After weeks of anticipation and excitement, Luis and I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska in early October. KUAC, Alaska’s public radio station, was celebrating its 50th anniversary and invited participants to come and share their Alaskan stories.
After hours and hours of travel, we made it to the Denali Center, a local nursing home that would be our recording location for the week. Much to our delight, we found that we would be setting up our paperwork and greeting station in the barber shop. For the next five days, we had a steady stream of participants come into the barber shop (along with a few people looking for haircuts!), each with a unique story. Participants remembered growing up in extremely isolated towns in the outback: life without phones or running water; the hunting and building skills that were passed down to them from older family members; and using planes to get to towns with no roads. (more…)
One of the things Alaska is known for is its vast abundance of big, hearty, “ruff and gruff” men. While they no longer outnumber Alaskan women fifteen to one, they do very much still exist. Two of them came to StoryCorps Barrow on Saturday and showed that Alaskan men can be tough, kind, and sentimental all at the same time.
Eric Estes brought his co-worker and friend, John Long, to StoryCorps for a couple of reasons. One is that John has a wealth of knowledge about Alaska. After all, John was just six-years-old when he sailed on the SS Aleutian through the Inside Passage and arrived in Alaska. The year was 1947, twelve years before Alaska saw statehood.
When Ben Greene described his wife, Deborah, as “the stunningly beautiful but somewhat irascible redhead,” it was clear that true love was flowing within the room, throughout the C.E. building of the Ukpeagvik Presbyterian Church, and in all of Barrow.
The Greenes not only have a profound love for each other, but also for the wilderness, which is why they choose to make their home in Alaska. They were living in Anchorage when Ben got the opportunity to move to Barrow and work for the North Slope Borough Planning Department, an opportunity so unusual there was no way he could turn it down.
“After all,” says Ben, “how many people do you know are given the opportunity to live amongst an Inupiat whaling community 300 miles north of the Arctic circle? You get to see a very unique slice of life and you get to participate.” Ben and Deborah have been in Barrow since May.
As a preface to the official kick-off date of StoryCorps Alaska, our team in New York set out to get the ball rolling a little early. Elise Pepple, the Coordinator of Outreach and Public Programs at the Public Library in Gustavus, Alaska, signed on-board to help us gather some initial interviews. Using StoryCorps recording equipment, designed for interviews much like those that take place in our booths, Elise created her very own StoryCorps “booth” to record the stories of Gustavus residents.
Gustavus is a city of 429 people set on the shore of Icy Strait, 36 air miles from Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Gustavus is a unique community of individuals with a wide array of lifestyle choices and accommodations, from one room cabins with no plumbing to five star homes. With geologic and geographic changes to Gustavus over the years have also come social and demographic changes. The gateway community to Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus is unique in its landscape and in its people.
In the planning stages of Elise’s endeavor, she showed a picture of the StoryCorps MobileBooth to a friend who commented that the Gustavus Public Library didn’t feel quite as “hip,” so they set out to find and make their own Gustavus StoryCorps booth. “If Gustavus is rich in something, it seems we are rich in ex-lodge buses,” Pepple remarks. She quickly came across a 21-year-old resident named Elm, who had recently bought a bus to live in. Pepple explains, “He said we could borrow the bus if we could move out the 20,000 pounds of scrap metal that were living inside and get it started. A couple of hours later, the bus was sitting in front of the library.”