Brennan: Alaska’s people love challenge

By Tom Brennan |

Sometimes you learn things about yourself and the people and places you love when somebody else asks you about them.

Last Fall I was interviewed by a video crew working on a major program about Alaska, one that seems likely to become a national public broadcasting television show and/or a film to be shown to visitors at The Anchorage Museum.

The crew is interviewing a number of Alaskans about their state and how they feel about it. I guess they included me because I’m something of a museum piece. It was an honor to be chosen and a fascinating project to participate in

The interviewer asked me what I thought about Alaska’s future prospects, whether it will continue to be the thriving place it has become over the past generations. I thought about the question and told the man I felt Alaska would always be a vibrant place both because of its unique geography and features, and because of the unique nature of the people who are drawn here.

I consider its prospects promising because Alaska will always attract people who enjoy a challenge, both those who come from afar and those who are born here and decide to stay.

Those who don’t want to be challenged will move away to places where it’s easier to live. And those who move away because they must to make their lives elsewhere — for career or spousal reasons — will do as they have always done, take pride in their time here and try to stay in touch with their friends in the North Country.

Alaska is a vastly different place, but it’s a lot like the nation of Israel in that way, a country that became great and stays great because it attracts and holds a very special kind of person, the men and women who are drawn to the place because of its geographic location, its unique features and the challenge and attractions of living here.

Our state has a challenging climate, one that has its discomforts but offsetting benefits like great fishing, hiking, hunting, skiing, canoeing and climbing. It’s also a place you can get great enjoyment from just looking around. Our mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and seas are matched by few places in the world. Its winter skies can be breathtaking. And it has the added attraction of being part of the United States, a great nation.

My wife and I came to Alaska because we got married in New England and almost settled down there. We were both young newspaper reporters and were still living and working within a hundred miles of our birthplaces. Shortly after we decided to spend our lives together, we put money down on a 200-year-old farmhouse, a place with about five acres of developable land, no central heat and no plumbing. Then it occurred to us that we would be tying ourselves down for years before we had ever been anywhere else.

We were outdoor folk and decided to head for Alaska. The 49th state seemed the perfect place for us. I went into our newspaper’s library and started mining for information in Editor and Publisher Yearbook. Our managing editor saw me and knew instantly what it meant; we were thinking of moving. I tried to be invisible. “Where are you going?” he asked. “Anchorage,” I mumbled, thinking I was about to get a lecture on loyalty. “Write to Chip Atwood,” he said. “He used to work for me.”

Robert B. Atwood was then-publisher of The Anchorage Times and had worked for The Worcester Telegram 30 years before. He moved to Anchorage because his wife’s family — the banking Rasmusons — were hoping Bob and Evangeline would come to Anchorage. Evangeline’s family loaned Bob the money to buy the small but promising Anchorage Daily Times. After they came, both of them were swept up in the life of the territory, with Bob one of the leaders of the ultimately successful statehood movement.

I wrote to Bob and got a job offer from Bill Tobin, managing editor of The Times and a fine guy. When Marnie and I came to Alaska we never looked back. I have had a very enjoyable and challenging career in the journalism and public relations businesses. She was an editor of The Times before joining me in what became known as Brennan & Brennan Inc. and later built a successful career as a telecommunications executive.

When that television interviewer asked me what I thought about Alaska’s future prospects, my answer surprised both of us. But it is obvious. Alaska is composed of its natural features, its climate, its people and its resources. Its citizens will always include large numbers of people who are drawn to just such a challenge.

The challenge brings them and the challenge keeps them here. And they are its best hope for the future.

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