Alaska Professional Women History

Members and guests gathered for the 50th anniversary of the 1961 founding of Alaska Press Women in Fairbanks. Lori Potter, NFPW national president, joined members and guests in a celebration at the Ann Stevens Room of the C.J. Loussac Library.

President Potter spoke of her remembrances of NFPW; and APC historian, Pat Richardson, provided a brief oral history of the organization.

Photos courtesy of Lori Potter.



Alaska Press Women History

40 Years of Professional Development

By Pat Richardson, APW Historian

Founded 1961

Alaska Press Women was founded in Fairbanks in 1961 just two years after Alaska became a state. Pioneer Alaskan journalist Kay Kennedy believed a professional network would benefit women writers and journalists who were geographically scattered and often isolated from other professional women in the "last frontier" state.

While living in Seattle and working for the Alaska Visitors Bureau, she joined the Washington state affiliate . When she returned to Alaska, she promoted an Alaska affiliate. Kennedy led the first membership drive, asking women in different regions to mail recruiting letters to qualified women in their area. The National Federation of Press Women required 10 members to establish an affiliate charter. State dues were $1 and national dues were $3.

With a state population of only 234,000 in 570,374 square miles, APW founders had difficulty finding and keeping 10 members. They stretched the definition of "writer" as far as they could. The charter was finally secured when 18 women qualified to become charter members.

Charter Members of the Alaska Press Women
Kay Kennedy, Pat Oakes, Chris McClain, and Phyllis Carlson.

Charter Members of the Alaska Press Women - Kay Kennedy, Pat Oakes, Chris McClain, and Phyllis Carlson. Seven women attended the first meeting of Alaska Press Women on September 9, 1961, at the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce log cabin visitor center. A ballot mailed earlier had elected Kay Kennedy of Fairbanks as the first president. Other officers during the first year 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 resigned. The members adopted the first state constitution at an annual meeting in Anchorage in 1968.


The first order of business for the new affiliate was creating a newsletter. The first newsletter was typewritten and was 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. She donated her time and her press to print a newsprint tabloid. In 1972, Karen Lew named the publication "Arctic-ulation" in a name-the-newsletter contest. The monthly newsletter, Arctic-ulation, is an important medium for reaching all members, especially those living outside of Anchorage.

Communications Contest

Establishing a communications contest was also an early order of business. Charter member Chris McClain was appointed the first contest director. McClain brought the same high level of energy to the contest as she did to her writing career. While working full time as chief communications tell for Alaska Communications System. She found time to research, write, and sell a number of freelance articles. Her articles were published in religious, fraternal, outdoor, and technical magazines; newspaper Sunday supplements, and trade journals.

In 1971, Eleanor "Lily" Maus created the design for the contest award certificates. She was a drafter and architecture student from Europe. At the time she worked as an artist for ITT/Arctic Services in Anchorage at the time. Her design was a Tlingit Indian border with "press" totem figures featuring a ballpoint pen, a typewriter, and a camera. Alaska Press Women's motto, "Top of the World Writers" was centered between the totems with the Alaska flag and a globe of the World. APW printed the certificates in blue ink on white parchment paper. In 1989, Gwen Edwards of Mystrom Advertising donated time to update the logo. Salmon and aqua blue colors were added to the artwork.

APW Leaders and The 1964 Earthquake

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

Member Betzi Woodman was supplementing her freelance income by serving a three-month trial as a Reuters International correspondent. She phoned the first eyewitness account out-of-state, beating Associated Press and United Press International by 6 and 7 minutes, respectively. She had persuaded the Army to let her use their long line communication to call New York. Her stringer career was launched. She bought her first car with her bonus check for the scoop. She remained with Reuters for 24 years.

Woodman became an APW leader with extraordinary vision and energy. She mentored younger members, encouraging them to develop their leadership and organizational skills. When she expected them to run for office or to organize a workshop, they found they could do much more than they thought they could.

Another member, Genie Chance, who would become APW's third president three years later, was a radio and television reporter in Anchorage when the earthquake struck. She broadcast over radio station KENI's for 59 continuous hours providing rescue information and helping reunite families. She also directed efforts of other volunteers, helping to organize transportation, coordinate public shelter, and rescue personnel. She received a "Golden Mike" award from McCall's magazine for her dedicated earthquake aftermath work. Later, she became a state legislator.


By 1965, APW's membership nucleus was moving to Anchorage. With half the state's population, then and now, Anchorage is Alaska's largest city. APW's second elected president, Chris McClain, lived in Anchorage. The first meeting outside of Fairbanks was held in the basement of Anchorage's downtown Loussac Library. Membership had grown to approximately 30.

With almost all of the membership living in Anchorage, activities became centered there. All but two annual meetings were held in Anchorage. Seward hosted one in 1976 and Fairbanks hosted one in 1981.

For a while in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the membership grew large enough to support two chapters, one in Southcentral Alaska (includes Anchorage) and another in Fairbanks. The Northern (Fairbanks) chapter then folded and others sprang up for short periods, first in Juneau and then in Wasilla. The Anchorage chapter scheduled monthly luncheons with speakers and yearly professional development workshops that continue today.

Membership peaked during the mid 1980s at 160. When the state's economy crashed in the mid 1980s, membership began to decline. APW restructured in 1992, retaining a statewide organization and closing the last remaining chapter. Currently there are 65 statewide members. Organized activities continue to be centered in Anchorage where almost all members live.

Bicentennial Writing Project

In the 1970s, APW sponsored a writing project 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 Alaska Press Women's treasury and half went to the authors. According to Treasurer Martha Chastain's records, 24 articles were published in 1971, 23 in 1972, and three in 1973. The first series featured people who had geographical features named for them and the second series featured territorial pioneers.

The project was so successful that the organization launched another series in 1975-76 for the Nation's Bicentennial celebration. The Anchorage Bicentennial Commission endorsed the project, and the State of Alaska awarded APW a commendation for it in 1976.

Gold Nugget & Sparkplug Awards

Alaska Press Women has honored its members in a number of ways during its 38 years. The Gold Nugget award was created in the 1960s to recognize outstanding professional achievement. Then, in 1975, Martha Chastain received a corsage for long and faithful service as treasurer. The next year APW named the award the Sparkplug. The corsage was replaced with a gold painted sparkplug in a frame. The first officially named Sparkplug award was given to Phyllis Carlson, charter member who served as historian for more than 30 years. After Betzi Woodman died in an automobile crash in 1990, the sparkplug award was renamed the Betzi Woodman Spark Plug award. When Kay Kennedy died of cancer in 1993 at age 87, the "gold nugget award" was renamed the Kay Kennedy Gold Nugget Award.

High School Communications Contest

College Scholarship

Youth activities were added to the Alaska Press Women awards program in 1981. Millie Wedel, a member who taught high school journalism for many years, started the youth contest. That same year, past President Becky Pfanner Parker was instrumental in establishing a scholarship for students attending Alaskan universities. Youth awards remain an important part of APW's community service. Each year APW hosts an awards luncheon for high school student contest winners, their parents, and journalism advisors. In recent years, APW has awarded two $500 scholarships per year to college journalism students. Honorary Members

In 1972, APW members sought a way to honor communicators who were not affiliates for their professional achievements. They chose to award these communicators with honorary memberships in APW. They conferred the first honorary membership to Grace Slwooko, an Eskimo writer. She wrote a column, published in several newspapers, about her traditional life style on St. Lawrence Island. Later, they awarded honorary memberships to Charles Keim and the late 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. APW paid the state portion of the honoree's dues until they died.

Communicator of Achievement Awards

On the national level, APW members have shown that they excel as 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. Competition is stiff for this award. Usually about 30 states submit nominees.

Name Change Debate

Several times in recent years, members have waged a great debate on whether or not to take gender out of the affiliate's name. The first man joined APW in 1974. He was John Ullman, a journalism professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. APW amended its constitution that year so that membership requirements applied to "persons" rather than to "women." While members encourage men to join the affiliate and welcome their participation in activities, they want to retain the original goal of the organization -- professional development for women in the communication field. With that goal in mind, the membership has kept "women" in the name.

NFPW Trips to Alaska

In September 1978, APW sponsored a pre-board meeting trip to Alaska in conjunction with the NFPW fall board meeting being held in Billings, Montana. National board members arrived in Anchorage on Sept. 22. The next day they toured Anchorage parks, museums, the zoo, and a fur factory. A banquet featured entertainment by a Native dance group and guest speaker, Dean Gottehrer, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist and University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism professor.

On September 24, 1978, 24 the travelers took a bus to Talkeetna where they visited APW member Mary Carey's log cabin, feasted on Alaskan foods at a potluck hosted by the community, and toured a satellite tracking station. The next day they visited the Mt. Alyeska ski area and Portage Glacier. The following day a working group toured the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminal and shipping port at Valdez. Another group went to Kenai where they toured an offshore oil-producing rig in Cook Inlet. On September 27, NFPW and APW members filled a plane to Prudhoe Bay, 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 national 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 tour, depending on how much time and money they wanted to spend. 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 2000 in Alaska

In 2000 APW hosted the national communications conference in September at the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel, located 45 minutes south of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. The hotel is located in Girdwood, a famous ski resort where the scenery is spectacular.


For 38 years now Alaska Press Women has brought journalists together from throughout the state. Members from other affiliates who visit APW meetings see a lot of vitality in the Alaskan group. Some have commented on the way Alaskans work together and how the organization values input from all ages.

Networking is what Alaska Press Women is all about. Members networking through APW have resulted in friendships lasting 20 plus years. Professional networking and personal friendship have held APW together for almost four decades. Networking is what will carry APW into the next century. Each member is special to the whole.