Category Archives: Features

Tom: A Man Among Boats

Tom J. Usterman stands in the mud, slightly slouching against a service truck.

He whips out a pack of camels, quickly lights one, and takes a slow drag.

“I like to work with my hands,” he says. “My money makers,” he adds with a grin.

Tom works as a Port Attendant at the Small Boat Harbor on the north side of Bethel, Alaska. He’s a handy man, a jack of all trades. From general maintenance to helping the elderly, Tom is a perennial face at the Small Boat Harbor.

“I’ve got a facial recognition around here,” Tom said. “The people, I like to help them out, have small conversations…I like helping out people. It’s a great feeling.”

Tom’s initial interest in working the harbor came from a friend.

“I heard it from a friend who said ‘if you’re looking for a job, we need some help over here at the port,'” he said. “I applied and ever since then on a regular basis I’ve come here year after year.  It’s kind of something that is fun for me, because…sunshine, you get to meet new people, life along the water I guess.”

Through his work at the harbor, Tom is a firsthand witness to the thriving boat culture on the Kuskokwim river, the main mode of commerce and transportation for the people who call its banks home.

“For new vehicles, building equipment, and mass bulk production the barges that come up the river maintain a lifeline for Bethel,” Tom said. “I guess I want to say I want to be a part of that. ”

Boats are integral to survival on the Kuskokwim, from subsistence fishing to emergency runs to the hospital in Bethel. But survival is not their only use.

“About half of Bethel owns boats and come summer time when it’s 90 degrees, they’re not staying here, they’re going down the river…people can travel up and down the river, see family, go see gram, or go to fish camp,” Tom said.

Tom believes that boats are and will continue to be a strong part of the Kuskokwim peoples’ culture.

“The culture is still pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago,” he said. “Just faster boats and bigger motors.”

Check out the video of Tom’s interview here.

“Stanley Corp. The Everything Man.”

“Stanley Corp. The Everything Man.”

Stephanie Tedesco & Kari Welniak

Writers.

 

Stanley Corp is not just your typical guy. He can do pretty much anything. Seriously! He builds furniture for almost anything and anyone, he knows how to do maintenance work, and he built and takes care of his fish camp off the shores of the Kuskokwim River in Bethel, Alaska. And his profession of choice is barbering.

 

What brought Stan to Bethel? His sister was living in Bethel when he was in search of work. Bethel held many potential opportunities. So one Saturday Stanley Corp arrived to Bethel and was working right away that Monday. Stan has been there ever since.

 

Stan stays involved with his community by participating in Church activities and inviting groups to have a real Alaskan fish camp experience. He makes everyone feel at home by starting a warm fire and starts up the grill to make hamburgers, hot dogs, salmon, and s’mores. He showed us how to fillet a freshly caught salmon and play basketball Alaskan fish camp style.

 

On top of staying involved with his community in Bethel, Stan loves his job as a barber. Stan gets to know all of his customers and a lot about the town. He treats every customer individually and loves to get to know them for who they are and not from what he hears. He is always giving out advice to his customers that keep coming back.

 

His top advice he gives out to a lot of young people that come into his barbershop is to take pre-marriage counseling before getting married. It worked for him and his wife. It taught him a lot about not having jealousy and never holding grudges about the past.

 

At a potluck that was hosted at the Church, Stan was more than glad to make an appearance. He loves to socialize with longtime Church members and newcomers. He knows how to make everyone feel welcome. He is glad to share his knowledge, life experience, and advice with his customers. He even has a sense of humor and likes to laugh. His signature smile and laugh will always leave you with a smile on your face.

 

To learn more about Stan and hear more of what he has to say about barbering, watch our video! https://vimeo.com/99769605 

Jesuit Volunteers Make Lasting Impact on Bethel Community

by Hayley Henriksen and Leah Renaud

It’s not hard to believe that a flame quickly spread when Jesuit Volunteers (JVs) first came to Bethel in 1964. Since then, JVs have remained in Bethel, and their roles have progressed from year-long volunteers to unfading members of the community.

Erin O’Keefe and Justin Brandt are two JVs that decided to stay in Bethel after their time as volunteers was over, similar to many other JVs that came to Bethel before them.

“It was love at first sight for me,” Brandt said, who served as a youth minister for the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for two years.

Having put that particular position as his top choice during the selection process, he was determined to come to Bethel and seek a new adventure. His undying love for the outdoors drew him to one of the last truly wild destinations in the U.S.

O’Keefe first heard about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) from her mother, who was a JV herself and encouraged her children to pursue it.

When O’Keefe learned that she would be a JV in Bethel working at the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, she didn’t think too much about it or the possible impact it would have on her.

“When I think about how I was a JV, I think about the worlds that it opened up for me in Bethel and Alaska,” O’Keefe said.

As stated on the JVC website, a part of their mission is “to be conscious of the poor, attuned to the causes of social injustice, and dedicated to service informed by faith.”

JVs spend a year or more in assigned locations in the U.S. or developing countries. In its beginning, JVC saw a need in Bethel and other parts of rural Alaska.

“One of the purposes of JVC is to expose people to poverty that they may not have experienced themselves and put them in positions where they are questioning their own life choices and to live in greater solidarity with those people,” explained O’Keefe.

Bethel’s 6,000 residents have struggled with various social issues, including homelessness, substance abuse and suicide, in one form or another.

“Bethel has a large number of problems for such a small number of people, and because it’s a small number of people, the problems are much more well known,” Brandt said.

Despite the needs of the community, Bethel is home to an enduring Yup’ik culture and lively people, making it a special location for JVs who serve there. While working with the community, JVs are immersed and embraced by the people of Bethel. They participate in traditional practices alongside the natives and develop to be unforgettable additions to the Bethel community.

“Bethel is a great place for JVs, and certainly Bethel does more for JVs than JVs do for Bethel,” O’Keefe stated.

View our video on this story here.

Along For The Ride by: Claire Storey & TJ Moore

During our travels to Bethel, Alaska, TJ and I were offered the opportunity to pursue a story on sled dog racing and the K-300 dog race. Sarah Stanley– our group liaison to all things Bethel– was able to set us up with multiple people and opportunities to film for our project.

Originally, we were planning on focusing on the administrative side of the race, but when we were offered an unexpected opportunity to interview Myron Angstman, our story took a new direction. Myron Angstman is one of the founders of the k-300 dog race in Bethel, Alaska. He was the man who came up with the idea of having a race in Bethel after he participated in the Iditarod. Before we interview him, we got a tour around his property and dog training facilities.

Angstman and one of his team were gracious enough to give us the chance to ride on the back of his all-terrain training vehicle while he took the dogs out for practice run. TJ and Haylee rode in the truck next us– attempting to film the dogs from a different perspective– while Morgan and myself climbed into the back of the ATV, sat on the rain-soaked board that served as a bench, and hunkered down for a rain-drenched and wind-blown ride.

When we got back to his property, we went into the dog yard to film the dogs up close and got to see just how different the personalities of each dog were. Some were playful, others were observant, and one was systematically chewing through his fourth house… They pulled down a sled for us to look at, and when they asked if we needed anything else, we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview Myron.

Stepping into his office, we set up the little equipment we had. Truthfully, all we had one lonesome (mini) iPad and whatever questions we could come off with off the tops of our heads. It turned out to be a great learning experience. And who can say no to a story about race dogs, anyway?

check out our video here!

Yup’ik Museum Preserves Culture

By Tony Homsy and Erin Kurvers

In many modern day United States cities, it is not uncommon to encounter people stating they are 10% Polish, 15% German, 25% English, 20% Dutch, 10% Italian, and 20% Irish or some other combination of countless cultures and heritages. The recipe of heritages go on and on to the point where some people give up in trying to define a single cultural heritage.

Yet in Bethel, AK, the probability of finding a similar situation is much more unlikely. A small town in southwest Alaska, Bethel is one of the few places in the United States in which the native culture of the Yup’ik people is still visible in the everyday lives of the people living there.

Brian McCaffrey, one of the few non-natives of the town recognizes the incredibility of this, “There’s almost no where else in the world where you have an entire cultural group living in an area that is virtually in tact ecologically and in many respects still practicing practices that have gone on for centuries or millennia.”

One of the ways in which the Yup’ik people have worked to preserve their culture in a rapidly changing world, is through the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum.

The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum is the only museum of its kind in the Yukon delta region of Alaska. Founded in 1965 and containing around 2,500 cultural artifacts, the museum serves to remind the Yup’ik people of where they came from.

Eva Malvich, the museum director said, “The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum was put here because elders wanted people to know that even though we look a little bit different, maybe our diet has changed and we’re now working in a western society, we’re still Yup’ik people, we’re still relevant, we still value our subsistence lifestyle.”

Through the various exhibits that Malvich coordinates for the museum, she hopes to educate the younger Yup’ik generations as well as non-native people on the richness of Yup’ik culture.

The Yup’ik native said, “Our lifestyle is relevant and very important to us and we’d like to educate people on who we are and why were here.”

Melavich displaying the moravian children's home exhibit
Malvich displaying the Moravian children’s home exhibit

The museum has housed numerous exhibits in order to stimulate cultural education and honor the lives of generations past. For example, the museum’s most recent exhibit, featuring the work of Bethel local, Katie Baldwin Basil, is focused around honoring the many Yup’ik childhoods spent in the Moravian Children’s home.

While the event has been successful, Malvich explains that with every collection the museum faces difficulties. The extreme isolation of Bethel as well as technological setbacks are examples of problems that she cites.

The museum director said, “We have basic word on our computers, we have little printers just like in an office, we have a limited collection in the back as well, so we rely on people to donate objects or give objects on loan to us to show.”

Despite the setbacks, the museum hopes to build up a repository and hopefully gain more recognition throughout the community.

The museum is a nice beacon of hope for the preservation of culture in a country where distinctive heritage is slowly disappearing.

View the feature film here: The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum–Bethel

UAF brings college to the community

By Catherine Adams and Madeline Zukowski

After turning right and following the curve on Akiak Drive in the heart of Bethel, five buildings stand in a row, taking up about the space of two blocks. The three main buildings, placed one right after the other, are white with red roofs. The two other buildings, placed with space between them, are a light blue color.

This is the Kuskokwim campus (KuC) of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) system, which according to its website, is the largest rural campus in the system.

KuC serves about 150-200 full-time and part-time students who take on-campus or distanced classes. KuC offers certificate programs, an Associate of Applied Science program, an Associate of Arts program and a Bachelor’s degree program.

Distanced classes exist to serve those students who live in the rural villages surrounding Bethel.

“Students can take classes from home,” Agnes McIntyre, the Emerging Scholars Program Coordinator at KuC and an academic advisor, said. “They use their landline phones to take classes or they can go on the Blackboard [an online learning system] using the computers. They have to have Internet and computer access to take those classes.”

UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)
UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)

Although many of the students who attend KuC live in outside rural villages, the campus has one dormitory, Sackett Hall, which holds 38 students. According to McIntyre, often times students who don’t have relatives in Bethel or can’t afford off-campus housing but want an one-on-one relationship with their educators live in the dorm. View our video about Sackett Hall here.

Much like Creighton Univeristy, KuC has a higher enrollment of females than males.

“I believe a lot of the females from the villages think beyond high school,” McIntyre said. “There’s education and they want to better themselves and they want to come back and get their degree and have a better job to raise a family. The males, right out of high school, they want to provide for their families [through] subsistence hunting and gathering food and I think they have that mind before they make major decisions of what they want to do.”

Unlike Creighton, the majority of students of KuC are older than the average college age of 18-22 years old.

“A lot of the students who are thinking about working in an organization with higher pay are those who went to school, dropped out and came back, because they know they have to have a degree to get a good paying job because everything is so expensive here,” McIntyre said.

A unique aspect of KuC includes the opportunity for students to take Yup’ik language and culture classes in order to make sure the Yup’ik practices are passed on to a younger generation.

“Some of the students, when they first come here, [are only] fluent in English and not in their own language,” McIntyre said. “We look at our Yup’ik language[and] it’s dying, but we want to make sure that it’s here for our younger generations.”

McIntyre hopes that enrollment at KuC increases in the future.

“I think we’re going to see more students out there with degrees in the future. I’m very very positive about that.”

 

Sarah at the Saturday Market

Early on a Saturday morning, craftsmen and artists set up their tables in the Bethel Cultural Center. Traditional ulus, handmade jewelry, and beautiful wood carvings are laid out in a gorgeous array. Browsers stop to chat with vendors about the goods that are displayed. One of those vendors is a woman named Sarah.

Sarah sits at a corner table, threading beads onto a wire that will eventually become a pair of earrings. Her young nephew sits beside her, also hard at work threading beads.

“I’m teaching him so he can sell his own one day. He’s working hard so he can get an iPod,” she says with a smile.

In front of her, Sarah has a table full of colorful jewelry, as well as some wooden and ivory pieces off to the side. This day, she is looking after two sets of merchandise. Her friend is the one who creates the necklaces and bracelets made of vibrant stones. Sarah specializes in walrus ivory and wood.

The Saturday market is not just a fun activity, it is an important part of life in Bethel. Many people, such as Sarah, rely on the market as a second source of income. Prices of everything are sky high in Bethel, and hunting can only stretch limited budgets so far. The craftsmanship of the vendors has been passed down from generation to generation.  In order to balance out those costs, many families participate in the market for at least part of the year. Sometimes though, the extra money still doesn’t cover it.

“People can come here and trade for the things that they need,” Sarah says. Even if a person is running low on money, they can count on the Saturday market to supply at least a few of their needs. Although the markets were only started in 2005, the long tradition of trade and community support continues to flourish here.

By scanning around the market, one can see the great diversity of both the people and the products. Elders sit behind tables of traditional Yup’ik dress, while young girls are knitting their own variation of the latest trendy hat. Despite the differences, everyone is conversing. Both instructional and lighthearted conversations fill the air.

“I like coming here,” Sarah reflects. She takes a brief pause to correct her nephew’s beading technique. “It’s good to be here where I can talk to family and friends. We help each other out. I like coming here.”

See our video of Sarah at the Saturday Market here.

Story by Morgan Ryan and Hannah Mullally

Kari Welniak: A Perfect Filling

Throughout the past year, a few things were certain about Kari Welniak: She’d had a smile on her face nearly all the time, she was working hard in her classes, and she had a Back Pack Journalism poster hanging on her bedroom wall.
“I took it off the bulletin board,” she said with a sly laugh. “I saw, ‘Do you want to travel to Alaska?’ and I knew I wanted to go, so I kept it.”

A natural out in the field. Photo credit Scott Prewitt
A natural out in the field. Photo credit Scott Prewitt
This is a normal trend for Welniak. Her decision to go to Alaska wasn’t the first she’d known for sure as something she wanted to do.
Born and raised in Omaha, she knew almost right away that Creighton was the best fit for her for school, and also a pretty obvious choice for her to pursue her dream of becoming a dentist.
Although she was unsure where exactly she wanted to end up as a dentist, her passion was evident. This year, she began working as an assistant for the dental practice through Creighton’s dental school. The school offers discounted dental appointments to members of the local community throughout the year. As a sophomore, Welniak holds tools and assists the dental students, but even talking about that simple act would cause her eyes to light up.
A similar light came to her eyes when the group drove past a dental clinic in Bethel, Alaska. Her eyes fixated on the building, she began asking questions about the clinic, the patients, and the needs of the community.
“While we were up there, Stan talked to me about it. And you know they need dentists up there,” Welniak shared. With a large population living in the villages, far from any kind of medical care, the thought of all the lives that could be changed simply with a dentist in town captivated Welniak.
“I don’t know, there’s just something so cool about the work that you do with your hands, and difference you can make in someone’s life.”
Participating in service for others and to her community has been a deep, growing passion for Welniak. In addition to working in the dental school’s clinics, she has also partaken in a number of service opportunities throughout her life. The Yup’ik way of sharing, and taking care of each other then really inspired Welniak.
“The community in Bethel was so awesome. Like, it’s made me want to find that kind of community here in Omaha, and at Creighton. The kind that really works together to help others.”
An experience of a lifetime, it’s hard to say where her time in Alaska will take her in life.

Kari in front of a glacier at the end of her Alaskan experience.
Kari in front of the Aialik Glacier at the end of her Alaskan experience.

As long as she can share her talents and soon-coming dental skills with those who need it; that all she hopes for. When asked what she’ll miss about Alaska, besides the community, Welniak couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’ll miss the cold. When I was little when it’d snow here and it’d be like 30 below and everyone would be inside, I’d be outside playing.”
With her love of the cold, and strong passion for serving others, if Alaska ever needed a kind-hearted dentist, sounds like she’d be a perfect filling.

Leah Renaud.

Leah Renaud and Kari Welniak working in the field. Photo by Scott Prewitt.
Leah Renaud and Kari Welniak working in the field. Photo by Scott Prewitt.

It was the first day of summer class and I had no idea who anyone was. Some people looked familiar from walking around on campus, but I never knew what anyone’s story was. There was one striking feature about that first day though that I won’t forget. Energy balls. They looked like little balls of oatmeal, granola, almond butter, white chocolate chips, and coconut all wrapped up in the shape of eggs in foil that came in a large bag. At first I was hesitant, but then after having enough energy to last me through the first day of video boot camp, I can never go back. Who gave me these weird concoctions you might ask? Leah Renaud.

Leah’s journey to becoming a journalist is not like any others. She first came to Creighton as a Biology/Pre-Veterinarian major. She chose Creighton in particular because she fell in love with the Jesuit education and way of life. Little did she know what where she would be today was a result form a series of surprises. After realizing blood and guts were not her thing, she tried Psychology. When that didn’t work out, she explored other opportunities. She knew she had always had a passion for graphic design and photojournalism. So one day she decided she would pursue her dreams. And now she could never be anymore excited to use her skills that she truly enjoys having and puts these to work.

When asked what was one of her happiest moments here at Creighton, she replied with the day she got her Delta Delta Delta bid card. Tri-Delta is one of the sororities here on Creighton’s campus. After meeting with Leah, I found it very inspiring to see someone who really loves the organization that she is proud to be a sister of. She works hard as the Vice President of Public Relations within Tri-Delta and is a national rep for Tri-Delta’s BodyImage3D. BodyImage3D® was launched by Tri-Delta as a multi-dimensional approach to body image awareness and education. The goal of the program is to promote an in depth body image as the central focal point for three key components: healthy mind, healthy body and healthy spirit. Leah expressed how thankful she was for the opportunities Tri-Delta has brought her.

Leah has been on service trips before, but her trip to Alaska was definitely one for the books. Leah first heard of the trip when she was doing her duties as a Resident Advisor in McGloin and started hanging up posters on the bulletin board. Then she came across a poster, “Want to travel to Alaska?” She quietly snuck the poster away and kept it until the day she moved out of her room.

 

Why did she want to travel to Alaska? Leah thought it would be an amazing experience to see what its like to live in a place where a different culture is still fairly predominant. And that it did prove to be one for the books.

Her answer to, “What have you gained from this experience in Alaska?” She answered, “You know, I kind of have this problem of leaving with a feeling of guilt.” I asked what she meant by this and she replied, “When I reflect on my own life and see the way I am living, it makes me feel guilty when I see the way these other people live.”

Especially after our interview with Nelson, its hard to swallow what climate change has brought to people who live thousands of miles away from us. The reality of climate change really came to life after hiking to Exit Glacier on one of our last days in Seward, Alaska.

“This glacier, this change, had happened and is still happening in my lifetime. I looked at the clawed rock and I saw suffering. I looked at those smiling and taking goofy pictures as ignorant (even though I did get pictures in front of it). This once massive, beautiful structure stood with pride, yet now is literally melting, receding, and cracking, losing it’s place on earth.”

That one moment, standing on the edge of Exit Glacier made Leah realize the harsh truth of the matter; if people don’t see the importance of things such as culture and climate change, they are just going to keep disappearing.

After meeting with Leah Renaud you realize she is driven by a desire to learn and gain new insight, is constantly working on her design, writing, and public relations abilities, but also manages to stay a proud BlueJay fan, a constant human juke-box singing show tunes from many different musicals, Internet explorer, lover of puns, superhero nerd, a Dreamer and Doer. Now after meeting with Leah, one might ask, “How does one person do all the things Leah is able to accomplish and be so passionate about so many things?”. The truth is in the energy balls.

World-Class Learning for Kurvers

From the mountains of Montana to the beaches of the Dominican Republic to the tundra of Alaska, Erin Kurvers has set out to see the world.

The Minnesota native loves to travel, a passion that has guided her and shaped much of her life.

Growing up, Kurvers traveled to Montana where she went skiing, visited Yellowstone National Park and spent time with family.

“My all-time favorite place would be Montana. My cousins live there, and every Thanksgiving we would drive out to see them. They have this cool house where our entire extended family would go and hang out. It’s just a home away from home,” the 20-year-old said with a smile.

Early in her life, she also developed compassion for others and their experiences, which has served her well during her travels.

“My parents taught me good values and how to be a good friend. I think they are really good at not judging people at all, which I think is something that I also learned. I knew not to make assumptions about people and to always keep an open mind and open heart when getting to know people.”

Her desire to travel and meet new people led her to attend college at Creighton University.

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Erin getting that B-roll in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

“I knew I wanted to go somewhere out of the state of Minnesota. I love Minnesota, but I just needed to get out and see different parts of the world and different people from different places. And I liked that Creighton brought together people from lots of places,” Kurvers explained.

Once she was in college, finding a major that both interested her and fulfilled her love of travel was a challenge.

“I have always had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to do because I kind of like everything. I loved my history classes in high school, but I also loved my science and English classes. I loved it all, so I didn’t know how to narrow it down,” Kurvers said.

In high school she had the idea of becoming an investigative journalist but wasn’t sure it was the best fit. She took a few journalism classes right away in college but wasn’t totally convinced until the spring semester of her sophomore year when she participated in EncuentroDominicano, a living and learning program in the Dominican Republic.

“I knew from the moment I first came here that I wanted to do the Backpack Journalism Program and also that I wanted to study abroad. Those two experiences made me want to do journalism more than after my first journalism classes.” she said.

In the DR, Kurvers took various classes, performed service and was immersed in a new culture. During her time in the country, she wrote about experiences for The Creightonian.

“When I was in the DR, I was doing exactly what I want to do: meeting people from different places and learning about their life and how different it is. The people there were just amazing. You learn how to open up your world view and realize that where we come from really affects us a lot. Then doing the Backpack Journalism Program made me realize that, wow, I really do like this and that this is something I would like to do for a career,” the Creighton junior said.

Although she is currently a journalism major, she is still exploring the possibility of minors in Spanish and international relations. In addition, she hopes to go into the Peace Corps for two years after graduating from Creighton.

“I think what I want to accomplish with my life, in general, is just that I want to do something that is benefiting the world in some way. My most terrifying thought would be working in a business where I am just sitting there doing stuff to make money for a company. I understand that that’s how the world works and we need that part of the world, but personally for me I want to actually be doing something physically that I can see is changing the world in some way,” she said.