The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Editor 

Seward hosts historical society, museum conference


Photos courtesy Seward Community Library

At one time, Elite Candy Kitchen was located in downtown Seward where people gathered to talk about the latest news.

A small group of volunteers with the Resurrection Bay Historical Society have pulled off an almost impossible feat. They organizsed a conference despite a long list of challenges that could have derailed the project if they hadn't been so determined.

For the first time, Seward was selected to host the annual Alaska Historical Society and Alaska Museum conference which draws 200 people from a diverse historical minded community in Alaska.

This "little engine that could" committee, led by Sewardites Colleen Kelly and Shannon Kovac, are holding their breath right now, hoping their hard work will pay off. The conference begins Wednesday, Oct. 1 and runs through Saturday the 4th.

"The seed was planted by Doug Capra," said Kelly. "Originally it was his idea to hold the conference here but we were in the process of packing up our collection to move to the library."

Kelly said the Resurrection Bay Historical Society invited the conference not thinking it would be approved because Seward had limited venues to accommodate the number of people expected. But, the conference did choose Seward because it had never been here and Seward has a thriving historical community.

"We didn't think we were ready, but we were accepted so we just dug in to pull it off," said Kelly.

Kovac and Kelly attended last year's conference in Haines to look to see how they handled behind-the-scene logistics but, said Kelly, Haines is much bigger than Seward and has a large venue.

The challenges facing this small group of people were big. How to transport people from one place to another? How to get their hands on all the items needed such as cutlery and plates and tables?

That's where the city of Seward came into the picture. Kelly said AVTEC offered up needed items and Major Marine donated forks and knives. They didn't have spoons so Icicle Seafood came to the rescue. Churches offered plates.

"It is humbling to go hat in hand to make these 'asks' and meet with such generosity," said Kelly.

All of these businesses and groups helped out the RBHS even though the conference is not open to the public. The registration fee for the conference is $300 and that might be outside the means of a lot of the public. Regardless, Kelly said it has taken a village to get this conference organized.

"Our aim was to spread the wealth in the community," said Kelly. "We didn't want to hire a caterer from Anchorage. In a way, we wanted to say thanks to those businesses who go the extra mile to serve the community year-round."

Founding member of the RBHS, Willard Dunham, said it is a profound honor to have the conference held in Seward. "The fact that Colleen Kelly and Shannon Kovac managed to wrangle an invite from the conference is remarkable."

In recent years, said Dunham, several other Alaskan cities have followed in Seward's footsteps by securing library and museum collaborations and that model is likely to be discussed at the conference.

Kelly's co-chair, Shannon Kovac, echoes her colleague's sentiments.

Hosting the conference in Seward is a wonderful opportunity to show off our community. In addition to being located in such a gorgeous setting, Seward's businesses have much to offer and I'm hoping they will benefit.

"Putting on a conference of this size has been an eye opening experience for me," said Kovac. "The community support has been tremendous. It takes a lot of volunteers to ensure a conference for 200 people runs smoothly and the Host Committee has been fortunate that Seward is such a generous community."

Kovac said they have volunteers lined up to meet and greet the attendees, to assist with serving food at the receptions, to run the audio visual equipment at the sessions, to set up tables and chairs.

"I never realized there were so many tables in Seward, and believe me it takes quite a few tables to fill the needs of exhibitors, and to serve lunch and dinner for 200 plus people," said Kovac. "Seward has been good to us."

Conference participants have signed up for post conference excursions which also infuses revenue for local businesses just as the busy season winds down.

Local residents are also participating by making presentations at the conference. Willard Dunham will present a panel on the life and times of Jujiro Wada who pioneered the trail now known as the Iditarod. Jim Simard will moderate a panel on the use of the web to attract visitors to museums and libraries.

Karen Brewster will moderate a panel that explores traditional uses of Exit Glacier and historian Doug Capra will present a short play with the help of the Port City Players about the life of artist Rockwell Kent. Jackie Pels will introduce the newly released memoir of Pat Williams, ther 104-year-old Seward resident that passed just two weeks short of the conference opening. And, Mark Swanson will be involved in the presentation on Seward's history. The Swingin' Grannies will be showcased at the conference and John Pfeiffenberger is providing music for the conference banquet.

The Resurrection Bay Historical Society is the keeper of Seward's treasures. The 100 plus members form a non-profit that plays a role much larger than some historical societies in other areas. In Seward, the city operates the library and museum but the RBHS actually own and curate an extensive collection. Add to that the Historic Preservation Commission which has a direct line to the city council because it is a required commission under the Certified Local Government status for the city of Seward. When you put the society and the commission and the library and museum together, Seward's history is in good hands.


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