Volunteers in Alaska

Volunteers were very important to our work in Alaska.  As I sort and throw away memories, there are some worth recording, at least for me.


As I settled into ministry in Nome, I felt that recruiting Volunteers-in-Mission through the Presbyterian Church system would be helpful in our work, especially our youth work. But money was an issue. I wanted to have some funds as start up money, plus I wanted emergency money.  So when the Gold Mining Co. advertised for a watch person at their facilities, I applied for the job and got it.  Hours were from midnight to 8 a.m.  It was an unique experience. I had to spend twenty minutes of every hour checking for oil leaks or other problems. During the three months that I held the job, my reading, correspondence and sermon preparation time increased. My sleep, not so much. I trained the leadership not to call me before noon, but I didn’t want to appear unavailable, so I answered the phone if it rang. As a side note, I discovered one leak and I stopped one robbery. An employee came one night and tried to help himself to some lumber. I was able to identify where he lived, as Nome was a very small town. But he didn’t take anything, so what would the charge be? I reported him to the boss, but nothing came of it.

One highlight was a Northern Light display that filled the whole sky.  Awesome.

Then we launch the program and over the years, several young adults came to help us in our programming. Supervision took much more energy than I realized would be necessary. Two of them had to be sent home early. But the majority were a joy and blessing. I didn’t realize that some might fall in love with local persons and two did just that.


Several work teams came to Sitka to help with various tasks.

One work team was so uncertain and unskilled that I had to be their physical leader, which if you knew me, would have impressed you, perhaps negatively. I did get over my own fear of working at heights, as we did minor work on the parsonage roof.  One of my memories of that project is that one man assigned to climbing a ladder to scrap rust off the aluminum roof was clearly doing the task with his eyes tightly closed. I finally relieved him of the duty, as it was difficult to hit the right spots with one’s eyes closed out of fear.

I also had another experience that helped me on the fear level. In one wind storm, I noted sheets of aluminum flying through the air and suddenly I realized they were coming from my roof. I called a friend, Don Schaefer, and he went up to rescue the rest of our roof. I decided I could not let him risk his life alone, so I went up to help him. When all was done, we learned that the contractor had left out some nails on the trim around the edge of the roof and it easily folded back, after it had been there for several years.  Perhaps one would call that “The Perfect Storm”! I also learned that I had boots that would not slip on the roof.

Here are some weather facts about Sitka worth knowing:

August: Maximum average high is 62.3 degrees. Minimum daily low is 49.1. Highest in history 86 (did not experience that in our time there) and Lowest in history was 32 (we didn’t see that either).  Rained average of 13 days in the month. Last summer it raised every day in August (!991)


Marsha was a school teacher and she spent one year with us while on sabbatical from teaching. It was the year that the Sitka Pulp Mill closed, so she was helpful as a volunteer in an office set up to help those entering the ranks of the unemployed. She was also a hiking partner.


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