Gifts from the Marshall Islands

Skagway’s delegation to the Marshall Islands, chaperone Jacqueline Ashwell, students Erica Harris and Shelby Surdyk, and DDF teacher Kent Fielding pose with a high school principal who presented them with gifts during the “For the Good of Mankind” tour. See story in school features below.

Photo courtesy Skagway School DDF

Trailer fire a mystery

By JEFF BRADY
An unoccupied travel trailer in Hanousek Park burned to the ground Tuesday morning before daybreak.
“The cause is undetermined, but it is suspicious,” said Fire Chief Mark Kirko.
The trailer had no power to it, nor an operating heat source, said Kirko, ruling out those as causes. He sifted through the charred scene later that morning trying to find some explanation for the unusual fire, but said there was not much left to uncover.
He said that he first thought the trailer was locked, but after talking to the campground operator and contacting owner Setsu Berret in Oregon by phone, he found out that was not the case.
“The door did not appear to be locked, and the owner does not recall locking it,” he said. “I didn’t notice any foul play. It’s just suspicious.”
The trailer was on the Broadway side of the campground and had been used for summer housing. It contained very few of the owner’s possessions, Kirko added.
The first call to the 911 line came in at 5:10 a.m. from a man walking his dogs, followed by calls from the campground caretaker at Mountain View RV Park and other neighbors.
Witnesses said the trailer was fully involved and flames reached high enough to torch some branches in a tree, Kirko said. The heat melted some outside parts of two trailers that stood on either side of it.
The first engine arrived on the scene about six minutes after the call came in, and a total of 10 firefighters responded. “It was a rapid knockdown,” Kirko said.
Firefighters doused what was left of the trailer which had burned down to the chassis, and were able to keep the fire from spreading to other trailers.

CHARRED CHASSIS – Nothing much was left of the trailer from the fire, whose flames licked the branches going up the tree on the left. - JB

‘Good Neighbors’ organize respite care in Skagway

By ANDREW CREMATA
For someone who falls on hard times or bad health there is often a need for aid or assistance. That assistance may come in the form of a meal, help with an errand, or simply providing a little companionship. Oftentimes, once the hurdle of asking for help is jumped, the question of who to call arises.
“Good Neighbors” is a new Skagway organization designed to offer aid for those seeking a variety of special needs. The group formed thanks to the efforts of Barb Brodersen, Eileen Henry, Betsy Albecker, and Debbie Mahle, and will provide a source for Skagway residents in search of a helping hand.
An organizational meeting and luncheon was held at the Presbyterian Church Recreation Hall on Nov. 15, to rally volunteers for the respite care group. Twenty-six Skagwegians heeded the call for assistance and helped the group start to take shape by choosing the name Good Neighbors.
“Your response is really, really heartwarming,” said Brodersen.
A flyer was presented to the volunteers, on which they could highlight ways in which they could assist those reaching out in need, and times during the week they would be available.
Brodersen hosted the luncheon and began by asking the question, “Why are we here?”
Henry answered, “We want to provide hope and happiness to neighbors in need, sharing access to all available community help and serving as Skagway’s resource center.”
A teary-eyed Brodersen shared a personal story of how a group of five men from Life Link Fellowship helped her and her husband by stacking wood into their woodshed when they weren’t able to do it themselves due to medical reasons. She said many who needed such help would now have one phone number to call if they found themselves in a similar situation.
Brodersen said it was the nature of Alaskans to be independent and say, “We don’t need any help.” However, sometimes life left you little choice and it was nice to know there were people out there who could help and only expected a “thank you” in return. She said the organization would provide new people in town, who may not know anyone, a place to turn for help.
Brodersen extended a special thank you to Police Chief Ray Leggett and dispatcher Sheryl Gladden for their assistance in maintaining a spreadsheet of volunteers, and Tim Salter who will coordinate volunteers and provide the phone number to call.
City Manager Alan Sorum said the municipality would provide storage for items such as wheelchairs and crutches at the Skagway Recreation Center.
Those seeking aid will simply have to call the phone number and describe their need. Volunteers will then be contacted so assistance may be offered in a timely manner.
Brodersen described the turnout as “unbelievable,” and said those seeking to volunteer could call her or one of the other organizers.
Those in need of assistance can call 983-3664.

Harris doubles up on awards
Clerk of year, AML municipal employee of year

By JEFF BRADY
Municipal leaders from around the state gathered in Fairbanks during the first week of November to discuss issues and honor their own.
The big winner was Skagway Municipal Clerk Marj Harris.
She not only won the Municipal Clerk of the Year award from her fellow clerks, she also was named the Alaska Municipal League’s Municipal Employee of the Year recipient.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said nominations had come from two letters submitted – one from himself and assistant manager Michelle Calver, and the other, without their knowledge, from Mayor Tom Cochran and Assemblymember Mike Korsmo.
Sorum said he was the only one who knew about the awards before heading up to Fairbanks, and had to keep it from everyone. And because Harris had made the travel arrangements and no one else was added to the manifest, she had no clue.
At the clerks association banquet on Nov. 6, Harris was chatting with someone else while the speaker, close friend and colleague Mona Lisa Drexler of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, started talking about a 25-year relationship with the winner.
“I thought it was (Valdez clerk) and then she said me, and it was a total, complete surprise,” Harris said, who admitted shedding some tears. “She had to push me (to say something). I kind of froze.”
The huge framed award is elaborate with pins from most of the state’s municipalities surrounding the certificate, with the Skagway centennial pin next to Harris’s name. It now hangs on the wall by her desk next to a mask that her husband John carved, and just above the award she received two nights later.

HUMBLED WINNER – “I like to think of Marj as the real McCoy (Municipal Clerk of the Year),” said Mayor Tom Cochran who presented Marj Harris with flowers after she received her first award. Photo courtesy of Mark Schaefer

She knew something was up when outgoing AML President, former Mayor Tim Bourcy, got up to make the presentation for AML Municipal Employee of the Year.
“He talked about the responsibility of the clerk’s profession and how he knew when he was getting out of line when I raised my eyebrows,” Harris said.
Not to mention all her work on the coastal plan re-write, local and state elections, borough formation, borough assembly and planning and zoning issues, and dealing with the day-to-day things that pop up in the office.
Harris said both awards meant a lot to her because she received nominations from people in the community for them, but the clerk award has special significance since it is “based on certain criteria and is given by your peers.”

Ideas churn at well-attended community forum on school

By JEFF BRADY
Maybe it was the free pizza, probably it was the hot topics.
The annual Community Forum at the school last week drew about 25 people – which Skagway School Board President Darren Belisle noted was one of the best turnouts in recent years.
They gathered around three tables to talk about these issues with board members:
• Continuation of the music program.
• Community service graduation requirement.
• Change or elimination of spring break.
The topics were picked by the board to help them craft their goals for the coming year. Board members took notes to compile for their November regular meeting, which has been pushed to Dec. 4.
This reporter bounced between the three tables to get a sense of the discussion.
Most zeroed in on the spring break issue, which had been raised because of its timing this year, and the possibility that the state ASAA may move high school basketball in 2009 to a January-April season.
At each table, someone said, “It’s sad that we have to make a schedule around basketball.” Parent Mark Saldi said the elementary kids were “being held hostage.”
If the basketball season changes, people were asked if they would want a longer Christmas break, versus a spring break that might be pushed into April. Parents and teachers present were divided.
At one table, parent Ken Cox said some parents will still take their kids out of school for fall vacations because fares are lower.
At another table, teachers said they had no problem with the way the schedule is now – with a spring break in March. They said they need the break. But if there is a conflict with moving it to April during testing, then they can always choose not to test that year, suggested teacher Ruthie Knight.
A few days off around Easter versus a week-long spring break didn’t gather much support, but most had no problem with a longer Christmas break, even if it meant ending school a week later. However, it was mentioned that in April, and especially after May 1, the kids are ready to be outside, so an extra week of school in May would be a waste.
Board member Jo Korsmo and others said that until they have a better picture of next year’s schedule from ASAA, the break issue will be on hold.
The public input on the music and community service topics gave the board more direction.
No one wanted to see the music program go away after finally getting it back after three years. One parent noted that their children were positive about music and new teacher David LeCompte after the first day of school.
“A good music teacher is a calling to a lot of children,” said parent Niki Hahn, but she added that she didn’t think it should be a requirement for high school graduation.
Currently music is required through junior high, and is an elective in high school. High school students present said they preferred having more electives.
At another table, no one objected to the idea of paying an annual fee for renting musical instruments, though they would want a grant or incentive program set up so anyone who could not afford the feed would not be excluded.
“I don’t think the school is marketable without a music program,” Cox said.
When the question was raised about paying for sports too, board member Robert Murphy said “with sports you aren’t holding a $1,500 instrument in your hand.”
Others supported expanding the music program with more singing and a choir, and going to festivals.
The third topic, community service or service learning, is something more and more colleges are looking for when accepting students.
The board is considering splitting the full credit life skills class into a half credit which would be community service. Superintendent Michael Dickens has been gathering materials on what is being done in other districts.
The table with students suggested spreading 60 hours of community service over four years.
Another table of mostly parents suggested making community service an elective, though encouraged, especially for college-bound students.
There was additional discussion about having more college counseling as part of the life skills class. Because the district cannot afford its own counselor, some high school teachers have helped out but don’t always have the expertise or time it takes to stay on top of issues like finding financial aid for students.
Dickens said he brought in the Haines career counselor Carol Flegel this week to assist life skills teacher Sharon Sherk and meet with this year’s senior class students and parents. Dickens said 13 of the 15 seniors are planning to go to college.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

LATE HUMMER – This Anna’s Hummingbird looks like it will stick out the winter in Skagway. It showed up at Dorothy Brady’s kitchen window feeder a month ago, and seems content huddling in a nearby mountain ash tree. Skagway Bird Club members and Alaska Fish and Game have suggested ways to keep the wayward bird well fed and alive – one did survive the winter in Ketchikan last year. For its sake, hopefully we’ll have a mild winter. Photo by Andrew Cremata

• SCHOOL FEATURE: Skagway girls' performances impress Marshallese

• SCHOOL ACTIVITIES: All wrestlers post wins; Volleyball team hits a winner

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