50th celebrations in the works

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Planning is under way for celebrating the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood, and the chair of the Alaska Statehood Celebration Commission said in Soldotna last week that she hopes statewide festivities would promote tourism, foster economic development and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Gail Phillips, former Speaker of the Alaska House, attended the Tri-Borough Commission meeting held Feb. 8 in Soldotna, and discussed the current status of the organizing effort.

The Alaska Statehood Celebration Commission was established by the Legislature in 2005, she said, and charged with planning the 50th celebration.

“Time-wise, we’re looking at doing a major celebration during the year 2008 culminating with the huge, big, gigantic party statewide Jan. 3, 2009,” Phillips said. “The goals of the celebration commission are to create an implement a plan of action, support Alaska’s existing tourism attractions and events and foster economic development, leave a lasting legacy for future generations to appreciate, and involve all Alaskans from throughout the state in the celebration.”

An executive committee has settled on an official logo for the celebration, Phillips said. Created by Sitka artist Dean Potter, it’s gold and blue rectangle features the familiar Ursa Major and Polaris of the Alaska flag above a simple message: “Celebrating Statehood 1959-2009 ALASKA 50.” The executive committee, Phillips said, would approve use of the logo.

The U.S. Postal Service will create an Alaska commemorative stamp, and perhaps a 10-stamp series depicting the succession from statehood up to today, Phillips said. As part of the celebration, the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles is planning a new standard issue plate starting in 2008.

Much of the work to date has been in the background, but now, Phillips said, it is time to branch out and begin involving communities from across Alaska in the planning effort. Tentative plans envision 50th celebration components being added to already existing events and sponsoring special events on statehood benchmark dates.

The major celebration will be in Anchorage, however, 50th events should happen everywhere, Phillips said, telling officials at the Tri-Borough Commission meeting that it was time to create local organizing committees.

The commission is looking for ideas for local events to add to a statewide activities calendar that will be made available to nationwide tourist industry. New events may be eligible for seed funds depending on availability, she said.

On Jan. 3, 2009, Phillips said she hopes to see bonfires lit in every community. Organizers are researching the possibility of having a satellite positioned to photograph the state from space on bonfire night.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams laid down a challenge, telling Phillips his bonfire would be bigger than hers.

Fundraising is under way to help pay for legacy projects to be left behind after the celebration. One idea is a display at the Anchorage Airport, she said.

“We will try to put those legacy projects in wherever we can,” she said, adding that organizers are looking for help from Congress.

Unlike that of 25 years ago, Phillips said the commission wants the golden anniversary to be remembered.

“Let me tell you how little there is in the history and archives regarding the 25th anniversary. It’s sad,” she said.

Research at state and local libraries, museums, visits to antique stores and Web sites like eBay and others in search of memorabilia, and other efforts turned up very little, she said. Everything about the 50th will be recorded and archived, she said.

“Fifty years from now when people of the state want to do the 100th anniversary, they can just go to this and ask, ‘Why did those people do that in those years? Whey didn’t they do this?’ At least they’ll have something to go on.”

Another goal is education, and the 50th celebration is an opportunity, Phillips said, to teach Alaskans, especially the young, as well as visitors from around the country about the unique nature of Alaska’s history and fight for statehood.

“We owe our ancestors so much,” she said. “I look forward to us doing equally as much in the next 50 years so our grandkids can look back and say, ‘Gee, those people did alright.’”

The nine-member statehood celebration commission in-cludes four legislators. The other five represent the four judicial districts of the state. Besides Phillips, commission members include Vice President Chris Constant, development director of the Alaska Humanities Forum; former Nome Mayor Leo Rasmussen; Mia Costello, of Fairbanks, former deputy communications director for Gov. Frank Murkowski; Kate Tesar, of Juneau, who has extensive experience in planning major events; Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks; Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla; Sen. Donald Olson, D-Golovin; and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

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