Native educator Effie Kokrine dies

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Effie Kokrine spent the last day of her life singing, dancing, telling jokes and laughing a lot with other elders in Tanana, an Athabascan village at the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana rivers.

After a short nap late Thursday night and a game of solitaire, Kokrine, 82, a dog musher and beloved educator in the Fairbanks School District, died in her sleep Friday at the Tanana Elders residence overlooking the Yukon River she so loved.

''She had a great day,'' said daughter Annette Freiburger.

Kokrine was in Tanana to attend the first anniversary memorial potlatch for Elizabeth ''Pinky'' Folger, her sister-in-law.

Another daughter, Dee Linzner, had picked up Kokrine in Fairbanks and driven her to the airport.

''She was in an excellent mood,'' Lizner said ''She was singing and translating the hymn 'In the Sweet By and By' into Koyukon Athabascan.''

Before landing in Tanana, Kokrine asked the pilot to divert the plane slightly and fly over the family's Yukon River fish camp between Tanana and Rampart, where her son Robert is living.

''She was very happy when she left here and when she was there (Tanana),'' Linzner said. ''She was with all the elders. They were all kids together.''

Fairbanks school children knew Kokrine as ''Grandma Effie'' and she taught them Athabascan culture for the past two decades.

''When we heard the news, we had everybody in tears,'' said Riki Sipe, director of federal programs at the Fairbanks school district. ''Everybody knew Effie. She was so vibrant and alive and involved in everything.''

''Two weeks ago, Effie said she was done working,'' said Madeline Williams, who worked with Kokrine for 14 years.

''She told me all the stories she told the kids everyday. She liked to tell stories about Athabascan life and how we made our living a long time ago, snaring rabbits, trapping all kinds of animals, skin sewing and how to make boots,'' Williams said.

''It's hard but we've got her memories and the stories she told us.''

Born March 23, 1919, in a camp on the Tanana River, Kokrine grew up experiencing those stories and living a subsistence lifestyle.

In 1949, Kokrine and her late husband, Andy, moved to Fairbanks. She adjusted to city living and made an early claim to fame by winning the Women's North American Sled Dog Championship for three years from 1952-1954.

Kokrine's love of dog mushing never waned. She continued running a three-dog team on the Chena River and sloughs into the early 1990s.

According to her son, Kenny, up until two years ago, at age 80, Kokrine would run a team in the Kokrine Memorial Race put on annually by the Northern Lights-Badger Road Lions Club.

Andy Kokrine, married to Effie for 43 years, died in 1978. He won the first and second Men's North American Sled Dog Championships in 1946 and 1947. The Kokrine's had 11 children, including three who died as infants.

''She was full of laughter and extremely generous with her time and talents,'' said Freiburger. ''She was passionate about teaching Alaska Native education to kids and recently was named 'Educator of the Year' by the Interior Native Educators.''

Longtime friend Katherine Peter, also in her 80s, called Kokrine a ''blessed woman'' because of her many years of working with children, teaching them about dog mushing and Athabascan culture.

Kokrine's daughters said their mother and Peter were once invited by the late Morris Thompson, head of Doyon Ltd., to share traditional stories at a gathering in Kantishna.

''They missed the train (to Denali Park) so they hailed a cab,'' Freiburger said. ''I'm sure they charmed the cab driver into taking them there.''

The two women arrived in time to catch a park bus to Kantishna and keep their commitment.

Kokrine's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Fairbanks.

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