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Eleanor Andrews has been building the human infrastructure capacity of Alaska for nearly five decades. She has flourished in both the private and the public sectors, but is most widely known as a “civic entrepreneur” – that is a person who inspires institutions, businesses and individuals to excel in their work and at the same time to invest in the community. She led others in the understanding that it is good business to develop quality schools, affordable housing, accessible economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods and a just and fair city and state. She has given her own time, money and talents for decades, but has also inspired and cajoled an army of others to participate in advancing our communities.
Professionally, Andrews has owned a successful management company for 20 years and has employed thousands of people in the fulfillment of federal contracts. She also guided human resource public policy for the state as the Commissioner of Administration and for Anchorage as the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality.
During both her private-sector and public-sector careers, Andrews has been giving back to Alaska in a multitude of ways. For example, she gave her time to review and deliberate the application of all judges applying to serve in the Alaska court system for a decade on the Judicial Council. She served on boards which initiated the Foraker Group, the ATHENA program of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Anchorage Urban League.Andrews raised and contributed funds for organizations in order to build the Fairview School, to strengthen the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic and to develop affordable housing programs in the state. She has also given her time and talents to the advisory boards for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Providence Alaska Foundation and Commonwealth North and she currently serves on the Anchorage Parks Foundation Board and the Providence Alaska Region Ministry Board. In honor of her service she has received many awards including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the ATHENA Award.
Andrews has lived in Alaska since 1965, arriving in Fairbanks as a young college student from Los Angeles. She learned invaluable skills by working in the public sector first as a counselor at McLaughlin Youth detention facility and then as an employee representative for the Alaska Public Employees Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. All these experiences assisted her when she was appointed the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality of Anchorage.
In 1982 Andrews accepted an appointment to work for the State of Alaska as the deputy and then commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration. There she managed diverse activities, including the divisions of Labor, Finance and Motor Vehicles as well as the Pioneers Homes. Advocacy for fairness in access to employment, a living wage and safe working conditions have been principles that have guided Andrews throughout her career.
When Andrews completed her public service, she developed the Andrews Group, a successful Alaska management services company, which was engaged primarily in U.S. government service contracting across the United States. She assisted numerous women-owned and Native-owned businesses with guidance and partnerships to bid and fulfill federal government service contracts through what became the 8(a) procurement program of the government’s Small Business Administration.
Andrews has learned a great deal from these diverse and rewarding work experiences. She also has never forgotten the stories about the pain of discrimination her parents experienced growing up in the south in the 1930s. When she was a girl her father told her she could accomplish whatever she could imagine. In junior high, she attended a school composed of low-income children and she vividly recalls the poor condition of the building and supplies. Disgusted by the low quality of food in the lunch room and knowing that better food was offered in other schools, she organized and led a student boycott of the cafeteria food until the quality of the food measured up to the other public schools in the district. The principal threatened to suspend her for being a “militant.” The injustice of being reprimanded by an authority figure for standing up for her rights has remained a life lesson. She has consistently raised her voice in opposition to injustice her entire life.
Andrews has been an active Rotarian since women were “admitted” and has participated in numerous service projects in Alaska. That and her commitment to community prepared her for the latest chapter of her career. During the past five years Andrews has led a dedicated group of locals to form the National Urban League affiliate in Alaska, which became Urban Works. As she began to engage in fewer business activities, she devoted more time to Urban Works. For the past two years she has personally managed Urban Works, a program for 20 low-income young people of color who at age 18 have “aged out” of the foster care program and needed to learn how to work to support themselves. She created a work environment, taught them how to manage their time and their money and how to be responsible adults in our complex society. Her behavior has been consistent with her values. She creates opportunities for people to experience success, empowers them to manage challenges and then inspires them to treat others with respect and generosity.
Andrews brings people together to solve community problems and to equalize the playing field for all people, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty, racism or institutional bias. She has done this with major institutions such as school districts and state agencies, with professional organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals.
She is known as a successful African American business woman, a gifted and fair public servant, an accomplished person of integrity, a tireless volunteer, a generous philanthropist, a strategic mentor, a hard-working board member, a loyal friend and a loving mother and grandmother. She relishes cooking for and sharing time with her adult children and grown grandchildren.
Andrews, however, believes her greatest legacy is to have inspired others to generously give back – to invest time, talents, money and energy ino making our communities as healthy and supportive of families and with as much social and economic justice as is possible. She deeply values being regarded as a civic entrepreneur.