Mary Shields: Musher, Author, Wilderness Advocate

Mary Shields Project Jukebox, University of Alaska Fairbanks

This is another conversation sprung from UAF’s Summer Sessions‘ Tall Timbers series that saluted individuals who’ve made a difference in our community. Mary Shields was a natural for the list. She was the first woman to finish the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She’s also penned books for adults and kids and served as an ambassador of sorts to thousands of visitors to our state.

From Green Beret to Cabaret

Paul Taylor

Well, okay, Paul Taylor says he’s an entertainer not a crooner. But the former Green Beret, forensic economist, and dog musher also admits he’s most at home with a microphone in hand and in front of an audience.

And I talk to the husband and wife team of DeCruit who recently visited Fairbanks giving workshops for veterans. Stephan Wolfert and Dawn Stern use the poetry and drama of William Shakespeare to help address the trauma of combat and domestic violence.

Laboring for a Future

Jim Sampson
During the summers, when the show is on hiatus, I have the privilege of talking with folks in our community who have made a difference. This year the series of conversations hosted by UAF’s Summer Sessions was called Tall Timbers. My guest tonight fits that title in several ways. First he’s tall. Also, Jim Sampson has enjoyed a long career representing union workers, and serving the state as Alaska’s Labor Commissioner under Governor Steve Cowper. He also helmed the Fairbanks North Star Borough as Mayor. After that he spearheaded a pipeline training center that invited workers across the state to train for jobs in the oil industry. And along the way he also served as a Permanent Fund Trustee.

Sally Smith: Permanently Engaged

This spring, I happened to run into Sally Smith.  Smith has a long track-record of public service. Not only did she represent Fairbanks in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1977 through 1983, when the Permanent Fund was established. She also served as Juneau’s mayor. Additionally, she held posts in both and the Eagan and Sheffield administrations.

Also, speaking of permanent, there are several constants at the Tanana Valley State Fair. The rides, livestock, and exhibits, of course, but don’t forget the straw poll organized and run by the local League of Women Voters. The league is non-partisan, and empowering democracy and educating voters are chief concerns for the group. I spoke with Janna Miller, co-president of the local league about how the straw polling went this summer, especially with ranked choice voting to consider

Return and Revisit

Lydia Violet Hartoonian

Lydia Violet Harutoonian returns to Fairbanks. That’s a first for this musician and activist who often tours, but hasn’t before returned to deepen the link between her and visited communities. She draws inspiration from the teachings of ecologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy. She will lead a pair of engagements on Friday and Sunday in town, teaming up with local musicians Susan Grace and Aurora Bowers. You can find out more about her work and the events by visiting Harutoonian’s website. Harutoonian was in Fairbanks last year and I had a chance to talk with her. This episode, we revisit that conversation.

Geophysical Tales

Carl Benson has a long track record with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. He first visited it in 1950, and joining its faculty a decade later. Matthew Sturm came up as a grad student to study with Carl in the 1980s, and is now part of the G.I. During the pandemic, I recorded four wide-ranging, online conversations between these two friends and colleagues. In this final discussion, Benson reflects on his time at the institute and what may be challenges going forward.

Also on the show, Matthew has written about snow in several books, but last week saw the opening of a museum exhibit dedicated to his favorite subject.

Northern Bones

Pat Druckenmiller

Last week, the PBS series Nova highlighted University of Alaska Museum of the North Director and paleontologist Pat Druckenmiller’s work on Alaskan dinosaurs. Like most kids, I entered a dinosaur phase where I poured over books and collected toy dinosaurs. Unlike most kids, I never really emerged. In fact, one of my joys as a parent was reliving that fascination with my kids. So, I was in geek heaven when I talked with Pat about his research and what discoveries lie ahead. 

The Boreal Forest and One Tree

Jan Dawe woking with budding botanists.

On this episode, I talk with botanist Jan Dawe who heads up One Tree Alaska, a program that celebrates the boreal forest in relationship to the humans that live in, on and with it. 

And painter and art historian Kesler Woodward has long attracted praise for his portraits of birch. Now, he is drawing inspiration from an exotic tree plantation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks arboretum. 

Peggy Ferguson: A Vital Link

Peggy Ferguson

Last week, a long-time creative icon of the Fairbanks theatre community died. Fairbanks Drama Association Executive Director Peggy MacDonald Ferguson succumbed to complications following a fall. She was 75. 

To pay tribute to a woman who forged so many vital connections across Fairbanks and Alaska, I’m replaying our conversation that originally aired in 2019. Along with that, I’m grateful to include insights from three of Peggy’s long-time friends and colleagues: former Alaska Writer Laureate and playwright Anne Hanley, Fairbanks Drama Association board Vice-President Steve Mitchell and actor and KUAC host Susie Hackett.