides food to those in need. She also volunteers for the Educational Center, a non-profit organization which produces experiential Christian education materials. The center was founded on the teachings of her father, Rev. Charles Penniman.
Her grace and wisdom are an example to many, including Father Chuck Eddy who wrote “If I were to pick a role model for the coming generation, I would pick Caroline Wohlforth.”
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/wB6MYWY42co