The two lives of Anchorage's (and Denali's) Nancy Bale
Series: Working past retirement in Alaska
December 1, 2023 | View PDF
When and why did you come to Alaska?
I was swept up in that back-to-the-land movement of the late 60s, early 70s. And so was my husband at the time. He had gone to Alaska a couple of years prior. We had known each other from college. He liked what he saw and he wanted to go back, so we were married and drove up the Alcan in '71. It was in our VW bus after he'd outfitted it with the bed and the Coleman stove-and all that romantic notion of going off into nowhere.
In my younger years I wanted to live in a rural area. I was horse crazy from day one. I liked to play cowboys and Indians with my next-door neighbor. I've had many cap guns. This just was a little bit of a modulation of that lifestyle where I wasn't a farm wife with 12 children and pigs and goats and chickens, but I was more of a rural wilderness person, whatever that was going to end up being.
So we drove up between Cantwell and McKinley Park entrance and met with people there. We found a smaller cabin that had just been built by a home site person on the Homestead Act.
After all those years in a cabin in McKinley Park, when did you make the big move to Anchorage?
I came to Anchorage in the wintertime in '93 to go to nursing school, and I graduated in 96. That was the last summer I worked full time at Denali, it was by then Denali, and moved to Anchorage to a tiny little four-plex in the fall of '96. Got a job at the Alaska military youth academy. You know that place has a staff nurse there. Learned a lot. I kept that job for a while and didn't get my school nurse job until 2005.
I had been living in the bush and when we first moved there, my husband and I thought we were going to live there until our deaths. So, my interest in coming in [to Anchorage], I think, just was attached to many things-wanting to succeed in the world of work, wanting to have a lifestyle in town. My interest in medical, and by the time I decided to go in, it was just time. I was 50 when I entered nursing school. I was 60 when I went to work for the school district.
Seems like big career changes later in life than is usually the case.
I was at an age where most people retire. But I hadn't built up any retirement. So in that sense, I couldn't retire. And I was healthy, happy, interested in the work-there was no reason. I just did everything a little bit later than the next person did, without thinking too hard about it, and came to Alaska, not thinking I'd ever be part of any system. Kind of having that sort of "hippie-esque" rejection of systems back at that time.
But then, after a while, you kind of see the lay of the land and how everything works, and how it isn't like there's "us" and "them." We're all really more human than anything else. And you know, a lot of people have decided at some point in history that saving your money up so that you can use it for retirement is a good idea. And in that sense, I felt happy to get more involved in the system.
I understand that you are contemplating retiring in a couple of years at age 80. Why is that your target age for retirement?
We're all getting closer to our death. There should be some time to spend with family that's not constrained by working. My own death is not too far away. Maybe I'll live till 100. That is my goal, to live until the age of 100. So that's what I tell doctors anyway, and so far, so good. But I am noticing the gradual decline of things. That's closing in.
And what do you think you will do in retirement?
I'll have more time at Denali. I still have my networks up there, so that's great. I'll have more time to go out and check out the cabin, which will be great, because I'll need to spend some time out there. I heard our cache fell down. As long as I have my health, I have a tick list of five years' worth of things I'd need to do, probably after retirement.
Do you have any advice for older persons nearing the age of retirement in terms of should they retire or keep on working?
If they like the work, there shouldn't be any constraints on retiring. But if they've always thought that they would like to travel somewhere, spend time somewhere, or teach outside of their workplace, or be involved in volunteer work or do other things with their lives that took time, it's not as if retirement is sitting in the BarcaLounger. It's that retirement is a new way to work with people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.