Women gain an equal role in Pioneers of Alaska

Ralph Buzard thumbs through a book for sale as Joanna Hollier, right, makes a recommendation Friday morning during the Pioneers of Alaska’s Grand Igloo Convention at the Soldotna Sports Center. Buzard said he was interested in learning more about his grandfather, who settled in Hope in 1896.

The Pioneers of Alaska is no longer an organization governed by a male-majority. 


In a state-wide annual convention hosted in the Soldotna Sports Center on Saturday, the 200-plus present members voted 181-55 to grant women leadership roles in the organization, according to Associated Press reports.

The former grand president, Ozzie Osborne, said the organization likely now has more women members than men.  

“It’s just one of those things that had to be,” Osborne said. “In this modern day and age, women got just as much the right as men do, and they’re pretty much the back bone behind all the men anyway.”

The 71-year-old Kenai resident supports the decision and said it will likely grow their organization. 

The organization was founded in 1907 in Nome and strives to preserve early Alaskan history and improve social, political and economic state conditions.

All members are at a minimum 30-year state residents, per the organization’s membership requirements.

Osborne said their fraternal presence in the past has discouraged some women from joining.

Currently, they have about 5,000 members, he said.

“It’s just one of those things that finally evolved the way it should be,” he said. “Now there’s no restrictions on anything, so they have just as much right as the men.”

Osborne said Pioneers have been working on liberating the female role in the organization for several years. 

“I think most everybody is in favor of it,” he said. “A few of the old people or die-hard old men that don’t want to see change — they think it’s been going along just fine.”

Anchorage resident and longtime memeber Fred Walatka said he felt that way. 

“If something’s not broken, why fix it?” the 77-year-old said. Although he added that it was “a step in the right direction.”

Jim Herrick, of Nikiski, said less members than he had expected showed up to the convention.

The recent heavy rains and flooding in southcentral areas of the state, the 78-year-old said, were probably to blame for some absentees from Seward.

Herrick, along with the others present at the conference, was headed to a banquet before members return home to Nome, Fairbanks, Palmer, Cordova, Haines, Sitka and many other areas in the state.

At the banquet, he said all the members were going to receive pens that he designed.

“Years ago in Anchorage, one of the conventions up there, the theme of it was tents to towers,” he said. “It started out in 1915 as a tent city and then they got the big tall buildings. The give-away gift was a little set of four coasters, you know, for your coffee cup, and it had the tents to tower logo on it.”

This year their gifts were engraved with a map of the Kenai Peninsula by which all the members could remember the conference.

Herrick said he was happy with the conference, but he is angry the proposition regarding women’s roles in the club has become public.

“It’s a private club and what we do is what we do, and everybody else doesn’t need to know about it,” he said. “Whether it’s good or bad, it makes no difference.” 

Information from the Associated Press, originally reported by KMXT, was used in this story.


Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclairon.com.