Rasmuson Foundation photos by Sharity Sommer and Ian Dutton.
Most days, Aaron Schutt is managing the business of Doyon, Limited, the regional Alaska Native Corporation for the Interior, meeting with business partners or some of his 19,000 fellow shareholders, or coaching for his kids’ hockey teams. But on this day, he is Captain Schutt, piloting his boat, Sonrisa, on the Yukon River. It’s the time of year when Rasmuson Foundation’s Board of Directors visits an area of the state to see first-hand the work of the Foundation and learn about community issues from the people who live there.
We meet Aaron in Tanana, 129 air miles from Fairbanks, and tour the town with Tribal Administrator Shannon Erhart and Tribal Council Chair Curtis Sommer. We stop at the Senior Center and drop off a load of fresh fruit for the elders. We see the washeteria (laundry/showers), the school, housing, and the remnants of the old Tanana Mission Church. The community hopes to preserve the church, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
We stop for a visit with Cynthia Erickson and her Tanana 4-H kids. They are the kids who made that show-stopping presentation at last year’s Alaska Federation of Natives Convention with their message of hope and commitment to stamp out suicide.
Mid-way in our 160-mile river trip, we stop in on Roger and Carole Huntington as they prepare – along with 40 volunteers from Faith Bible Fellowship in Big Lake and the National Samaritan Purse charity – to welcome 60 kids to Kokrine Hills Bible Camp the next morning. We are impressed with the beautiful facilities, the vegetables growing high in the camp greenhouse, and the buzz of excitement.
Upon arrival in Galena (one boat had engine trouble, requiring a rescue) we are treated to a feast with community members at the Elder Center, which is back in tip-top shape after suffering damage in the devastating flood of Memorial Day 2013. Salmon, moose, beaver, herring roe and lasagna are on the menu thanks to Agnes Sweetsir, the center’s administrator.
Community members talk about their needs and aspirations. Chairman Ed Rasmuson presents a check to Mayor Jon Korta to help rebuild the flood-damaged baseball field. Mayor Korta and Tribal Administrator March Runner lead us on a tour of the town to see how industrious Galena residents are rebuilding – 90% of homes were damaged or destroyed in 2013. We pass by the baseball field, tent accommodations set-up for volunteers, the GILA boarding school in the old Air Force base, Sidney Huntington School, swimming pool, and the Edgar Nollner Health Center.
Captain Schutt smiles with satisfaction. It’s been a good day.