Finding home
Teen rejoins couple after years of pleading with state agency

Story and Photo by DIMITRA LAVRAKAS

They had her as a toddler, and for years tried to adopt her, but were not allowed. But now Jenny Sinka is heading home.
Almost 16 years after having her as an infant, Nancy Schave and Frank Wasmer are her proud parents.
“Until that point, we had never had babies, only older children,” Nancy Schave said of the 20 plus children they raised as foster parents. “They asked ‘shouldn’t you ask Frank first?’ And I said he’d say yes faster than me.”
The walls of their home, that is also home to the Skagway Hostel, are crowded with pictures of all the children at all ages.
Jenny’s half-sister, Lisa Hunt, came to them about six months later. The sisters were with Schave and Wasmer for three-and-a-half years.
Jenny and Lisa were born in the Nome area, but their mother was not able to keep her because of a severe alcohol problem, Schave said.
“We always tell the children that their mother and father love them very much, but they are just not able to care for them,” Schave said.
When Jenny was returned to her mother, Schave and Wasmer tried to reason with the state Department of Family and Youth Services that she had been unsuccessful with rehabilitation programs before in overcoming her problem. They asked to adopt Jenny, but DFYS said they still wanted to try and reunite the family.
It didn’t work out. Their mother died in 1998 of alcohol poisoning.
Jenny counts on her fingers how many foster homes, halfway houses and relatives she’s stayed in since that time. She tries, but can’t remember them all.
“We think it was about 20 places,” said Schave.
“I was adopted by an elderly couple,” Jenny said, “but they died.”
Through all those years, Schave and Wasmer continued to plead with DFYS to let them adopt her.
She and Lisa at one time stayed with an aunt and uncle, but the relatives were still drinking, and the girls didn’t want to be with them when they did. They were often not fed and were punished by being put outdoors in the snow.
“This year I went to two homes,” Jenny said. “I’m glad to be back.”
Schave said, “She said she wanted to be with parents...”
“Who would guide me,” said Jenny, finishing Schave’s sentence.
But according to DFYS rules, a child has to be in a foster home for six months before it can be legally adopted.
“Frank and I are so disenchanted with the system,” Schave said.
So is Jenny.
She wants to be a lawyer so she can be a guardian ad litem, a person the court appoints to oversee a child’s welfare.
Jenny never met hers.
“My whole thing is children need someone who loves them,” said Schave.
“Some place they can be safe,” Lisa chimed in.
Schave and Wasmer have become teetotalers since taking in foster children and seeing the effect alcoholism had on their lives. Schave estimates 22 as the number of children they’ve cared for, including two of Wasmer’s own children.
Lisa said she tried alcohol once or twice but didn’t like it. She’s 21 now, an adult and on her own with a 15-month little girl, Dainean. The toddler careens around the room at the tidy little house on Third Avenue, putting on any piece of clothing she finds laying around until she looks like a butterball.
Jenny is now in a what is called a “therapeutic foster home” in Sitka with seven other girls.
“She’s in a good place, but it’s just not home,” said Schave.
The whole weekend they told each other stories of the times they spent together as a family. The sisters had not seen each other since their mother’s funeral and had some catching up to do.
They all remembered when Lisa would go out to play and get into trouble when she came home late. So, she was given a watch with an alarm, and when it sounded all the kids would say, “Lisa, go home, your mom will be mad at you.”
The house cats Booger and Baby Kitty wouldn’t have been taken in if Lisa and Jenny hadn’t brought them home with the traditional “Can I keep him” look on their faces.
“We would never have had cats if not for the girls,” said Schave.
Jenny will return here for good next week, and like any other Skagway teenager, she’s getting a job for the summer, having applied for a position with the National Park Service at the Visitors Center.
In the fall, she’ll go into the eleventh grade at the Skagway School. Jenny says she loves basketball. That’s good news for the girls’ team, which is losing players this year. Some of the girls said they’ve already heard about her skills on the court. That’s a good beginning too.

RRB officials come to town
Workers told decision came after tax investigation

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS

The Railroad Retirement Board sent three men to Skagway this week to meet with White Pass & Yukon Route employees and answer their questions about their loss of RRB retirement and unemployment benefits.
Monday night, at a meeting at the WP&YR Depot, employees asked why their Railroad Retirement benefits had been taken away, and why the railroad was no longer considered a carrier – only an excursion railroad.
In late March, the board ruled WP&YR would lose its benefits as of 1988, when the railroad ceased to haul ore shipments from Canada to Skagway, the Yukon’s port. Then, in a turnaround decision in April, the RRB returned coverage effective to March 2000.
While seen as an olive branch, the new date did not satisfy the workers. They want the railroad back on the RRB’s rolls.
Teamster Union Local 959 and the United Transportation Union Local 1626 have lawyers working on the case. But the only party that can appeal the decision to the RRB is the company itself.
“The company has it under review,” said WP&YR President Fred McCorriston, the next day. “That’s as accurate as I can be.”
There has been some rumbling among Teamster members of the possibility of a strike vote, a move that would certainly disrupt railroad operations at the beginning of the tourist season.
With Teamsters members’ retirement and unemployment benefits uncertain because of the RRB’s action, their contract is now open for renegotiation, said Tim Sunday, the Teamsters’ Southeast Alaska business representative.
Employees did get an answer to one nagging question: Why, after all these years, did the RRB take a closer look at White Pass?
Last May, White Pass pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges of devising a scheme to avoid paying employee taxes as required by the board. The scheme involved seasonal workers only.
The company agreed to pay $278,442 in restitution and a fine of $136,000-$272,000. The company will pay $24,118 in costs and is on probation for five years.
That caused the RRB to become suspicious, said Bill Poulos, board public affairs officer, at the meeting. They sent Ed Fleming, the board’s chief of auditing to Skagway.
In talking with employees in the accounting office, Fleming concluded that less than one percent of train travelers were through ticketed. Passengers have to be through ticketed in order for the railroad to qualify as an interstate commerce rail carrier. It also has to carry freight . As White Pass no longer carries freight, as it did up until the early 1980s, the RRB deemed it no longer a carrier subject to the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board, formerly the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Sunday contends that through ticketing accounts for 30 percent of White Pass revenues, and that the company has continued to file and post freight tariffs with the STB.
At the meeting, Steve Hites, a former White Pass employee, said the company has continued to bid on freight jobs since the closure of the Yukon mines.
“This isn’t a railroad that’s forsaken its freight-hauling business,” Hites said. “It is my contention as well as anyone in this room, that this railroad has not abandoned its freight-hauling. There just isn’t any freight to haul....
We would haul freight tomorrow. So, OK, we need cars.”
In unison cries rose, “We have the cars.”
John Bush, White Pass superintendent of operations, asked, “Is it possible for you to give us the criteria that would be sufficient to be considered a carrier?”
But none of the three men from the RRB could tell the crowd how many freight cars they would have to haul in order to again be considered a carrier. There are no guidelines, they said.
“There is no regulatory minimum,” said Wayne Scharnak, RRB assistant chief of certification.
“How can we jump over the hurdle, if we don't know how high it is?” said Mike Sica, White Pass employee.
But the RRB delegation was not here on a fact-finding mission, said Poulos. The rebuttal to the board’s decision can only be played out in court.
“Why did it (the Board) back off from the original date?” asked engineer Lee Hartson, Jr.
“Because we’re not the arbitrary bad guys you think we are,” replied Poulos.
Virgil Seaton, the board’s Northwest director of claims, stayed in town until yesterday to deal individually with employees on their claims.

Skagway High Class of 2000 heads to the future

Story and photo by DIMITRA LAVRAKAS

The class of 2000 – Kristin Victoria Ray, Rebecca Ann Heger, Jordan Lee Craddick, and Shandalynn Rose Gee – were graduated May 19 in a light-hearted ceremony.
Opening speaker Heger said she left Skagway for the winter to adjust to the Outside world, and that coming back to prepare for leaving again gave her “a second chance to do it right.”
Craddick, in his Salutatory address, said his class had the honor to be the first graduation class of the Millennium.
In a hilarious speech, that wove together memories, sheer nervousness, giggles and laughter, Ray cracked up the audience time and again.
“My class originally started out with 13 kids,” said Ray. “I’m the only one who survived 10 years in Skagway.
“Not survived, but had the pleasure to live in Skagway,” she said to gales of laughter.
She said she hated Skagway at first, then decided it was her attitude and then actively went about to change it.
“My advice to the eightth graders: Try not to settle for mediocrity, don't settle for the bare minimum; decorate your locker; take lots of pictures, it’s lots of fun even if you look like a dork; wear flip-flops when you travel in the community showers – take my word for it; hold onto memories; jump on great opportunities.”
After her came English teacher Cheryl May, who had some sage advice for those students continuing on to higher education.
1. Have your Social Security number memorized before you go to college.
2. When you get your class schedule, walk through campus and find the rooms, bathrooms and pop machines.
3. Don’t bring food into places where they don’t allow it.
4. Always walk through double doors on the right – same thing with stairs and hallways.
5. Hold doors for people.
6. Do your laundry on Friday nights and avoid the crowds.
7. Do your grocery shopping after you do your laundry, again to avoid crowds.
8. Always be nice to everyone, but be especially nice to people who can be helpful to you in the future.
Then came Ray’s grandfather. Don Aslett took possession of the podium with a certainty that comes from running a multi-million dollar company, specializing in janitorial services. He’s appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and on the QVC Channel, hawking a floor mat that traps dirt. He will on the Discovery Channel next month.
“The first thing I’d do is let the air out of Mr. Webster’s tires,” Aslett said, of retiring music teacher Mike Webster. “Don’t let that guy get away.”
He pointed out that the best people come from the littlest places.
A few other of Aslett’s gems: “Before you open a door (of opportunity), look at the door, read the sign on the door, and ask what’s behind the door...” “Life is easy if you learn to read...” “I’m responsible for my own life...” “If you can’t make up your mind, they’ll make bacon out of you in this world...”
Aslett grabbed eighth grader Thomas Craig Knorr, and went through a hilarious, but very enlightening, mock job interview.
He emphasized that he doesn’t really look at applications or resumes, but at “brag” sheets that show what a person has really accomplished in life. He said he’d hire someone who got up every morning at 4 a.m. to help their father milk the cows when they were growing up rather than a Harvard Ph.D.
The incoming freshman class was introduced – Rory W. Belisle, Henry Levi Burnham, Russell Oliver Bush, Garrett Daniel Henry, Bethany Ann Hisman, and Knorr.
Closing speaker Gee said her good-byes and thanks for her time in Skagway.
Then the class boogied on over to the west corner of the gymnasium to the tune “Praise You” by Fat Boy Slim, and threw their hats in the air and lined up to accept hugs and kisses from friends and family.

City moves dock transit stop

Independent operators claim loss of business

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
One after another independent tour operators rose and said they were losing business because the city’s new S.M.A.R.T. transit buses were blocking cruise ship passengers view of their selling spot. The “Hear Citizens Present” segment of the Skagway City Council meeting on May 18, gave the council a lot to consider.
The “Shark Pit,” as it is locally known, sits on public property just before the gangplank to the Small Boat Harbor. A square of cement, covered by roof, is the selling area the independents have permitted with the city. The permit program is slated to end next year, when the city plans to put out to bid for a single seller who would sell all independent tours.
Greg Jones of Dockside Charters, a charter fishing operation, said the transit stop cut 40 percent of his business in the first two weeks of the season.
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “You’re going to hurt small people like me.”
Alaska Travel Adventures’ Dave Dindinger said he didn’t believe the council was trying to hurt business, but it was still affecting his business.
“When you get a rush, you’re getting five people coming by instead of 50,” he said.
There also were complaints about the signage directing people to either the transit system or the selling area. People said the sign was too small and that the buses blocked the view of the sign. City Manager Bob Ward said a new one was being made and would be ready within a week.
Brian Lee, Southeast Tours, said councilmembers, with the exception of J.M. Frey and Colette Hisman, have “neglected their fiduciary duty to protect the assets of the community.” He said the transit stop location was a breach of the tour sellers’ contract with the city.
Several other tour sellers alluded to possible legal action against the city.
“I think all the good guys are here tonight,” said Mayor John Mielke. “It’s the bad guys that have brought us here tonight.”
Mielke said he’d been down at the selling area and listening in on his radio, and heard “four-letter words and people yelling.”
“...Circumventing rules, it’s not morally right,” Mielke said. “The complaints have come from every spectrum. I’m willing to talk, but I want to hear meat.”
The first reading of Ordinance 2000-12 that would disband the tour vendor oversight committee and establish set fines for violations was read. Ward said he was more inclined to move the transit stop, but that the oversight committee had not been effective in policing the tour vendors.
“I wanted to avoid this over the years,” he said, citing the $500 fine for each violation. “The three strikes and you’re out remains.”
“I would just have liked to let this last year ride out, this will just add more fuel to the fire,” Councilmember Colette Hisman said, adding the ordinance needed more discussion.
Although the ordinance passed first reading in a 5-1 vote, most councilmembers said it would need more discussion at the second reading.
“I have no problems with it,” said Councilmember Tim Bourcy. “We need some way to make those people accountable.”
“The whole thing probably needs to be re-visited,” said Councilmember Dave Hunz.
At the end of the meeting during council discussion, there was more discussion on how to improve the visibility of the vendor stand.
“Everybody who’s down there is trying to make a living and I respect that,” said Councilmember Stan Selmer, who then moved to move the transit stop to its original place north of the vendor stand. It passed in by a 5-1 vote.
“We didn’t place the stop to get people’s attention, but to provide a service,” said Ward, referring to other councilmember remarks that tour vendors’ behavior caused the city to move the stop.
There was a further discussion about tour vendors illegally selling tours off the selling area.
And there was the inevitable discussion about the lack of bathrooms in the immediate area, which causes vendors to urinate off the side of the Small Boat Harbor embankment. Vendors say they cannot walk to the harbor bathroom because they would lose sales and their place at the selling area.
The suggestion came up that maybe the city could put in a portable potty, but that was seen as too unsightly. Which brought the discussion around to which was more unsightly – a Port-A-Potty or a man urinating in public. The issue went unaddressed.