CHRISTMAS LETTER MEMORIES
(For several years we communicated via newsletters and special communications. These will be covered separately in other blogs.)
1974 Nome, Alaska (We used word pictures only)
-Barbara enjoying the lavish table spread by her Vietnamese hostess, as she tours the Orient with Church Women United in February.
-John in his new pulpit in Nome (Barbara packing in Juneau or John unpacking or Barbara trying to find things).
-John watching his mother-in-law and Barbara paint, all summer and fall.
-John admiring a walrus killed by villagers on a July visit to Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. (Both have bears, but John is the one without tusks.
-Barbara hard at work at her desk administering 3 programs, 7 buildings and 9 employees, for the Nome Community since July.
-John and father-in-law carrying whale skull up the Cape of Nome to add to the “collection” at home.
-Barbara reading the paper after a hard day’s work at the office, while John is washing the clothes, cooking the dinner and vacuuming the carpet, once in a while.
-John watching his father-in-law fix the dripping faucet in the kitchen (not to mention the furnace cleaning and window replacing) in July and August. Not mentioned in the Christmas letter was the discovery that all food waste from the kitchen sink was lodged between a joist under the floor, bringing unique odors to our lives during the warm summer months. We repaired this problem with a car radiator hose. When I opened the flooring from the crawl space under the house, which sets on piling, the mess covered my head. It took several showers to feel clean again. Unfit subject for a Christmas letter. That problem had existed for years. I was the one lucky enough to notice the drips. My father-in-law knew how to fix it.
-A November storm did $16 million in damage on November 11-12, but we were safe. One of my favorite stories: when the power went off, I decided to fix dinner. No power. So I decided to watch television. No power. In disgust, I decided to go to bed and turn on the electric blanket to keep warm. It was about then that I realized that we had “no electrical power”. Slow learner. Later warm food was available at the elementary school, which we appreciated.
1975 Nome, Alaska
Time for the annual report or the annual brag sheet, whatever you prefer to call it.
John loves to tell about harvesting two reindeer with one shot this fall, although he is slower to talk about the moose he missed at close range last winter. (Sighting in a riffle does make a difference in accuracy.)
The big news in 1975 was Barbara’s appointment as Special Assistant to the Governor of the State of Alaska. Jay Hammond was elected governor by 287 votes, so it wasn’t exactly a landslide. This past week he visited Nome for the first time since the election. Barbara flew with the governor’s party to Kotzebue, which is one of the 38 villages in her area. As he went from interview to interview, it was exciting to see him maintain his principles on the issues, even in the face of negative feedback from some special interests.
One example of his personal integrity is his appointments to various positions throughout the state. His stance (which he made clear before the election) is that positions are to be filled by competent persons, rather than on the basis of party politics. Several Democrats have positions of importance in his administration. When confronted by politicians who ask him how he feels about the possibility of not getting re-elected in 1978, the Governor has stated clearly that his decisions are based on what is best for the state and not what is best for his political future. This is the kind of witness that makes us proud to share in the political system deeply with one part of our life for awhile.
(Footnote in 2015 – political hacks in Nome were very upset when Barbara was appointed to her position. I did some checking to see how this might affect my local church and found that active members were proud of her. The complaints came from those who wanted the position for themselves. Sadly, some of those were related to the church.)
Barbara does as much traveling as she can to the 38 villages where she tries to help with municipal government or individual citizen problems with the red tape of big government. While John slowly shares a bit more of the “homework”, Barbara could still ‘fix’ a dinner for seven last week, which included the governor. Then both of us were off for our evening commitments. (We have less here than in any other parish we have served.) However, on that evening, Barbara went to two briefings with native corporations and then to the P.T.A., while John picked up and met with the Session of the newly formed Nome Presbyterian Church (John is the acting pastor) for 1 1/2 hours, then dropped by to help the United Methodist Women’s Nominating Committee finish its work.
The highlight of the year for John was a trip to the People’s Republic of China. Now he tries to appear cool (not hard in Nome at minus 22 last week) when people ask questions about President Ford’s experience this month in Peking. At least John knows what it is like for the guest of honor to have the privilege of eating the head of the Peking Duck. (Others got the honor in Peking, but John tried a pigeon in Hong Kong, brains and all.) John found that China has made great strides in the past twenty-six years, but he knows nothing of what the future holds. He will join other “China-watchers” in finding out. Typical salary there is $300 (U.S.) per year, but with no personal taxes, subsidized housing, inexpensive food and no inflation, the people find it better than the days of hunger in the earlier part of this century.
(Sending out a report on my trip, one pastor came unglued and forced his mission committee to stop sending money to some one who had a good word to say about China. Sad reaction.)
In the local church, giving is up a bit, service to others has increased through a day-care center and an emergency housing program (which related to more than 200 persons this year), and the budget balances on paper at least, with the help of nearly $20,000 in non-local church support or utility donations.
While our statistics here say success to some, the real measure of success continues to be as difficult to assess in Nome, as it might be any place persons are seriously trying to understand the deepest meanings of life and existence. We hope all of you are excitingly involved in the search in your own life.
1976 Nome, Alaska
We got creative and sent out a letter with a Christmas tree and ornaments, with these words written in some of the circles:
-John was a page at General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
-Barbara enjoyed a week at Maui, Hawaii, in October at a cabin owned by Lowell and Tay Thomas, Jr.
-Our church has recruited four youth workers in the Larger Parish. (all volunteers) An added dimension to our life.
-Barbara was elected President of the Missionary Conference Council on Finance and Administration.
-Church housing provides many unique persons and experiences. (about 200 persons)
-Attendance in church is growing, pledges up $3,000. God for morale.
-John appointed to state-wide Board that serves as an advocate for Rural Alaska.
-Barbara still enjoys serving through her political job.
Nome has no trees! but it was a great blueberry year! We have learned how to pick two greens that Eskimo friends pick from the tundra in the spring. Great salad, but John uses Thousand island instead of seal oil.
1977 Nome, Alaska
Humanity is at its best and at its worse in Northwest Alaska. It makes it an interesting place to live and serve.
Barbara serves as Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Nome Receiving Home – an emergency shelter from babes to age 18.
John and Barbara serve on the Board of Directors for the Nome Child Care Inc., an institution which provides daycare for children from 3 months to 6 years.
One of the needs we found in Nome was the need for a more open “press”. John helped organize a second newspaper. Barbara does some volunteer work as an office manager and John helps “put-it-out” one night each week. Known as THE BERING STRAIGHTS, it will soon be two years old.
Barbara has been a strong supporter for Alaska Methodist University within the Alaska Missionary Conference and she was recently elected to the Board of Trustees.
Although political issues have long been a ‘special interest’ for John, Barbara continues to get involved in the public eye. Her employment as Special Assistant for the Governor for N.W. Alaska ended in early June, after 2 1/2 years of very enjoyable experiences. Leaving interpretation up to wiser minds, Barbara then ran for the Nome Common Council in October and was the top vote receiver. Very interesting. We had a few who thought that minister’s wives had other purposes in life, but we don’t mind continuing to attempt some education on the subject of personhood, etc.
John is finding the dynamics of his fourth year as the pastor here in Nome to be fascinating and somewhat challenging. Our immediate family has included an average of three volunteers during the past year. They work with our children and youth in the church. Volunteer carpenters increased our table to 10 or more during part of the summer. Our social welfare work is frustrating on the adult level, so we grow in our appreciation for the work of our volunteers.
In our humanness, we continue to be grateful for the ‘spark of divinity’ that came into our lives through a little child so long ago.
1978 Nome, Alaska No letter found.
1979 Nome, Alaska
Barbara’s travel highlight was a trip to the People’s Republic of China with a group of Trustees from Alaska Pacific University, seeking to establish some long-range relationship with that country in meeting some of its educational needs. In the process, she duplicated some of the experiences that John had in 1975, but gained insights into some of the changes that have developed since the death of Mao and the crushing of the “Gang of Four”.
At Thanksgiving, she helped coordinate the visit to Anchorage for Bishop K. H. Ting of Nanking, which involved several days of planning in Anchorage. This, plus a personal interview with him while in China, has established a relationship of some meaning for us.
We will be attending General Conference in Indianapolis April 15-15. John was honored by being elected clergy delegate from Alaska, doubly so because this is the first time that the Alaska Missionary Conference has been granted the right to vote. Barbara will participate as an observer and maybe as a reporter.
Barbara was elected as the lay delegate to Jurisdictional Conference, so we will both be voting at Palo alto, California, in July. (For our non-United Methodist friends, this Conference meets every four years and elects bishops.)
(Footnote: I didn’t have the nerve to vote for myself and Barbara refused to vote for me, so I lost my opportunity to get a vote for the office of Bishop. It took 44 ballots to elect one of the bishops and John played a role in that process.)
In February, John was elected President of the Alaska Christian Conference, the cooperative ecumenical agency for Alaska, composed of ten denominations. That involves some administrative work, but the budget does not allow for much travel.
Barbara is getting more involved in city politics, surviving crisis after crisis. There are days when she would not mind having a single focus for her energy, but her volunteer work does make a difference for several groups. We both feel good about the opportunities that have been available for service and personal growth.
John and three others obtained a moose about 70 miles out of Nome. (his 2nd in 5 years), so there is moose meat in the freezer. The blueberry crop was a disaster, but John was able to pick seven quarts of cranberries, so Barbara pleases the palate with cranberry bread. A newly purchased canoe has opened the door for some river floats.
1980 Nome, Alaska
John was the General conference clergy delegate. John was pleased to be able to affect legislation pertaining to the Alaska Missionary Conference and the status of local pastors. It was a honor to be the first voting clergy delegate to the conference in the history of our work in Alaska as United Methodists.
Normally, Jurisdictional Conference Would not be a busy time for an individual, but the smallness of our delegation enabled all of us from Alaska to be intimately involved in the process. Barbara served as chair of the Nominating Committee, and John served on the Episcopacy Committee. One bishop was elected on the 2nd ballot (Mel Talbert) and another bishop was elected on a record breaking 47th ballot.
(Two individuals were running hard to be elected: Jamison Jones of Iliff School of Theology and Dick Cain of Claremont School of Theology. There was no way either of them could get elected, but it took a long time to convince them of this. Dick Cain spoke to me in a hallway, indicated that he had been told that I said such and such about him. I denied it (and resented a breach of confidence) and told him that the statement had been made by others in my presence … and then I ended our friendship by saying that I agreed with what the individual said. But, again, I did not say it myself.
I played some role in getting the four delegates from Alaska to vote as a block and those votes started a trend more than once and eventually we were successful in getting Calvin McConnell elected on the 47th ballot. Irony or ironies, he was the campaign manager for Jamison Jones.)
Since that time, both of us have started serving on a national board of the United Methodist Church: Barbara on the General Board of Global Ministries and John on the General Board of Church and Society. No longer can we claim to be part of the grassroots of the church – for a period of time we will be the leaders.
Barbara just experienced defeat in her re-election bid to the Nome City Council by a vote of 264-214, as we continue to pay a price for John’s volatile involvement in the problem of alcohol abuse. At the same time, we continue to see some positive results of a deepening community resolve to deal with the problem, so we have achieved some of the goals set by us in 1978.
A program highlight was the hosting of an effective work team from First United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. They did major repairs on our property, adding a new bathroom for the housing program we sponsor and painting the entire exterior of the building.
We continue to have helpful volunteer youth workers on our staff, currently Jeff Gargano of Holland, Michigan, and Janice Stamper of Morris Forks, Kentucky. They are involved in four youth groups, plus some musical groups led by Janice. We were able to send one youth (Marilyn Irrigoo) to a national youth meeting in Indiana last summer. Evidence of maturing faith and growing abilities makes the efforts of this aspect of our life here very worthwhile.
Actions on the part of the City of Nome to tax several of the churches that are deeply involved in community service has been a light headache. Strong support from the General Board of Global Ministries has made it a decision of the legal system and not something we have to deal with locally.
Being the local supply agent for caskets is getting close to routine as we come to the end of our 7th year here in Nome – the 2nd longest tenure in the 80 year history of the work here.
1981 (Nome and Anchorage, Alaska)
In February, I went to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a meeting of the Alaska Christian Conference of Churches. We had a new Bishop and a new Superintendent. I was informed that “based on what the bishop had heard about me, I was unappointable in Alaska”. That information made me very angry and I provided some information to the bishop and he changed his mind. I told the bishop that, based on what I had done in Nome, I deserved the best appointment available. I asked if he heard me (he had) and I ended the conversation. I got another appointment, perhaps the only one available in Alaska.
In March we served as the Minister of the Month at Hana, Hawaii, for five Sundays. When Barbara visited there a few years ago, we learned about this program. I signed up and they told me it would be several years. No problem. Then there was an opening and it provided us with the opportunity for a change of pace as we came to the end of our ministry in Nome. We were appointed to East Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. When I went to the introductory interview, some one asked me: “What happened in Nome?” I told them and the committee applauded. That was a first and a last in my ministerial career.
In saying farewell to Nome after seven years, which we learn is the longest appointment of an ordained United Methodist minister (since broken by another pastor), we were involved in turning loose several social service responsibilities.
East Anchorage United Methodist Church has proven to be a dynamic and vital congregation for us. We appreciate the contribution of four choirs to our worship life. with several persons also appreciating my preaching, we just feel that a lot of appreciating is going on. And I certainly do appreciate that! (Barbara says ‘groan…’)
Since coming to Anchorage Barbara’s big project was been “Mission to the 80’s”, an evangelistic effort led by Sir Alan Walker of Australia. As Director, she coordinated the efforts of nearly 200 persons in making the project happen.
She is now a student once again, taking courses in accounting at Alaska Pacific University. One course finished and two to go. She has been unsuccessful in finding employment, but still manages to keep very busy with the volunteer work that has kept life stimulating in past years. She has been to Jamaica, New York and Minneapolis this past year, while I have only been to Louisville and New York. This travel helps both of us keep closer contact with family, so that is a positive bonus.
A personal highlight of the year was going to Hana, Maui, Hawaii, for the month of March, when I was selected as ‘minister of the month’ by the Wananalua Congregational Church. For me, the experience was very valuable in achieving some personal freedom in preaching style, with one person indicating appreciation “for being included in the church again”, as I interpreted the meaning of ‘pluralism’ in the midst of a very pluralistic people. “Grist for the sermonic mill” came in floods when one Christian (?) leader proclaimed last year that ‘God does not listen to the prayers of a Jew’. It is that type of thinking that turn many from a serious consideration of that Jew whom we call Lord and Savior. We human being love to build barriers, when part of the Good News is that God knocks barriers down. On my good days, I’m willing to be part of the battering ram. However, after seven years in Nome, it has been nice to live quietly for a few months.
1982 Anchorage, Alaska
-Parsonage rented to Hope Cottages, A government funded program for retarded persons. We are living in a condominium, part of a 10 unit project. We could see nesting mallards, red-necked grebes, loons and moose on a near by lake, plus a view of the Chugach Mountains hovering over Anchorage.
-Both of us did a nine mile hike from Hope to Gull Rock, with 3rd-6th graders.
-John climbed a butte in the Matanuska Valley with 2nd graders. Such fun. He knew the milk cows were not dangerous bulls, but the children didn’t.
-Barbara started (January 1, 1983) as the Administrative Director for the Center for Children and Parents ( a program of the Anchorage Child Abuse Board).
1983 Anchorage, Alaska
-Summarized some of our “bird” experiences in Alaska. Shared that my brother Wayne visited us. We drove the Alcan Highway together from Calgary to Anchorage. John started collecting Puffin art.
1984 Anchorage, Alaska
-Barbara’s started her musk ox art collection.
-Barbara was the lay delegate to General Conference in Baltimore in May. In deference to Barbara’s continued recovery from double knee surgery in November of 1983, we stayed in a hotel close to the convention.
-John supervised a few Boy Scouts doing volunteer work at removing brush on the Palmer Creek road: 4 days of perfect sunshine and warmth.
-Barbara’s parents came for the fourth time in our twenty two years in Alaska.
1985 Anchorage, Alaska
Barbara did two ten-day cooking stints at Birchwood Camp.
Three trips: February to Hilo, Hawaii to visit Barbara’s parents; Midwest for our furlough and in September, we spent one weekend in the Seattle Area, taking advantage of a price war among the airlines..
1986 Anchorage, Alaska
Last year, on the Palmer Hay Flats, we observed 50 to 100 thousand Lesser Canadian Geese. It is impossible to convey the awe of hearing them, and seeing them coming through the Knik Valley, circling and landing in flight patterns that would make veteran pilots proud.
John’s mother died on April 12th at the age of 89 years from pancreatic cancer. Five weeks passed from the time of our awareness of her illness until her death. John was able to spend a portion of one of those weeks with her, thanks to the generosity of church friends.
1986 was a travel year for both of us: Kenya, Africa, in July to attend the World Methodist Conference and to visit the site of the Silungai Church that we have had some role in establishing. It was a thrill to worship with the people ‘under the tree’.
In October we traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to share with the Dadd family in the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Melvin and Marian Dadd.
Barbara has been deeply involved as a volunteer on the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education. Because she was elected chair of the Commission, she has made several trips to Juneau and find the position to be stimulating. The Commission administers the student loan program (75 million per year) in the State of Alaska, has 60 employees, and authorizes all institutions related to training and education beyond the high schools.
1987 Anchorage, Alaska
John’s father died in June at the age of 90.
Barbara was appointed as a member of the General Council on Ministries of the United Methodist Church for two years, meeting in Dayton, Ohio.
One of our annual adventures has centered around a trip to China Poot Bay south of Homer, Alaska. We join about 150 people on a short trip across Kachemak Bay. This spring outing is sponsored by the Homer Society of Natural History, as well as by the China Poot Bay Society. China Poot Bay Society is attempting to preserve an area for educational purposes. We go on a low tide in May, which enables us to see a wide variety of life in the tidal pools. Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, a luxury resort, is opened to us for that day. Otherwise, visitors are limited to a Center for Coastal Studies, located in a donated building in another part of the area. The highlight in terms of archaeological sites is sitting in the middle of an ancient barabara, the housing system of an ancient native people who lived in this area. John get some thrill (as does Barbara) in passing Gull Island going and coming, with its thousands of sea birds, including a scattering of puffins. Barbara also was able to go on a boat trip out of Seward in July, seeing some spectacular scenery.
Speaking of puffins, you need to be aware that we took advantage of the change in tax laws and donated our puffin collection to the Seward Library and our muskox collection to the Musk Oxen Development Corporation. It was sad parting with them, but they have a good home and will remain in Alaska.
We continue our love affair with Hope, Alaska, but spend very little time there. Whenever we can sponsor some kind of activity there, we do, such as picnics for various groups.
1988 Anchorage and Sitka
We send our Christmas greetings from a new location. Our move to Sitka in August happened very suddenly, due to an emergency in Sitka, not one at East Anchorage.
Because of our large amount of possessions, we chose to move ourselves by U-Haul truck, the 24 foot variety. We climbed the hills of the Alcan Highway at 5 MPH, and the memory of backing onto the ferry at Haines is getting dimmer and dimmer, but my shirt was soaked with sweat before the deed was done.
Sitka is a historic location and very scenic. There are 25 miles of road; all access is by air or by ferry. Even in the rain (96 inches a year), we find a tranquil beauty. In October, the rainiest month we are told, water came from the sky 28 of 31 days, but who is counting?
Sitka was settled by the Russians in 1799 and 1804. Why two times? The local residents killed most of the first settlers, so they had to try again with more caution. Russian America extended into northern California, with Sitka as the capital. When the United States purchased the territory in 1867, Sitka continued as the first capital until 1912. Back then, the fur of the sea otter fueled the economy, until most were killed. Today, we deal in timber, fishing and fish processing, tourism, education and the Coast Guard installation. There are two excellent libraries, including the one at Sheldon Jackson College.
The church has a beautiful new sanctuary that the congregation quite literally built themselves. Membership is 140; attendance at worship is 80 to 90, Sunday school is 50-60.
In late April/early May, Barbara assisted in the sponsorship of a hospitality suite for Alaska Pacific University at General Conference in St. Louis. Barbara was selected to serve on the General Council on Finance and Administration for the church, one of 42 persons on the Council.
Barbara planned one trip for a church-related group that wanted to experience Alaska and learn more about missions.
1989 Sitka, Alaska
Barbara took an art class, John taught “World Religion” at Sheldon Jackson College and both went to Harvard Divinity School where John was a Merrill Fellow. (that experiences is covered in another blog)
A rebuilt bridge enabled John to move quickly from home to office through the woods.
1990 Sitka, Alaska
We started the year with a vacation to Hawaii, where we treated ourselves to a helicopter ride over the lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii. Seeing the lava hit the ocean water and create new land was beyond spectacular.
In April we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Methodist Church of Sitka. We commissioned an art print of the building and welcomed Bishop Bill and Mitzie Dew. We saw 90 eagles the morning they arrived.
Barbara made a quick trip to Europe in July for the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany. In route she got glimpses of London, Amsterdam, Geneva and Paris. John attended summer school at Vancouver, British Columbia, during the same period of time.
John has continued teaching “World Religions” at Sheldon Jackson College. He was nominated and elected to serve on AARP’s State Legislative Committee. That stands for American Association of Retired Persons. John also continues as the Conference Secretary.
Barbara has traveled a great deal in her involvement with the General Council on Finance and Administration: Denver, Nashville and San Diego. She continues her service as a Trustee for Alaska Pacific University.
We continue to finish some of the “undone” items on the new building, such as choir risers, finishing some sidewalk and guardrails behind the church and putting a final layer of tar on the roof.
1991 Sitka, Alaska
It has been the year of the Russians – or to be more exact, the year of the Soviet Union. We have learned a lot about Soviet geography, especially of the Soviet Far East. You are aware of the collapse of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and the turmoil which exists there.
But you may not be aware that this year was the 250th anniversary of the Bering/Cherikof expedition from Russia to Alaska. It was in 1741 that two small ships, the St. Paul and the St. Peter, crossed the Bering Sea from Russia to establish the Russian presence in Alaska and North America. This anniversary was the occasion of many commemorative events, both in the Soviet Union and in Alaska.
Barbara found herself providing much of the leadership for the Sitka events. As the chairperson of the local committee (due to her position as Administrator of the Sitka Historical Society), she coordinated the efforts and had a great deal of visibility. These involved hundreds of volunteers and many hundreds of participants. A group of five Soviet yachts (14 meter class sail boats) visited Sitka and two Soviet ships made brief visits. Because of Barbara’s involvement, it became a family joke when her name and/or picture was no longer a daily occurence on the front page of the Sitka Sentinel, our local newspaper.
The highlight for John was traveling out of the harbor on an escort sail boat when the five Soviet yachts left Sitka. Due to circumstances I greeted one captain in Juneau and then I just happened to be in Ketchikan when they were there. This was very rare for me. As I left the boat in Ketchikan, the captain said: “See you in Seattle”. He didn’t.
Trip to attend Barbara’s father’s 80th birthday party. Her parents also visited us and we have pictures of the 35 pound King Salmon he caught. Church attendance is higher than last year (60 average last year; 70 this year and 93 in the month of November). Barbara is working hard at a course in the Russian language at the local university. John has accepted a position on the State Legislative Committee of the American Association of Retired Persons, which involves several trips each year to the state capitol in Juneau.
(The sketch on our Christmas card was done by Barbara, at John’s request, to give some feel for the sail boats that visited Sitka this summer.)
1992 Sitka, Alaska
-First trip to Molokai, Hawaii (after visiting the Dadd’s in Hilo)
-Barbara deals with 100,000 tourists at the museum. She attended General Conference and John traveled to San Diego and Seattle for AARP training experiences.
-Hosted 200 United Methodists from a cruise ship, including Bishop Calvin and Velma McConnell. (A conversation with Cal started the process of leaving Alaska and transferring from Central Illinois to the Pacific Northwest Conference.)
-John baked a cake for a children’s sermon with the help of John Liu, a Chinese exchange teacher.
1993 Sitka, Alaska
We took a furlough trip back to Illinois in June. John spoke at the Missionary Recognition Service at the Central Illinois Conference. We shared in the 125th anniversary at John’s home church, Ludlow United Methodist. John was a speaker.
With the largest employer, the pulp mill closing in September, the entire town is in transition, including the church.
Barbara has been elected as Conference (state) President of United Methodist Women.
Barbara offered her volunteer services to the Bishop of Sitka and Alaska as he prepared to host the Patriarch of Moscow in September. When it was all over, Barbara found herself the recipient of the Order of St. Herman, the highest award given within the Diocese. It is rare for non-Orthodox persons to be so recognized, though there are now two in our own local church. Joe Ashby provided leadership in the reconstruction of St. Michael’s Cathedral in the 1960’s. It is rare to see Barbara flustered, but John can testify to at least one time.
Barbara provided coordination for two separate groups of Russian visitors who came by sailboat to Sitka. Gives her a chance to practice her new language skills. Now the harbormaster calls the mayor and Barbara when the boats slip into port.
We also have had an interest year as far as house guests are concerned: American Field Service Exchange Teacher John Liu from China, Volunteer in Mission Marsha Gehret from Pennsylvania, and a high school student from Metlakatla who we rescued from under a piece of visqueen out in the woods in early November of last year who stayed until graduation in May. We are also involved in an international hosting system called SERVAS, which bring interesting temporary visitors to our door.
We were visited by Jerry and Jo Jennings, the family who ‘loaned’ us their home for our honeymoon back in 1962. He was still complaining about the rice in the bedroom. Hopefully he will not rank on too many people for the 150 pounds of fish we pulled from the ocean on our fishing day, including a 25 pound King Salmon.
1994 Sitka, Alaska
This may not be important to many individuals, but John must start this letter with an apology. You see, he has a sense of humor. Some have even called it strange. We ended last year’s letter with the sentence: “It has been a tough life, but someone has to do it!” This was supposed to be humorous, since living in Sitka has been exactly the opposite of tough. It has been wonderful and relatively easy. So John’s apologies to anyone who has spent any time feeling sorry for us.
One of our Sitka Christmas traditions has been the picking of a variety of berries by John (Salmonberry, Watermelon Berry, Domestic Red Currant, Blueberry and Red Huckleberry), which Barbara cooks into jam and jellies in dozens of jars. Then we share these with church members and others as the occasion arises. At first we did it just for officers and other leaders, but two years ago we decided to share with everyone and we probably are in a pattern fr the rest of our years here.
The closing of the pulp mill in 1993 continues to impact the life of our congregation and community, but with the sacrificial help of many, we are doing okay.
Barbara has enjoyed serving as Conference (state) President of United Methodist Women. The highlight was attending the Assembly in Cincinnati in April. John joined her for one trip in December to Phoenix (where several members of his family live) for the General Council on Finance and Administration. These positions mean travel for her. She also assists in the local church as the Director of Church & Community Ministries which includes two study groups and an assortment of administrative tasks.
Along with many volunteer activities, Barbara continues to provide the leadership for the Sitka Historical Society. The Society recently received a nice aware for excellence of which she is quite proud.
In January we were in Clevland to observe Barbara’s mother’s 80th birthday. She also drove to Cleveland for a few days before attending Assembly in Cincinnati.
Highlights of the year for John include the purchase of a four wheel drive truck (a ‘man thing’ according to Barbara and some others) and the landing of a 57 pound King Salmon in Sitka Sound on July 29th thanks to Captain Mike Hirai. This was not big by Kenai River standards, but big by Sitka standards. The derby winner was 52 pounds this year. John is ready to die happy now.
He donated the fish to a seafood dinner celebrating Alaska Days (purchase of Alaska from Russia) and was able to repeat his story 57 times when people asked “where did the fish come from?” He also worked this into sermons. There were no longer 10 commandments, but 57 commandments and Jesus didn’t have twelve disciples, he had 57 disciples. This joking came to a halt when he was informed that some members had been fishing for a big one all their lives and they were not happy that an occasional fisherperson got such a big fish. I got the hint. Ruth Finsley kept coming to church.
1995 Sitka and Spokane, Washington
After 33 years of service in Alaska, we moved to Spokane, Washington.
Why did we leave Alaska? After years of exciting and stimulating activities, John was ready for a change. While part of him would have enjoyed staying in Sitka several more years, another part of him wanted a different experience prior to retirement. After surviving seven superintendents and seven bishop and 490 (7 times 70) National Division liaison officers in 33 years, it was time to move on.
Barbara also was ready for something different after five years as the Administrator of the Sitka Historical Society. Her resignation became official just hours prior to the phone call offering the appointment in Spokane. So much for a period of relaxation.
(Not mentioned at the time was the fact that Ketchikan officially wanted a young pastor and by this time, John was not viewed as being young anymore. They got a young pastor and it was a disaster. But the window of opportunity was closed. Also not mentioned was serious conflict with administrators, including both the bishop and the superintendents. Unlike earlier leaders, they were in no mood to do me any favors. The writing was on the wall. As the Annual Conference celebrated our 33 years of service, the current superintendent allowed us to leave with dignity. A good friend, Robert Bowers, was selected to make the farewell remarks at Annual Conference. It all turned out for the best. No regrets.)
For Barbara: No more
-Entertaining Russian visitors
-Publishing historical books (two in the past year)
-Dealing with city officials over budget matters.
-Taking three travel days to attend a one day meeting.
For John: No more
-Hiking 35 mile trails at Skagway and on the Kenai Peninsula
-Landing on the slopes of Denali (Mt. McKinley) at the top of Ruth Glacier
-Bear hunts on the Alaska peninsula or moose hunts at Yakutat
-Deep sea fishing expeditions on Sitka Sound
-Catching a 57 pound king salmon
-Exotic trips among glaciers and bird sanctuaries
-endurance of -50 degree temperatures on caribou hunts
-Dealing with constant snow shoveling (that remains to be seen)
-Seeing the quality of life go down in Alaska (we will do it in Washington)
After our experience of some intense community involvement in Nome, we have enjoyed two appointments with wonderful, affirming people. It was hard to leave each one. However, we have found the same affirmation here at Manito UMC on the South Hill of Spokane. And later at Stanwood UMC in Stanwood and Camano Island.