The Edwards Agency


Teaching in the Alaskan boondocks

Mary Lukens

Mary Lukens enjoyed being interviewed in my den where for 30 years I've written scads of articles. Would you deduce that I'm ex-Navy?
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
I've known Mary Lukens for 12 or so years. She has dedicated her life to teaching native children the basics of education. Often she's way out in the bush country at small villages that may consist of 30 people where she'll find eager students awaiting her.
   Previously, Mary had taught at Northshore and Lake Washington, but the challenge wasn't there to work with those such as the children in far-off Alaskan hinterlands.
   She's qualified to teach any subject on any level. Each district receives a sum of oil money to offer schooling for the children.
   One thing bothers Mary. "Alcoholism is rampant in many areas, and it's a problem," she said.
   The main means of getting about is via snowmobiles, and the men scoot here and there to other nearby villages to buy needs. "Most men don't work," Mary said, "and the women do the work."
   One year, Mary taught correspondence courses to far-outlying homes via plane, with a pilot to land it at the homes to pick up completed papers, give exams, and leave courses to be completed. Sometimes they couldn't land. Too dangerous.
   For 20 days a month, she taught this way and found it challenging. Otherwise, the children would have had no education.
   One year when way out in the bush country, she took her seven pupils to California to stay at her mother's place. From there, she took them to Disneyland.
   "Never before had the kids seen civilization, and it was interesting," Mary said. "They 'd never seen a car or a truck. Once I looked out to see one of the kids standing in the road with a huge truck a'coming. Quickly I ran out and pulled him to safety. They sure loved Disneyland and talked about it for days. No other Alaskan group had had the privilege," she said.
   Guess who footed most of the bill? Mary. That's giving.
   During summertime, Mary comes out from the boondocks and stays with my niece, Diane, of Bothell. From there, the two often travel to Europe, Africa, and the Far East. Previously, Mary had taught in China and New Zealand, but said, "The Chinese would rather have British teachers than Americans."
   As for the rugged living conditions in the bush area, Mary said some teachers can't take it and they are flown out. Mary has eight more years to go to retire. No doubt then she'll come down south and begin writing her book about boondocks teaching. There are some writers who are anxious to do articles on her.
   I admire her spunk and the doing without that sets a good example that life is a lot of giving. I'd also taught, but it was on Mercer Island and I suffered not. Her dedication embarrases me. Good for her.
   Oh yes, nearly forgot. One year she taught and passed so many pupils, that there weren't any to teach the following year. Thus she had to go elsewhere.