Dec. 7, 2023 — Barbara Hood — From Confusion to Clarity: The Communicator’s Gift

Barbara Hood’s involvement in communications began when she served as a reporter for the Polar Star student newspaper while an undergraduate at UAF in the 1970s and continued when she served as an editor for an environmental law journal while in law school at the University of California Berkeley.

A commitment to effective communication has remained an important part of both her professional and volunteer endeavors ever since. As a lawyer, she served in the public sector in Alaska for 30 years before retiring as Communications Counsel for the Alaska Court System. As a volunteer, she has served on several advocacy boards and neighborhood groups and has used her interests in both writing and photography to coordinate communications efforts on behalf of local, state and national non-profits. Today, she focuses on maintaining her own writing practice and contributes when she can to local and state publications.

Hood served on the Board of 49 Writers from 2017-2023, including four years as board president and three as volunteer executive director. She credits 49 Writers with inspiring and supporting her own writing interests and continues to volunteer for the organization because of the value she believes it brings to Alaska’s writing community.

Barbara Hood
Barbara Hood

Oct. 5, 2023 — Roman Dial — The Adventurer’s Son

Once called America’s most imaginative adventurer, Roman Dial has pioneered long-distance ski trips on light-weight Nordic skis and ice-skates, bicycling on snow, adventure racing, bikepacking, and packrafting. He’s climbed the world’s tallest trees, going from tree-to-tree for days without touching the ground in California redwoods and sequoias, Borneo jungles, and Australian eucalyptus and searched for ice-worms on high mountain glaciers in Alaska, Bhutan, China, and Tibet. He has published stories and photographs in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Patagonia Catalog, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Bicycling, Mountain Bike, Australian Geographic, Rock and Ice, Climbing, X-C Skiing, BackpackingAmerican Alpine Journal, and Alaska Magazine among others. 

Dial has taught at Alaska Pacific University for over 30 years as a professor of mathematics and biology. He has a PhD in biological sciences from Stanford University and a masters in mathematics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has published in Nature, Nature Geoscience, Global Change Biology, Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Molecular Phylogenetics and EvolutionForest Science, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Biotropica, and others and once appeared on the cover of Science

He is married to his teenage sweetheart, Peggy. The two circled the globe in 2008-09. 

The Adventurer’s Son is his second book.

Roman Dial
Roman Dial

Sept. 7, 2023 — Brian Walch and Sherrie Simmonds — AI/Chat GPT: The Ethics, Pitfalls, and Everyday Use

Brian Walch provides services to help empower managers to lead themselves, their teams, and their organizations. His 25 year career includes experience with people and systems to support growth from the inside out.

Sherrie, retired now, keeps active by traveling, teaching drivers safety, membership in two book clubs, an investment club, four Toastmasters clubs, and Alaska Professional Communicators, and personally learning how to use ChatGPT.

Brian is the owner of Shiftfocus Coaching and Consulting. He provides services to help empower managers to lead themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

During his 25-year career, he has worked with employees and leaders across HR, IT, Finance, Operations, and the C-suite. He led HR as a partner in a growing national consulting firm and has extensive experience in recruiting, retention, and employee development. In addition to his business experience, he has been the technical lead or project manager for projects that have transformed small businesses, modernized government agencies, and improved enterprise-wide systems and processes.

Brian uses his experience with people and systems to develop tools and processes that support growth from the inside out. He has developed proprietary frameworks such as the Integrated Life Framework and Integrated Business Framework to support managers and leaders. He provides executive coaching, business coaching, consulting, and public speaking services. 

Sherrie Simmonds retired from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation in 2011, where she served 16 years as Corporate Communications Officer, overseeing all internal and external communications.

Since retirement, Sherrie has enjoyed traveling and participating in church activities and numerous clubs and organizations. She teaches drivers’ safety classes for AARP, is a member of two book clubs, an investment club, and four Toastmasters clubs, along with Alaska Professional Communicators. She has served numerous terms as both president and treasurer of APC.

Sherrie seizes every opportunity to learn new things and was instrumental in keeping APC continuing to meet during Covid when she dove headfirst into learning Zoom.

In light of ChatGPT’s current popularity, she has been learning how we might personally embrace this technology.

June 1, 2023 — Melinda Munson & Gretchen Wehmhoff — We bought the free paper: inadvertently becoming the state’s two oldest interns

SPEAKERS
Melinda Munson and Gretchen Wehmhoff purchased The Skagway News for $20 in early 2020. While preparing to travel to Skagway with Melinda’s family of seven children in February, the Diamond Princess remained docked in Japan with a deadly outbreak of a new virus, COVID-19. Two weeks after taking ownership in March, a pandemic was declared, borders were closed and the cruise ship industry was dead in the water. The new owners published one paper before being closed off from their printer in Whitehorse, Yukon. The lack of cruise ship capital crippled the small town of Skagway whose economy is 90% dependent on tourism.

The tale of the paper is a mirror of the tale of the town of Skagway. Two women took a leap of faith in their journalistic skills and each other to keep The Skagway News alive and their own lives in balance. The Skagway News is surviving, but the challenges have not stopped, including a major rockslide on the largest cruise ship dock in town, which threatens to shut down half the town’s income.

Munson and Wehmhoff have learned about the job, themselves and each other as they make tough decisions in the name of keeping The Skagway News alive.

SPEAKER BIOS
In November 2019, Melinda Munson, a long-term substitute teacher and part-time freelance journalist living in Chugiak, saw an article in the Anchorage Daily News in which Publisher Larry Persily promised to give The Skagway News to the best applicants willing to move to the remote Southeast Alaska town of 800 year-round residents. She talked her dubious colleague, Gretchen Wehmhoff, into applying as a team. Melinda didn’t tell her husband about the application until Persily made contact. Lucky for her, her spouse didn’t ask for a divorce. By March of 2020, Munson, her husband and her seven kids sold their home and drove 800 miles to live in a pricey 1,300 foot rental where they would encounter Covid-19 and rockslides that nearly destroyed the town’s economy – and the paper.

A believer in small town journalism and now 50% owner of a newspaper – a job Melinda didn’t even think to dream up – she is learning how to shop in a rural grocery store (freeze everything) report on local politics without getting embroiled (don’t sign petitions) and be an editor in a place so small, the residents literally know what she is having for dinner.

Gretchen Wehmhoff, a retired journalism teacher, advised the award-winning Chugiak Pegasus for over two decades. She co-owns The Skagway News with Melinda Munson.

Wehmhoff moved to Alaska in 1965 with her family. For the Wehmhoffs, education was an expectation. Both her parents had degrees. Her mother had two and her grandfather and both of her grandmothers also held degrees. Wehmhoff’s entire life was spent surrounded by strong female role models through family, Girl Scouting, work and volunteerism.

Wehmhoff was the public relations director for Susitna Girl Scout Council, did layout for the Anchorage Daily News, then began teaching in 1985, first in Kenai, then with the Anchorage School District.

Upon retirement from teaching, Wehmhoff’s dream was to operate a newspaper that paid young journalists. While teaching, she took students on more than a dozen trips to national journalism conferences, introduced them to local press and journeyed with them through multiple First Amendment battles – successfully.

After retiring in 2009, she freelanced for local newspapers covering news in the Chugiak/Eagle River area. Wehmhoff entered politics, running for the Alaska Legislature and Anchorage Assembly. She was appointed to finish the term of the Chugiak/Eagle River assembly member in 2018-19.

She currently teaches communication courses for the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Melinda Munson and Gretchen Wehmhoff

May 4, 2023 — Jessica Cherry — Polar Exploration is for Everyone

Jessica Cherry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA’s), Climate Services Director for Alaska, will speak at Alaska Professional Communicators meeting May 4, 2023. Join us, either by Zoom or LIVE with lunch.

Polar Exploration is For Everyone is Jessica Cherry’s talk title. Jessica Cherry will tell the story of the making of the anthology book she co-edited with Frank Soos:  Wheels on Ice; stories of cycling in Alaska.

Jessica Cherry is a geoscientist, writer, and commercial airplane pilot living in Anchorage, Alaska.  Cherry co-edited, with Frank Soos, the 2022 anthology Wheels on Ice:  stories of cycling in Alaska, and wrote a weekly column for the Anchorage Press from 2019-2022.  In 2022, Cherry was an Individual Artist Awardee from the Rasmuson Foundation and is currently working on a memoir about scientific aviation.  By day, Cherry serves as NOAA’s Climate Services Director for Alaska. 

April 6, 2023 — Dr. Timothy Smith — Communication Among Musicians and the Value of Live Events

Dr. Timothy Smith, Professor of Piano at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), will speak at Alaska Professional Communicators meeting April 6, 2023. Join us in-person with lunch or by Zoom.

Dr. Smith described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “A pianist who interlaces grace with bursts of power and color” will speak about the special forms of communication that occurs among musicians and how that is transmitted to an audience in live concerts and the value of live events. Since the world has experienced the trauma of COVID and resulting isolation, can the genuineness, immediacy, and excitement of live classical music be replaced?

Dr. Smith has won major prizes in international competitions. He has given master classes in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and North and South America. He has performed in over 50 concerts in Asia and Japan. In the U.S., his students have received honors and recognition in local, state, regional, and national competitions. Timothy Smith is a Steinway Concert Artist and is Associate Dean of Programs and Compliance at the College of Arts and Sciences at UAA.

During the months of COVID, Smith and his wife Rumi produced videos for their YouTube channel. These can be found via a Google search or accessible via this link.

Dr. Timothy Smith

March 2, 2023 — Bonnye Matthews — Author Serendipities

After decades of work as a public and homeschool teacher, and working in business and federal government sectors, Alaskan author, Bonnye Matthews, experienced a life-changing event in 1988. No longer able to work; instead, she was expected to die. Knowing she had work to do, Matthews decided to write with an aim to prevent or reduce the hazards that changed her life. Her books on chemical poisoning let her hear from nine readers, each of whom told her the book prevented their plans to commit suicide.

In 2005, she moved to Alaska. She took an Alaska History class. Her fascination with who were the first Americans grew. Matthews continued to research while she wrote the Winds of Change five-volume novel series followed by a three-volume novella series and a tiny non-fiction booklet with a focus on her paradigm. All of her prehistoric novels and novellas were published between 2012 and 2018. Each of those is an award-winner at state or national levels. Needing a change of pace, Matthews shifted to write Arctic Dinosaurs which has already received an award and is entered in other contests. The first draft of Sanctuary: In His Pocket is just finished and has moved to the beta reader phase. She says, “It’s the hardest job I ever had.”

Bonnye Matthews
Bonnye Matthews

Feb. 2, 2023 — Rolfe Buzzell — Editor of two memoirs from the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush of the late 1890s.

Rolfe Buzzell has been a resident of Alaska for 45 years. He earned a Master of Arts degree and a Ph.D., both in History, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was employed for two years as a historian for the National Park Service in Alaska and 29 years as a historian for the State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources. He worked as a field historian documenting historic and prehistoric sites on public construction projects and he participated in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill cleanup monitoring the protection of cultural sites. Dr. Buzzell authored 60 interpretive signs posted along Alaska’s highways celebrating the Gold Rush Centennial, wrote approximately 100 professional reports including a history of bridges in Alaska, and worked as an expert witness for the State on litigation regarding the use of navigable waters and rights-of-ways for historic trails and roads across public lands. He mapped and documented the ruins of the gold rush town of Sunrise and is an expert on the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush of 1896-1898. He edited two books by people who lived in Sunrise and nearby mining camps in the 1890s. His article, “Women of the Sunrise Mining Camps, 1895-1901,” was recently published in Alaska History journal. He is currently writing a history of the town of Chitina in Alaska’s Copper River Valley.

Summary of Presentation: Historian Rolfe Buzzell will discuss two books he edited on the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush of 1895-1901. The first is the memoirs of Albert “Jack” Morgan, entitled Memories of Old Sunrise, Gold Mining on Alaska’s Turnagain Arm (1994 and 2013),in which Morgan writes about his experiences as a miner in the Sunrise area. The second book is Gold Rush Wife, The Adventures of Nellie Frost on Turnagain Arm, 1895-1901 (2016, 2020) which provides rare insights into the role of women in one of southcentral Alaska’s earliest mining camps. Dr. Buzzell will talk about the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush, which began 20 years before the founding of Anchorage, and how he came to edit the two manuscripts. He will also provide highlights of these two books, which provide markedly different perspectives on life in a remote mining camp. The books are available from Alaska’s “Ember Press.”   

Photo of Rolfe Buzzell
Rolfe Buzzell


Jan. 5, 2023 — Tom Kizzia — Ghost Town Dreams

Kizzia traveled widely in rural Alaska during a 25-year career as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. Kizzia was named 2022 Historian of the Year by the Alaska Historical Society for Cold Mountain Path, his latest bookHe also penned the bestseller Pilgrim’s Wilderness, chosen by the New York Times as the best true crime book set in Alaska. And, The Wake of the Unseen Object, was re-issued in an Alaska classics series by the University of Alaska Press. Learn more from Kizzia as he speaks to us from his home in Homer, Alaska.

Tom Kizzia

Dec. 1, 2022 — Dr. Beth Baker — The Joy of Playing Music During Winter Holidays

Make reservations for this luncheon

Dr. Beth Baker will play a variety of instruments and share stories of her outdoor adventures, including climbing Denali, running dogs in the Iditarod, ocean kayaking, and her interest in recent science about music and the human brain.

Dr. Baker, a retired physician, was drawn to Alaska in 1982 because of all the outdoor opportunities. Her lifelong interest in music, especially holiday music, will help sound in the holidays.

Beth Baker

Beth Baker