The first three students of a vocational school catering to rural Alaska Natives are raising the school's first building on East Redoubt Avenue in Soldotna.
"They're taking Christian education and learning carpentry," said Delmar Corrick, president of the Amundsen Education Center. The center is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1997, thanks to the vision of Soldotna's Roald Amundsen, who came to Alaska in 1945 as a missionary for the Evangelical Covenant Church of America.
Amundsen, now 87, spent 20 years in Nome and nearby Unalakleet.
"I did all the flying for the mission. I was field director for them, too. Then we came here and started MARC," he said.
MARC is the Missionary Aircraft Repair Center, which Amundsen opened in Soldotna to service missionary planes.
He said he is distressed at the number of young people committing suicide in the Alaska Bush. Many lack hope, he said, but many are good mechanics and pilots. He said he was inspired by Donald Olson, a Golovin boy who graduated from the Covenant High School, the missionary boarding school which operated from 1954 to 1985 in Unalakleet, became a physician and learned to fly through MARC.
"In the village, he was antsy. He wanted to do something. He said the other kids started drinking, but the missionaries got him through school," Amundsen said.
He said he thinks the schools have gone astray in that they are not giving many students, particularly Eskimos, the skills they need to work. He has long wanted to start a vocational school to train students from the villages. He takes his inspiration from a phrase in the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15, which reads, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
"Jesus was a fisherman and a carpenter. He used illustrations from common life that involved workmen, farmers and artisans," Amundsen said.
He tried to open a vocational school through MARC, but MARC was so busy with the business of flying that officials there suggested forming a separate corporation to open the school. Meanwhile, Covenant High graduates at a 1995 reunion asked Maynard Londborg, the missionary who opened the school, if he would start a new school for village students, who often have trouble adjusting to college.
Londborg contacted Amund-sen, who already had received a donation of 40 acres of land at Mile 2.2 of East Redoubt Avenue. The two formed a steering committee and Don Bruckner, a member of the MARC board, helped form a new nonprofit corporation to open the school.
Bruckner, who took Amund-sen's place in Nome after Amundsen left to open MARC, now lives in Eagle River and is a consultant to Maranatha Custom Churches.
Londborg, then of Palmer, became the first president of the Amundsen Education Center. He has since moved to Colorado for health reasons. Now, he is vice president for external affairs and Corrick is president. Annabelle Cunningham of Unalakleet chairs the board, which includes Amundsen and directors from the villages of Scammon Bay and Golovin. Bruckner is vice chair.
"We designed this to be more family oriented. We're doing recruiting in the villages. It's open to all, but I expect most of the students will be Native Alaskans," Corrick said. "The school is nondenominational and is avowedly Christian, but everybody is welcome."
The first three students, aged roughly 20 to 22, have classes three days a week in a room donated by Soldotna Bible Chapel. They are not yet receiving vocation education credit, because the school has not yet received approval from the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education.
Corrick, who has a master's degree in creative writing and a doctorate in higher education curriculum and instruction, is teaching a writing class. Amundsen is teaching Foundations of Faith, and Mike Swanson, a college graduate with five years experience in computer consulting, is teaching a computer class.
"We're doing the Christian part of the curriculum. The other part is work exploration," Corrick said.
The students are learning carpentry by building the first structure on the new campus, a garage 40-feet long and 30-feet wide. Volunteers cleared the land last summer. The pad is in, and the students are building forms for the concrete. Merlin Oyoumick of Unalakleet is supervising the construction.
Maranatha Custom Churches has provided plans for a school. There will be a central hexagonal office building with wings added for classrooms and instruction. Corrick said the first piece built probably will be a wing for home-construction classes. While the school is being built, the garage will serve as a shed, tool shop and probably as a meeting and instructional area, Corrick said.
He said he hopes the Commission on Post-Secondary Education will approve vocational classes by December.
"A year from now, for the beginning class in home construction, we hope to have 10 students. They will probably be building student housing or volunteer faculty housing. Then, we'll add other topics," he said.
Those might include programs to train home health aides, licensed practical nurses and small engine mechanics. Amundsen said he has been given a complete manual and test equipment for refrigeration. Numerous topics could be taught some day at the school, he said.
"We have aircraft mechanics, pilots and electricians. That's visionary, but we're going to follow through on it," he said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.