Why don’t more residents know about Anchorage’s flag?

Alaska, Audio, News, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

It’s bright yellow and only flown in only a couple spots around the city. Few people have probably seen Anchorage’s municipal flag, but it plays an important role in the city’s symbolism. Victoria Petersen has the story.

At Anchorage’s public library, the geese are returning from winter, and people are shuffling in and out of the newly renovated building. Abigail Ash comes here two, to three times a week, always passing by the library’s three large flagpoles.

“I noticed the flag, but I didn’t know what it stood for. My daughter’s even come here and they’re like ‘what’s that?’ It’s like ‘I have no clue’,”

Ash is referring to the municipal flag, which flies next to the U.S. flag and the state flag at the library.

Most people don’t notice it, or know what it stands for. Don Burgman also frequents the library about twice a week.

“I look at the flags, all three of them, and occasionally I notice they’re at half mast and I’m curious about why. But I never noticed it was the city flag. Now that I know that I’ll appreciate it,”

The library and museum are among the few places in Anchorage where you can see the flag flying in the wind. Both Burgman and Ash agree that Anchorage needs a city flag, and that they’d like to see it around more.

“Oh yeah sure, we need a flag,”

“It stands for us,”

The flag features the municipal seal, designed with Captain Cook’s ship the Resolution, a nod to the explorer’s history with Anchorage. It has a large anchor and a small airplane to symbolize Anchorage as a port and as the air crossroads of the world. The seal sits on a field of bright yellow, and the words Anchorage, Alaska adorn the top and the bottom of the seal.

Ted Kaye is a vexillologist, which means he studies the design of flags. Kaye lives in Portland and is the secretary for the North American Vexillological Association He says poorly designed city flags are flown less. Which may explain why few Anchorage residents recognize their flag.

“I like to say that in every bad flag design, there’s a good flag design trying to get out. Anchorage’s flag is no exception. It has great imagery, an anchor for Anchorage is just super. But writing the words Anchorage, Alaska on the flag, in a sense, shows that Anchorage is insecure about its symbolism.”

Kaye has written numerous books about flag design, including one about the history and design of 150 different city flags across the nation. He says his researchers found nearly nothing gathering information about Anchorage’s flag page.

“We know what the design represents, but we didn’t know who had designed it or exactly when. That was just not available to our researchers when we contacted Anchorage.”

After reaching out to the museum, the Mayor’s office and the library, it was discovered that Anchorage artist Joan Kimura was the original designer. A long time artist in Anchorage, Kimura taught art at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and formerly the Anchorage Community College from 1973 to 1994. The UAA Kimura Art Gallery is named in her family’s honor.

Kimura submitted an acrylic painting of her flag design for a contest the city was having in 1973. It’s almost exactly the same as the flag flying at the museum and the library today.

In 1975, in a Anchorage Assembly resolution, the seal design from the flag was adopted as the official seal for the city of Anchorage, the same seal the municipality uses today.

Thorne Bay, Wrangell, Wasilla, Homer, Houston and Ketchikan are a handful of other cities in Alaska that have official flags. North Pole features Santa Claus on their flag. Seward’s flag was chosen in 2016 from a contest that featured art from over 350 schoolchildren.

Some might ask why a city flag is important. Kaye says flags can be used for people to identify with and to rally around.

“City flags look both inward and outward. Inward they create a sense of identity to tie the residents together and help define who they are. Outward a flag creates a brand to represent the city to the outside world.

Residents see the municipal seal everywhere, from liquor licenses, to ballots, to the sides of municipal vehicles. However, spotting it flying is far rarer.

In Anchorage, I’m Victoria Petersen

Reception mixed on ASD proposal to switch school start times around

Alaska, Audio, News

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

The Anchorage School District is considering a huge change. The district is looking at implementing new school start times, with elementary schools starting earlier and high schools later.

The district held a series of open houses recently to educate the community and hear feedback.

At the first open house for school start times, poster boards are set up on tables inside Lake Hood Elementary. Parents, teachers and community members were gathered around tables, talking with school district personnel about the potential start time changes.

Pamela Witwere, a parent and a teacher at Gladdyswood elementary school, says she’s worried about the potential change.

“I have major concerns because my kids aren’t early risers, and many of the families that I work with, none of their kids are early risers,” Witwere said. “So these aren’t kids that are up at 6 a.m. They struggle to get to school at 9 as it is,”

Witwere isn’t alone. Nearly every parent and teacher interviewed at the open house expressed similar concerns.

The school district is proposing the change in an effort to improve attendance, reduce tardiness and increase graduation rates. The school district cites national research that suggests middle schoolers and high schoolers do better with later start times and and younger students benefit from starting earlier.

Anchorage School District superintendent Deena Bishop says the open houses are an opportunity to gather input about the new start times.

“This change isn’t as simple as just change the start time and everybody will be happy. The entire community is nearly affected, so we wanted to be sure that we data sourced it,” Bishop said.

Bishop says she recognizes that switching elementary schools to an earlier start time will not be easy and she understands the change would ripple throughout the community. Childcare is a big issue — making sure daycare providers are able to adjust their schedules to match the school district. Bishop says the district would hope to tackle that issue through partnerships with local nonprofits.

“We would never want a parent to be stressed from just having a family, and running a family, and getting to work on time, and getting to school and back and forth, and getting food on the table. All those things are real life worries and actions for our families, so we wouldn’t want the school to put extra stress on families,” Bishop said.

The school district is proposing four scenarios, one of which is no change to the schedule at all. The other scenarios have high schoolers starting at 8:30 am or after, and the elementary students starting no later than 7:45 am.

Last year, a student created an online petition that urged the school district to study later school start times for high schoolers. The petition gathered thousands of signatures and pushed the school district to hire Western Demographics to study the issue.

Shannon Bingham is leading the research team. He says it’s clear high schoolers benefit from later start times. But the research isn’t as conclusive on elementary kids starting earlier.

“So as far as the quantity of research that’s out there, there’s significantly less. So some of the minority opinions and some of the more recent research is saying earlier start times are not necessarily good for elementary school children either.”

But Bingham says the research they conducted on elementary students showed that younger children who had to wake up earlier weren’t negatively impacted.  .

Jose Lopez attended the Lake Hood open house with his wife and three children. He thinks it would be hard for elementary kids to make the switch.

“I have three kids that attend school early. I kind of have a hard time making the younger kids start earlier than the older kids,” Lopez said.

The Anchorage School District says the comments received so far have been mixed. Parents of middle and high school students tend to be in favor of the change, while parents of elementary students are not.

The Anchorage School Board will make a decision later this year, and any change will be implemented in the 2019-2020 school year.

AK: The sweet traditions of Russian Orthodox Easter

Alaska, Audio, food, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media

Scraping the sides of the bowl, Abby Slater is forming a dough of milk, sugar, yeast and flour. It’s Slater’s first time making Easter bread. She’s observed and helped her Aleut family make it many times before though.

“My earliest memory of Easter bread was actually later in life because we didn’t reconnect with my aunt until I was a little bit older,” Slater said. “She was the one who had the recipe for the Easter bread. My grandma died before I was born, my native grandma, my kukax. So she didn’t get to pass that along to us grandkids,”

The recipe her aunt uses is the same the family has been using for generations. Originally from Kashega, a small village near Dutch Harbor, Slater’s family traditionally used dried berries and candied fruits in their Easter bread.

“It’s interesting hearing all the different variations of it because at the end of the day, it’s just a bread recipe, right? We talk about things about how some people put berries in it, or candied fruit,” Slater said. “That’s the version I grew up with. And other people are like ‘that’s not how you make it.’ And other people frost it, and in my mind I’m like ‘that’s not how you make it.’ But that is how people make it, it’s just not what I grew up with, you know?”

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage. (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Diane Chris says that the Easter bread in Prince William Sound is elaborately decorated. She’s a Matushka — priest’s wife — at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox church in Anchorage.

“On Easter, when you’re in a church, I’ve been in the churches, they’re small in the Sound. I’ve been there, and you’re fasting, and all you can smell is this sweet kulich, and the frostings and it’s just amazing,” Chris said. “Normally they put a candle on the top of them, and it’s lit for the blessing. It’s very festive.”

Easter bread, also known as kulich, is a decadent, egg-rich, dairy-rich, yeast-risen bread. Mother Capitolina, the only nun at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox church in Anchorage, says the bread symbolizes Easter.

“We’re doing everything we have fasted from: butter, eggs. Now it’s the resurrection,” Mother Capitolina said.

Chris helps make food for a bake sale the church is having. She says the bread is baked in coffee tins, representing the tomb Jesus resurrected from.

Traditionally, Easter bread is made by women and is a skill mothers pass down to daughters.

Every year, St. Innocent church has an annual bake sale where church members bake Easter bread, fry bread, piroshkis, pirok and other traditional foods. The money from the sale goes to their church and is open to the public.

“We have lots of people throughout the state that have grown up with the bread, from the villages,” Chris said. “They have different types of breads that they’re used to, so we have a variety here that are baked by the ladies of the church.”

It’s not just the Alaska Russian Orthodox population that enjoys the tradition of Easter Bread. Chris says that St. Innocent’s annual bake sale is always the Saturday before unorthodox Easter.

“We try to do it prior to everybody else’s Easter, because they like it for their Easter,” Chris said. “It’s become a tradition for a lot of people who aren’t necessarily orthodox.”

There are over 50,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska, and 49 parishes set up across the state. The first Russian Orthodox Church established in Alaska was on Kodiak Island in 1795. Many of these Russian Orthodox churches are baking Easter bread in mass quantities; some are even shipping it.

St. Tikhon, another Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage, also sells Easter bread. Via their Facebook page, St. Tikhon takes orders for Easter bread and sometimes ships to villages across Alaska.

The bread is blessed on Easter Sunday by members of the Russian Orthodox church and then shared with the congregation. Easter bread is only eaten by the Russian Orthodox between Easter and Pentecost, which is 49 days after Easter.

Slater isn’t Russian Orthodox, but the making of Easter bread ties her to her Alaska Native family.

“I feel really connected, I guess,” Slater said. “Maybe that sounds silly ‘cause it’s just bread. But I feel like I’m participating in something– It’s kind of the way that I feel when I cook anything that’s an old recipe. You just feel like you’re part of something that’s older than you, and bigger than you.”

Alaska Railroad’s first Black conductor celebrates unprecedented 50 years with company

Alaska, Audio, News, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

Harry Ross started moving trains when he was 21. Fifty years later, he’s still transporting passengers and freight by rail across the state.

“I do not believe there has ever been nobody as foolish as I,” Ross said.

It wasn’t a job Ross expected to get, and it wasn’t the job he originally hoped for. After graduating from East High School in 1964, Ross worked as a mess attendant at Elmendorf Air Force Base. His mom wanted more for him and sent him to college in San Francisco. After dropping out of school, Ross applied for two jobs, one with Western Airlines, now Delta, and one with the Alaska Railroad.

“I didn’t have the education to be a brakeman or a trainman period. I never thought about the railroad my whole life,” Ross said. “Growing up through high school I never thought about working at the railroad in no way, shape or form.”

Ross has been the number one conductor at the Alaska Railroad for over half of his career.

“I’ve been number one so long, like I said, I’ve even forgotten how long I’ve been number one,” Ross said.

Having the highest seniority among conductors comes with some perks. Ross says he gets the first pick of routes and vacation time.

“Everybody salutes you, like, ‘hey number one.’ They don’t call you Harry Ross they say ‘hey number one,’ and you know, that’s pretty interesting and fun,” Ross said.

The workplace wasn’t always so friendly towards Ross. As the first minority trainman hired by the company, Ross says he was met with opposition almost immediately.

“I had a lot of people that I worked with, that did not want to work with me only because of the color of my skin,” Ross said. “And, of course, that didn’t bother me because I’ve always been a people person and I figured one way or another I was gonna win them over. One by one I did, and there were some, of course, I didn’t. And it’s not gonna change those people that’s just the way they are.”

In his time at the railroad, Ross has seen the company go from federally owned to state owned. He says safety is a higher priority and the trains are more heavily regulated. Ross says the best change the railroad implemented in his 50 years is the Alaska Railroad Tour Guide program. The program began in 1980 and is open to high school juniors and seniors enrolled in the Anchorage School District.

“Well, basically it gives the kids a chance to get into the job market,” Ross said. “I enjoy working with these kids because everybody’s energetic and they really love what they’re doing.”

Jon Mobley was a tour guide in 2009 and worked at the railroad in multiple positions, including conductor, until 2017. Mobley says after years of mentoring under Ross, they’re like family now.

“He taught me a lot when I was in the tour guide program, just as a tour guide, and he taught me even more when I climbed the ladder and finally became a conductor. He’s been very crucial to my time at the railroad,” Mobley said.

Ross says he plans to retire at the end of the summer.

“I don’t know how it’s going to feel when I have to say goodbye. I know eventually it’s going to come,” Ross said. “I don’t want to die on the job. I want to enjoy some of my life that I have left, but I can say that I will truly miss what I have been doing the last 50 years.”

Ross says he plans on writing a memoir about his life growing up in Alaska and his time working on the railroad.

49 Voices: Erynn Bell

Alaska, Audio, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

BELL: I went back to Ohio a few years ago to clean out my grandfather’s house, who was a semi-hoarder. It was just really interesting to go through all of his belongings and see how wonderfully made these older items were. It seems like nowadays, a lot of the decor, a lot of the furniture is disposable furniture that’s meant to last a few years. Whereas a lot of the furniture that I see at the store now and that I’d seen at his house may be 100 years old, but it’s still in great shape, because it was built to last.

Anchorage is very transient community. So people move in and out of state, and can’t always take their furniture with them, even if it was just purchased a couple years ago. So, we have a lot of really nice used furnishings and a lot of fun vintage decor. It’s a very eclectic, I guess is the way to describe it.

There’s always something new coming in every single day and it’s just amazing to see what people in this town in their homes or in their storage units that they are cleaning out. The whole point of Rethink Home is to rethink what is beautiful. Just because it’s used does not mean it’s not beautiful.

49 Voices: Ylli Ferati

Alaska, Audio, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media

FERATI: When I first got into it, I got thrown behind the bar, and people come in, they order whiskey and ask you questions of how does it taste, what do you think, this and that. I didn’t like whiskey at first, so throughout the days, I just started trying different things and came across a certain bottle, the Balvanie, and decided, “Wow, I really like this stuff.” It took me a while.

A couple years ago, say about five years ago, I had a guy from Diageo come in, and he was a master of whiskey. And he walked into the bar with their reps, and he takes a stop and he looks left and right.And the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t believe this is in a neighborhood bar in Spenard.

People come now and they want to try new things. I do classes and stuff like that. They just love it; they want to learn. They love to learn. And that’s kinda propelled my whiskey knowledge.

As far as I know, nobody’s ever came to say [otherwise], but we have the biggest whiskey collection in Alaska. I was just put in a Thrillist arcticle for top whiskey bar in the state. Pretty honorable. It’s still growing, there’s bottles added every week.

We want you to relax, enjoy, have a good time. Especially if you’re at the bar. Meeting my regulars, and everybody… it makes the bar seem fun. It makes my job fun to ee everybody else happy.

49 Voices: Hannah Dorough

Alaska, Audio, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Public Media

Dorough: I really enjoy having a flip phone. I lost it on an airplane and I had to get a different phone, but they didn’t sell the Razrs anymore, because everyone moved into the smartphone era. So I had to go to GCI and I got one of those drug dealer phones that are prepaid, and you put $50 on them every month and you drop them in the garbage bin when you’re done, and move on with life.


So now I have a different black, shiny flip phone that is not a Razr. But I recently dropped it down like, 15 different stairs and it hit each one on the way down. And it survived perfectly fine. A lot of people like it because they think it’s like a throwback. And they always want to play on it. And they ask if I have games. I don’t have games.

And then some people really don’t like it, and they tell me multiple, multiple, multiple times in conversation that I need to get a different phone. I’m like no, shush.

People keep telling me I need to get Snapchat. I don’t want to get Snapchat. I don’t want Instagram. I don’t want these things. They sound so complicated.

49 Voices: Carolina Vidal

Alaska, Audio, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Public Media

VIDAL: At first I started calling myself a word I made up — “Piñateur” — which is silly because it has some Spanish and French, but now I’m just the owner of The Piñata Shop.

Almost a year ago, my now-seven-year-old was about to turn seven, and she asked me for a Trolls-themed birthday party. And she doesn’t have to twist my arm to make a party. I enjoy parties a lot. I was an event and wedding planner in Mexico and I worked doing the same in New Jersey. I knew I wasn’t going to find it in Anchorage, because I knew when I’d seen piñatas before. I think I know piñatas; I’d been around them all my life. Usually, by the time the second kid hits it, it’s broken in pieces, and I thought they were very fragile and not very well made.

So I told her, “I’m going to make you a piñata. And she want the cloud guy. She wanted the cloud to rain candy once it was broken. And I gave it a shot, and I loved how it turned. And that was the beginning of it.


I wanted to do something different, so I went for a salmon, a humpy salmon. And I loved how it turned out, and my husband, the Alaska guy, was very proud. He took a picture of me holding the salmon piñata and sent it to all his relatives. And our neighbors and friends started looking at what I was doing, and I started getting orders from them.

I’ve seen them being whacked and people ask me, “doesn’t it hurt to see your work, and those hours invested in them, just being whacked.” And I say no. I thought it was going to be like that, but I’m excited for the kids. I’m like, “Get it! Harder! Come on, Johnny! Come on Lulu! Come on, go for it!” That’s nice for me to make their very first piñata and I have people coming back to me and asking for more.