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Welcome to the most comprehensive online travel guide for Alaska, Western Canada and Northwest USA

         
Goldrush To Alaska Site
Alaska Alert
Alaskan Women in Business
Read more fascinating stories from Travel Guide 2010 through 2015

Women have always been a crucial and colorful part of Alaska’s heritage. Strong, resilient, determined and savvy, historically they have been the backbone of their evolving land, where one out of every ten gold stampeders struggling over the Chilkoot and White Passes was a woman. On the Alaskan frontier of today, women own and manage an array of successful businesses in the undaunted spirit of their predecessors. Travel Guide is delighted to salute a few of these exceptional women with the following stories.

 

In 1965, Hiram and Blanca Hernandez left Mexico to come to Alaska. Already 2nd generation furriers, they wanted to see what the Great Land had to offer. They established a retail store along with his brother and put down roots in the Anchorage community, where they would raise their family. That family would consist of seven children; four boys and three girls.  
The three girls – Miriam, Magdalena (“Malena”) and Patricia spent their days after school working at the family fur store, becoming third generation furriers, all the way through their high school days at East Anchorage High. They all swore that they would never be in the family business, instead choosing after high school to take separate paths.
Miriam married and moved to Michigan, Malena went to college and traveled and Patricia worked for an airline and moved to California. After a time of exploring their different career paths they all realized that what they really wanted and needed in their lives was the family business after all. 
In 1988 the Alaska Fur Gallery was established in Anchorage and by 1990 all of the siblings were a part of the venture. By 1991 the Alaska Fur Gallery set up their store in Juneau, Alaska and by 1994 had built their own buildings in Juneau. In 1995 they opened another location in Skagway, Alaska and since that time have had locations in Ketchikan, Sitka, and Denali, Alaska; along with locations in Vail & Breckinridge, Colorado; Sun Valley, Idaho; Park City, Utah and Vancouver, Canada.
Even through all of the ups and downs of the retail fur industry, the Alaska Fur Gallery continues to thrive and the premier furriers continue to share their love and knowledge of their family business with all that walk through their doors. They are a strong, tight-knit family that take immense pride in their culture, business and community.
 
Stephanie Blanchard was born in Santiago to an American dad and Chilean mother. After moving to the States at 18 and attending college in Ohio for 4 years, she decided to spend a summer in Alaska. Taken by its beautiful immensity and quietude, she has been here for 8 years and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Originally her dream was to own a wilderness lodge and show tourists the beauty and magic of Alaska while being able to live remotely and off the grid. She gained work experience at different lodges in a variety of job descriptions, but eventually came to realize that it felt like she was turning a hobby into a job and decided it would be beneficial to keep the two separate.
A weekend trip to Seldovia 5 years ago turned into a permanent stay and fresh start when she found employment at the only bar & grill in town. A year after telling the owners she would be interested in buying, they began the process of transferring the Linwood Bar & Grill.
Stephanie has to wear many hats running a bar and grill, which in addition to being the only business open every day of the year in Seldovia, is also a liquor store, has the only ATM in town and is off the road system. None of her distributors deliver, so she makes frequent trips to Anchorage with a box truck to get everything, including heating fuel. She also bartends, bakes, takes care of payroll, bills, inventory, events, live music and advertising.
   Her philosophy is work hard to play hard, at favorite activities such as hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. Indoor hobbies like spinning alpaca wool help pass the dark winter days when work slows down. Although something of a social butterfly, she enjoys time alone with her dogs in the quiet of nature. Stephanie cherishes her experiences of traveling over half the world but is very happy to have found a beautiful place she can call home.
 
Olivia Klupar is a Skagway native who grew up in an entrepreneurial family that always seems knee-deep in a new project! She writes about her newest enterprise:
   In 2014, my brother Greg and I founded Alaska Community Lottery, Alaska’s first fundraising platform to help non-profit organizations raise money for community programs such as art workshops, educational initiatives, scholarships and community building. Raffle tickets are sold from our distinctive red kiosk machines, which are placed in high-traffic areas in cruise ports, with 100% of the net proceeds going to our partner non-profits.
   Basically, we’re the middlemen between our non-profits and the consumer. For non-profits, our job is to increase and stabilize their revenue streams. Jumping through hoops to secure funding really detracts non-profits from making the best impact in their communities; the programs these organizations put together are truly phenomenal and irreplaceable for the communities they support. Most are pretty small, with fewer than 25 employees and their volunteers work full-time somewhere else, so they simply don’t have the resources to undertake a fundraising program of our size. Our solution is really just taking well-known private business practices and applying these models to public-need or public-sector companies. Our goal is for our partner non-profits to be viable and self-sustainable for many years to come. For a small fee, we offer them an opportunity to raise more money, which their annual budget would never otherwise see.
   For the consumer, our job is to reach out and emotionally connect with them, building a long-term relationship. Our cruise and independent traveler customers fall in love with Alaska; for some it’s a journey of a lifetime.   Our product is really an easy sell, because buying a raffle ticket supports the mission of our non-profit partners. Most of our customers want to show their support for the communities they visit – winning money is only a secondary factor. For others, the chance to win a prize is a fantastic incentive, and how better to do that than to buy a raffle ticket that supports a good cause?
   Our bright red kiosks are placed in high-volume locations, such as convenience stores, bars, restaurants, airports and malls. They have a defining presence at about 5 feet tall and 150 pounds, built to convey strength and security. The kiosks utilize touchscreen technology software which we built from scratch, so when a person approaches the kiosk and touches the screen, step-by-step directions appear that aid the customer with the purchase. Once the customer swipes his card, he receives a printed ticket stub from the kiosk with a unique raffle number, as well as an e-mail receipt in case the physical ticket is lost. Participants don’t need to be present to win. It’s truly a remarkable system, although the concept isn’t very different from the kiosk machines you see at airport check-ins or train stations.
   I was born and raised in Alaska and grew up in a supportive and creative family. My parents met in Skagway in the early 1980s and now own and operate five thriving businesses, a high-end art and jewelry gallery, B&B, restaurant, culinary garden, and tour operations with the cruise lines. Like a running joke, our family dinnertime conversations usually start with “I have a GREAT idea!” As kids, we were raised to think like an opportunist and have a glass-half-full mentality. Even before I started working for and later managing these businesses, I had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was 10, I got up every morning at 7AM to bake cookies and prepare lemonade for my stand, and eventually started earning very good money for my age.
   After I graduated from Boston College in 2011, I thought I might enjoy a career in law. I moved to New York City and worked for a large law firm, and then with Citigroup Bank for a year in their M&A practice. It was around this time that I started itching to start my own business. While priding myself on the high-level work I did for corporate America, I realized I liked being my own boss and derived joy from creating something out of nothing. I was seeing all of these innovative ideas get off the ground and I thought, why not me, I’m not married, no kids - it’s a good time for an adventure! I was already working on Alaska Community Lottery on the side and the timing was right, so I moved back to Alaska and the rest is history! I feel great energy when I’m in Alaska. It’s the perfect place to start a business, surrounded by artists, educators, writers, travelers, and the stunning beauty of the Alaskan landscape. How can you not be inspired?
   Last summer, my brother Greg graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in Computer Science. He and I started working part-time on this business a few years ago and Greg has been instrumental with its early development and success. He single-handedly built our backend software system from scratch, a gargantuan undertaking. I had serious reservations going into this business with a family member because of potential difficulties, but I’ve been surprised at how very well we get along. Our personalities complement each other. He’s the computer guy and I’m the business development guru.
   Starting any business is going to be challenging at some point and we’ve experienced our fair share of challenges. Our industry is somewhat regulated and making sure that we’re compliant with state law has required an ongoing effort. I think the biggest thing is making sure I don’t get in my own way. There are a lot of moving parts with a new business and it’s easy to feel out of control trying to stay on top of it all. I just have to remember the big picture of why we started this business and then I’m better able to focus my work.
   For many years my family has been part of the Skagway Arts Council, an incredible organization that does wonders for the residents, especially during the winter months when there is not much going on. I approached the president of the Arts Council a few years ago after I noticed how dependent the organization was on municipal funds to support their growing budgetary needs. I had done some research on non-profit fundraising and came to her with our business plan, an offer to provide an increased revenue stream through kiosk raffle sales. We ran a successful raffle in September 2014, raising both money and awareness for the Skagway Arts Council. Our main goal was to get some experience under our belt and show our partners that our model could work. During the summer we also engaged with our consumers, picked their brains about the user experience, and got to work tweaking our interface to better connect with them. We gathered critical data and are ready for a fun 2015! 

   Our long-term vision is to expand statewide, helping non-profits across Alaska achieve more stable revenue streams that better enable them to support their local communities. Just think – we could be the first Alaska state lottery for charity! As we grow, we hope to expand into other tourist markets across the US, replicating our Alaska initiative elsewhere. We have been approached by several non-profits in Alaska and beyond, and are currently working to develop solutions to address their needs. We have exciting plans for 2015, with more kiosks in additional locations. We’ve also partnered with several retail stores in Skagway to sell coupon advertising through our machines as an incentive to sell more raffle tickets for the Arts Council. Look for the bright red Alaska Community Lottery kiosks around Skagway to buy your tickets, and if you’re involved in non-profit work, looking to host a raffle in your community or have space for a kiosk in your store, please give us a ring/email: (513) 512-5946 or owner@alaskacommunitylottery.com. 

 

The youngest of three daughters, Colleen Stephens has divided her entire life between the towns of North Pole and Valdez, excluding her time at the University of Idaho. To this day she claims her family migrated in a reverse pattern: north in the winter and south in the summer! While the family still maintains their property in North Pole, Valdez has been Colleen’s full time home since graduating from college in 1996, and she says she can’t imagine being anywhere else, even when it’s snowing three feet a day.


Colleen’s parents Stan and Mary Helen were married in 1964, the year of the devastating Good Friday Earthquake. As North Star Marine Charters, they started offering Prince William Sound sport fishing and hunting tours in 1971. The entire family joined the business in 1978, as Stan, Mary Helen and their daughters began operating their first tours to Columbia Glacier. At that time the company name was changed to Stan Stephens Charters, and then to Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises in 2003. When Colleen was 7 years old, she was designated head of the hot chocolate and story telling departments. Now she is in charge of operations, making sure everything is in just the right place at the right time.


Colleen’s official title is President of Stan Stephens Cruises, but that just means on any given day she could help a guest make a reservation, clean a boat, drive a bus, assist in an oil change or place an advertisement. The two greatest loves of her job are working with the youth of Valdez and watching them grow, and greeting the returning boats to watch the passengers and crew debate who had a better day on the water. Like extended family, the company’s approximately 30 employees often start in their mid-teens as boat cleaners and work their way up through office and crew staff. Because nearly all of them are from Valdez, their guests’ enjoyment of the area is truly enhanced by the vast local knowledge of their tour guides.


On Good Friday in 1989, life for the residents of Prince William Sound changed dramatically when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. Stan’s vessels were some of the first to carry response observers to the site. It was during the early days of the spill that Stan dedicated the remainder of his life to working with industry to protect Prince William Sound. Sadly, Stan passed away in the fall of 2013, but his family and crew strive enthusiastically to live by his example – and Mary Helen, his wife of nearly 50 years, is busy as ever training employees, cooking up the daily chowder and infecting everyone with her boundless energy!


In addition to her roles at Stan Stephens Cruises, Colleen is engaged with two future stepchildren, and involved in the board of directors and management of the Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau and Alaska Travel Industry Association, working to properly market and develop tourism in Alaska. She also serves on the City of Valdez Ports and Harbors Commission to help keep the City’s economic health strong.


Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises
is located at 112 N Harbor Drive in Valdez. Call (866) 867-1297 or visit www.stephenscruises.com.

 

Lauren Padawer has been an entrepreneur, ecosystem activist and beauty minimalist since her early teens, and in college became inspired by restoration ecology work and ways in which sound natural resource management and education could influence a shift in America’s current scientific models in order to benefit the planet as a whole. After earning a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Washington University in St. Louis, Lauren knew her life’s work would keep her close to nature.
First she wanted to deepen her understanding of political change and community organizing strategies, so she jumped at the opportunity to work on a three-month electoral campaign in Anchorage, Alaska. Next she went on to help less fortunate Americans maintain access to affordable housing in a quickly growing community in Boston. She also worked at a geriatric spa helping people feel beautiful inside and out, absorbing skills that would assist later in founding her innovative Alaska Glacial Mud Company to bring luxurious Alaskan glacial spa therapy products to the world.


A year after leaving Alaska she returned, won over by the big mountains and the prospect of preserving unspoiled wilderness. At 23, she moved to the remote coastal fishing town of Cordova, Alaska to work with a colleague and native Eyak Athabascan she met after college while in Anchorage. Dune Lankard founded the Eyak Preservation Council with a mission that includes protecting pristine areas of the Copper River and Prince William Sound from unsustainable development. Lauren worked as program manager and grant writer for the EPC for two years, while the Copper River grew ever closer to her heart. She soon started thinking about the impact a small business could make to raise awareness and support for wild salmon habitat.


Between rafting trips down the Copper River, mudslinging on its silty banks, and listening to Alaskans joke about the buttery spa quality of the abundant mud, Lauren was inspired to launch Alaska Glacial Mud Co. in 2006. While working on her business plan, she deepened her ties to the river with employment as a salmon biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Then in 2009 Lauren started a second business with the purchase of a commercial salmon fishing boat and has been operating her vessel in the Prince William Sound and Copper River Flats, harvesting all five species of wild Alaskan Pacific salmon.


Alaska Glacial Mud Co. sustainably hand-harvests pure glacial mineral mud from the vast Copper River Delta, where it is deposited by the river at the impressive rate of 60-100 million tons annually from timeless glaciers that have ground remote mountains into pure nutrient and mineral-rich powder. Like seawater, glacial mineral mud contains over 60 major and trace elements, many of which are known benefactors for skin. The texture of the mud is a natural exfoliant, microdermabrader and skin softener, and it has been touted for its healing properties among Natives along the Pacific Northwest coast. Because of its high mineral content and moisturizing effect, Alaska Glacial mud helps nourish the skin and nails. Products are also enriched with certified organic and wildcrafted botanical extracts and oils from Pacific Northwest and Arctic plants. Due to the high latitude and shorter growing season, these plants produce potent phytonutrients as protection from intense sunlight and freezing, which in turn can nourish and soothe skin.


The Copper River Watershed and its famed salmon are aided by the donation of 10% of company profits to four local organizations that support education, restoration, preservation and legal defense of the Copper River. Passionate about promoting a natural beauty lifestyle that’s committed to purity, philanthropy and sustainability, the Company produces purifying mineral mud masques and exfoliating soap bars that are cruelty-free, biodegradable and packaged with post-consumer/recyclable materials. Alaska Glacial Mud Co. seeks to provide spa luxury and raw beauty inspired by innovation, excellence and the belief that we can harmonize commerce with social impact, while respecting the deep spiritual connection between life in Alaska and the bounty of its rich resources.


Nicknamed “Alaska’s Hidden Treasure” and “The Friendly City” Cordova is surrounded by mountains, glaciers, wetlands, ocean and wilderness. The town’s rich cultural heritage, sustainable economy and subsistence lifestyle rely heavily on the bountiful resources of the Copper River, Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. Lauren and her company are proud to claim Cordova as home! Alaska Glacial Mud Co. can be reached at (907) 424-4695; info@alaskaglacialmud.com or www.alaskaglacialmud.com.

 

Originally from Michigan where she studied at NMC, Debbie Mathews has worked extensively with stained glass since 1974. She has completed and instructed many classes, including stained glass, glass fusing, jewelry and mosaics. After meeting her future husband Ted in Chicago and moving to Fairbanks twenty-five years ago, Debbie discovered that although the city had previously hosted three stained glass stores, there was currently no outlet where she could purchase glass. Feeling a need to have the art of stained glass re-introduced to the town, Debbie opened Expressions in Glass in April of 1992, offering supplies, gifts, classes and her own work. After thirteen successful years, the business outgrew the original 700 square foot location, so after a year of remodeling, Debbie and Ted (and daughter Erica) opened their new 5,500 square foot facility on Peger Road in February of 2005.


Taking on all kinds of projects from simple to extravagant, Debbie’s custom orders include installations, windows, kitchen cabinets, sun catchers, lamps, boxes, picture frames, fused items, glass-encased wedding invitations, repairs and many other one-of-a-kind creations. Her work is displayed in many venues around Fairbanks: stained glass windows grace St. Matthews Episcopal Church on 1st Avenue, University Community Presbyterian Church on College Road, First Presbyterian Church on Cushman Street, Sourdough Fuel Party Store on Danby Road, as well as custom cabinets and windows at many residential sites.


A spectacular, large scale glass piece Debbie and her artistic staff at Expressions in Glass collaborated on with Athabascan artist James L. Grant, Sr. for several months in 2008 now graces the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. Designed and constructed in Fairbanks, the impressive work measures 17 feet wide by 8 feet tall and hangs 17 feet above floor level in a south-facing window of the Center’s foyer area. Eighteen panels with more than 4,000 pieces of multihued glass suspended in an aluminum frame make up the giant hanging mural, which depicts the Dena’ina Athabascan people as they went about their daily subsistence lifestyle. Hunters, berry pickers, fish drying racks, fishermen, fishing weirs, children, sea life and a log house with a sod roof are all portrayed in detail. A two-foot high upper stained glass panel recreates the mountains across Cook Inlet. Another panel of painted aluminum silhouettes shows two bow hunters and their prey: a hare, fox, moose, bear, caribou and sheep.

Sentinel figure panels of a chief and a drummer hang on either side. The finishing touch is a beaded representation of the Northern Lights, designed by Grant and crafted by Shirley Holmberg from multiple crystals and 20 different colors of glass beads, floating above the stained glass panorama. The shimmering aurora topper is 16 feet wide and features 660 beaded strands placed 5/16 of an inch apart, ranging in length between 3½ and 6 feet. “A Dena’ina Day Around Cook Inlet” marked the third and final time Grant was able to collaborate with Debbie, utilizing her stained-glass skills to bring his artistic vision to life.


You can visit Expressions in Glass at 1922 Peger Road in Fairbanks and shop for exquisite glass items and a variety of works by other Alaskan artists, or take a no-experience-necessary mini workshop class and make your own beautiful souvenir! Shuttle service is also available. See www.expressionsinglass.net or phone (907) 474-3923 or (888) 574-3923 for more information.

 

Rita Bishop describes her first impression of Fairbanks: birch trees lined up on each side of the road with rays of sunlight sparkling through them at 11pm at night…when I wasn’t enamored with the white tree trunks, I was busy being in awe of the spruce trees in enormous numbers and their pointed green tops against the clear blue sky. I fell in love with Alaska as soon as I got off the plane.


Cincinnati, Ohio was instantly forgotten as Rita discovered a new world of possibilities. She originally came to Alaska in 1981 to work three jobs and save money in the summer for college at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Rita is one of 75 silhouette portrait artists in the US, so that first summer she cut silhouettes for the state fair in Fairbanks. Rita has cut so many silhouettes in the last 30 years that she’s now portraying the great grand children of her original customers! After two summers, she graduated in 1983 and flew back to Alaska to start a new life as a batik fabric artist.


That’s when she met her husband Bill Bishop, a moment she describes as “monumental.” Bill worked for his mother and stepfather, owners of Big Windy Mining, making jewelry from their own gold mining claims. Rita became a jeweler for several local shops, including Purdue’s Jewelry and Fairbanks Diamond Center. She also worked for Bill’s mom Eda Shope, at Eda up the Creek, where they created beautiful gold nugget jewelry and became the first in Alaska to fashion a line of jewelry highlighting silver with gold nuggets.


Within a year, Rita and Bill moved to Soldotna and opened their own business, Fishing For Gold Inc. They developed a catalog that Rita hand drew with ink pens, so they could wholesale gold nugget jewelry throughout Alaska. Their timing couldn’t have been better, as tourism was becoming an important resource; there were more tourists and more gift shops, all in need of a product that gave them a piece of Alaska to take home with them! Their jewelry sold to over 150 stores in Alaska, Canada, Japan, QVC, galleries and museums, and they are still making it today!


When Bill’s parents left the state and assigned their accounts to Rita and Bill, the couple moved back to Fairbanks at the end of 1986; as fun as the Kenai peninsula can be with fishing for salmon, halibut and trout and hunting deer, caribou, moose, ducks and bears, they needed to be in Fairbanks closer to the miners! By 1987 Rita had her first baby, Hunter Bishop, then 19 months later there was Teal Marguerite, and 19 months after that Vivian - all homebirths in Fairbanks.


After learning to photograph and print their own, store catalogs became stunning 30-page resources. Theirs was one of the first businesses to use a computer and have a website, winning an award in the early years for fishingforgold.com, thanks to Rita’s brother Dave Dorfmueller. They added another website, hockeyjewelry.com that became a blog for their two oldest children who excelled in hockey. Hunter and Teal achieved D1 scholarships to Ohio State University. Hunter left his junior year to sign a NHL contract with Montreal, playing pro hockey to this day. Teal graduated from OSU after enjoying her fifth year abroad in Spain. Vivian got her hockey experience in when she won gold and silver the two years she participated in the International Arctic Winter Games.


During the economic hiccup of 2008, the couple decided to open Bishops Jewelry Gallery, a retail store offering the first Custom Design Center in Fairbanks. Rita’s design skills were well complemented by Bill’s technical expertise, as he became an expert in CAD design. The original, small store off Airport Way was quickly replaced by their current location where they enjoy a beautiful 1000 square foot showroom and 1200 square foot studio behind it. Through the large store windows, the public can watch Rita and Bill working directly at their benches, in a studio equipped with laser welders, ANC milling machines and casting equipment, while the showroom has comfortable chairs and a 52” screen to custom design anything imaginable. The Bishops pride themselves on always saying YES, while guiding their customers for wearability, longevity and affordability; bringing in award winning designers from around the world, they work hard to offer exceptional jewelry exclusively though their store at affordable prices.


While Rita envisions adorning future generations of the great state of Alaska with a keepsake legacy created from beautiful custom jewelry pieces, when asked what she considers her greatest achievements, she likes to slyly respond, “My three kinetic sculptures, Hunter, Teal and Vivian!”


Bishops Jewelry Gallery is located at 1440 University Ave. S in Fairbanks; website: www.bishopsjewelry.com; email: sales@bishopsjewelry.com; phone: (907) 479-7001.
 

 

Wei Wei Jeang came to the United States from her native Taipei, Taiwan when she was 11 years old. She has lived in Dallas, Texas for the past 24 years, where she is a partner in a law firm. In January 2012, Jeang and her husband Keith Mantey bought historic Gwin’s Lodge, a cherished landmark since the 1950s located in Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula. A former client and friend told the couple about Gwin’s when he learned they were looking for vacation or investment property in Alaska. After checking out the lovely five acres in the middle of the Chugach National Forest and immediately falling in love with the lodge and surrounding area, they made an offer a few days later and it was accepted.


Gwin’s had been closed down for about a year, and it became apparent that the log roadhouse should be gutted, with the plumbing, electrical, floors, equipment and fixtures replaced. All the cabins were fitted out with new bedding and underwent a sorely needed scrubbing down. After a lot of hard work, some of the cabins and the store reopened in June 2012. On the morning of July 11, 2012, the restaurant at Gwin’s had a grand re-opening ribbon cutting ceremony with breakfast, complete with members of the Cooper Landing Chamber. Jeang says it has been gratifying to hear positive feedback from loyal customers who had been coming to Gwin’s for a long time and really missed it, and that they hope to remain open through the winter with reduced hours.


Jeang is unable to be at Gwin’s full time, but travels from Texas to Alaska as needed to tend to business there. Her husband spent about 6 intense months at the lodge this first year, putting the business back in order. The busy couple oversee its operation with the help of their general manager Charlotte Bright, store manager Rob Brashears and kitchen manager Gail Zeisloft. Jeang expresses how extremely honored and privileged she feels to be able to bring this venerable institution back to life. Gwinslodge.wordpress.com carries the fascinating story of the lodge’s history and how things are going with the property now.


Gwin’s features cabins, store and restaurant, open from 6am to 10pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Visitors can also book guides, charters and excursions through Gwin’s Lodge, located at Milepost 52 on the Sterling Highway in Cooper Landing; call (907) 595-1266 or visit gwinslodge.com.

 

Ronna Lindeman Martin has lived all but the first year of her life in Alaska, having moved from Oregon to Ninilchik in 1968 when her father John accepted a teaching job at the local high school. At first, the family rented a 160-acre homestead with cabin. When she was 13 years old, her family of eight purchased a 40-acre section and built a cabin with logs harvested from their property.


During the short summers they fished, dug clams, tended their garden, raised chickens and milked cows…and they had fun! Everything was a family affair from planning the annual moose or sheep hunt to grinding the wheat that Ronna’s mom Delores baked into bread. While being hard working, fun loving and adventurous, John and Delores also taught their children to live off the land. To this day, Ronna holds the coveted title in her family for bagging the largest sheep! She fondly recalls years of weeklong camping trips when her parents taught their children safety skills, survival techniques, how to protect the land and wildlife and how to have fun in the great outdoors. They instilled in their children a great love and respect for the Alaska way of life.


Ronna was on several athletic teams in high school and graduated as valedictorian. She attended U of A Fairbanks where she majored in Education, competed in skiing and cross-country and met her future husband Blair Martin. Although the Lindemans and the Martins were acquainted, Ronna and Blair weren’t close until heartbreak struck both families. Ronna’s older brother was killed in an ATV accident in June of 1986. The next year, Blair’s younger brother was killed in a plane crash while returning from a deer hunt on Kodiak Island. While the two helped each other heal from the loss of a sibling, love began to grow and they married three years later.


Ronna taught school at Eielson AFB and later at Denali Elementary School until their first child was born. Two years later, her husband accepted a teaching position at an Athabascan community school in Sleetmute located 250 miles west of Anchorage and accessible only by bush plane. They lived in a log cabin with no insulation or running water and a wood stove for heat. Toward the end of the school year, Blair’s dad Carrol visited them in the bush…and he arrived with an idea - he wanted to build an RV Park.


Due to the scarcity of campgrounds and the growing popularity of RV travel, tourists and locals alike frequently asked Carrol if they could park their vehicles on his ranch in Kenai while visiting the area. Being quick to recognize an opportunity and scheming a way to get his grandchildren closer to home, Carrol proposed his plan. At the end of the school year, Ronna and Blair moved their family back home to build an RV Park on the Diamond M Ranch.


The Diamond M Ranch RV Park opened in 1997 with 17 sites located in a beautiful stand of spruce trees adjacent to the ranch. Ronna, with her mother-in-law JoAnne’s help, took reservations, kept the books and generally managed the administrative work necessary for the business. She also traveled to Seattle with eight-year-old D.Anne, who was in need of open-heart surgery to correct a valve defect.


Being tenacious and boundlessly energetic, Ronna managed a growing business while her family grew to five children. They learned to raise their own beef, grow their own vegetables and work the ranch and RV Park. The children were home schooled, raised their own 4-H animals, learned to safely explore their surroundings and were given the freedom to discover what nature had to offer.


In 2003, customer demand, creativity, hard work and heart-felt prayers fueled an expansion that transformed the RV Park into a resort with the opening of the Mainstreet Historical Lodge. The outside resembles five turn-of-the-century Alaskan and Yukon Territory buildings built during the Gold Rush era, and inside are four one-bedroom units including a honeymoon suite. The original homestead ranch house was renovated to offer a bed and breakfast experience as well. The full-hook-up RV sites now number nearly 100 and vary from big rig friendly to private, secluded ones. Three generations of Martins offer activities at the Resort including hiking, clamming, salmon potluck dinners, ranch tours, campfire s‘mores and storytelling.


A crushing blow struck Ronna’s family in 2009 when they lost 9-year-old Mathias in a tragic fairgrounds accident. As they desperately dealt with a grief so overwhelming nothing else mattered, friends, relatives and neighbors came together to comfort them and to keep their business running. In time, strong support and a deep and abiding faith in God allowed Ronna and her family to take up their lives again. In the wake of their loss, the family memorialized “Matti” by establishing a non-profit organization called Matti’s Farm to benefit area children.


Last year, their enthusiasm and spirit slowly returning, Ronna and Blair resumed work on another exciting expansion project. The Club House, now under construction in the South Park, will house a new check-in office, store, additional restrooms and showers and two rental units on the 2nd floor. Within the past couple of years, the Resort has been named one of the Top 300 Good Sam Parks, as well as the Kenai/Soldotna Outstanding Business in Tourism, and Alaska Farm Family of the Year. Providing her guests with a great Alaskan experience gives Ronna an immense sense of satisfaction, and although she looks forward to someday passing the day-to-day responsibilities to someone else, she plans always to keep her hand in the business. She’s currently visualizing a frozen water park in the Resort’s future!


One of the things Ronna loves about Alaska is that it remains wild and untamed, and she loves being outside with her two youngest children. While she thrives on the demands of running a business, her greatest source of joy is spending time with Darius and Sonora and sharing their almost daily delights of watching a moose or caribou stroll through their yard, hiking to the river to catch a fresh salmon or ice-skating on their frozen pond. Ronna understands that growing up in Alaska is an honor and a privilege that must not be taken for granted.


All the great goings-on at Diamond M Ranch can be discovered at 48500 Diamond M Ranch Road in Kenai. Call (907) 283-9424, email ronna@diamondmranch.com or visit diamondmranch.com.

 

Cheryle James is a second-generation Alaskan who has lived here most of her life, aside from brief stints in Seattle, Washington and Lincoln, Montana. She was drawn back by the beauty and serenity of her native state because as she puts it, “Mt. Rainier just wasn’t enough mountain for me.” Cheryle grew up in Anchorage, attended college and worked for First National Bank Alaska for many years, ultimately transferring to Cooper Landing in 1986 and continuing as a bank officer. After retirement, she worked at the Cooper Landing Grocery Store in addition to helping her parents through a period of failing health. Cheryle serves on several community boards in Cooper Landing and Soldotna. She owns two motorcycles, one with a sidecar for her Rottweiler! She loves getting out on the beautiful Russian River, renowned for great salmon fishing, although she says the only way she catches fish is if they are suicidal!


Cheryle and her husband (“Wildman”) Jerry got the idea for their business at an annual barbeque, when they bought a bottle of very expensive rum from one of the local businesses and realized they could probably do better. And so Wildman’s was born, starting out as a liquor store and laundromat on Christmas Eve in 1997, with their very first sale made to their carpenter. Wildman’s has since grown to include a convenience store, ice cream, sandwich and espresso shop and taxi/boat shuttle business. You can shower there, get your fishing license, buy propane, RV camp by the day or month and access free Wi-Fi. As one happy patron writes, “I found myself at Wildman’s every single day this summer. You can buy a mug for $9.00 and drink free coffee for the rest of your life. It has every single thing you need between Anchorage and Soldotna.” They also ran a towing company for a time, but decided to close down that operation.


Neither of the James had any previous experience running a retail operation, and give credit for their success to their sales rep, banker and friends for suggestions and training. They also have a great managerial and supervisory team. Cheryle praises their own ability to listen to sound advice and make tough decisions about whether or not a product or service is working. She refers to herself as “an awesome price label scraper” as they learned how to figure out pricing. She says Jerry is the creative person on their team and the mechanic, while she is the one looking at the books and figuring out where the money is spent. Cheryle takes great pride in their business, which is reinforced by many loyal customers who make Wildman’s, located at Mile 47.5 on the Sterling Highway in Cooper Landing, their main stop all year long. Call them at (907) 595-1456 or visit their website at wildmans.org.

 

For more than 25 years, June Arnoldy and her husband Marty have been the hard working proprietors of Summit Lake Lodge, located on the Kenai Peninsula at Mile 45.5 of the Seward Highway. Originally from a small town in Minnesota, when it got too cold there for him, Marty moved to Oregon in 1978 to enjoy the good weather. He found work with a small restaurant chain where he met his lovely wife June. Marty had always dreamed of traveling to Alaska and owning a small lodge. He talked it over with June and she said, “What a great idea! Count me in, but I will be needing a commitment first!” So after a beautiful wedding, Marty and June sold all their belongings and drove up the Alcan Highway to Anchorage (which is a story in itself). Upon arriving in Anchorage in the spring of 1984, they decided the big city was not for them and headed to the Kenai Peninsula.


In May 1985, they saw an ad in the paper that Summit Lake Lodge was for sale, so they took a ride up to look at the place. All that was there at the time was the main log building and it was not in very good shape. Built in the early 1950s by the Hass family, it had seen better days. It had an old John Deer generator that provided a somewhat steady stream of electricity, no telephone, no radio, no TV and a furnace that burned either coal or wood.


Marty and June fell in love with the place and by the time they left that day, they had given their entire life savings down as earnest money and were given 10 days to come up with a 40% down payment (another story in itself). Summit Lake Lodge opened under new management on July 1 that year and the adventure began.


Summit Lake Lodge is an historic log lodge situated on the north shore of the lake, offering comfortably appointed cedar cabins and cozy motel rooms with awe inspiring mountain views. Experienced staff can help tailor your vacation package to fit your schedule, budget and dreams, making it a great home base for exploring the Kenai and Prince William Sound.


Featuring a large fireplace and rustic bar, the main lodge serves as the dining room and gathering place for guests, with a focus on relaxing conversation. Start your day with a delicious breakfast then choose from the many activities in the area. After your day’s adventure, return to the comforts of the main lodge to share your discoveries at cocktail hour, then conclude your day with fine dining and spirits.


For more information contact Summit Lake Lodge at (907) 244-2031, email summitak@aol.com or visit www.summitlakelodge.com.
 

 

Sharon L Romine of Sitka talks about her businesses Creative Connections, Welcome Home Vacations and Welcome Home Auto Rental:


My husband and I, and our teenagers Amy and Dan, first moved to Sitka in November of 1989 by way of Saudi Arabia, where my husband worked at Lockheed Aircraft and I ran a scuba diving and travel business. Fragments of snow lay on the frozen ground and a strong wind met me as I exited the airport. Having just left 90+ degrees, the cold, biting wind made me wonder if I’d lost my mind. The next morning, however, I fell in love with Sitka.


Fast forward to today: I currently own three businesses. Creative Connections is my original umbrella company. Welcome Home Vacations is my home management division, and my third is Welcome Home Auto Rental. My main focus is online publishing and marketing: bringing people to the website so they can see the many beautiful residential homes in Sitka that are so much better than staying in a motel. But, I did not get here in one easy step.


Within a couple years after arriving in Sitka, I looked around to see what kind of business I could start. One thing I noticed was that grocery store owners had to scramble to get their ads into the daily paper on time, as Sitka did not have a weekly advertiser. I set out to create a weekly paper that would be easy for owners to advertise in. Response was great, so in 1992 I started Creative Connections with my free weekly paper The Sitka Soup. Supported by advertising, it became very popular, expanding to over 3,000 prints a week. I had The Sitka Soup for 9 years, but it had become larger than what I wanted, so I sold the paper while keeping Creative Connections for future publishing and marketing endeavors.


My husband has always been there for support. I don’t know what I would have done without him. No matter how tight money got, and it did get very tight many times, he never once complained or suggested I get a “real” job. His trust in my ability and his recognition that I would not be happy working under someone else’s rules meant a lot to me then and still does. Now semi-retired, he is very involved in the business, assisting in the day-to-day operations.


Since 2003, we have grown to encompass three dozen homes, managing over 300 reservations. The main key has been automation and online technology; with my booking system we can take a reservation, accept payment, send confirmation and directions to the house to the guest and send notification to the owner, all in less than five minutes.


I love walking through a home and envisioning guests spending their time with friends and family, sharing a home cooked meal in the fully furnished kitchen – or making that little tweak, like placing a lamp so a guest can read in bed, or moving a table to just the right spot for enjoying coffee with a sunrise or sunset view. Business is business and you have to make a profit, but in the end it’s all about people having a wonderful trip and the connections made along the way that makes it truly worthwhile.


Sharon can be reached at sharon@sitkatravel.com or www.sitkatravel.com; (907) 747-4712 or (907) 738-0176; (800) 750-4712 or 2821 Halibut Point Road (PO Box 1841) Sitka, Alaska 99835.



My mom Rosemary Libert arrived in Skagway in 1982 after graduating from Boston College with a fine arts degree. She had worked as a park ranger near her childhood home in Valley Forge National Park, and feeling that jobs in Yellowstone National Park were too competitive, accepted a ranger position on the Chilkoot Trail in no-man’s-land Alaska instead.


It wasn’t long before she met my dad Karl Klupar, who like a lot of people, landed in Skagway through much chance and happenstance.  They made quite the duo, he working for Holland America managing their hotels and she running the hotel gift shop and bartending on the side.  One thing led to another and as you know, up here when it comes to men, the odds are GOOD but the goods are ODD.  They are still married after 30 years so he can’t be all that bad.


Two events occurred in the subsequent years that kept our family in Skagway. The gift store my mom artistically managed for the Westmark was actually a thriving native art gallery that sold rare sculptures from Eskimos off St. Laurence Island and authentic Chilkat blankets from coastal Indians in Southeast Alaska (in 1985, these blankets valued at $50,000 to $100,000). She felt it was time to expand and decided to lease an historic building next door on 4th Avenue and Broadway. In 1993, Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods opened for business, a welcome addition to Skagway’s bourgeoning art community. Her store raised the standard in visual appeal, quality and experience for travelers coming to Alaska who thought that all people did here was hunt, fish and sleep in igloos.  Her gallery continues to decorate people’s homes and warm their hearts in a way that can only be described as magical.


My dad’s boss at the Westmark considered this expansion a conflict of interest and asked him to step down as hotel manager. So my parents purchased the Historic Skagway Inn just down the street on 7th Avenue and Broadway After several artistic remodels, the property developed into a Victorian-era brothel-turned-B&B, the cozy garden restaurant Olivia’s, a culinary catering business for cruise passengers, and a second fine arts gallery. Also on Broadway midway between the two locations in an 1890s storefront, Brackett’s Trading Post offers Native art and jewelry.


With five kids and six businesses, my mom certainly keeps busy. The day might find her cooking breakfast for Inn guests at 6 am, laughing with visitors at a gallery, steaming king crab legs or writing new business plans. Not only is she a beautiful example to her only daughter of what it means to be a strong, independent and original woman, she is also a proud model for women all over Alaska with her courage, drive and persistent sense of wonder for this grand state.


Rosemary and her businesses can be reached at (907) 983-2289 for the Inn, (907) 983-3034 for Lynch & Kennedy and (907) 983-2600 for Brackett’s.



Rie Muñoz
has been one of Alaska’s most popular artists ever since she disembarked from an Inside Passage cruise ship in 1950, instantly fell in love with Juneau and told herself if she could find employment and a place to live that day, she would cancel the rest of the trip and stay. She succeeded on both counts and began working as a cartoonist and women’s page editor for the Juneau Empire Newspaper.


Born Marie Mounier in 1921 to Dutch parents living in California, Rie spent much of her young life traveling between the US and Holland, where her father was a journalist and partner in a business magazine. In 1939, when Holland was on the brink of German occupation, she was sent back to the US with her younger brother; her parents were unable to escape until 1946. Rie completed a year of high school, then joined her older brother in Hollywood where she began decorating windows in a dime store to make ends meet.


On the first leg of a drastically under funded trip around the world with a friend, Rie joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944 and was assigned to Special Services, studying art at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. While in transit to European duty, the War ended and she had the good fortune to spend the next couple of years in the Bavarian Alps winter resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Once there, Rie was able to make her way into Holland to find her parents, and discovered her father had used his printing press connections to forge food ration cards for other families hiding Jews during the War, and her mother had made 100-mile nighttime bicycle journeys into the countryside to bring back potatoes.


Soon after taking up residence in Juneau, Rie met geologist Juan Muñoz and they married in 1951. In order to put together a prospecting grubstake, the couple took teaching positions with Alaska Native schools in the bush. One of Rie’s favorite assignments was teaching Inupiat Eskimo children in the Bering Sea settlement of King Island. No longer inhabited, the isolated island was a 13-hour voyage by walrus-skin boat from Nome. The King Island Journal details Rie and Juan’s experiences there. Her playful illustrations adorn King Island Christmas, a children’s book by Jean Rogers, as well as numerous other publications.


After returning to the Juneau area, Rie and her husband spent the next decade prospecting and working short-term contracts. Twin sons were born in 1955, but kidney disease claimed the life of one of the boys in his third year. Eventually realizing that their marriage was no longer working, they divorced in 1963 and Rie embraced the full time commitment to rearing her son Juan.


Rie has lived in many small Alaska communities and traveled the state extensively, holding a variety of jobs including journalist, author, teacher, museum curator, illustrator, cartographer, muralist and artist. Devoting herself full time to her art since 1972, she has produced thousands of delightful watercolor paintings and published over 500 images as signed and numbered lithographs, silkscreen prints and posters.


Located in Juneau, the Rie Muñoz Gallery is a 3500 square foot venue managed by her son and filled top to bottom with her original paintings, published artwork, tapestries and stained glass. The gallery can be reached at (907) 789-7449. The University of Alaska-Juneau awarded Rie an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities Degree in 1999. She has also seen three major collections of her work published.


At 90, Rie has finally ‘put down her brushes’ as her eyesight and steady hands are not what they used to be. She is happy as a clam however, staying busy with family, travel, writing her memoirs and painting an occasional watercolor of her five-year-old grandson Matthew.


Korean-born Lee Cho immigrated in 1987 to the US, where she met her husband Hoon in Seattle. The couple decided to see what Alaska had to offer and in 1994 they settled in Valdez. First on the agenda was opening the Fu Kung Restaurant, located near the waterfront at 207 Kobuk Street.  In 2003, master carpenter Hoon seriously remodeled the location’s Quonset hut structure. From the open feel of arched interior windows and plentiful Asian and Alaskan details, to the friendly staff, unsurpassed cleanliness and excellent Mandarin, Szechuan, Thai and sushi menu, the licensed and roomy premises is popular with locals and visitors.


Mike’s Palace had been another Valdez favorite for about forty years when the owner decided to retire to Greece. The Chos saw an opportunity to expand their restauranteering and purchased the building, opening in 2010 after remodeling the location over the course of a year. Located at 201 North Harbor Drive by the small boat harbor, their menu includes fresh seafood, steaks, Italian fare and pizza, Greek and Mexican dishes. Wine and local ales are also available and the walls sport old Valdez newspapers for your historical reading enjoyment. Mike’s can be reached at (907) 835-2365 and Fu Kung at (907) 835-5255.


Over the years, Lee and her husband have come to love the beautiful Valdez area and its inhabitants; as Lee says, “All the townspeople are like family!”


Michelle (Mickey) Meyer
has experienced the good fortune to live in Alaska, marry into a great family and develop a career she loves at Meyer’s Muffler City and Brake in Anchorage.


Mickey was born in Italy where her dad was stationed with the Air Force, moving to Alaska from Oklahoma 43 years ago. Working retail while still in high school, she went on to manage high-end women’s boutiques then worked at Nordstrom for 12 years.
In 1982 Mickey went on a blind date with Al Meyers. They dated for years, marrying in 1991 and quickly starting their family: Lily attends UAA while working at Nordstrom.  AJ works at Muffler City and starts at UAA this fall. Olivia is a junior in high school and works part time at the shop, and Christian is a freshman at the same high school. When the kids were young, Mickey worked with her father at his company, Ray’s Pro Shop & Sports Marketing.


Since 2000 she’s worked with her husband in the business his family has now owned for 60 years. Mickey’s mother-in-law Marge Meyers describes how her brother-in-law talked her and husband Al into going to Alaska a few weeks after they were married, to work all summer in construction and save enough money to pay for tuition. It was the first time Marge had been out of California and it wasn’t quite as fun as she expected it to be! In 1953 jobs were very hard to come by but the three of them found work, planning to return to California in a year. Their plans changed when Al decided Anchorage really needed an auto parts store, so with only $4000 between them, they opened their first buisness. Marge brought her baby to work every day and filled the shelves with empty boxes to make it look like they had some merchandise.  A few years later they moved locations and also opened an engine shop, eventually owning nine stores throughout Alaska. For a few years Marge did payroll for over 60 employees by herself, by hand. Consolidating to one store in 1987, they have been operating out of it for the past 25 years. With an eye on slowly retiring, the Meyers are happy to have their youngest son Al and his wife Mickey in charge of Muffler City.


Mickey says, “I love selling tires and chrome wheels, it’s like a brand new pair of shoes for a car! I also love that I get to remain very family oriented. Muffler City is more of a lifestyle then a job!


Meyer’s Muffler City and Brake is located at 105 W. 5th Ave. in Anchorage; (907) 279-0408.
 

 

Wanda Vandergriff and her husband Darrell heard the call “North to Alaska” in 1975, sold their home in El Centro, California and packed their children Dawn (age 4 ½) and Ty (age 1 ½) along with all they could carry into their truck and trailer, and headed for the Last Frontier. They didn’t have jobs lined up and had no idea what they would find, but knew it was best for their family to venture out and make a new, exciting life!


They traveled by ferry from Prince Rupert, BC up the Inside Passage, but were unable to make their first port call at Ketchikan due to a slight ship mishap there the previous day, unaware they would eventually call Ketchikan their home. They continued sailing through Southeast Alaska, eventually coming to rest in Eagle River near Wasilla where they stayed for several months at the Eklutna Campground.


At first they didn’t know their travel trailer wasn’t built for Alaskan winters or how much they hadt to learn! They wrapped the pipes with heat tape and skirted it with styrofoam, but the walls were so thin and under insulated, Wanda had to hold a lighter to the door knob to defrost it so she could get the door open to go to work.


In 1977, Darrell was offered a job with General Telephone Company on Annette Island, a Native reservation south of Ketchikan. The couple loved living there and have many fond memories, but eventually knew it was time to make a permanent home. They moved to Ketchikan, bought land and built a house where they still live 30 years later, having added onto it several times.


In 1986, they decided to outfit their apartments and change them into Almost Home Vacation Rentals, finding that fishermen enjoy having a place to relax and a well-appointed kitchen to cook their catch and share fishing stories. Wanda housed clients for one charter operator, then in order to fill the openings between his groups, joined with her friend Linda Ruhl to form North Tongass Bed & Breakfast, sharing reservations for each other’s differently situated properties.


Ketchikan Reservation Service (907-247-5337; www.ketchikan-lodging.com) evolved in 1996 from the realization tha

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