Kaitlyn Surdyk runs out for her introduction before the 2A State Tourney semifinals in Anchorage. She and her Skagway teammates sported green shoelaces for a St. Patrick's Day win that carried them to the state finals, the first for a Skagway basketball team. See more photos in our State Tourney Notebook and Gallery and check out the final Net Results for the season.

Photo by Klas Stolpe

Mining New Territory

Lady Panthers take second at State


ANCHORAGE – A Skagway basketball team reached the state 2A championship game for the first time last week, and for one half at least, was the best girls squad on the floor of Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena.
The young Lady Panthers, who started three sophomores and two freshmen, were the buzz of the tourney after knocking off perennial favorite Ninilchik in the first round, and then dispatching a scrappy, veteran Point Hope team to reach the finals.
The Skagway girls got their wish: a rematch with two-time state champ and region rival Yakutat. Skagway led at halftime of the championship game, but the upset wasn’t meant to be. Yakutat’s press wore Skagway down in the third quarter, and the Eagles held off a final Panther rally to secure their third straight title.
The Skagway players, coaches and fans were not hanging their heads. Talk of “next year” was very real for this young team, and the whole state is on notice. Relive the drama in our State Tourney Notebook and Gallery.

Star Princess cruise ship pulled from Alaska in 2010
Economy, high costs in state play into decision

The weak nationwide economy has forced Princess Cruises to pull a large ship from the Alaska market in 2010.
The line made the announcement in phone calls to community leaders late last week. Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said he was notified that the 2,600-passenger Star Princess would not be coming back to the state in 2010, resulting in a loss of about 48,000 cruisers.
When reached by phone and e-mail this week, a Princess spokesman said the decision was based on economic factors, including the cost of coming to Alaska.
“It’s due to the elements of the economy – it’s been especially tough for high-end products like Alaska,” said Bruce Bustamante, vice president of community and public affairs for Princess Tours.
“People are buying down and there is a high cost of providing cruises in Alaska, including taxes and fees, whether paid for by the company or by passengers,” he added. “When the economy is soft, it is especially hard on high-end products, and the end result is that they do not perform as well.”
Two months ago, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines announced it would pull the 2,100-passenger Serenade of the Seas from Alaska next year. The timing of RCCL’s announcement around the start of the legislative session was questioned, since the industry had been pushing for relaxed environmental standards. A compromise bill to give the industry more time to meet the new “point of discharge” standards appears to be moving forward.
Bustamante said Princess’s decision had nothing to do with what’s going on in Juneau, and a positive outcome for the industry would not change its 2010 plans.
“Not for 2010,” he said. “Our timing (for the announcement) is so we can contact our vendors and community leaders and the communities to give them an ample lead time on decisions that affect their business.”
Thus far, no decision has been made on where to send the Star Princess, but he said “other markets are out there…. We do not see today’s economy changing very quickly, and considering all factors we have decided to move one of our ships out of Alaska.”
Princess actually has more ships coming to Skagway this year than last. The 1,950-passenger Sea Princess was added for seven new sailings to Skagway in 2009. Bustamante was not sure what the final count for Skagway would be for 2010.
Bustamante would not comment on where bookings could end up for 2009, “since we are a publicly traded company,” but he said all lines have been discounting to fill ships coming to Alaska this summer, and there has been some positive response.
“The booking pace during the fourth quarter of 2008 was very slow which prompted discounting at the first of the year,” he said. “The deep discounting stimulated bookings, but due to high cost of operations in Alaska, the yield is extemely low.”
One worry for the cruise lines, according a recent Reuters article, is that the on-board spending may not be enough to offset what was lost in discounting fares. What these value-seeking passengers will have to spend off-ship is a big question for tour operators and retailers.
Bustamante said shore excursion bookings are soft compared to 2008.
“We are working closely with our tour operators and with ou marketing department to find additional ways to promote these tours and feel, in many cases, passengers may simply be booking shore excursions later than in past years,” he said.
In regard to the loss of the Star Princess, he said “if you have fewer people coming into a port, there are going to be fewer customers.”
He closed by saying that Skagway residents need to be “cognizant of the delicate economic environment we are in right now,” and that costs are high, including the $50 head tax.
“As a destination, Alaska has to keep taxes, fees and costs low to be competitive with other markets, especially during these economic times,” Bustamante concluded. “Customers are shopping worldwide for the best value for their travel dollar.”
Donahue said the loss of the Serenade of the Seas and the Star Princess will mean a drop of about 91,000 passengers next year. The ships are calling on Wednesdays and Thursdays this summer, when there are four large vessels in port.
Cruise West, a line of small ships no larger than 138 passengers, is the only cruise company to reduce its calls for the 2009 season. It will not be bringing the Spirit of ’98 and the Spirit of Alaska here this year, and has reduced the number of total calls in Skagway from 74 to 47. This will result in a total loss in capacity of about 2,600 from last year.

Tom Smith selected new manager
Thomas C. Smith of Minnesota, the only finalist with Alaska experience, has been selected the new borough manager. He conditionally accepted the position this week, but negotiations are still proceeding on his contract.
After a phone negotiation session on Wednesday, Mayor Tom Cochran said there are still some details to work out regarding the structuring of retirement and medical benefits. After doing some more research with the state PERS system, they will talk again on Friday.
“I’m confindent,” Cochran said. “We want him and he wants to come up here.”
Smith received the nod of the manager hiring committee after interviews with three finalists on March 17 (see separate story on page 4). The recommendation was forwarded two days later to the Skagway Borough Assembly, which unanimously voted to enter into contract negotiations with Smith.
“Our recommendation is Tom Smith,” said Assemblyman Mark Schaefer, adding “we had a pretty good bunch of candidates.”
Most assembly members sat in on the interviews and the final meeting of the hiring committee.
“It was pretty unanimous,” said L.C. Cassidy. “I have a really good feeling about him.”
Dan Henry added that Smith would be a “positive fit.”
Colette Hisman said she liked the process of having the spouses of finalists come up for the interviews, and noted that Smith was not worried about finding housing. “He said, ‘If I can find housing in Kotzebue, I can find it here.’”
Smith said he was notified of the decision the following morning. His wife Mary took the call on their cell phone, as he was driving in a snowstorm back to Silver Bay, Minn. from the Minneapolis airport.
“My wife was very happy and had tears in her eyes,” he said in a phone interview this week. “I’m very happy. It’s another opportunity to serve in Alaska.”
Smith was finance director for the City of Kotzebue from 1984-1987. He returned to Alaska in 1994 and was Palmer’s city manager for five years. Since then, he has been a city manager in Iowa and his native Minnesota. He said he accepted the borough’s conditional offer, but didn’t want to comment further on details until negotiations were completed.
He said the trip north to Skagway last week was an intense marathon, but they were impressed with the scenery, business climate, and the people.
“Even though the 12-month population is less than 1,000, you could tell by the number of businesses in the community that Skagway has a good economy,” he said. “The folks were very outgoing and friendly, and very much the way we remember Alaska to be.”
If a contract can be reached, Smith could be on the job in early April. – JB

BYE BYE BIRDIE – The ensemble sings and swings during the Skagway Drama Club's production. See more photos in our 'Bye Bye Birdie' Gallery. Photo by Andrew Cremata


School budget deadline extended

The Skagway Borough Assembly on March 19 granted a request from the school district for an extension to submit its budget. The school budget is normally submitted by April 15, but School Board President Darren Belisle asked to have until May 1.
Belisle explained that school Superintendent Michael Dickens had been recuperating from a January fall and diabetes-related issues that had hospitalized him. He has been recovering at his wife’s home in Arizona, near his doctors.
“His recovery has been a slow process, but he hopes to be back March 30 after spring break,” Belisle said.
Dr. Dickens puts together the school budget with Kathy Pierce, the district’s business services manager. The board has met once since Dickens’s departure, to finalize its negotiated agreement with teachers. It will meet again March 31.
Belisle said the district will likely ask for municipal funding to the state-allowed cap, but he said they would be submitting a tight budget. The current budget is for 95 kids, “but next year could be worse,” he said. “We’re tightening our belts, but we’d like not to cut a teacher…. We’re looking at dropping some part-time positions.”
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said the district should heed the mayor’s request for 15 percent reductions by all departments, and Colette Hisman asked them to look at the number of substitutes and aides. Belise said some aides, like those in the special education program, are federally funded, but they are looking. He also said they plan to cut back on teacher travel, though students have benefited from what teachers bring back from conferences.

Ambassador program to second reading

The assembly voted 4-1 to move a $25,000 budget amendment ordinance for a Community Ambassador program to second reading.
Mayor Tom Cochran opened the discussion by saying that he has heard from people who “are either for it, or absolutely against it.”
The program, which would use state cruise excise tax money to hire two ambassadors to be on the streets of Skagway, was supported by the local Alaska Tourism Industry Association chapter at a previous meeting. Since then, two citizens raised objections in written correspondence, and assembly members said they have heard from others.
Monica Carlson wrote that the smallness of Skagway’s shopping district was adequately served by NPS rangers and the SPD bicycle patrolman. She also urged fiscal caution. Terry Robertson wrote that the service would be “unnecessary, expensive, redundant, and ultimately appalling in its real purpose.” He questioned why traffic calls, tour vendor complaints, and HDC signage issues – areas identified by ATIA as something the ambassadors could be on the lookout for – are not being handled by the police and borough permitting officer.
Assemblymember L.C. Cassidy said she was “in the middle” on the issue. While open to improvements in public safety, she said the money needed for the program is creating negative feedback from the public.
Cochran noted that NPS interpeters are only on the streets during their walking tours. He said people have told him that if the program goes ahead, it should be staffed “by locals who live here.” Hunz said the program could be a good use of the cruise tax money, depending on how it’s run. Mark Schaefer and Dan Henry noted that the funds would not be coming from property taxes.
But Hisman said she thinks the program is coming “at the wrong time” and that people have two visitor centers in a one-block area, as well as locals who can answer questions. She voted against first reading, but others at the table said they wanted to hear more from the public at second reading on April 2.
The assembly also passed final versions of budget amendment ordinances authorizing $200,000 from sales tax for the purchase of an industrial compactor and four storage containers, and $3.862 million from the state excise tax fund toward the wave barrier project, which is currently out to bid.

Interim fire chief on board, needs explored

Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet has agreed to serve as interim chief until a new chief is found to replace Mark Kirko, who left Skagway earlier this month. The borough is currently advertising for a new chief, but Cochran said the hiring committee will first look at the needs of the department.
He said the fire chief is the only salaried employee of the municipality who is not under contract, and he brought Greenstreet forward to explain why that may not be the best situation for the department in the future.
Greenstreet said a lot of calls come into the department at night or when the 40-hour week is over, but “a fire chief’s job is 24/7.” He said there were times when the previous chief was gone but was still being paid, and the deputy chief worked calls. “We didn’t get paid for that time,” he said, suggesting that the municipality either compensate for the extra supervision “or do something different.”
Going back to a volunteer chief was mentioned, since there was paid staff now to handle a lot of work, but no one wanted to pull the hiring ad for the new chief. The committee plans to meet next week after the annual SFD elections. The hiring committee consists of two fire department members, the mayor and Schaefer, the Public Safety Committee chairman.
In the meantime, Greenstreet said the department can function with some temporary restructuring of duties. He said there is one stimulus grant for construction of fire stations that they should apply for.


Minnie Ellen (Brown) Stevens, 1916-2009

Minnie Stevens died March 19, 2009 in Ketchikan. She was 92. Minnie was born August 3, 1916 in Haines to Mary and James Wheeler Brown. She was the fourth of ten children. Minnie’s name was Yeikd’shee. She was Dakl’weidi of the Keet Gooshi Hit, the Killerwhale Dorsal Fin House from Klukwan. She was a child of the Kaagwaantaan and grandchild of the Lukaax.adi. Her father, James Brown, was from the Gooch Hit, the Wolf House and her grandfather Peter Brown was from the Raven House of the Yandeistaak’i.
Minnie was a shareholder in Sealaska Corp., Kavilco Corp. and Goldbelt Inc. She was a delegate to the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians from Pelican as well as a member of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Board and a member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.
Minnie married David Morgan of Hoonah in 1937. Minnie and David had 3 sons and two daughters. David was a teacher for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools and when he in died in January while teaching in Kasaan, Minnie taught the students for the remainder of the school year. Minnie also worked as the Postmaster in Kasaan.
In 1944, Minnie married Israel Stevens and they had one son, Tommy. They owned a boat shop in Happy Harbor on Long Island near Kasaan where they built a troller, the Stevie, which they fished on and also used for beach logging. Minnie also worked in the cannery while in Kasaan. In 1958 Minnie and Israel moved to Friday Harbor, Washington where she worked for the United States Postal Service.
Minnie later moved to Seattle, where she worked for the City of Seattle Engineering Department for 15 years, until her retirement in 1980. Upon her retirement Minnie moved to Skagway, which was her home for many years. Throughout her lifetime, Minnie canned salmon, deer meat, ducks, turkey, goose tongue, berries, fruits and vegetables by the caseload which she shared with everyone. But most of all, she was well known for her pies. Minnie was also well known for her ability to play the piano. During the years of the Great Depression she was paid $5 a night to play in the band at the City Club along with her cousins Bert and Fenton Dennis who played the horns. During the day, she worked at the Government Hospital for $2 a week.
Minnie was preceded in death by her husband, David Morgan, son David Morgan Jr., and daughter, Alice Yukatish. She was preceded in death by brothers Judson Brown, Albert Brown, Austin Brown, and Roy Brown; sisters Lillian Clark, Rose and Shirley Brown.
Minnie is survived by sons Albert Morgan of Haines, Jimmy Morgan of Anchorage and Tommy Stevens of Everett, Washington; as well as her daughter Jeanette Williams of Juneau. She is also survived by sisters Anita McNeil of Anchorage, Linda Thompson of Seattle and Rose Miller of Pelican. She also has numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews as well as many, many friends.
A Potluck Memorial was held Thursday, March 26, 2009 at the Tlingit and Haida Community Center in Juneau for friends and family of Minnie’s.

Rev. Fr. James P. Ryan, 1921-2009

Rev. Fr. James Patrick Ryan passed away peacefully at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula on February 15, 2009. Beloved son of the late Mary Cecelia and Ernest Ryan, he was born in Plentywood, MT on April 14, 1921.
Fr. Ryan served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy for three and one-half years during World War II. Fr. Ryan then joined the Society of Jesus and earned his Master of Art degree in philosophy from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. After teaching Latin, Greek, and English at Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, he was sent to Rome to study theology at Gregorian University.
On July 9, 1960, Fr. Ryan was ordained by Aloysius Cardinal Traglia at St. Ignatius Church in Rome. He was reassigned to Bellarmine and later taught philosophy at Seattle University.
From 1972 to 1978, Fr. Ryan was pastor of St. Gregory’s Church in Sitka. He was later assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Haines and built a new church there in 1981. At the same time he was pastor of St. Therese Catholic Church in Skagway, commuting between the two parishes.
Following his retirement, Fr. Ryan came to the Monterey area in California to take care of his cousin. He started his own ministry celebrating Masses and ministered to the residents of five convalescent homes. He also was appointed by the bishop to be spiritual director at two missions. He traveled to Big Sur on Sundays to celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Francis of the Redwoods.
In addition to his parents, Fr. Ryan was predeceased by his siblings, Loretta Ryan Krogstad, Theresa Ryan Moeller, Mary Julia Ryan Evans, and Fred Ryan. He is survived by many cousins and nephews. A Mass of Christian Burial was held on Feb. 23 at the Carmel Mission Basilica, and burial took place in Plentywood, MT.

Narciso “Archie” Brena, 1925-2009
In loving memory of Archie Brena: husband, father, brother and friend, passed away peacefully at home on March 14, 2009 with his family by his side, following a brave battle with cancer.
Archie was born in Madice, Italy on January 25, 1925. In 1949 he traveled to Skagway, where he met the love of his life, Anita Roehr. In 1968 the family moved to Edmonds, Wash.
Archie is survived by his five children, Annette Berg, Charles Brena, Kelly Brena, Mario Brena and Rondi Beyer; 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Anita, and grandson Derek.
Archie loved gardening, fishing, and RV traveling.
Services were held on Saturday March 21, at Holy Rosary Church in Edmonds. An online Guest Book may be signed at
– Submitted by family

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