Family first

For Mother of the Year, nothing comes before caring for her clan

Posted: Sunday, May 08, 2005


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  Helen Carlson is this year's Alaska Mother of the Year. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Helen Carlson is this year's Alaska Mother of the Year.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Parenting can often be a thankless job, but not for Kasilof resident Helen Carlson, who was recently awarded the title of Alaska Mother of the Year in Anchorage by American Mothers Inc., in recognition of her achievements in parenting and service to her community.

Carlson, 77, is the mother of eight, grandmother of 43 and great-grandmother of 11 and was only 8 years old when AMI honored its first Mother of the Year in 1935.

Carlson said AMI is a national, interfaith, nonpolitical, nonprofit organization for women and men who want to strengthen the moral and spiritual foundations of the family and home. It also is the official sponsor of Mothers Day.

With a twinkle in her eye, she said her nomination and subsequent title as Alaska Mother of the Year, like her children, came as a wonderful surprise.

"I didn't plan on having any kids," she said. "Not a one was planned, but how grateful (I am) and truly miraculous they are."

Carlson gives credit to her mother and grandmother for teaching her how to love a family, and also to her husband, Doyle, for helping to care for them.

Doyle gives all the credit right back to his wife.


Helen Carlson, center, is surrounded by grandchildren Kierstin, Aarick and Daniel Carlson at a soccer game in Kenai recently. Her large family is at the center of her busy life.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"It's only been 58 years that we have been married. She is the greatest. She puts everyone and thing ahead of herself," he said. "She kept the kids, me, the house and the business running and doing the right thing. She was always loving and firm."

Carlson said of all her activities — scouting, PTA, 4-H, service work and volunteering at numerous organizations — her family has brought her the greatest joys and sorrows.

"The pain of losing our son, Dennis, is the greatest sorrow I have had to bare. It is still painful for me," she said. "And yet I cannot describe in words the joy I have had in my posterity, in their achievements, their service to others, their righteous desires, their faith in the Lord, the way they accept adversity and the love they extend to my husband and I."

In their letters about their mother, the Carlson clan, Laura, Linda, Lynn, Carl, David, Bill and Connie, cite their mom's love of humanity and strays, her selflessness to others — included giving most of what the family had away because she knew another person needed it more — and for teaching them to have compassion and understanding toward others. They also wrote about never feeling unloved or taking second place to the many civic and religious responsibilities their mom juggled.

"... All of her life's efforts are focused on bringing our family (immediate and extended) closer together," her son David wrote. "Her countless hours spent on family games, genealogical activities, letters on birthdays, e-mails and phone calls illustrate her devotion to her calling (as a mom)."

Though her youngest child, Connie, 40, wishes the AMI program was set up pageant style, where moms would be required to hold a kid, talk on the phone and check homework all the while stirring something on the stove, the selection process is much more low key.

That doesn't mean it isn't time consuming or nerve wracking. After being nominated, each nominee must fill out a 56-page application that includes a chronicle of her life, service, work experience, religious activities, current photo and a statement of her philosophy of parenting. Also required are letters from her children on why they believe their mom is the best and a statement explaining how parenting has impacted their lives, contributions the husband has made and recommendations from business, civic and religious leaders.

A panel of judges reviews the applications and makes the decision.

"And then you wait." Carlson said. "It sounds corny but just being nominated would have been fine."

In being named the Alaska Mother of the Year, Carlson received a large bouquet of flowers and a variety of gift certificates from Anchorage businesses. She also traveled to Houston recently for the week-long AMI National Mother of the Year competition.

Though she didn't win the national honor, she said she was honored just to attend,

"It was just fabulous," Carlson said. "I didn't expect it to be so great. It was really something — so many mothers and the things they have accomplished is just really something. They entertained us royally."

Carlson, attended the conference with her husband and two daughters. They arrived in Houston a little early for the festivities April 26, so they "were able" to help set things up, Carlson said.

After that she was swept up in a week of banquets, ice cream socials, classes, speakers and tours.


This family portrait was taken in honor of Helen and Doyle Carlson's 50th wedding anniversary.

Photo provided

Some notable moments for her were taking a wagon ride to tour houses built in the 1800s, watching cattle being dehorned, seeing calves get "dipped" in a vat of water to shoo off the flies and just seeing Houston for the first time.

"I was really impressed. There's trees," she said.

Even more notable was meeting other mothers, hearing about their lives and seeing they all had some things in common.

"It was just neat to see these mothers from states all over the U.S., and they had the same values," Carlson said. "Faith in God seemed to be a predominant tool to carry them through. Oh yes, and the same for children; that they have a happy home, that they also have the faith and the good character qualities that will prepare them for life and make them good citizens."

One mother from Oregon had helped enact restrictions on pornography in her state. Another from California started a nonprofit group with her husband to help children with congenital heart problems in Third World countries.

But beyond their multitude of volunteer projects and community-oriented good deeds, the women didn't lose sight of their obligations to family, Carlson said.

"They're very dedicated mothers. That is their first priority. All these other fabulous things are just added on."

Despite her humility, Carlson did admit that, being from Alaska, she was something of a celebrity. At the Mother of the Year ceremony, she was first up to the podium to give a speech and have her biography read.

"We were escorted to the podium by the military all dressed in their dress uniforms," she said. "Oh they looked so handsome"

As part of the conference, Carlson attended several classes on ways mothers could improve their communities. The two assignments she brought home with her are to fight pornography and establish a mother mentoring program.

"I'm getting so excited wanting to do something good and realizing that it is important that I do," Carlson said. "Being Mother of the Year I hope it will be a vehicle that I can do something. I'm afraid of it but I know I need to reach out and do things I'm afraid to do."

AMI provides Mothers of the Year with information to help them get started in their new projects. Carlson plans to start by contacting law enforcement officers to find out what the laws are regarding pornography in the area and what she can do to help strengthen or enforce them.

For the mother mentoring program, she hopes to set something up through Kenai Interfaith Shelter Services, a coalition of churches and other organizations that share resources to house the homeless. What she has in mind is gathering a group of experienced mothers who can meet with new mothers to offer advice and support.

"I'd organize mothers that have good homes and someone that can share their experiences with those that don't have a clue," she said. "We have to be asked, not just go in and wield a strong arm, you know. They stress that the main thing that's needed is a listening ear and encouragement. ... I was just impressed that they really are trying to strengthen the homes."

Carlson was barely back in the state earlier in the week before she was faced with her new duties, this time in the form of signing books about the Mothers of the Year at Barnes and Noble's in Anchorage. The book, "Mothers Speak ... For Love of Family" by Rosalie Fuscaldo Gaziano, contains the stories of Mothers of the Year.

"So that was kind of a thrill," she said.

Her notoriety doesn't stop there. She also will be the grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade in Kenai. She expects to be busy with her new duties, but, as with everything in her life, she won't let it come before her family.

"I firmly believe that families are the units best suited to prepare our children for life," Carlson said. "There's that saying: As the family goes, so goes the nation. I think it's true. Well, history has shown that it's true."

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