Sumner shares stories of women pilots
by Carole Mercer
Sandi Sumner arrived in Alaska on Amelia Earhart’s birthday: July 24 in 1994. “This was a coincidence,” she notes, “but I think it was an omen of what brought me here.”
Sumner spoke to Alaska Press Women at the May luncheon, where she shared stories about 20 of the 37 pilots featured in her new book, Women Pilots of Alaska. She became interested in Alaska’s women pilots while serving on the board of the Museum of Transportation and Industry in Wasilla. Fellow board member Ruth Martin Jefford’s story was known, but many other women pilots’ stories were still untold. When Sumner organized a professional air show in Wasilla in 1997, the seeds for Women Pilots of Alaska really started to germinate. With the help of the Alaska chapter of the International Organization of Ninety-Nines (of which Sumner is an honorary member), she was able to find women to interview. Sumner wanted to learn why each woman desired to fly, what it meant to her, where she learned, and when she soloed.
Sumner’s own background is as varied as the women she’s written about. She started her writing career working on school newspapers and club newsletters as a young person, and graduated to writing stories and publicity in many roles in advertising and marketing, including managing the Saratoga, California Chamber of Commerce. She wrote a weekly newspaper column focusing on business issues, and also did marketing for a hospital at South Lake Tahoe. She launched Healthcare Job Net, a printed medical recruiting magazine and acted as editor and publisher along with doing some of the sales.
Now that Women Pilots of Alaska is published, Sumner is turning her interests to another high achievement: a book about women climbers. She’s already interviewed Barbara Washburn (first woman to summit Denali, back in 1947) and Stacy Allison (first American woman to summit Mt. Everest).
Sumner is making a name for herself with the initial success of Women Pilots of Alaska. It’s true that she may have arrived in Alaska on Amelia Earhart’s birthday, but that’s where the similarities end. For her, there’s no disappearing in sight!
Women Pilots of Alaska is available at Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, McFarland Publishing and at local independent bookstores such as Title Wave and Cook Inlet Books in Anchorage, Fireside Books in Palmer, and Gulliver’s Books and New Horizons Gallery in Fairbanks.