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Sharon Richards

Photo of Sharon Richards
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Community Service, Education, Non-Profit Leadership


Volunteer, activist, educator, non-profit leader, elected official and small business owner are the broad titles Sharon Richards has carried during her life in Alaska. In all of her roles, Richards has reached out to people from minority communities and has been a tenacious advocate for women, children and families. Richards has led a life of non-profit leadership and volunteerism which has inspired many. She is a quiet leader who looks for people’s strengths. She believes in a public process which involves all people, not just the well connected. In 1988 Richards worked with a group of women to establish a YWCA in Anchorage, resigning as president of the organizing board to become is first executive director and growing the organization for the next 14 years from a staff of one to a staff of 14 operating out of their own building – Richards retired in 2002.

Prior to the YWCA, Richards was director of Community Relations at United Way and trained hundreds of non-profit boards of directors from across Alaska in legal and financial responsibilities. She also taught that studying issues made people informed voters and participants in society which turned them into leaders. She encouraged young women and minorities to take charge of their lives, to develop small businesses and to ecome college and/or career educated in order to become better leaders. Through this work, Richards has served as a role model for young women in the community who aspire to public service and political positions.

Before moving to Alaska, Richards had worked as a classroom language-arts teacher for junior-high-aged students. In 1967 she made the transition to Anchorage with her first husband and 18-month-old son – she also was four months pregnant with her daughter. This is when her life-long commitment to volunteerism and training others to become community and business leaders began. During this beginning she also had a third child, a son.

Early in her career, Richards worked as director of the Volunteer Center during Mayor Tony Knowles’ administration. In this capacity she established the annual city-wide volunteer recognition and Volunteer Service Awards. For six years she served on an Anchorage School District committee that dealt with minority concerns. After chairing it she was appointed and then elected to the Anchorage School Board where she served nearly eight years (1988-1995) twice elected president by her colleagues. She also served as secretary-treasurer for the state-wide Alaska Association of School Boards.

Some of her other community commitments have included: president of many organizations including the League of Women Voters, KAKM, Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club, Association of Non-Profit Corporations and the Anchorage Association of Volunteer Administrators plus chair of the Anchorage Daily News Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund. She was also on the boards of directors of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Community Foundation. Because of Richards leadership and hard work she received the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA award in 1999; the YWCA Women of Achievement Award in 1998; the Citizen of the Year Award from the Alaska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in 1994 and was recognized by LULAC, a Latino organization for outstanding commitment, involvement and contribution to the minority community in 1986.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

2000 ATHENA Society Directory, Profiles in Leadership

Michelle “Mish” Ridgway

Photo of Michelle “Mish” Ridgway
Categories: 2018 Alumnae, Conservation, Education, Exploration, Marine Ecology


Upon the sudden death of marine scientist, educator and conservationist Michelle Ridgway, there was much discussion on social media. One comment, though, seemed to capture them all. It came from former legislator Andrea Doll … “I am mourning the loss of someone greater than life.”

Life-long Alaskan Michelle Ridgway was, indeed, a larger than life figure. Whether piloting a submarine to explore the ocean’s largest undersea canyon, helping document a new species of kelp or whale, fighting for marine conservation across Alaska or building the next generation of Alaskan scientists with her marine science camps … Michelle was at once memorable and impactful.

Michelle developed her love and appreciation for marine life while growing up on Ketchikan’s shore. She later pursued her education in marine biology, algal ecology, and fisheries sciences at Evergreen State College, the University of Washington, Kobe University (Kobe Japan), and University of Alaska Fairbanks.

While working as a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the 1980’s, Michelle loved conducting fisheries fieldwork throughout Alaska. She later worked as a Research Associate with the University of Alaska and ultimately developed a career as a private contractor, creating a consulting firm (Oceanus Alaska) and educational portal (Alaska Deep Ocean Science Institute) through which she was actively engaged as a marine ecologist, researcher, and educator for nearly three decades.

Michelle Ridgway was a marine ecologist in the most comprehensive sense of the term. She was fascinated by the intricacies and inter-relationships of marine species, from microscopic zooplankton to the massive whales they nourished. She studied, described, and measured the bio/chemo/physical properties of the marine environment needed to sustain marine species, helping to define species’ Essential Habitat in objective and mathematical terms.

Michelle believed the only way to truly understand a marine species and its habitat was to observe it in situ— alive and underwater. So she dove, she ran Remote Operating Vehicles (ROV), and she piloted submarines. She was at home underwater. She explored marine realms from the tropics to the ice-covered arctic, from intertidal pools to ocean canyons, observing and then sharing this unique perspective with others.

A highlight of her career was to be among the first scientists to ever explore the Zhemchug Canyon, an 8,500-foot deep canyon that plunges into the Aleutian Basin near the Pribilof Islands. Sponsored by a research expedition of Greenpeace, Michelle piloted an 8-foot-long solo submarine to explore, document, and sample deep-water denizens of the canyon’s depths. Her observations during these dives shed new light on the distribution of zooplankton communities in Zhemchug Canyon depths. Rather than living only in the upper water column and raining down to depths as detritus as was commonly believed, Michelle found these tiny creatures (that form the basis of the entire marine food web) even at depths of nearly 1800 feet in the Zhemchug Canyon. In her own words, Michelle noted, “The entire water column was teeming with a very dense aggregation of zooplankton. It’s rich and living at every depth we examined.”

Michelle never just observed and documented marine life. Her passion was in sharing what she knew. This sharing of knowledge— through elaborate descriptions, intimate photos, and underwater video— was Michelle’s unique gift. Her fascination and appreciation of marine species, their habitat, adaptations, and ecological connections was contagious. She would explore tidepools with a 5 year old in the morning and testify about Essential Fish Habitat before federal resource managers in the afternoon… and both audiences would come away with a new awareness of their marine environment.

But Michelle connected uniquely with young minds and beginning in 2005, she collaborated with local conservationists, school districts, and Native entities to develop and deliver intensive Marine Science Camps. Over ten years, she directed more than a dozen week-long marine science camps in Old Harbor, Juneau, Akutan, the Pribilof Islands, and Sitka. After tailoring a curriculum for each oceanic locale, local culture, and research/vessel resources available, Michelle directed these camps as action-packed, research-based scientific expeditions for students. She taught her students to observe without preconceptions. As a result, she and her student scientists collected data and samples during these camps that were instrumental in documenting a new species of kelp and beaked whale. NOAA is now emulating her design of marine science camps as a way to bridge government scientists with student groups.

Michelle’s impact on her students went beyond the Science Camps. Karin Holser, a teacher in the village of St. George, says, “She was willing to do whatever was needed to inspire them to want to learn more and to understand the ocean that surrounded their island. She was an incredible mentor to many of the kids of both St. George and St. Paul Island. She took these science camp kids to the Smithsonian to work with the new whale species that was discovered on St. George. She took them to NYC to the Explorers Club, she coached them to be keynote speakers at a North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) conference, and they got an award from the Alaska Conservation Foundation.”

To the students in these science camps, Michelle was on the level of famed oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle (dubbed “Her Deepness” by fellow scientists). Michelle mentored and inspired them to the same degree that Sylvia Earle inspired her. It should be no surprise to learn that Michelle joined Sylvia as a member of the prestigious Explorer’s Club, an international organization of scientists, adventurers and philanthropists, promoting exploration throughout the world.

Beyond her exploratory nature, Michelle was known in the marine fisheries and conservation world as an unblinking advocate for marine species, habitats, and resources. Her dedication to science-based marine conservation led to Michelle’s service as an early board member (1995-2001) of the Alaska Marine Conservation council (AMCC) where she helped build a community-based conservation program. Michelle inspired the new organization to address large fishery management challenges by focusing on the whole ecosystem and the fishing communities that rely on healthy oceans. She guided the program to be rooted in science while boldly challenging the status quo.

In 2000, Michelle was appointed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (NPFMC) Advisory Panel where she served from April 2000 through December 2008. It was in the policy forum where she used her marine ecology acumen to scrutinize decisions that most others at the table considered from narrower perspectives.

David Witherell, the current Executive Director of the NPFMC, says, “Michelle was a passionate advocate for resource conservation and habitat protection in the marine waters off Alaska. As a scientist with first-hand knowledge and direct observation of seafloor habitats, she brought a unique perspective to the Advisory Panel’s discussions and deliberations on the best approach to conserving and managing the fisheries off Alaska.  Michelle had a great influence on the development of major conservation policies, including actions taken by the Council to protect vast areas of deep-sea corals, reduce bycatch, and reduce potential impacts of fishing on Steller sea lions.”

Michelle also served as an advisor to NOAA on the National Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee from 2010-2014. Later she worked closely with Alaska Native Tribal communities to help nominate the Pribilof Domain of the Bering Sea as Alaska’s first National Marine Sanctuary.

Although leading a full career as a marine ecologist and conservationist, Michelle always made time to reach out to young people— and especially women— aspiring to become marine scientists. In her own notes about her career, Michelle stated that she mentored dozens of young women in high school and college. One of these dozen young women is Emma Good currently a student at Western Washington University. Emma Good says, “What I will remember most is Michelle’s passion and commitment to not only help, but inspire young scientists like myself to succeed in the field. For young students it is so important to have strong role models and I hope one day I will be able to give back to this community in the same way that Michelle mentored and cared about me.”

In her personal life, Michelle embraced life with the same degree of passion she exhibited in her professional life. She sailed, mushed huskies, was a volunteer fire-fighter/EMT, and played a mean game of tennis and hockey, among many other activities. But foremost in her life was her fierce loving loyalty to family and friends.

Michelle believed one thing that wove together the many strands of her life:  What you do matters.  Whether exploring the waters depths, teaching a friend to mush dogs or visiting distant relatives, she made an intentional effort in every moment of her life.  She believed it mattered.

Additional Resources:

Anchorage Daily News story about her trip into Zhemchug Canyon –

Link to submarine video of Michelle’s solo submarine journey into Zhemchug Canyon –

Anchorage Daily News story about new species of beaked whale –

Journal Nature article on the discovery of Golden-V kelp at the Pribilof Islands –

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Martha M. Roderick

Photo of Martha M. Roderick
Categories: 2011 Alumnae, Civic Involvement, Education


Martha Brady Martin was born in 1931 in Knoxville, Tenn. At age 16, she went to Radcliffe. In 1955 she came to Alaska “just for the summer” intending to return to Boston for a job with John Hancock Insurance Company. She did not go back. Her first job in Anchorage was to sell advertising for the program of a traveling circus. Giving her sales pitch at Cordova Airlines, she was asked her dress size, and when it was determined she would fit the stewardess uniform, was offered a job. She accepted, and traveled on a DC-3 around Alaska. She met an attractive truck driver (Jack Roderick) in Anchorage and married him. They raised two daughters.

Martha was interested in politics, and the year she arrived in Anchorage she was elected secretary of the local Democratic caucus. She joined the League of Women Voters and chaired a committee conducting a two-year study of Anchorage’s first general plan. She was a member of the speaker’s bureau promoting the formation of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough. After statehood, Gov. Egan appointed Martha Alaska’s representative to the Western States’ Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE).

The Roderick family went to New Delhi, India, in 1967, where Jack served a year as regional director for the Peace Corps. After their return, Martha pursued her particular interest in education. She served on Anchorage School District committees from 1969 to 1983, and was elected to the Anchorage School Board in 1984 and served on it for four years, her last year as president.

As a child, Martha had watched her grandfather pay his garden workers, mostly African-American citizens, to stay after their work day so he could teach them to read. Inspired by that, Martha regularly volunteered for more than 40 years, particularly at Fairview Elementary School, to help children succeed at reading. Her commitment to education was sincere. One year, Martha spent her Permanent Fund dividend on a “for-keeps” book for every student at Fairview School. Later, she taught as part of the Title One program at Fairview, and taught pre-GED students at the Adult Learning Center. She found success with her approach to determine what was of interest to the student. For boys who answered “heavy equipment”, Martha would have them use a heavy equipment manual as the textbook.

In 1980, Martha attended the Radcliffe Management Training Seminar and did an internship at Massachusetts Education Television. On her return to Anchorage in 1981, she became the first community access coordinator for Multivisions Cable Company. There, she set up what is now the Anchorage School District Channel 43. She met with local groups and worked to get them to produce and broadcast television shows about issues and events of interest to their constituencies.

Martha contributed her time, intelligence, skill, and energy to helping young people learn to read, and to working to help the Anchorage school system excel. She believed the ability to read could make a difference between a life of success and one of discouragement. The Martha Roderick Books for Kids Fund, established after her death in 2008, allows her family to continue her program of giving a “for keeps” book to every child at Fairview Elementary School.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Teri May (Laws) Rofkar

Photo of Teri May (Laws) Rofkar
Tlingit Name: Chaas’ Koowu Tia’a 19562016
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Tlingit Culture, Traditional Weaving


Teri Rofkar, a Raven from the Snail House, was a renowned Tlingit artist, a weaver known nationally and internationally for her spruce tree root baskets and Ravenstail robes.

At an early age, she was introduced to traditional Tlingit weaving techniques by her maternal Tlingit grandmother, Eliza Monk, whom she visited in the summers in the village of Pelican in Southeast Alaska. Both her parents, Bud and Marie, were artists who experimented with multiple art forms. While Rofkar did not begin her professional thirty-year career as an artist until 1986, she credits her grandmother’s early teachings as inspiring her interest in the traditional gathering and weaving techniques.

From careful examination of traditional baskets, discussions with elders and experimentation with the Ravenstail techniques of twining, Rofkar was able to learn the 6,000 year-old traditional Tlingit methods of gathering and weaving natural materials. She created both waterproof baskets from spruce tree roots and dancing Ravenstail robes. Since both were created through the same twining technique Rofkar sometimes referred to her robes as “dancing baskets”.

To use these traditional methods requires an artist to have an enormous capacity for work, a great deal of time, and a tenacious dedication. Rofkar estimated that each hour of digging spruce roots resulted in 8 to10 hours to prepare the roots for use. Weaving a small basket could take 40 to 210 hours, or 80 to 2300 hours for a large basket. To create a Ravenstail robe first required 6 months of spinning and then 800 to 1400 hours to twine the robe on a frame.

Once Rofkar learned and mastered the 6,000 year-old gathering and weaving techniques, she realized she needed to re-introduce this ancient knowledge to others. She did not considered herself a teacher, but believed that spreading her understanding of traditional Tlingit cultural practices was a necessary and obvious obligation. She acknowledged her role as a culture bearer by commenting: “I get to carry the culture for a little while, and then I’ll hand it off.”

While Rofkar did not have the same passion for teaching as she did for basketry, she taught the ancient gathering and weaving method widely and in a variety of ways. She led school children on field trips into the woods and taught them how spruce roots could be gathered from the same trees, year after year, without damage, so they would continue to be a renewable resource. For many years she conducted workshops for professional artists throughout the country, as well as leading spruce root harvesting classes in Cordova, Sitka and Yakutat.

Rofkar was recognized and honored by her peers by being chosen to deliver keynote addresses, lectures and master classes around the country from California to Minnesota to the East Coast. For a number of years she was an artist in residence at the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center in Sitka, the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She taught Ravenstail weaving classes at the University of Alaska Southeast and conducted apprenticeship programs. In addition to teaching the traditional cultural techniques to others, she worked with the National Museum of the American Indian to develop a protocol for the care and conservation of Tlingit baskets that was shared with other museums.

In 2013 she worked with an educational consultant to create an indigenous science curriculum based on the processes of gathering, planning a design and weaving a robe. For a number of years, Rofkar was an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that houses the country’s largest collection of Northwest baskets. Her work involved examining and identifying which spruce root baskets had been made in the 6,000-year-old traditional Tlingit way and exploring the connection between science and art in the basketry. Rofkar documented this work in a book she wrote which, at the time of her death, was in the final stages of editing and review. She perhaps best summarized her roles as artist and teacher when she stated: “I’m hoping that the pieces that I create are the teachers. They’ll be looking at them, you know, 200 years from now. ‘Ah, this is what they were doing’ “.

As an artist, Rofkar was not afraid to experiment or incorporate contemporary design or new materials with traditional methods and techniques. She wove cedar bark and pine needles into her baskets, incorporated tiny maidenhair ferns for decoration, and experimented with adding copper, silk, and glass beads. She honored the utilitarian roots of her baskets by filling each one, at least once, with berries.

In order to weave an all-mountain goat wool Ravenstail robe, the first in 200 years, she had to learn from local “oldtimers” how, where and when mountain goat undercoat could be gathered. Then, after learning how to spin the hair into wool, she wove a robe utilizing the traditional Ravenstail twining method. In the side panels she incorporated the very modern design of the double helix of the Baranof Island mountain goat’s unique DNA.

In recent years, Rofkar was working on what she called her Superman series of regalia that included the mountain goat robe and two others. One proposal was to use Kevlar material for a bulletproof Ravenstail robe, but trying to procure such material proved difficult. Her third idea was to create a robe of illumination that could shine like the northern lights when triggered by audio signal by weaving luminescence and nanotechnology into the fabric. She did succeed in creating a prototype of this robe using fiber optic wire.

Rofkar’s seventeen Ravenstail robes and numerous spruce root baskets are exhibited at museums and other facilities throughout the country. These locations include: the Denver Art Museum, Chicago Field Museum, Natural History Museum in New Your City, Portland Art Museum, Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (depicts Good Friday Quake in Ravenstail robe design), University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of British Columbia Museum, Fairbanks Court House, UAF Museum of the North, Doyon Corporation, Visitors’ Center, US Forest Service in Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska High School.

On the occasion of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Southeast in 2015, Rofkar worked with the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka to bring her robes back to Sitka from collections around the country. She commented at the time that: “This will be the first occasion in historic time that this many of this type of robe will be dancing”. At the May 1, 2015 ceremony, dancers wore her robes and danced during the commencement celebration. The University’s invitation to the ceremony included the following:”Teri’s robes are a repository of her research, math, and science not separate from, but including, spiritual, functional, and historic ancient culture. These artifacts and Teri’s continued work are a porthole into indigenous methodology that keeps all of these disciplines living and dancing into the future. Please join us as witness to this once in a lifetime gathering of traditions…”

Throughout Rofkar’s thirty-year career as a professional artist she received a number of significant awards and honors, including the following:

2001-2010: Artist in Residence, Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, Sitka;

2002: Commissioned to weave a basket for “2002 Governor’s Art Awards”;

2003: Native Arts “Smithsonian Visiting Scholar” at the National Museum of the

American Indian;

2003: Artist in Residence, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA;

2004: Governor’s Award for Native Arts in Alaska;

2004: Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership (Ecotrust);

2005: First place, Twined Miniatures, TOCA National Basketweaver’s Conference;

2005: Solo Exhibit, Anchorage Museum of Art and History;

2005: Alaska Native Art Festival, National Museum of the American Indian and

Natural History Museum,Washington, D.C.

2006: United States Artists Fellowship (inaugural class);

2006: Selected to demonstrate traditional art of Tlingit basket weaving,

Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, 6/30/06-7/4/2006;

2008: National Native Master Artist Initiative grant;

2009: NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award (the nation’s highest award for

traditional folk arts and crafts; awardees known as “Living Cultural Treasures”);

2009: Artist Fellowship Awards, Rasmuson Foundation;

2012-2014: Received support from Creative Capital for her Superman series;

2013: Distinguished Artist Award, Rasmuson Foundation, “recognized as an artist with stature and a history of creative excellence”;

2013: Artist Fellowship for Traditional Arts, Native Arts & Cultures Foundation award;

2013: Selected to deliver keynote address, Art Alliance Communities Conference,

San Jose, CA.;

2014: All mountain-goat wool Ravenstail robe awarded first place, Sealaska

Heritage Institute Juried Art Show;

2015: Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus;

2015-2020: Rofkar’s work included in ”Native America Voices: The People-Here

and Now” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology

and Anthropology. She also served as a content advisor for the exhibit.

According to her sister, Rofkar was always a planner, thinking ahead to the next steps to take. She was a meticulous note taker, resulting in precise journals recording her research. She was practical and pragmatic and knew when it was time to create items for commercial gain and when she could create art. When she realized that operating the gallery in which she had partial ownership took too much time from her work as an artist, she sold her share. She was not afraid to try and fail; simply noting that something had not worked out. An “aha” moment, which changed her life, came about in 1996 when she stepped on a fragment of a spruce root basket that had been buried in the mud and preserved. The fragment was subsequently dated as being about 5,000 years old. Rofkar realized that the fragment was woven in exactly the way her grandmother had taught her when she was ten years old.

Her sister has made the point that Rofkar was more than just her art. Diane Kaplan, President and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation, which gave a number of awards to Rofkar, stated: “Not only is she an artist of amazing talent and stature, she is also the most delightful, generous and patient person you probably will every meet.” She cared deeply about how best to live and create art, responsibly, in the environment, from eating locally to gathering spruce roots in the same manner and from the same trees as her ancestors had. The more Rofkar worked as an artist utilizing these traditional gathering and weaving techniques, the more she gained insight into ancient Tlingit culture. She explored her culture at great length and the more she learned, the deeper her appreciation.

Rofkar’s artist statement summarizes the connections she made between the present and her cultural past; contemporary and ancient culture, nature and art, and her role as a culture-bearer. “I am following the steps of my Ancestors, striving to recapture the woven arts of an indigenous people. The ancient ways of gathering spruce root, with respect for the trees’ life and spirit, are a rich lesson in today’s world. Traditional methods of gathering and weaving natural materials help me to link past, present, and future. Decades of weaving have opened my eyes to the pure science that is embedded in Tlingit Art. The arts and our oral history together bring knowledge of ten thousand years of research to life. My goal is to continue the research, broadening awareness for the generations to come.”

Teri Rofkar was a Tlingit, daughter of Raven from the Snail House (T’akdeintaan), a clan originating in Lituya Bay. She was a member of the Sitka Tribes of Alaska and a shareholder in the Sealaska Native Corporation. Born in California, she lived in Anchorage, Alaska, throughout her school years, graduating from Dimond High School in 1974 and was married in October 1974. She credited her grandmother, the encouragement and help from various elders, and college courses in her art form for her further education. She and her husband Dennis settled in Sitka in 1976 and raised three children.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Conversations with Dennis Rofkar and Shelly Laws (Teri Rofkar’s husband and sister, respectively) and Diane Kaplan, President and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

Teri Rofkar’s website

Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 5, 2016, Article by Michelle Theriault Boots

Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 24, 2016, Article by Mike Dunham quoting from 2009 interview with Teri Rofkar

Diane Kaplan quotation from article in “First Alaskans Magazine”, Aug./Sept. 2013, p.58

Anchorage Museum Artist File



Irene Sparks Rowan

Photo of Irene Sparks Rowan
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Activist, Leadership, Native Issues


Irene Sparks Rowan, a Tlingit Indian from Klukwan, became a national figure during the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) struggle,  then returned to Alaska to form and lead her village corporation, Klukwan, Inc. In 1976, Rowan helped lead a world-wide campaign to encourage Alaska Natives to enroll under ANCSA, then returned to Washington, D.C., to work as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Rowan’s mission began as a teenager when she taught a troop of Haines Boy Scouts how to Indian dance. The dancers, accompanied by a drum and bugle corps (Irene dancing and playing the bugle), became the well known Chilkat Dancers. Rowan credits this experience, at a time and in a place where Native values and traditional practices were not popular, as key to shaping her life: making her proud to be an Alaska Native and sharing those traditional values with non-Natives. Her early ability to innovate and lead shines through when the dancers, at the fiercely competitive international intertribal Indian Dance Ceremonial festival in New Mexico, were unexpectedly limited in their music. They then danced to the same chant, three times, but at different tempos, without the audience noticing. The Chilkat Dancers received the grand prize for their performance!

Rowan learned to walk in both worlds at an early age from her mother, Mildred Sparks, a Tlingit Indian from Klukwan. Sparks not only was a lifelong advocate for the Alaska Native people but was an English-speaker and acted as a bridge between cultures. As a teacher in Bethel in the 1960s, Rowan helped to elect the first Alaska Native to serve on the city council. She soon expanded her political interests to the national scene, helping to elect Mike Gravel to the Senate in 1968 and moving to Washington, D.C. Rowan then joined in the fight for the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, one of the very few women so involved.

Upon returning to Alaska, Rowan was elected the president of Klukwan, Inc. in 1975 and immediately led a successful lobbying effort to amend  ANSCA twice: to recognize Klukwan, Inc. as a village corporation eligible for ANCSA benefits; and to allow selection of lands outside their original withdrawal area. As president and chief executive officer, it was then her task to lead the complicated and difficult efforts to establish the corporate structure and the process for land selection. In 1976 she joined forces with Susan Ruddy in a public information company which secured a contract to carry out a world-wide campaign to encourage Alaska Natives to enroll under ANCSA. In the late 1970s Rowan returned to Washington and worked as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior to help sort out and resolve the myriad of questions and issues arising from implementation of ANSCA. Returning to Alaska, she continued her implementation work, this time with the Alaska Federation of Natives. She continued to serve many years on the Klukwan, Inc. board. Rowan maintains that her experience being the “face” of Klukwan, Inc. during its formative years has led her to prefer to operate “behind-the-scenes”. However, it is clear from her activities since that time that when needs are identified, Rowan steps forward to lead and initiate action.

Rowan started the Southcentral Native Educators Association while serving as an adjunct instructor of Alaska Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In 2001 she organized a diverse group of volunteers and organizations into the Alaska Native Heritage Month Committee to create ways to commemorate Native cultures during Alaska Native Heritage Month in November. When it appeared the 40th anniversary of ANCSA in 2011 would pass unnoticed, Rowan initiated, organized and chaired the “ANCSA@40” committee.  This group created a year-long program of drums and lectures, including collecting documents and photographs, to celebrate and honor the efforts of those who fought for ANCSA and to educate those unfamiliar with the struggle. She then arranged for the video tapes and still photos from these events to be archived for the use of future generations.

Outside of her role in Alaska Native affairs, Rowan has broad interests in the larger community. As a businesswoman, Rowan has served on the board of Northrim BanCorp (formerly Northrim Bank) since 1991. As a member of Sisters in Crime, the mystery writer organization, she helped organize an “Authors in the Schools” program and a GCI video conferencing program of Alaska Native authors to encourage young rural students to record their stories. She currently serves on the board of Alaska Moving Images Preservation Association. Rowan cites her selection in 1991 by Freedom House to be an election observer in El Salvador as one of her most valuable experiences.  She traveled for a week in that war-torn ountry with a delegation of individuals from throughout the world known as Freedom Fighters. Rowan said her most enjoyable achievement in life has been to raise two daughters.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Lisa Howell Starr Rudd

Photo of Lisa Howell Starr Rudd
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Advocacy, Civil Rights, Equal Rights


In 1988 the original Alaska Commission on the Status of Women celebrated a decade of advocacy and education on behalf of women. Lisa Rudd, as a legislator in the Alaska State House, sponsored the legislation that created it. Throughout her personal, professional and political life Rudd dedicated her efforts to improve laws, conditions and opportunities for Alaska women, children and people of all races. She was the prime force behind the state’s mini-cabinet on women’s issues, and elevated to priority status the issues of daycare, child support enforcement and the employment of Alaska Native women in state government. At this celebration the first Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame was dedicated to Rudd and her legacy of accomplishments providing a visible role model for tomorrow’s leaders.

“It is not a cosmic coincidence that the Author’s Room at the Z.J. Loussac Library will be dedicated to the memory of Lisa Rudd the same weekend as the Alaska Women’s Run, but it is a nice grace note.

“Thousands of women laughing, sharing, striving, competing with the best while supporting each other – the run is the perfect metaphor for Lisa Rudd’s life,” said Susan Nightingale in her June 10, 1988, Anchorage Daily News article.

Other major legislation Rudd sponsored included the creation of a State of Alaska infant learning program, which provided early intervention for infants and toddlers with special needs, ensuring their healthy development. She also sponsored legislation requiring Alaska mariners, familiar with Alaska waters, to pilot oil tankers in and out of Valdez and a separate bill making organ donor registration available on drivers’ licenses. She was active in the women’s-rights movement, and helped to get women’s shelters established in a number ofAlaska communities, incuding Anchorage.

It is a testament to her character, integrity and abilities that three Alaska governors of both parties, Egan, Hammond and Sheffield, appointed her to state posts during their administration.  From 1983 to 1985, Rudd served as commissioner of Administration. In January 1976, Rudd was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Alaska State House Representative Willard Bowman.  She was then elected to that seat where she chaired the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. In 1980 she ran unsuccessfully for State Senate. Rudd served on the Anchorage Charter Commission, the State Commission for Human Rights, and was a member of the Governor’s Equal Employment Committee (1974-1975).  In 1974 she was coordinator of education programs for the Alaska Native Foundation.  She was director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the Anchorage School District (1972-1973).

Rudd also served on a number of community boards of directors including the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Alaska Children’s Services, the Anchorage Employee Relations Board and the Alaska Zoo.  She was a founding member of the Women Executives in State Government.

Many awards, honors and recognitions were given to Rudd throughout her career, among them: the Soroptimist Club of Anchorage’s first annual “Women Helping Women Award”, Community Service Award from the Imperial Court of Alaska (Alaska’s oldest gay community organization) and the Alaska Women’s Commission’s first Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame was dedicated to her.

Rudd received her B.A. in American History and Government from Bennington College and her M.A. in Pubic Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In addition to her public life, Rudd and her husband, Joseph, raised two daughters, Alison and Sandra. To quote them, “She passed on  to us her love of choral singing, berry picking, sailing, playing tennis, fishing and exploring Alaska.  Our mom was an excellent cook and loved to entertain guests for dinner. She enjoyed time at our family cabin and traveling the world.  Prior to mom’s death, she was able to know and love her granddaughter Erin.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Susan L. Ruddy

Photo of Susan L. Ruddy
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Community Organizing, Conservation


Motivated by her father’s love of Jack London stories of the north and by observing her mother as a leader working across party lines in the Rhode Island state Legislature, Susan Ruddy chose to come to Alaska in 1964. With her, she brought the belief that a person can build compassionate communities and embrace and protect magnificent natural environments. Ruddy has devoted the past four decades to conserving Alaska’s unique ecosystems and crafting community infrastructure across the state.

Ruddy founded the Alaska Chapter of the Nature Conservancy in the 1980s to bring science to bear in the identification and protection of biologically unique areas. She also recognized the need to raise funds to accomplish goals, such as community development, so she went on to manage institutions to expand healthcare and education. Ruddy directed the Providence Alaska Foundation, where she championed the establishment of the Providence Cancer Center. The cancer center provides care to families, regardless of income, including the services of a “navigator” who assists them with the range of decisions about cancer treatments. Before Providence, Ruddy served as vice chancellor for University Advancement at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she led a team in acquiring philanthropic gifts to expand science, engineering, and fine arts programs at UAA.

Ruddy has moved seamlessly among the private, public, and non-profit sectors of the state to bring Alaskans together to work out differences and to expand our understanding of one another. On behalf of the Mediation Institute, Ruddy facilitated resolution of land disputes between Alaska Native corporations, public owners, and environmental organizations. In the field of communications, she owned and operated a business that in 1979 produced the first footage of the Iditarod Sled dog race ever available for national television audiences.   

Ruddy raised two curious and kind children, both professionals, who continue to give back to their communities. Sean Ruddy lives in Anchorage with his wife, Pauline, and Lydia Ruddy resides in Indonesia. Susan Ruddy’s personal devotion to the out-of-doors is reflected in her  development of an oyster farm near Halibut Cove with her son his wife. Ruddy kayaks, hikes, and is an avid bird watcher.

Ruddy has volunteered her time as a board member of numerous organizations, including two terms on the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution, several terms on the Commonwealth North Board and on the Providence Region Board. Today she continues to serve on the Board of the Nature Conservancy. As a cancer survivor, she is a strong supporter of the Alaska Women’s Run.

Throughout her career, Ruddy has nurtured the skills of and expanded the knowledge of the next generation of Alaska’s managers, thinkers, and policy makers. She has inspired and mentored many young leaders who are caring for the state’s institutions and communities today. She regards their successes as her lasting contribution to Alaska.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Irene Ryan

Photo of Irene Ryan
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Aviation, Politics, Science


Irene Ryan was a woman of many firsts. She was a pilot, geological engineer, and politician. In June 1932, at age 22, Irene became the first woman to solo an airplane in the Territory of Alaska. She was the first woman geologist to graduate from New Mexico School of Mines. She put that degree to good use when she designed and constructed airfields during WWII, and then after the war, she helped design the Anchorage International Airport.

Irene served in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives and, after statehood in 1959, in the State Senate. Her expertise in oil and mining was seen as very beneficial by the male-dominated legislature. Former attorney general John Havelock said, “It was really extraordinary that a woman could make her way in a man’s world, in a mans topic.” Irene explained, “I have found that the best way to be accepted on equal ground is just to go ahead and quietly do the job at hand.”

Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento

Photo of Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Community Organizing, Education


Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles. She has demonstrated how hard work can balance family and career, pressures of becoming professionally fluent in a second (or third) language, and a solid belief that any problem can be solved.

PERSONAL STORY  (Her quotes are in italics.)

TEACHING  “Education will give you light wherever you go.”

Our family was mostly educators. My dad, Sotero Aguinaldo Malapit, was principal of the Lusong Elementary School. He had served as commanding officer of SULUBAD Bolo Battalion Resistance Movement in the early 1940s. He married well. His first wife, who died too young, was a wealthy woman. I learned later that dad owned land on several islands. They had 3 children. In 1945, my dad remarried a beautiful woman inside and out,my mother Carmen Saladino, and they had 4 children.

My parents urged me to pass the teachers’ civil service exam, and I was fortunate to pass with flying colors. This (and my Bachelor’s Degree) led to my first teaching job in the Malabon District in Rizal, Philippines. I was 18. It was during that time that I met my husband, Angel. I taught for 3 years, then was a school administrator for 7 years.

This all changed when Angel got a job at a fish cannery in Anchorage, and he called me to join him. We would live with his sister in Anchorage. Our 3-month old daughter remained with my mother and sisters and our son, age 1, came to Alaska 

“If you are determined to make it a happy life, you can do it.”

After a brief, menial job as a kitchen helper for Northwest Airlines Fight kitchen cleaning the lint off glasses that airline passengers used, Elsa got a job as a teacher’s aide. In spite of the extreme winter weather and a 50-mile, round-trip commute, it was the beginning of her 23 years as an elementary teacher with the Anchorage School District.


BRIDGE BUILDERS OF ANCHORAGE    Somehow, I always felt I was a second-class citizen in this great country of ours until in 1996, Angel and I received a letter from the mayor at that time, Rick Mystrom. He invited us to be at a gathering to launch something he called “Bridge Builders of Anchorage”. He had sent similar letters to three couples from 14 different cultures in our city.

Six years later, I was chosen to be one of the team of 23 people to go to the national finals of the All-America City awards program in Kansas City, Missouri. My job was to recite “The Pledge of Mutual Respect” that Bridge Builders had written and donated to our city as a gift for the new millennium. As we rehearsed on the Kansas City stage, I noticed that my fellow Alaskans were reading their speaking parts from decorated binders and I spoke up. “We must all know and memorize our own speaking parts by tomorrow, or we will not win this award.”

Mayor George Wuerch agreed and the next day before thousands in a great auditorium with the judges sitting in the front row, I looked into the eyes of every judge as I recited the following pledge:                                            

“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska  pledge to respect one another celebrating the differences that make us unique our customs, our colors, dreams, and ancestral traditions.   Standing together hand-in-hand, young and old we affirm that through mutual respect  we can build a stronger more harmonious community, a more unified nation, and a better, safer world.”

We all performed well and won the day and the All American City title. The crowd stood up and applauded, and we were the unanimous choice of the judges. That was a turning point in my life. Ever since, I have been in the front lines of community leadership and have served in state government.   

Another Bridge Builders project of Elsa’s began in 2006 when she was president of the organization. She was committed to the idea that each of the international cultural communities in Anchorage should be invited to honor one of their members for their Excellence in Community Service. Nominations should be decided by the individual communities. This annual UNITY GALA event has become a wonderful dinner-dance – complete with entertainment, photos, and speeches. Since it was initiated, Bridge Builders Honorees have been from the entire spectrum of our diverse communities – honoring more than 150 individuals and organizations. Elsa’s leadership has been the core of this event. As a result, Bridge Builders is known and valued throughout Anchorage.

ALASKA FEDERATION OF FILIPINO-AMERICANS (AFFA”)       As mentioned in the earlier part of this biography, Elsa was a key to the organization of 12 of the 15 Filipino organizations into a single group. With 7,100 islands in the Philippines and more than 100 languages in addition to the national language of Pilipino, it is easy to imagine separate organizations, cultures, and families. Since its incorporation in 2003, AFFA has established itself as one of the most welcoming, involved, celebratory cultural groups in Alaska. 

“I do my best and go the extra mile. I show the way. I get results and win their trust and they are with me all the way.”

FILIPINO RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS CHOIR GROUP of Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church  Every third Sunday of the month is Filipino Mass at Saint Benedict’s Church, Anchorage. This wonderful choir and community has benefitted from Elsa’s joy and leadership for nearly 20 years. In addition to the happiness of the Filipino Mass, the Community has had a special internationally-welcoming aura to all its activities.

GOVERNMENT SERVICE                            

Walker  Administration  2014 to present

Policy and Program Specialist (Office of Governor Bill Walker, Anchorage): Sargento is often called upon as the Governor’s connection to our culturally-diverse Alaska citizens and reaches back out for the Governor to a number of their concerns.

Education Transition Team: Pre-inauguration of Governor Walker, Sargento was one of the 15-member team   that provided perspective and priorities in public education.

Murkowski Administration   2002-2006  Executive Director of the Alaska State Community Service Commission which promoted volunteerism and ethics of service.

ACADEMIC DEGREES  When I was young, my family was mostly educators. My father channeled his leadership skills as Principal of Lusong Elementary schoool .

Alaska:  School Administrative Certificate – University of Alaska (UAA)  1981

Master of Elementary Education UAA  1977

Alaska Teaching Certificate (UAA) 1974

Philippines: Philippine Normal College – Manila Master’s Equivalency 1970

Philippine National Teachers’ Civil Service Exam  1965

Northern Luzon Teachers’ College – Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education    1965


Elsa holds an Alaska Real Estate license and has been an active partner with her husband in Manila Realty since 1986.


Elsa and Angel were married June 4, 1971 and they have three adult children and six grandchildren.  Achilles “Lex” Sargento was born March 23, 1972. He has 2 sons, Aliyas (12) and Jericho (7).  Golda Sargento was born October 3, 1973. She has a son Micah (15) and a daughter Mahalya (12).  Ryan Sargento was born September 3, 1981. He has a son Esco (10) and a daughter Lahliya (9).

My life has not all been a “bed of roses.” There have been challenges for our family like anyone else. However, because of Elsa’s generous spirit and being there for her community, they have been there for her and given her the love and support to get through whatever challenges the family has had to face.

NATIONAL HERITAGE                                                                                                                                    

Elsa is Filipino by birth. She migrated to Alaska, January 5, 1974 and became a Naturalized American Citizen in 1979.


Founder’s AwardBridge Builders of Anchorage  2013

Honored by Founder and former Mayor Rick Mystrom, Sargento,  was honored  for her steadfast leadership, courage and commitment which benefitted her community, all cultures in Anchorage, and beyond.

President’s Award – Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Inc.  2012

Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation   Dan Sullivan 2010

Outstanding Leadership – Filipino Community of Alaska 2009

20 Outstanding Filipino-Americans of US and Canada Washington, DC  2006 Sargento was honored for her ”dynamic leadership and unwavering support to activities enhancing a positive Filipino-American image in the US and Canada.

Mayor’s Award for Public Service  Mark Begich 2005 Public Safety Advisory Commission

Asian Academy – Hall of Fame  Albuquerque, NM  2004   Sargento was 1 of the 7 global honorees “knighted” in this ceremony and the first Filipino-Alaska woman to receive this honor.

Fil-Am Showtime – Outstanding Achievement Award 2000

BP Teacher of Excellence Certificate 1998

Teacher of the Year   Chinook Elementary School  1997-98

Golden Award – Delta Kappa (education honor sorority) 1997

MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT  When interviewed for the ALASKA WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME honors, Elsa had to think carefully about her most significant accomplishment. Capturing her comment . . . The connection with Bridge Builders is probably her most significant. Beyond the wonderful beginnings of forming the Community of Friends . . . the teams of friends from all races and backgrounds and their support in all aspects even in the toughest of all times over 20 years . . . the success of determination to make it live beyond challenging financial time . . . to the positive ripple effect that resulted in AFFA . . . to the current assignment with Governor Bill Walker and First Lady Donna Walker. Elsa’s former students are now coming into her office as inspired, pro-active adults. It’s an honor to have been part of all this as our city and state have become a unique and welcoming place.

Thank you to the Board of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for this inclusion in your valuable group.   Elsa 

(This is pending publication. It provides a valuable understanding of the Filipino-American culture.) 

Celebrating Filipinos in Alaska By Elsa Malapit Sargento

It is a pleasure to write about Filipinos and what we have brought and continue to bring: our cultural heritage. I would like to highlight a few characteristic traits that stand out to this day.

Survivability Filipino presence in Alaska speaks to our mastery at survival as a people. There is a saying that comes to mind: what won’t kill you will make you strong. That our culture is intact and our people continue to populate the world even in places one would least expect- even in a place like Alaska- is a testimony to our ability to survive, AND thrive. Earliest presence of Filipinos in Alaska on record, according to a book Filipinos in Alaska by the late Thelma Buchholdt, goes back to 1788.

“It appears that the first Filipinos to reach Alaska’s shores came as merchant seamen seeking fur trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. The earliest record accounts for at least one unnamed Filipino seaman who, in 1788, arrived as a crew member on a merchant ship which bartered with Alaska Natives for sea otter furs.”

The ability to survive as people presupposes endurance, the ability to bare suffering by generating the power to resist, and at various times even to revolt. We emerged from an environment of oppression called colonization. What did not kill us made us strong. This is why we are survivors.

Adventuresome  That Filipinos are found in just about every corner of the world gives testimony to the Filipino spirit of adventure. Sons and daughters of islands in the pacific far-east, we became explorers by necessity. We are forced to always look for better and more suitable lands on which to build homes and start our families. Today, this exploration translates into seeking suitable livelihood to support our families and people.

Fun-loving  We are a fun-loving people. If Americans evolved a work ethic for survival, Filipinos evolved a play ethic for the same reason. We cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. A healthy sense of humor can combat the often chaotic and less-than-ideal conditions in which we find ourselves. So we share jokes, we sing songs, recite poems, and we dance. We tend to be non-confrontational. Instead, we value a kind of “smooth interpersonal relationship.” It is very difficult for us to say no. What we have developed are the many levels of meanings for the word YES, where sometimes saying YES means NO. This is because we value relationships.

Hard workers Filipinos are known to sacrifice self for family. Overseas workers (or contract workers abroad) then and now are in the millions. These individual Filipinos not only sacrifice themselves for their families but for the group. They contribute more to the Philippine economy than all of the local businesses in the country. Nothing is too demeaning for Filipinos. They’ll take on anything if it means better living conditions for their families and relatives back home. This is particularly noticeable in Alaska in the many assisted-living homes run by Filipinos. Over 90% of assisted-living homes in Alaska are owned and run by Filipinos. Taking care of the elderly and the homebound is more than a business. For Filipinos, this is an expression of a Filipino value: respect and care of elders especially when they are weak and nearing life’s end.

Utang na loob (OO-TANG’-na-loo-ob) We never forget kind deeds. We are forever indebted to someone who has shown us kindness. We therefore have developed a sense of moral obligation, a sense of indebtedness whether to another person, a neighbor, or country. The long standing relationship between the United States and the Philippines comes out of that Filipino sense of indebtedness we call “utang na loob.” We Filipinos in Alaska feel a sense of gratitude to our state and we have a sense of indebtedness towards this great state that we have adopted as our home. We want to give back to Alaska what Alaska afforded us: a livelihood and a home.

Faith Filipinos are very religious. Religion is more than going to Church to us. It is a life-style. It is deeply embedded in our customs and traditions. In a religious environment, we learn moral and ethical behavior. We are pre-dominantly Christian although we have a large population of Muslims in our southern islands. We take this religiosity and piety wherever we go.

Pakikisama     (Pa-KEE-KEE’-Sa’-ma)  The social nature of every Filipino lends itself to cultural, racial and ethnic diversity. Filipinos can get along with everybody. A fun-loving nature is only the starting point. Much deeper than the pleasure of company is the value of inter-personal relationship. There is a sense of loyalty that comes with community, with neighborhood, and in a bigger picture, loyalty to a society. This is why citizenship is so important to Filipinos. It gives them a sense of belonging and ownership and obligation.

When all is said and done, I think I am speaking for all Filipinos when I say, “We are proud to be Alaskans, and we are proud to be Americans.”Elsa Sargento is the founder of AFFA, the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans; a retired 23-year teacher in the Anchorage School District; a founder and former president of Bridge Builders of Anchorage; and a co-owner with her husband Angel Sargento of Manila Realty. She is currently Policy and Program Specialist in Governor Walker’s Anchorage office. (March 2017)

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Grace Berg Schaible

Photo of Grace Berg Schaible
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Government, Law, Philanthropy


Achievement In: Law, government and philanthropy

Grace Berg Schaible has been a major player in the shaping of this state and its institutions.

She started her law career in Fairbanks, becoming the first person admitted to practice in the newly-minted Alaska court system. A graduate of the University of Alaska, she served on its Board of Regents, 1985-87, and currently serves as a member of the UAF Board of Visitors. From her private law practice, she was appointed in 1987 as the first (and to date, only) female Attorney General . She served, again as the first woman, as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Alaska Permanent Fund from 1995-97. In 1998 to 2003, she was the President of the Board of Trustees, University of Alaska Foundation. She has been a major donor of money, land, buildings and art to the university system. Among her many, many awards, she received an Honorary Doctor of Law’s degree from UAF in 1991 and in 2000 the William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan award from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.

The recent (2009) comments of President Mark Hamilton in connection with her latest award, the University of Alaska President’s Medal for Excellence, best sums up the breadth and depth of her contributions to shaping Alaska: “Grace has been a steadfast supporter of the University of Alaska and this entire state for so long that it is inconceivable for me to think how Alaska would be today without her having touched it so tremendously. “


Alaska Alumnus, spring 1976, Grace Berg Schaible:Arctic Attorney

Ruth Anne Marie Schmidt Ph.D.

Photo of Ruth Anne Marie Schmidt Ph.D.
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Education, Geologist, Philanthropy


Ruth Schmidt entered a career as a geologist when few women were accepted into the field. She was a pioneer; how many women held an M.A. in geology in 1939 or earned a Ph.D. in geology in 1948? And, as an educator, she paved the way for future women in the field.

Schmidt grew up in a family that placed a high value on education. All four of her siblings, three of whom were sisters, earned college degrees in the 1920s. Schmidt continued in the family tradition, earning a B.A. from New York University at the age of 20, a M.A. in 1939 (at the height of the depression) and a Ph.D. in 1948, both from Columbia University, in geology. Her interest in pursuing a career in science perhaps began after NYU when she was certified and worked as an X-ray technician in a hospital and private doctor’s office. Over the years she applied her interest in and knowledge of radiography to geology, researching how that technique could be applied particularly in the field of paleontology. This work led to the publication of a number of scientific articles concerning radiographic methods and micropaleontology.

Beginning her geology career in the early years of WWII provided her with some unique opportunities which served her in many ways. As a graduate student at Columbia University in the early 1940s, she was recruited to teach two all male classes in science and military mapmaking due to the shortage of male graduate students. The professor, impressed by her knowledge of the subject matter, teaching abilities and administrative talents, provided an excellent reference. In 1943 when employed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Washington, D.C., she was one of the few women to join the agency as a geologist. She was immediately assigned to the recently formed top secret Military Geology Unit where, along with her mostly male colleagues, she applied her professional knowledge to specific war-time tasks. The job was to provide mapping and both general and specific details of terrain to the Army Corps of Engineers to enable that agency to identify suitable areas for construction of infrastructure such as airfields, ports, and landing areas overseas. After the war work was completed, Schmidt continued her professional interest in the possible application of radiography to geology by directing and planning such research at USGS.

During her years in Washington, D.C. at USGS (1943-56), Schmidt was concerned about the prevailing racial segregation that existed. In 1945 she joined The Washington Cooperative Bookshop which, in addition to selling books and records at a discount, offered a place where blacks and whites could meet for interracial, cultural gatherings, forums and lectures on art, world affairs, science and other topics. Then in 1950 and again in 1954, in the midst of the socalled “Red Scare,” her loyalty to the United States was questioned by her federal employer because of involvement in the Cooperative Bookshop which the attorney general had declared to be a “subversive” organization. A transcript of the hearing in 1950 shows that Schmidt was not intimidated by the process or the members of the Loyalty Board and, characteristically, was direct and forthright in her responses to their questions. Cleared within months, she again faced charges in 1954 when the Secretary of the Department of Interior advised her that her continued associations and activities in connection with the Cooperative Bookshop “tended to show” that she was “not reliable.” Once again she provided written answers and affidavits from fellow employees and friends demonstrating her loyalty to the country, faced questions in another hearing and again was cleared within several months. It is perhaps not mere speculation to assume that her transfer to Alaska in 1956 to establish an Anchorage field office as the district geologist (1956-63) was greeted as a positive move by both the agency and Schmidt.

In addition to her work at USGS in Anchorage, Schmidt, in 1959, initiated and taught, as the sole teacher, the first college-level geology courses at Anchorage Community College, and then continued her career as an educator at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), retiring as chair of the Geology Department in 1984. Friends believe she discovered her true passion in the teaching of the science of geology to young students. Over her long teaching career, she was particularly supportive of young women entering the sciences, acting as a mentor and helping launch many women (and men) into professional careers, an important contribution for a resource-rich state. During her 25-year teaching career, she laid the foundation for today’s UAA geological science curriculum and designed the first geology laboratory at UAA, which was in operation until 2010. She was a well respected, albeit demanding, teacher and over the years it was not uncommon for former students to approach her at public events to voice their appreciation. Schmidt was elected a Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; founder, first president and honorary life member, Alaska Geological Society; American Institute of Professional Geologists, admitted in 1964, and emeritus status in 1986.

Her support of higher education extended beyond teaching. In 1993 Schmidt established the Edward and Anna Range Schmidt Charitable Trust which provides financial assistance to students, teachers and educational groups in the sciences, particularly earth and environmental sciences, with preference given to Alaska Natives and other minorities. Over the years she and her siblings established scholarships in honor of her siblings at the colleges from which they graduated. Most recently Schmidt, in her will, provided an endowment to the University of Alaska Foundation for scholarships for geology students at UAA.

As a professional geologist, Schmidt was involved in a number of Alaska’s major historic events. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, the epic earthquake found Schmidt, three students and a U.S. Forest Service employee in the middle of Portage Lake boring holes in the ice to measure water depth. Avalanches and rock slides crashed down around the edges, the ice itself quietly moved back and forth (later measured as a five foot swing) and the ice ringing the shore broke up, creating six-foot pressure ridges and leaving open water between the ice and the shore. With Schmidt in charge, the group with its snowmachine eventually found a solid patch to get them off the ice and onto the railroad tracks. Unable to return via the unstable train tunnel they found a small railroad cabin occupied by a young couple and their baby and spent the night. The next day a helicopter took them back to the lodge where they were staying in Portage and by Sunday, another helicopter flew them back to Anchorage. On Monday, three days after Friday’s historic earthquake, Schmidt attended an emergency meeting of all the available earth scientists in Anchorage from both the private and public spheres. She was selected to coordinate the work of the 40 or so scientists who volunteered their expertise to assess and map the areas of damage and of potential damage in Anchorage. On the very next day, base maps were procured and the scientists took to the field to start the assessments before the weather or humans had the time or opportunity to change the terrain. Within days, Schmidt was able to release a preliminary report followed by a final report on May 8th which, though hastily done, was the basis for subsequent studies detailing the geological factors which would influence future building sites. Despite criticism from real estate developers and downtown business interests, Schmidt insisted the public and local officials be fully briefed on the hazards identified before any rebuilding was initiated.

Schmidt also played a role in the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline when in 1974 – 1975; she was appointed an environmental consultant to the Office of the Governor. Her job was to make inspections all along the pipeline route to report on environmental concerns, the state of restoration, cleanliness of camps, etc. Schmidt continued working as a consulting geologist on any number of private and public projects throughout Alaska well into her eighth decade. During her extensive travels around Alaska and the world, she built an impressive slide library of geologic features.

Throughout her career, she was active in a number of professional organizations starting in 1948 with membership in the Geological Society of America. She was admitted to the American Institute of Professional Geologists in 1964 and was granted emeritus status in 1986. Schmidt received a number of honors as a geologist: named a Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; to the Board of Governors, Arctic Institute of North America; and Delegate, International Geologic Congress in Prague, 1968. Along with seven men, she founded the Alaska Geological Society in 1958, served as its first president, was on the board and was a life member. In 2008 she received a special AGS award for her long years of service and membership. She became a member of the American Association of Petroleum Engineers in 1957 and is to be the first woman honored on the occasion of the association’s upcoming centennial. She served many years on the board and the advisory council for the Alaska Museum of Natural History (now the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature) and was bestowed an honorary lifetime membership. Schmidt led creation of the Brooks Range Library and served as president and trustee during 1979 – 1991. She was a longtime member, officer and supporter of Anchorage Audubon and an early board member of the Alaska Center for the Environment. For many years, Schmidt was listed in “Who’s Who in America” and in “Who’s Who in Science and Engineering.

Following her final retirement as a consulting geologist in about 2000, Schmidt devoted a substantial portion of her financial resources to philanthropy, supporting causes such as education, the environment, the arts and social justice. She took her role as a philanthropist seriously and in her later years, recognizing that dementia was approaching, Schmidt set up a plan whereby the charities she supported would continue to receive funding during her lifetime even though she no longer could manage her affairs. This generosity was further enhanced by more than 20 substantial bequests found in her will; which not only provided for groups and charities she had traditionally supported, but also included charitable organizations which had no previous support or contact from her.

Schmidt’s forthright, direct personality stood her in good stead throughout her life, particularly in her early career as a young woman in a singularly masculine profession. A long-time friend quipped that “Ruth’s personality was bigger than she was.” It is true she was short in stature, but that did not define her; she was confident, strong, quick, generous, funny, a collector of cartoons and jokes and she commanded respect. Even in her later years and with early stage dementia when she was unable to remember someone’s name or recall a word, she did not attempt to cover up the lapse or pretend. In her direct way of speaking she would forthrightly state that her shortterm memory was gone. This simple, direct declaration immediately opened up the conversation giving the person to whom she was speaking the opportunity to comment or ask a question. It was an immediate gift from a teacher who continued to educate those around her.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Photo courtesy of the Collection of Sally Gibert

  1. Ruth Schmidt papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage
  2. “Ruth Schmidt’s Obituary on Alaska Dispatch News”, Alaska Dispatch News, 07 Apr. 2014
  3. “Project 49: Ruth A.M. Schmidt, geologist, McCarthyism survivor”, Nov. 5, 2014, Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement:
  4. Saucier, Heather. “An Extraordinary, Unknown Career”.

Jo Ryman Scott

Photo of Jo Ryman Scott
Categories: 2010 Alumnae, Education


A Fairbanks resident for the past 57 years, Jo Ryman Scott is known as a passionate educator and advocate of the Arts. She has received numerous awards for her contributions in these areas, including two Governors Awards for the Arts and an honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Scott grew up on a farm in South Dakota. Her first teaching experience was at Wright School, a charming one-room country school about 14 miles south of Aberdeen. She cherishes the memories of her three years teaching the wonderful children there plus carrying water every day, starting the fires on cold winter mornings, being the janitor and playing outdoor games with the kids at noon and recess. Scott credits those years as being the spring-board for developing the courage and stamina to go on to get her college degree, something many farm girls didn’t do in those days. Scott graduated from San Jose State in 1953 and decided to go to Alaska to teach rather than go to Venezuela – as some of her friends were doing. She accepted a teaching position in Fairbanks primarily because at that time, Fairbanks was the only community in Alaska that had the University.

Scott has always had creative ideas for youth. In addition to teaching in the public schools in Fairbanks, she founded Fairbanks’ first educational pre-school (1962) and a Jr. High fine arts camp (1976) held in the Scott’s yard.

Then in 1980, Scott realized her dream of establishing a study-performance arts festival in Fairbanks. She called on her friend, Eddie Madden (Boston) who knew the talented musicians to invite and the classes and concerts to offer. This event came to be known as the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival which is produced in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Scott has received many honors over the last 30 years. To name a few: Two Governor’s Awards for the Arts; an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and this year, she is honored to be inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame. She retired last summer after 30 successful seasons of producing the Festival. She is happy to help her long-time friend, Terese Kaptur in any way she can as Terese leads the Festival onward with her own creative ideas.

Dick and Jo have three children: Julie Scott and her husband, John Ryer; Bryan and his wife Lyn Collaton and their son, Ayden; and their youngest daughter, Shirley Scott. We will remember Shirley’s son, Benji, who passed away three years ago.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Nell Scott

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Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Territorial Politics


“Flying Nell Scott” was the first woman elected to the Alaska Territorial Legislature. Nell worked in Seattle before moving to Alaska, finally settling in Seldovia in 1934 when her husband was appointed a Deputy United States Marshall. Her campaign was famous for its lack of speeches; Nell flew around and spoke with people individually. Scott came to office with the landslide re-election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, but left the legislature after one term.

Lidia Selkregg

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Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Geologist, Land Use Planner


Born in Florence, Italy, in 1920, Lidia Lippi met Fred Selkregg at the end of WWII. They married in 1945, and moved to Alaska in 1958. Dr. Selkregg worked with communities throughout the state as a planner. She wrote the Economic Development Administration Grant for the Port of Anchorage, fought to set aside land for Anchorages watershed, and educated the community about earthquake risk. She served on the Advisory Committee to the Carter White House Conference on Balanced National Growth and Economic Development, served on the Anchorage Assembly, and developed a graduate planning program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller

Photo of Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Aleut Communities, Education


Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller was a pioneer for the Aleut (Unangan) people who blazed the way in education, public speaking, and community activism. She was an outstanding Alaska Native educator who worked for decades in rural Alaska villages and towns.

She was the first teacher in Atka, the surviving village in the central Aleutians, where she taught for four years. She was the first of her people to be a certified teacher and went on to teach in her hometown of Unalaska on the Aleutian chain, in Akhiok (Alitak) on Kodiak Island, in Tyonek, and Eklutna.

Her teaching spanned almost 40 years, all in territorial days. She became an outspoken advocate and strong activist for the rights and culture of her people and was dedicated to helping them. In her career, she influenced thousands of children and adults across Alaska.

As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn set an example of the value of education that has rarely been equaled. Through her own education and her subsequent work as a teacher, she had a deep impact on those who knew her. In 1922 Kathryn was asked to write three articles about the Aleut people. These were published in 1923 by The Pathfinder of Alaska and are of great importance to any study of the Aleut people.

Her outstanding work among the Native people of Alaska spanned the disciplines of education, midwifery, church, and social work. She was remembered in the Aleut Corporation Newsletter for her “lifelong, tireless efforts to enhance the capabilities of her people to cope with their changing way of life.” She was recognized by the Department of Interior in 1950 when she received a special award for commendable service. That same year Congress awarded her a medal for ‘outstanding service to her people.’ After she retired, she continued to lecture about Alaska and the Aleut people. She was decades ahead of her time in speaking about the terrible suffering of Aleuts who were taken from the islands during World War II and placed in substandard camps in Southeast Alaska.

Early Life:

Kathryn Pelagia Dyakanoff was born to an important Aleut (Unangan) family in Unalaska on December 7th, 1884[1]. She began her schooling when she lived at the Jesse Lee Home in 1894. She was an outstanding student who was encouraged by missionaries at Jesse Lee to continue her education. When she was twelve years old Sheldon Jackson, the first Alaska Commissioner of Education, recommended her to go to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. She earned her high school diploma from Carlisle in 1906. After she finished at Carlisle, she went to West Chester Normal School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she graduated with her teaching degree in January 1909. Before she returned to Alaska, she spent a semester doing post-graduate work at Dickson College in Carlisle. Throughout all of this time, Dr. Sheldon Jackson encouraged her.

For her first year as a teacher in 1909, the Bureau of Indian Affairs assigned her to Sitka. The 1910 U.S. Census lists Kathryn Dyakanoff (21) with Cassia Patton (48) as the U.S. Government teachers. After the school year ended, she traveled to Seattle. There on June 1, 1910, she married Harry G. Seller, who was born in England and had immigrated to the U.S. a decade earlier. He had worked as a newspaper writer and photographer and was also a teacher.

Kathryn was at the forefront of changes in Aleut identity occasioned by economic and social forces at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was a bridge between traditional 19th century Aleuts and those who would forge new directions in the coming decades. 

A Dedicated Teacher:

The Sellers were commissioned by the B.I.A. to go to Atka, first to build a schoolhouse and then to serve as the teachers there. Kathryn was the principal teacher while her husband provided manual training. He eventually managed the Atka Island Native Store, a cooperative he started for the Bureau of Education. The local villagers were hired in the construction of the new school. Two excerpts on the Alaska history website show Kathryn’s dedication and exceptional gifts (

The B.I.A. gave Kathryn and Harry one hundred seventy dollars worth of construction materials and three special items the government had conceded to Kathryn: an organ, a cow and a bull. It is interesting to note that they refunded fifty of the original one hundred seventy dollars to the government. The schoolhouse, which was also their home, was completed and ready for use in 1909. Their first daughter, Renee Lois Seller, was born in Atka in 1911; the family recorded that the villagers celebrated the birth, not of Renee, but of a calf parented by the cow and bull that Kathryn had insisted accompany them to the island. Atka was a very remote outpost; the Sellers received mail only once a year.

Adventurer and newsreel photographer Will Hudson wrote a narrative of his 1913-1914 trip to Alaska and Siberia in a book entitled, Icy Hell. He stopped at Atka, he wrote of meeting Kathryn: “The little Native school was under the direction of an Aleut girl who received her education in the States. If ever there was a saint living on earth, I am sure it was this faithful, cultured Aleut maiden, who was slaving herself half to death in an effort to help her charges in faraway, lonely Atka.” Will Hudson wrote that Kathryn shared their meager food supplies with the villagers.

Kathryn’s knowledge of the Aleut language enabled her to jump-start the education of children who had never been in school before. Being the teachers in Atka were much more than just building the school and teaching the children; the school became the heart of community activity. Harry and Kathryn’s report to the government for 1912-13, describes the whole community being involved in clearing various locations and planting many kinds of vegetables and potatoes. They built a separate building as an industrial shop for the school and men and boys learned to use tools. They offered medical care. Cooking and weaving classes were offered. Kathryn was sent a sewing machine, two other machines arrived and older girls and women learned to sew. She included in her report, “Now all of the older girls and women of the village know how to use the machines. Sewing classes were held on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and the use of the machine was free to anyone on Saturdays” (1914, p. 45).

By 1916, the Sellers were living in the village of Akhiok on Alitak Bay on the south end of Kodiak Island. The Department of Interior 1916-1917 report lists Mrs. Kathryn D. Seller as the teacher with 43 children enrolled and a very good average daily attendance record. The 1920 Census lists Kathryn and Harry still living in Akhiok with their oldest four children. Kathryn and Harry were both teaching as the U. S. Government teachers. They experienced tragedy the next year when their seven-year old son Alfred drowned in Alitak Bay.

In 1920, Kathryn became the superintendent at Tyonek and taught there. By then their children were growing so in the 1920s, they moved to Anchorage so their older children could attend high school. They were early residents of Anchorage. Harry worked for the railroad and Kathryn took time away from teaching to manage the household and help raise her five remaining children as well as volunteer in the community. Their oldest daughter Renee graduated from Anchorage High School in 1929, Marjorie in 1932, son Harry in 1934. Kathryn’s husband Harry Seller died in the summer of 1936, leaving Kathryn a widow with two children, John and Betty, still at home.

After her husband’s death, Kathryn moved back to Akhiok village and returned to teaching. Her youngest two children stayed in Anchorage to finish high school (John graduated in 1941 and Betty in 1942). Son Harry moved to Akhiok with her. Kathryn and Harry Jr. are both listed in the 1940 U.S. Census, where she was the teacher in the school, and in fact, also the census taker. That time must have been precious to her, as Harry joined the military and died at Unalaska a few days after the Japanese attack in June 1942.

In the early 1940s, Kathryn was on the staff at the Eklutna Vocational School, where she taught. Kathryn retired from teaching in 1948 and moved to California to be near her children and grandchildren. She continued to make presentations along the west coast and in the east, sharing slides and pictures and her stories at schools, churches, and other groups to promote better understanding of Alaska and her people. She died on June 17, 1980 at age 96 in San Francisco and is buried in the Valley Cemetery in Sonoma.

Impact of Kathryn’s Life:

The villages where Kathryn taught listed in various sources include: Sitka, Atka, Unalaska, Akhiok (Alitak), Wacker (Ward Cove), Tyonek, and Eklutna. Though she had earned her teaching degree, because she was Alaska Native she was granted only a temporary certificate to teach in Alaska. Visitors were sometimes incredulous that a Native woman could be the government teacher and consequently described her as her husband’s assistant. Through her outstanding teaching and persistence she was finally granted her permanent certificate in 1925. In the days when there were few if any Alaska Native certified teachers in towns and villages of Alaska, Kathryn was a path breaker, a mentor and inspiration to many. To think she was born only seventeen years after Alaska’s purchase from Russia and taught for decades, all in territory days, is amazing and inspiring.

As a Native woman in the early years of the 20th century, Kathryn Seller faced bigotry and prejudice with intelligence and resolve. She had the highest standards and a fearless energy. As Anthony J. Diamond wrote, “I have known Mrs. Seller for twenty years or more. Her character is of the highest. She is intelligent, honorable, and reliable. I know that she will speak the truth.”

Ray Hudson wrote, “When I was a young teacher at Unalaska (in the 1960s and 1970s), I had several discussions with Edna Pelagia McCurdy. She was an Aleut who retired from teaching in California and returned home to teach in the public school and to assist forming the local corporation. Several times she spoke about how Kathryn Seller was a great influence on her life. Today a scholarship exists in McCurdy’s name, given annually by the Ounalashka Corporation.” Edna McCurdy said of her aunt Kathryn, “She was always so proud of her Aleut heritage and always used Dyakanoff as her middle name.” Ray also reported, “Anfesia Shapsnikoff, the great basket weaver and champion of Aleut culture, although a generation younger than Seller (having been born in 1900) was a friend of Kathryn and frequently referred to her work as being exemplary.”

It is fitting that Kathryn was recognized nationally for her teaching and service and that we honor her achievements and long dedication as an Alaska Native woman.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Alaska History Website:

Aleut Corporation. (~1980). Spotlight on Shareholders: Kathryn Dyakanoff Seller. Newsletter for shareholders.

Bagoy, J. (2001). Legends and legacies: Anchorage 1910-1935. Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001, p. 187-189.

Bagoy, J. (Various dates). Research files, correspondence, and writings in the archives at the Anchorage Historical & Fine Arts Museum.

Blalock, Betty Seller. (2017). Personal conversations and letters (Daughter of Kathryn).

Carlisle (n.d.). Student card for Kathryn Dyakanoff on entry 10-25-98. Card G-412.

Correspondence between Dr. Sheldon Jackson and Kathryn Dyakanoff, 1907 – 1908.

[1] Official records of Kathryn’s birth year vary from 1884-1888, but her death records & grave give 1884.

Natalya Shelikof

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Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Exploration


Natalya Shelikof, wife of Grigorii Ivanovich Shelikhof, was the first white woman to live in Alaska, arriving in 1784 to the island of Kodiak where she helped her husband set up the colony and generally establish the Russian presence. Many historians say she was a founder of the Russian American Company. A remarkable woman who bore eight children, she ably supported her husband in his business affairs and expanded them after his death. She was influential in establishing schools, developing agriculture and bringing the Russian Orthodox Church to Alaska. She taught the native women about manners and cleanliness and tried, but did not succeed, in abolishing the tradition of polygamy.

Barbara Sweetland Smith

Photo of Barbara Sweetland Smith
Categories: 2014 Alumnae, Conservation, Culture, History


Barbara Sweetland Smith was born in Portland, Ore., in March of 1936 to Monroe Mark Sweetland, a newspaper publisher, and Lil Megrath. A graduate of Milwaukie (Oregon) High School, Mills College, Columbia University and the University of Washington, Smith accepted a position as administrative assistant at the prestigious Harvard Russian Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for two years and studied with Don Treadgold at the University of Washington, one of the premier Russianists in the U.S. When she returned to the Northwest, she became an assistant news analyst at KING TV in Seattle. After the birth of her first child, Barbara returned to graduate school where she did an intensive study of late 19th century Russian philosophers and theologians. In 1970 Smith and husband Floyd moved to Anchorage and she began teaching Russian history as a faculty member of the University of Alaska Anchorage. In this position, Smith was asked to study the long-lost and recently re-discovered records of the Russian Orthodox Church. The book that resulted was named by the American Association of Archivists as the best book published on religious archives in 1982.

Steve Haycox, a Distinguished Professor and historian with UAA, said: “Barbara Smith was an extraordinary person, with discerning and disciplined intellect, keen insight, unfailing courage, and deep compassion. I feel privileged to have known her.”

As a scholar, Smith also focused on identifying and collecting records of the Alaska Native corporations in the early 1970s. One of her many achievements greatly benefited the indigenous Aleuts whose culture and homes were mostly destroyed during the WWII battles in the Aleutian Islands. She put her knowledge of the language and the times into practical use assisting the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association to gain recognition of the disastrous Aleut relocation during WWII and later provided the documentation to Congress that resulted in the restoration and rebuilding of the historic churches in the Aleutians.

To further Alaskans’ knowledge of their Russian heritage, Smith curated four major exhibitions at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art: “Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier,” “Heaven on Earth: Orthodox Treasures of Siberia and North America,” and “Science Under Sail: Russia’s Great Voyages to America 1728-1867.” These popular world-class exhibits, some of which traveled the country, portrayed how the Russian presence has shaped Alaska’s history and cultures.

Smith also followed in the footsteps of her father who had served in both houses of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. She became an active advocate, testifying before the Alaska Legislature and Congress for private, state and federal funding and support for archives, historical programs and museums. She was a founder of the respected Alaska History Journal, working to get it started and continuing as an advisor — reviewing and commenting on manuscripts submitted about Russian America and the exploration of Alaska. As a member and consultant she served in many groundbreaking capacities for the Alaska Historical Society.

A friend, Jo Antonson, said of Smith: “I was new to Alaska and beginning my career. I went to work for the Alaska Historical Commission and met Barbara because she had successfully garnered a number of grants to acquire and preserve pieces of Alaska’s history. She was very helpful to me and we eventually became good friends as well as professional colleagues. Barbara was careful, thorough and exacting in all of her professional work.

“I really admired Barbara’s patience and ability to mentor many women, encouraging and training them through her projects,” Jo added.

Another friend, Dana Anderson, called Smith: “A very caring individual.”

Smith’s community involvement included a strong commitment as President for 28 years of the Anchorage Fellowship in Serving Humanity (FISH) which, in partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska, operates a food pantry supplying thousands of Anchorage poor, especially children, with delivered nutritious meals, all on a volunteer basis. Over the years, she helped distribute approximately 3 million meals to families in need.

A strong supporter of women in the professions, Smith served for many years on the board of and in leadership positions with Soroptimists International of Anchorage, the Anchorage branch of an international group devoted to improving the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.  Smith also served as a board member of the national Archives of the Episcopal Church.

During her professional career as a Russian historian, Smith published a number of books and curated many exhibits. Several of her books became widely acclaimed earning her international distinction as a scholar of Russian history in Alaska For her work, Smith was one of five Americans awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian People from the Russian government (two of the fie were U.S. astronauts) and the Order of St. Herman from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Obituary, The Oregonian, Mar. 17, 2013

Hannah Paul Solomon

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Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Leadership, Mentorship, Native Issues


A respected elder and matriarch of the Athabascan people, Hannah Solomon began her work by helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and becoming its first female mayor. Using this as a stepping stone, Solomon moved on to help form the Fairbanks Native Association and to become active in the Alaska Federation of Natives, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference. Solomon’s beadwork, a skill she learned from her mother, has been nationally recognized and collected by public and private museums and collectors.

Born in Old Rampart of an Alaska Native woman and white father, Solomon was raised by adoptive parents. After her marriage, she lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle in Fort Yukon, where she and her husband raised their 14 children and her husband’s four children. While living there, she became active in community affairs, helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and creating a school board.  She then became Fort Yukon’s first female mayor.

Solomon had only a few years of elementary school education, but was a strong advocate of education for her children and other young people, particularly Alaska Native youths moving into Fairbanks from rural villages.  Solomon spoke fluent Gwich’in and made sure her children learned to speak it as well. After moving to Fairbanks in 1965, which allowed her younger children to attend Lathrop High School, Solomon helped organize and then worked for the Fairbanks Native Association as a social worker. She developed programs for the elderly that are still operation. As an activist and leader in Native affairs, Solomon attended the initial meetings of AFN, Fairbanks Native Association, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference and continued to be an active participant throughout her lifetime. In 2011 her 102nd year, she attended and spoke at Doyan’s annual meeting.

Solomon’s beadwork is considered among the finest in the Athabascan tradition and is in the collections of museums, businesses and private collectors in Alaska and elsewhere, including the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North, Doyon’s headquarters in Fairbanks, in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. She learned beadwork from her mother, was diligent and persistent (“she was always doing her beadwork” according to a daughter) and modest about her artistic skills. She said once: “I don’t call myself an artist at all because that’s the thing that God gave me to do and I’m doing it.” Solomon loved traditional Athabascan dancing, especially jigging. In 2000 she was awarded the Governor’s Native Arts Award, and throughout the years was invited to participate in many guest-artist and artist/apprentice programs. Solomon was selected by UAF to be an Elder in Residence and was cited for the “wisdom, understanding and friendship” she provided through the program. In recognition of her contributions to the elder program, the Fairbanks Native Association named their senior care building the “Hannah Solomon Building”. She was honored also by the North Star Borough as the Pioneer of the Month, as Doyon Shareholder of the Year as an “inspiration to shareholders” and by the church where she was a longtime parishioner.

Solomon’s long life spanned World War I through the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At her death, she was survived by five generations of family. Summarizing Solomon’s influence and importance in both the Alaska Native and non-Native worlds, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner stated in its editorial of Sept. 18, 2011: “At 102, Hannah Solomon has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and wisdom unmatched by but very few in Alaska.”

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Doyon, Limited E-Newsletter, October 2011
Artist File, Hannah Solomon, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, articles on September 16, 2011, September 18, 2011 and Sept. 23, 2011, Editorial, September 18, 2011
Anchorage Daily News, article on March 26, 2000
Susan Fair. Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity. University of Alaska Press, 2007
Kate Duncan. Some Warmer Tone. University of Alaska Press, 1984
Richard Nelson. The Athabascans: People of the Boreal Forest. University of Alaska Museum, 1983
Journal of Alaska Native Arts, Jan.-Feb-March 1989

Shirley Mae (Springer) Staten

Photo of Shirley Mae (Springer) Staten
Categories: 2016 Alumnae, Art, Civil Rights, Human Rights


Staten has given countless keynotes and impacted many lives, weaving stories and song to inspire women in prison, disadvantaged youth, young Native women, graduates at University of Alaska Anchorage, teachers with Anchorage School District and women across the world. She created and directed the Alaska Women’s Choir, which toured throughout Alaska and the International Women’s Conference in Nairobi. Children in the Home Base After-School Program that she directed from 2006-2011 published two books and produced a CD and two photo exhibits. With Staten’s guidance, the students planned, fundraised, negotiated, and travelled to Ghana to visit schools and perform there. Staten challenged the students to dream, and students learned to take charge of their own dreams. She brings diverse groups together in community dialogues locally through the Humanities Forum programs and through the Martin Luther King Citywide Celebration. Staten also inspired youth with her performances as part of the Alaska State Council of the Arts’ “Artist in Residence” Program.
Staten started school in the segregated, poor schools in the south, Georgia. Although she graduated from high school, she had difficulties with reading. She picked cotton and worked in tobacco as a child. Music was always a part of her life, whether it was singing in the fields with her grandmother, aunts Pearline and Annabelle and cousin Daisy, or listening to her mother humming a tune from the time she woke, after prayers. She left Georgia at age 17, and she moved to Anchorage in 1981 after working as an AmeriCorps VISTA in New Mexico and teaching assistant in Los Angeles, with three summers of work in Fairbanks that brought her to Alaska.
Education: 1987: Associates Degree in Human Services, Anchorage Community College; 1989: BA in Human Resource Development, Alaska Pacific University; 1996: MS in Spiritual Psychology, University of Santa Monica, California. Specialized training: 1993: Jack Canfield: Self-Esteem Facilitator’s Training; Mark Victor Hansen: Transformational Intensive; 1994: Deepak Chopra: Interpersonal Development Workshop; 2000: Re-evaluation Counseling Training, 2003: Training in the Power of Dialog; 2004: Dr. Barbara Love: Phenomenological Listening; 2005: Beverly Tatum: Understanding Racism
Professional/Work History/Community Involvement:  1985-1989: Coordinator, Anchorage Martin Luther King Citywide Celebration; 1985,1988, 2003, 2009: Developed programs and organized groups to travel to Africa and Cuba to share music, culture, and stories; 1989-1993: Community School Coordinator, Anchorage School District; 1995-1999: Project Coordinator, Anchorage School District Young Women’s and Multi-Cultural Conferences; 1996: Cultural Events Coordinator, United Nations /NGU Women’s Conference, New York/Beijing, China; 1996-1999: Alaska Humanities Forum, Coordinator, Speaker’s Bureau; 1999-2001: Exhibit Coordinator, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center: Looking Both Ways-Heritage and identity of the Alutiiq People”; 2000-2002: Project Coordinator, Community Dialog: Understanding neighbors; 2000, 2004, 2006: Coordinator of Youth Leadership Conference: Alaska Native Heritage Center; 2006-2011: Director, Home-Base After-School Program; 2002-Present: Educator, Coordinator: Cross-Cultural Immersion Program and Cultural Camp: Alaska Humanities Forum

O’Malley, J. (2011). In Fairview, Miss Shirley opens children’s eyes. Anchorage Daily News, May 5.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech