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IN CELEBRATION OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF PRESS WOMEN

The histories behind the Federation

Alaska Press Women

by Pat Richardson, APC Historian

Just two years after Alaska became a state, Alaska Press Women was founded in Fairbanks in 1961. Forty five years later, members voted to change the name to gender-neutral Alaska Professional Communicators. The new name became official at the annual meeting, held June 2, 2006, in Anchorage.

Early Years

Returning to Alaska after working in Seattle, pioneer journalist Kay Kennedy believed a professional network would benefit female writers and journalists geographically scattered and often isolated from others in the new "last frontier" state. Kennedy inspired a membership drive to meet the requirements of the National Federation of Press Women. Alaskans needed 10 qualified members to pay $1 in state dues and $3 in national dues to establish an affiliate charter. Searching the new state with a population of 234,000 spread throughout 570,374 square miles was challenging, but she signed up 18 charter members.

Seven women attended the first meeting of Alaska Press Women on September 9, 1961, at the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce's log cabin. A ballot mailed earlier had elected Kennedy of Fairbanks as the first president. Other officers selected in the first election were Bertha Digree of Kodiak as first vice president; Margaret Hornbeck of Fairbanks as second vice president; and Patricia Oakes of Circle City as secretary. At the first meeting, members appointed Helen Long of Valdez as treasurer to replace the first elected treasurer who had already resigned. The first affiliate constitution containing bylaws was adopted at an annual meeting in Anchorage in 1968.

black and white photo of six women smiling for the camera
First meeting of Alaska Press Women.
purple jagged-edged circle with text 80 years in black and in white, around the edge above 80, dates of the orgnization.

The first orders of business focused on starting a newsletter and establishing a communications contest. The first newsletter was a typewritten letter mailed from one member to another like a chain letter. By 1971, the newsletter took on a professional look, thanks to Beverly Dunham, editor and publisher of the Seward Phoenix Log, who donated her time and her press to print a newsprint tabloid. In 1972, Karen L. Lew named the publication Arctic-ulation in a name-the-newsletter contest. When computers became a common business tool, the newsletter was replaced by a website, www.akprocom.org

Charter member and second APW president Chris McClain of Anchorage was appointed the first contest director. McClain brought the same high level of energy to the contest as she did to her freelance writing career. Contest award certificates featured a Tlingit Indian inspired border with "press" totem figures, including a ballpoint pen, a typewriter, and a camera. APW's motto, "Top of the World Writers," was centered between the totems with the Alaska flag and a world globe. In 1989, the logo was updated with new artwork and, in 2006, the certificate was modified to reflect the new APC name.

1964 Earthquake

Three years after APW's founding, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America (9.2 on the Richter scale) jolted Alaska on March 27, 1964, taking lives and causing $537 million in damage. APW members covered the devastation.

Betzi Woodman, supplementing her freelance income by serving a three-month trial as a Reuters International correspondent, phoned the first eyewitness account out-of-state, beating Associated Press and United Press International by six and seven minutes, respectively. She had persuaded the Army to let her use its long line communication to call New York. That call launched her stringer career. She bought her first car with the bonus check for the scoop. She remained with Reuters for 24 years.

Woodman became an APW leader with extraordinary vision and energy. She mentored many younger members, encouraging them to stretch their leadership and organizational skills.

Genie Chance, who would become APW's third president, was a radio and television reporter in Anchorage when the earthquake struck. She remained on radio station KENI's air waves for 59 continuous hours providing rescue information, directing volunteer efforts, organizing transportation, coordinating public shelter and rescue personnel, and helping reunite families. She received a "Golden Mike" award from McCall's magazine for her dedicated earthquake aftermath work. She later became a state legislator.

Membership

By 1965, APW's membership nucleus had moved to Anchorage. The first APW meeting in the state's largest city was held in the basement of the downtown Loussac Library. Membership had grown to approximately 30. With most of the members living in Anchorage, activities became centered there as well. All but two annual meetings were held in Anchorage. Seward hosted one in 1976 and Fairbanks hosted one in 1981. At various times regional chapters formed briefly in Fairbanks, Juneau and Wasilla, but Anchorage remained the nucleus of activities. Membership peaked at 160 during the mid-1980s. Currently membership hovers at around 30.

Bicentennial Writing Project

During the state's preparation for the nation's Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, APW sponsored two writing projects to raise money for the treasury. Members wrote weekly features on historical people for publication in The Great Lander newspaper. The publisher paid $50 per article. Half of the payment went into APW's treasury, and half went to the authors.

Awards and Service

APW/APC created two awards to honor members. The Kay Kennedy Gold Nugget award recognizes outstanding professional achievement. The Betzi Woodman Spark Plug award is given for service to the organization. In addition, APC awards a scholarship each year to a university student majoring in journalism or communications. For several years in the early 1990s, APW sponsored the Know-It-All Bowl to kick off Alaska Press Club's Journalism Week. The game pitted teams from newspapers and other media against each other on spelling, grammar and facts about Alaska history and geography. Proceeds went to APW/APC's scholarship fund. Recently, APC members have volunteered to judge Anchorage School District science fair exhibit abstracts (not the science) for the quality of writing. APC funds the cash awards for the abstract prizes.

Honorary Members

In the 1970s, APW awarded honorary memberships to three communicators for their professional achievements. The first honorary membership went to Grace Slwooko, an Eskimo writer, who wrote a column, published in several newspapers, about her traditional life on St. Lawrence Island. Later, honorary memberships were given to Charles Keim and Jimmy Bedford, two long-time University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism professors.

Lifetime Membership Awards

In 1983 and 1984, APW honored four long-time members who made significant contributions to the affiliate. Kay Kennedy, Phyllis Carlson, Betzi Woodman, and Chris McClain were awarded lifetime memberships in the state affiliate. Kennedy, Woodman and McClain were early presidents and long-time supporters of the organization. Carlson served as APW historian for many years. Ella Wright, Alaska's only member to become an NFPW president, was honored with an APC lifetime membership in 2009. In 2017, long-time University of Alaska Anchorage Journalism Department Chair Sylvia Broady received a life membership.

Communicator of Achievement Awards

On the national level, APW/APC's members have shown that they excel as NFPW Communicators of Achievement. Four members received this prestigious national award: Emily Ivanoff Brown in 1974, Betzi Woodman in 1982, Kay Kennedy in 1987, and Jan Ingram in 1995.

Other Alaskans placed in the finals. Joan McCoy received first runner-up in 1989. Dianne Barske and Carolyn Rinehart were named second runners-up in 1994 and 1997, respectively, and Francine Taylor tied for second runner up in 1998. Rhonda McBride-Faubion won first runner up in 2005. Competition is stiff for this award; usually about 30 states submit nominees.

Workshops, Luncheons and Annual Meetings

Over the years, professional development was important to members. Many workshops on topics relating to writing, editing, publishing and related information were held for members and the public. Annual meeting weekends began on Friday evening with an out-of-state speaker, often nationally known. All day workshops filled Saturday with an awards banquet topping off the evening. The annual business meeting breakfast closed out the full weekend. Members came from throughout the state for the weekend activities. This continued until sometime in the 1990s. Today, monthly luncheons with local speakers are the most attended programs. Communication contest certificates and other awards are now presented at the May luncheon and the annual business meeting is combined with the June meeting.

NFPW Trips to Alaska

In September 1978, APW sponsored a pre-board meeting trip to Alaska in conjunction with NFPW's fall board meeting, held in Billings, Montana, that year. Over the next several days, NFPW board members visited Anchorage parks, museums, the zoo, and a fur factory. They toured Talkeetna, Alyeska ski area, Portage Glacier, the oil pipeline terminal at Valdez, an offshore oil-producing rig in Cook Inlet, and Prudhoe Bay, at that time the only arctic oil field in the United States.

In 1986, APW hosted a post-convention tour featuring a three-part tour of Alaska. The NFPW conference was held in Seattle that year. Alaska sent 16 members to the conference, the largest APW delegation ever to attend a national conference. Following the conference, tour participants could choose one, two, or three parts of the post-conference tour. Part I toured Juneau, including a reception in the governor's mansion. Part II included all the Juneau activities and continued on to Anchorage. Part III included parts I and II and added a trip to Prudhoe Bay.

NFPW Conference in Alaska in 2000 and 2015

Alaska hosted the NFPW national conference in 2000 and again in 2015. The 2000 conference was held at the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel, located in the ski resort community of Girdwood, 45 minutes south of Anchorage. The conference in 2015 was held at the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage.

In 2000, field trips were offered to the Sea Life Center in Seward and to Portage Glacier and to Big Game Alaska. The pre-conference tour flew to Nome and a post-conference tour went to Barrow. Educational trips were offered to North Slope oil fields and the oil pipeline terminal at Valdez.

In 2015, a four-day pre-tour to Denali National Park and Fairbanks, included stops at the Russian Orthodox/Native cemetery at Eklutna, the musk ox farm in Palmer, sled dog rides at the Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla, the Tundra Wilderness Tour inside Denali National Park and Preserve, a Fairbanks riverboat cruise, a tour of Chena Hot Springs, the Fairbanks Museum of the North, Creamer's Field and Talkeetna. The post tour was a one day trip to Whittier on the Alaska Railroad and a 26-glacier cruise of Prince William Sound.

For a more detailed history of APW, please visit akprocom.org/about-us/history/.

group of seven ladies standing shoulder to shoulder and smiling for the camera
Alaskans at the 2015 NFPW Conference in Anchorage