The annual spring ritual of honoring women who have helped shaped Alaska, took place last weekend in Anchorage. The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremony in the Wilda Marston theater at the Loussac Library.
Every year, women, some well known and others not, are honored for their contributions to the state. This year’s 13 inductees ranged from one of the first female USGS geologists, who at one point worked on a top secret federal program– to women who had achievements in musical artistry and activism and others who championed conservation and science education.
One of this year’s inductees was Marie Meade, honored for her work in preserving and teaching Yup’ik language and culture. Marie was raised in the Bethel region and now works as a language scholar at UAA. Known for her humble nature, she said she didn’t feel as if she’d accomplished anything, just saw the work and did it- starting in the 1960s with Native students in Anchorage.
“I was teaching boarding home students in East High and I would get on the bus with students and go to Dimond/Mears and work with students there and I would work with junior high students at Romig Junior High, so that was the beginning” she said.
Another well-known Alaska name, even though she passed on many years ago, is Ann Stevens, honored posthumously for her work assisting her husband, the late Senator Ted Stevens and serving on the board of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, league of women voters and other organizations.
Her oldest son Walter accepted the award for the family. He said his mother had a great sense of humor, but also taught him important lessons about respect. Particularly in the 70s when Richard Nixon was President and the Stevens family had been invited to the White House for Sunday services.
“I just kind of put my foot down and said “No, I’m not going to see ole tricky Dick.” And well, my mother came down the hallway, extremely agitated and said, “You will go. You might not like the person, but you will respect the office, so get get your suit on and go.’ And so I did, there wasn’t much choice and that was a great lesson in respecting the higher institutions in this country which I think we all should regardless of who we might disagree with at the time who might be occupying those positions.”
Ann Stevens was honored for community and statewide activism, volunteering and as a role model.
Inductee Arlene ‘Buddy’ Clay came to Alaska in 1944, long before statehood. She and her husband worked for the civil aeronautics administration. She says their first station was Nome, and then they were transferred to Aniak. There, she became a magistrate. The Clay’s built a cabin near the village and lived a subsistence life together, traveling around the country with their dog team for a decade. When her husband died she stayed on.
“I had a 30-ft round bottom river boat with a 40-horse Johnson and I commuted to Aniak with in the summer,” she said. “In the winter I used my dog team and I became magistrate in 1960 for the Alaska Court System and I had 12 villages under my jurisdiction, Kuskokwim, Yukon and Iditarod Rivers.
Clay was inducted for her work in rural justice. She now lives in an assisted living home in Wasilla and at 102, she still operates her ham radio every Thursday evening, something she started in 1948. In all, thirteen women were honored. It is the seventh year of inductions.