Two lives that came together at the top of the world

Nancy and Andrew Grant, pictured behind the front desk of their hotel in Utqiaġvik in January 2018. (Alaska’s Energy Desk/ Ravenna Koenig)

“He does not remember meeting me,” Nancy Grant says of her first encounter with her now-husband, Andrew Grant. “I do, too!” he insists.

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They can both agree, however, that they met while working for the North Slope Borough School District back in 2002. Today, they own and run the Airport Inn in Utqiaġvik — which, as you might guess, is just a few blocks from the town’s runway.

Neither Nancy nor Andrew grew up on the North Slope. Andrew is a self-described Army brat; his family moved around a lot. And while Nancy’s father is from the North Slope village of Wainwright, she grew up in California. She came to Utqiaġvik for the first time as an adult, to attend her grandmother’s funeral.

“At that point in my life, I had just completed college and I had a dead-end job,” Nancy said, “I was providing for me and my son, and I was a single mom.”

After changing her mind a few times about whether it made sense, Nancy decided to stay.

Her husband Andrew attributes his own decision to move up here to a manager he had at a job in Arizona. The manager had worked at Prudhoe Bay, and had met his own wife there. And for months he pestered Andrew to apply for jobs on the North Slope.

“He said, ‘you’re a young man, you need to go to the Slope!’” Andrew remembered. “’You need to get a job up there; meet your wife.’”

Andrew eventually did apply for a job in Utqiaġvik, and got it. Just like that, he found himself moving to the northernmost town in America.

Even though Nancy and Andrew first met at work, they started to get to know each other through a group of singles that attended the same church.

“I’m just not the real hostess type but these other ladies in the group were, so they would woo us with food — you can’t go wrong with food, especially up here — and games, and just fellowship,” Nancy said. “And that was during the winter and spring, and come summertime, they all left and Andrew and I were the only ones here.”

While everyone else was on vacation that summer, Nancy and Andrew spent a lot of time hanging out one-on-one. Pretty soon, they fell in love. And by that winter, they were engaged.

Together, they bought the Airport Inn back in 2015.

It’s hard to capture the sheer number and diversity of the people passing through this small arctic town. But looking through Nancy and Andrew’s guest book is a pretty good way to do it. Under the heading “To See” people have written “polar bears,” “for work,” “a football game,” “family,” “climate change,” and “just to say we’re here.” Nancy and Andrew say that the flow of people includes tourists, arctic researchers, oil and gas industry people and journalists among many others.

The Grants say that one of their favorite things about working in the hospitality industry here is that this place often leaves a lasting mark on the people who visit. For instance, they still get calls from one man who came up from the Florida Keys years ago, and is now a fan of the high school’s football team.

“When we have a football game going on, sometimes he’ll call the hotel and say ‘hi this is so-and-so from down in the Keys. Who’s winning? What’s the score?’” Andrew said. “I just thought that was the neatest thing.”

Valentines Day is Nancy and Andrew Grant’s 14th wedding anniversary.