Articles written by Dianne Barske


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  • Music in isolation: Senior center chorus adapts to pandemic

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2020

    "Mute yourself! Is everybody muted?" What strange request is this from a chorus director, beginning a singing session? She's looking directly at us, checking us out. "OK, everybody's muted. Now let's sing." It's the world of Zoom, in the seasons of 2020. And I am thousands of miles away from the other chorus members as we begin singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." They are in Anchorage, and I am in a small farm town, outside of Portland, Oregon. We are all staring at our individual computer...

  • The 4th is still with us

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2017

    There's a magnet for memories in Anchorage. Ask people about the 4th Avenue Theatre and memories come flooding back. They seem to come in two waves. Seniors remember the early movies shown there, some even recalling opening night, May 31, 1947, when excitement ran high for joining the crowd at the theatre's first movie, Columbia's hit, "The Jolson Story." Younger generations, the millennials, have fond memories of high school proms, school fundraising events and weddings held there. I sat with I...

  • Diane Benson's many roles in theater and life

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2017

    When looking back at her career in theater, Diane Benson shares its surprising beginnings. "I wanted to be a diesel mechanic," she reveals with a laugh. "I had no intention, no ambition to be in the theater. "I couldn't get funding to get into diesel mechanics school," she says. She went on to have an illustrious career as a truck driver, one of the first female tractor-trailer truckers on the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Fate took a peculiar turn when the Bureau of Indian Affairs popped up with a...

  • A day full of surprises at Turnagain Social Club

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2017

    I'm sitting in the office of Turnagain Social Club, early on a foggy, frigid January morning, and I hear loud chomping. "Not to worry," I'm told by Kori Mateaki, owner and president of the facility. "That's just Bunsy, eating some old paperwork." Finished chewing, the biggest bunny I've ever seen comes thumping across the floor to nibble my shoe. "He's a Flemish Giant bunny," Kori tells me calmly, as if all offices should have such a bunny. He's a giant, all right, and he's wearing paper...

  • Senior league hockey players 'skate to live, live to skate'

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2017

    If I thought I was going to get a quiet, focused interview, I would have been wrong. These guys were here at the Anchorage Subway Sports Centre to play hockey. On this December morning, that was especially true of the star of the day, Howard Hansen, celebrating his 85th birthday. There'd be a surprise celebration for him before the game started in earnest. Howard meant business. I grabbed moments to talk with him, only when he came off the ice for line changes. Then he'd hurdle the boards and...

  • The pastor and his pups

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2016

    They were going to work on Monday morning, so they'd had their nails done, and special attention had been paid to their grooming on Sunday evening. Then early on a grey, grim November morning they waited inside the front doors of Anchor Lutheran School, taking up their post as welcoming greeters. Max and Nyxie, two English Black Labs, were jubilant, on the job. They are two of Dennis Morner's therapy dogs, and he has brought them to the school for over five years. He had been the pastor of...

  • Aunt's notes lead Alaskan to new career

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2016

    "I never expected this." That's how Laurel Downing Bill summarizes the turn her life took many years ago when she got a phone call from her sister, Meredith. "I've got some stuff here," her sister told her. "It's papers, clippings, photos from our aunt, Phyllis. You can come over and see what's here. If you want it, great. If not, we can pitch it." Their aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, a lifelong Alaskan, had died in 1993 at the age of 84. She'd been a school teacher and research librarian at...

  • Volunteers step in for annual hunger walk

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2016

    "There wouldn't have been a CROP Walk for many years, if Kristi Johnson hadn't volunteered to chair it," says Paul Boling, senior minister of First Christian Church. Paul and his brother, Dave, associate minister at the church, stepped up to chair the Walk this year and last year, when Kristi needed a break. She'd been chair or co-chair for 10 years. "It's such a good event for the whole community," Paul states. "It's a fundraising walk to alleviate hunger, here and around the world. I know how...

  • Thirty years as an Alaska photographer

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2016

    "It's a history book, a photo book and a memoir – all in one." That's how photographer and storyteller Jim Lavrakas describes his book, "Snap Decisions: My 30 Years as an Alaska Newspaper Photographer." He's just released a second edition of the book originally published in 2012, and has included some updated stories and new photos. Jim comments on his motivation for the book, when he first thought of putting it together back in 2010. "I had left the Anchorage Daily News as a staff p...

  • Retiree continues her mission to help vulnerable youth

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2016

    It's a raw and rainy morning in June, rare among the many warm, sunny days served up for Anchorage this spring and early summer. It's not the kind of day anyone would delight in being outside – grey, damp and chilly. Downtown, people in raincoats, carrying seldom used umbrellas, scurry indoors. There is a place in downtown Anchorage whose doors are always open, 24/7, every day and every month of the year, no matter the weather. Covenant House Alaska has opened its doors for 27 years, working t...

  • Book tells story of woman's adventures working on Alaska pipeline construction

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2016

    Wilma Knox was 55 years old, and wondering if she and her husband, Robert, would have sufficient funds, facing retirement. She was also an adventurer. So instead of retiring, she took off on what she called "the adventure of a lifetime." It was 1975, and construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was just beginning. Why not head to the Arctic and take part in a project that was being compared to the building of the Panama Canal in complexity and stature? Wilma would work on the far northern...

  • Love for animals extends from home to community

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2016

    My husband, Elliott, and I were on an excursion. On a sunny, warm afternoon in early April, we were bumping along a curvy, gravel road, up and down hills, heading to the home of Joanna and Ken Walch in Big Lake. Joanna – Jo – calls it "our little paradise." Their home is perched on a hill, overlooking Mud Lake, covered with thinning grey-blue ice in our unusually warm spring. We were about to meet a cast of characters. In the yard, greeting our approach with a few curious howls, was Jo's sle...

  • Still living their dream in Fairbanks

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2016

    "I didn't want to leave Fairbanks. I love my town." – Karen "I came back to Fairbanks after moving to Oregon. I came back to live here, at Raven Landing. It was like coming home. I had never really wanted to leave." – Patti "This community, this place, this is my family." – Patricia This was one happy, congenial group, residents of Raven Landing, gathered for dinner one mid-March evening in the community's large, light-filled dining room. (There was much laughter when one woman at the table...

  • Transition for Cyrano's founder

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2016

    If retirement means "to call it quits" or "pack it in," as my dictionary suggests, that is not at all what Sandy Harper has in mind. It is a time of transition for her, of new perspectives, as she hands over the lead position of producing artistic director of Cyrano's Theatre Company to Teresa Pond, representing a younger generation. Sandy calls this transition a passing of the torch and the beginning of a new era for Cyrano's, but since the theater has become very much a part of who she is,...

  • Workouts heat up Anchorage YMCA

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2016

    I walked in cold. Although I've been a regular lap swimmer at the Anchorage Community YMCA for decades, ever since the day the pool opened back in the 1970s, I had not attended land classes. So there I was, a true klutz, in the Y's SilverSneakers® class. "I know why you love to swim," my husband has told me, kindly but pointedly, many times. "You can't trip when you are swimming." There's much truth in that. I spotted a friendly face. I'd often been in the pool with Alis Schmitt. She would b...

  • A success built on creativity and good food

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2016

    "What do I like best about my job? That's easy. It's my customers! I love our customers." It's an early Monday morning and Janet Hickok is multi-tasking. She has been an owner of Doriola's on Tudor Road in Anchorage since she drove north from Oregon back in 2005. She opened the small restaurant and customers have been like family. "Here's the deal," she states firmly as she visits with me, plans the day's fresh soups, and handles the ordering of the week's food supplies with another visitor. "I...

  • Anchorage soup kitchen's Thursday people

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2015

    Vicki Martin calls them the "Thursday people," and I had come specifically to meet one of them, "Grandpa John" Sterner. I'd heard that at age 94, John was among the most faithful, most staunch of the crew that gathers each Thursday at the Downtown Soup Kitchen to put together some 450 sandwiches, along with 60 gallons of fresh, homemade soups and several desserts. This happens daily, Monday through Friday at this Anchorage spot on the corner of Third Ave. and Cordova. Vicki is the program and vo...

  • Stories run wild when zoo volunteers gather

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2015

    Sit three people together who have long-term relationships with the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, and stories begin to flow, randomly, bouncing off one another. That's what happened recently on a grey September morning. One of those gathered around the table in the Zoo's small coffee shop was Bob Pate. His association with the Zoo goes back to its very beginnings and includes over 20 years as a Zoo board member. Then there was Susie Voke, daughter of Sammye Seawell. Sammye started the Zoo, with its...

  • Anchorage interfaith group brings back hunger walk

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2015

    "The community missed the event last year. We were sure of it." Penny Goodstein, president of the Anchorage Interfaith Council, is referring to the CROP Walk, a hunger walk with a long history in Anchorage and across the United States. "I think there had been 20 walks in Anchorage, with the last one here in 2013. When the possibility of resurrecting the Walk this fall was brought up at a council meeting a few months ago, the members were genuinely excited." This year's Walk will be held on...

  • Elder Mentor program is looking for volunteers

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2015

    The Elder Mentor Program – also known as Foster Grandparents – is looking for Alaska seniors who have a passion for working with children. Program Manager Jan Abbott says, “We have about 80 Elder Mentors currently, helping in schools across the state, but our goal is to have 150.” She adds that this goal is especially important as schools have reopened this September. Elder Mentors are people who are age 55 and older, from a lower income background. They volunteer about 15 to 20 hours a week in a local school or preschool, and earn a small, tax...

  • A welcoming home for generations

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2015

    Editor's note: This is the final story in a three-part series about Unalaska/Dutch harbor, based on Senior Voice contributing writer Dianne Barske's visit in May 2015. I was astonished. The Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska was there before me, fully intact – a modest, well-kept home standing on a broad, open lawn with mountains rising behind. I hadn't expected that. Knowing that I would be traveling to Unalaska and Dutch Harbor this past May, I'd been asked by staff at Alaska Child & Family in A...

  • Meeting Alice and the mayor

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2015

    Is it Dutch Harbor or Unalaska? Should it be written Unalaska/Dutch Harbor? I reflected upon this puzzle as our small plane landed on Amaknak Island in the heart of the Aleutian Islands chain. I soon got my answer from what might be considered the ultimate authority, the mayor of the city of Unalaska. "You don't want to say you've landed in Dutch Harbor," she clarified. "That would mean you landed in the water – and you don't want to do that. You landed in Unalaska." That was settled. And we lea...

  • A tour guide for a place like no other: Unalaska

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2015

    I looked out the window of the small plane as we approached our short runway and saw nothing but olive-green cliffs. They filled the window and I was startled. The bumpy bluffs seemed so close I felt I could reach out and touch all that green, sailing by on my left. It was Mother's Day, a few weeks ago, and a long-held wish was becoming reality. My husband Elliott and I were flying into Unalaska and Dutch Harbor to spend a few days exploring this place, a place like no other. We arrived in a...

  • Early Anchorage remembered

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2015

    Betty Berry settles into a friend's living room couch early on a grey April morning and opens up a journal, "Elberberry Tales," stories told by her father-in-law, Frank Olin Berry. His words had been captured and written down in the 1950s by a family friend. What Betty holds in her lap is a true treasure, a fascinating history of early Anchorage, its pages full of old black-and-white photos taken by her father-in-law, and stories previously kept within the Berry family. Frank's tales begin...

  • 'We came to stay'

    Dianne Barske, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2015

    "Where are you from?" "How long have you lived here?" Anchorage is known for its diversity, as a melting pot for people from all over the world, so these questions frequently pop up when introductions are being made. Three women of varying cultural backgrounds decided to submit a proposal to the Anchorage Centennial Committee, focusing on where some of this community's people came from and why they have stayed. Vivian Melde is Filipino and African American. "There is even some Chinese thrown in...

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