Final Update on StoryCorps Unalaska!

Our "homemade" sign by the lovely Kristine.

Our "homemade" sign by the lovely Kristine.

Well, the Alaska Initiative of StoryCorps has officially ended.  Our equipment is boxed up, ready for shipment, and we are finishing up the paperwork that needs to accompany the last recordings.  A little snafu with the mailing – apparently for the way we want to mail the boxes, we should have used paper tape instead of reinforced tape.  Well…I am sure Kristine will get to the bottom of this!

We recorded 119 stories in Unalaska and Akutan.  That was 14 more than our official quota of 105.  When Kristine and I were first training, we thought that 105 was a number that we would surpass in a matter of weeks!  How wrong we were.  I have to give credit to my partner – the best – Kristine King – for her tenacity in enticing folks into the recording seats – week after week and month after month. 

The one and only!

The one and only!

We want to give a big thank you to KUCB, our partner in crime, who agreed to accept local recordings for editing and broadcast.  We thank the director and staff of the Unalaska City Library, for agreeing to be a local repository for the recordings, and for allowing us to use the Alaskana Room, on occasion, for recordings.  We are thankful for all of the help from April Pelkey and Darryl Pelkey in setting up our recordings in Akutan.  A huge THANK YOU to the groups who allowed us access and use of the AA room at the Burma Road Chapel.  Without your generousity of the use of the site, our goals would have been much harder to obtain.  We appreciate each and every minute that we spent there.  (Can you believe that on the last night of recording, we ran behind schedule, and actually were still there recording when our time ran out?  And we had such a perfect record!)  The use of the room was also a surprise icebreaker, as folks peeked their heads in the door, expecting an impromtu intervention.  Thanks for the laughs and the thought provoking decor.

MS

We thank our families for allowing us the freedom to take on this important project.  Especially, kids, grandkids, and husbands.  We thank our families, also, for those guilt and pity recordings that helped get us off to a great start!!  We thank Dave Isay and all of the staff at StoryCorps for hiring and working with us…yes we know we were a little unorthodox, but we can blame that on me and my bad influence on Kristine!  We met some incredible people through this project.  A huge shout out and thanks to the Unalaska blogging community for taking on the StoryCorps challenge early on in the project!

Last, and certainly not least, we thank each storyteller and their partner for braving the unknown and facing those obnoxious, intimidating microphones!  Thanks also for allowing Kristine and I the opportunity to get to know you a little better.  The tag line for StoryCorps is that listening is an act of love, and I have to say that our bonds to this community are even stronger (as if they weren’t strong before) for having been given your gifts of stories.

Kristine King, the strongarm, and Sharon Svarny-Livingston, the databaser.

We’re Home!

Just a quick update. Kristine and I went to the community potluck last night and enjoyed the company and the wide variety of food.  I think we ate a little too much.  It was wonderful.  Vera Pelkey’s fish pie was delicious.  April made some great corn muffins (we got to swipe a few for our breakfast this morning) and a beautiful angel food cake with salmonberry glaze.  Plus, many other dishes.  Our offering was salmon spread with crackers, and tangerines and apples.  Needless to say, our tummies and taste buds were quite satisfied.

We got a call a 8:30 this morning from Demetri Tcheripanoff, Sr. that Penair was planning to have a plane over before 10.  We hauled our luggage down to the boardwalk, Demetri picked it up with the four wheeler.  I must say, Kristine must have a really lop-sided idea about flying in the Goose.  Both the trip over and the trip back were on flawless days.  The water was glassy smooth again!  We landed in Dutch Harbor (yes, the water) and had Kristine home by 10:30 to see Maxman, Joe, and Mamma for Easter.

Great trip.  Wonderful people in Akutan.  Good to be home.  So far my hubbie is happy!

My Dad said, according to my husband….

According to my husband, in the highly competitive contest to guess the departure date and time of Kristine and Sharon from Akutan, my Dad said that there is always the Tustemena.  It will arrive in Akutan on April 18!!!  Thanks, Dad.  Kristine and I were happy to hear that, because that would mean that we would be back in time to record Mom’s story before you guys head out for vacation!  Ha!

Zoya Johnson, talking with my Dad, Sam Svarny, at the StoryCorps opening reception.

Zoya Johnson, talking with my Dad, Sam Svarny, at the StoryCorps opening reception.

When Kristine and I started working for StoryCorps, after training, Kristine came home with the equipment and I stayed in Anchorage to record at AFN.  Kristine’s mother was in Unalaska so Kristine and her mother, Carol, were the first Unalaska StoryCorps conversation.

Grandmother and Mom, Carol King with the real Batman.

Grandmother and Mom, Carol King with the real Batman.

Kristine and I feel that it is appropriate that my mother be the last Unalaska StoryCorps conversation.  So Mom, get your stories ready.  We’ve  got our listening ears on!

Gert Svarny at the StoryCorps Unalaska opening reception.

Gert Svarny at the StoryCorps Unalaska opening reception.

Whoops!

Trying to look out at our gorgeous view this morning.

Trying to look out at our gorgeous view this morning.

Oh dear!  Our 11 AM fight is not looking too good right now.  I am letting Kristine sleep….maybe she won’t notice what is going on outside her door!!  We are becoming very good at creating meals out of our weirdly paired supplies.  Kristine learned a new way of fixing salmon spread.  We just added horseradish.  It was delish.  It is funny how we think about food so much over here!  And appreciate it.

The wind is not too strong.  The visibility is the problem.

The wind is not too strong. The visibility is the problem.

We’ll go for a hike today if the snow is not hitting our eyes too hard.  When we were walking Wednesday night we had to turn back because it hurt too much!  We both love walking on the boardwalk.

With my admiration….

My visit to Akutan has been a lot of fun.  The stories we have gotten so far have been great.  There has been a lot of joking about who has a story and who doesn’t.  I swear, everyone we talk to tries to point us in another direction by saying “I know who you should talk to…”

This morning we facilitated the much awaited conversation between April Dawn Pelkey and her husband Demetri Tcheripanoff.  (Thank you April and Demetri, so much for coming in and allowing us to hear your story.)

April and Demetri with me during their StoryCorps conversation.

April and Demetri with me during their StoryCorps conversation.

After laughing (trying not to make any noise) and crying and laughing again, and watching April interact with her husband, and hearing about her life, it really got me in a pensive, thinking mood.    I started recalling the stories from Hugh, Darryl, Joe, and then April, Demetri, and Christopher Tcheripanoff this afternoon, and I was overwhelmed by admiration for the love of place that was revealed in all of the conversations.  As someone who believes, to the depth of my soul, that the best place on earth is the Aleutian Islands, and that I belong no where else, it was humbling to find the same sentiments here on Akutan Island.  It is uplifting to know that everyone has worked so hard to keep Akutan vibrant and growing.  And equally important that there are Unangax of the “young generation” stepping up to the plate to carry on the work and traditions.  Believe me, if I wore a hat (which I can’t because I look really stupid in them) my hat would be off to this community.

Helloooo from Akutan!

Kristine and I had an absolutely perfect flight on the Penair Grumman Goose from Unalaska to Akutan.  It was so smooth that Kristine’s window didn’t even get wet in the water landing.  Pilot Steve Hakala is one of the best anyways.  I told Kristine that I really didn’t know that many people in Akutan, but it seems that everyone we saw, I knew!  April came to meet our plane, (Akutan- Village Life on the Rocks for you blog followers) then got us checked into our rooms at the Akutan Bayview Hotel.  Dimitri Tcheripanioff brought our bags and equipment on a 4 wheeler which was very much appreciated.

An absolutely beautiful day for flying.

An absolutely beautiful day for flying.

We invited folks to come to our workspace, provided by the Akutan Corporation at the Bayview, and we were happy to get 2 people signed up for sessions.  Hugh Pelkey came in first and spent 40 minutes talking with me about his life, with 2 amazing stories of survival.  His descriptions of the events, as well as his discriptions of life in general, were vivid.  We hosted Hugh’s bother Darryl Pelkey later in the evening.  His story took us from Akutan, to the West coast of Washington, and back again, leaving us with a clear understanding of his appreciation of life in the Aleutians, and how you can make a difference in the lives of those living around you.

harbor

Looking across the bay.

Our morning started with a trip outside to look at the calm beginnings of a new day.  Yikes!  Another gorgeous day.   Our first session was a conversation with Mayor Joe Bereskin.  Joe talked with me about Akutan and the importance of becoming involved to make where you live the best it can be for it’s residents.  We touched on topics of politics, fisheries, hydro power, geothermal power, education, and the absolute beauty of Akutan’s boardwalks!!

Brand new City Hall and some of the boardwalk.

Brand new City Hall and some of the boardwalk.

Several of our conversationalists were unable to attend, so Kristine and I took a walk to the Trident plant.  Oh my goodness.  That trek was long and had a bit of mud involved!  We hadn’t really planned on the trek, so we didn’t have our brochures with us.  We had to come all the way back to town, eat our scrumptuous soup dinner and trek all the way back with our brochures in the hopes of getting some folks from the plant to participate tomorrow.  Kristine and I were amazed that the Penair Goose made six trips today!

We are eagerly awaiting April’s and her husband’s conversation tomorrow morning.  CB, if you are reading the blogs while you are on vacation, just know that April is enjoying some sea salt caramels from Unalaska!!!

 

StoryCorps Unalaska Hoping for Akutan

In the hopes of making it to Akutan next week for some StoryCorps sessions, I have changed my header to the mode of transportation that will be ours for the trip.  Everyone who flies around the Aleutians knows the Grumman Goose.  It is the plane to take when runways are in short supply. 

The photo is courtesy of Alaska Airlines pilot Burke Mees, who spent more than a few years piloting the Goose for Peninsula Airways.  Burke continues to maintain his ties with Unalaska as he still comes out to do check rides with the other Goose pilots.  And he comes to Unalaska for vacations!

My husband, Caleb, is an airframe and powerplant mechanic, and he had a love-hate relationship with the Goose.   I like the Grumman Goose so much that we  got married in it.  It was April 5, 1997.  Hopefully flying on April 6, 2009 will bring the same good luck for Kristine and I and StoryCorps! 

In the terminal with our kids.

In the terminal with our kids.

Pilot Burke Mees telling me that we can do a fast quick ceremony at 2 PM, or he can do the Akutan run first, then we can take our time getting married!

Pilot Burke Mees telling me that we can have a fast quick ceremony at 2 PM, or he can do the Akutan run first, then we can take our time getting married!

We are all on board - except Laresa.

We are all on board - except Laresa.

Laresa had never flown in the goose before.  She got on, and she got off!

Getting ready.

Getting ready.

Magistrate Kate Nixon had to pretty much yell the vows.

Magistrate Kate Nixon had to pretty much yell the vows.

Yes, the engines are extremely loud.  It felt pretty funny shouting, “I do!!!!!!”

Alena, Scott, Burke, Caleb, Sharon, Hope, and Mike.

Alena, Scott, Burke, Caleb, Sharon, Hope, and Mike.

Freezing our butt’s off on the tarmac for the after shot.  We then adjourned to the aerology building – now the WWII Museum – for our reception. 

Kristine and I are going to have so much fun!  April, hope you are ready for your 40 minute conversation!  Only audio, no video.  A couple of snapshots for posterity.  See you soon.