Dr. Harold South - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-31-tp1
Harold "Doc" South was interviewed by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010 at his home in Palmer, Alaska. In this interview, Doc talks about his many years of working as a psychiatrist in Alaska, beginning in 1971 at the state's mental health center in Fairbanks and then at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) in Anchorage until his retirement in 1986. He describes API, bringing patients in from villages, and the facility's quality of care. He also mentions changes in the practice of psychiatry, involvement in court cases, development of community mental health centers, and the high rate of suicide in rural Alaska.
Part two of this interview.
Click to section:
Going to college at Indiana University
Becoming a psychiatrist
Residency at Ohio State University Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, Ohio
First job at Richmond State Hospital in Richmond, Indiana
Coming to Fairbanks, Alaska to work
Working at the Mental Health Clinic in Fairbanks
Establishing himself in Fairbanks and at API
High suicide rates in Alaska and suicide prevention
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is December 8th, 2010. I'm Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster's here, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Harold "Doc" South, and we're here in his home in Palmer. And thanks for taking the time to -- to talk with us.
So let's go back to a little bit to your background. How did you get interested in psychiatry? And that's really what we're interested in today is looking at the delivery of -- of services here to folks that need it. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. Well, when I went to college, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do. I just -- I only knew about three things you could learn to do in college, that was to become a teacher, a lawyer, or a doctor, and at the time, I didn't think I wanted to be any of those things, so I think my first year, I listed myself as a government major and took some courses because -- because I decided that maybe I could be a lawyer. And -- but in about the second year, I took a course in psychology just to meet a requirement, and psychology is -- was -- would meet a science requirement. So I thought, well, that would be easy. Well, it was kind of easy and fun, what I learned about it, so I became enamored to psychology and changed my major. So I went -- I took all the psychology courses that the psychology department had, and it was really a big, booming department at that time. B. F. Skinner had just left there and gone to Harvard, I think.
KAREN BREWSTER: Where were you in college?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Indiana University. I forgot to say that. You know, some things you think go without saying, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: -- other people don't know that. Yes. I went to Indiana University, which is in Bloomington, Indiana. And the only reason and the only way I could have gone to college was that there was a college in -- in the town where I lived, so I could live at home with my parents and go to the college. And so I started doing that.
And -- BILL SCHNEIDER: So you got interested in psychology?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Very much so. And after I took all the undergraduate courses, they let me take graduate courses, so I took -- I took a whole lot more psychology courses than I needed to, to meet any requirement, because I just found them interesting and easy, and so by the time I was a junior, I had taken so many courses and done so well that they gave me an assistantship in the department. In fact, in a way, I kind of followed Skinner's footsteps because Skinner had introduced, more or less invented or developed the Skinner Box, you know, the rat, you give a rat the stimulus; I mean, he pushes the lever and gets the pellet, and you condition him. And some things we inherited after Skinner left. One was a pigeon, which had been trained progressively until he would actually press the button a thousand times for one pellet of food, or one grain of corn. He just went like a machine gun. You know, demonstrate that to classes, just put that pigeon in there and he would go (fluttering sound) until the counter would register a thousand and then he would get a pellet. So then everybody -- not everybody, but most of the people in the department were enamored of behavioral psychology. Well, they gave me an assistantship and put me in charge of the rat lab. And so since that was all going so cozy, I graduated, and partly because I -- I liked the courses and I considered them very easy, why, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and I won the Sigma Xi prize, which is a scientific honorary for the -- it was for the graduating senior showing the most promise in research. And a student in psychology had never won that previously. So that really fixed up my relationship with the psychology department real well. I sort of brought an honor on the department that had never happened before. And so they invited me to go to graduate school there, and so I went to graduate school for a year in psychology. But in the meantime, being really, really disenchanted with behavioral psychology, I think -- I think now that B. F. Skinner is really -- has been a malignant intellectual force. One book that he wrote later on was Beyond Freedom and Dignity. And the title of that book offends me and angers me, be it -- I don't think there's anything beyond freedom and dignity. Beyond freedom and dignity, it's -- it's not popular now, but it used to be very popular about sometime in the '50s, I guess. I'm kind of --
BILL SCHNEIDER: But you got disenchanted with behavioral psychology?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I did. And so -- so while I was doing that year of graduate study in psychology and had an assistantship in that department, I was taking a few courses here and there to -- that would qualify me to go to medical school. And so because I -- I had found out about psychiatry. In fact, I had a reading course with a psychiatrist who was attached to the psychology department, and at the same time to the student health service. And decided I wanted to be a psychiatrist.
So -- so I graduated, that would have been in '54. I actually didn't finish -- I don't want to go into this but back before that, I was late going to college. I didn't really complete high school until I was 21 years old. And started -- that was in spring of '49 and started in college in the fall of '49, so I was a little older than most of the students when I got in. Well, anyhow, I graduated with a BA in psychology in -- in '54, I guess. And was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. So then I applied to medical school, went to medical school. Well, then -- so I was always interested in psychiatry from the time I first heard about it. And of course, psychology and psychiatry are wrapped up so close together that you can't separate them. In a way. So then -- then I just went through the usual routine, four years of medical school, and one year of rotating internship, and then I had to do three years of psychiatric residency.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Where did you graduate from medical school?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Indiana University.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Indiana. Uh hum.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Up through getting my medical degree, I did all my college work at Indiana University. Which was a blessing to me. At the time, you know, more recently they've got all these community college, and I think it's wonderful because more people can go to college if there's colleges in their hometown. It makes it a lot easier. It's really not -- at least at that time it wasn't so much the tuition, the expense of college wasn't so much the tuition, it's -- it's just living, it's the board and room. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum. Where did you do your residencies?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, after I did my internship in Riverside, California, I became a resident at Ohio State University Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. But after a year of -- by then, I had married in '53, and by then we had five children. We had two when we went to California, and three when we came back. Our daughter lives in Fairbanks, was born in California, but she only -- only lived there about six months and we moved back. When my year internship was up.
And so I went to Ohio State for a year. And by then we were having such a tough time to get along financially that I dropped out of the residency there and took a position as -- well, it was called psychiatric physician; that is, a lot of doctors who worked in state mental hospitals at that time didn't have residency training, that was a new thing. In fact, the -- there was a lot of kind of like scuffling for some years about whether people were board members or not. That is -- I remember in Riverside, we had one -- one surgeon on the staff of the hospital, the attending staff, supposedly they taught the interns and residents. I -- I don't remember seeing any staff doctors around there. I think -- I think I remember one session with one internist, maybe two. But -- but mostly we were on our own. Anyhow, we had -- we had a surgeon at Riverside and some -- some of the other residents, some of the residents, surgery residents, told me about this, I didn't care much about that particular thing, in that field, that the board surgeons, the surgeons who were members of the American Board of Surgery didn't think he should -- was qualified to practice because he hadn't done a residency in surgery. After he had finished his internship in this country, at that time everybody had to take a rotating internship. And so later they let the people take straight internships they called it, you go straight into surgery after medical school without rotating in medicine and OB/GYN and those things. And so a lot of people -- now people take straight internships. And so internship and residency is practically the same thing. But anyhow, some of the -- some of the guys who were wanting to be surgeons told me that -- that the board surgeons could not squeeze that guy out of the faculty because he had -- after medical school, he had gone to -- to Africa kind of a -- what was that guy's name, Schweitzer, something like that, he had gone over there and worked in hospitals, and he had more experience doing surgery than anybody, because he had been over there for 20 years or something, and -- and he was a member of the American College of Physicians -- of Surgeons. And so I -- I don't know why I got into that, I shouldn't have, but -- BILL SCHNEIDER: In your particular case, though, you took that job --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, oh in--that's right. That's the point. In the medical -- in the mental hospitals, they didn't start setting up boards to determine whether specialists -- the purpose of a board, the specialty board, is to determine -- to choose which people are qualified to practice that specialty, which ones are really qualified to call themselves surgeons or psychiatrists or whatever. And -- and that all started, I think, in the 1920s or so. So at the time I got into the field, when I -- when I -- I got a job at Richmond State Hospital in Richmond, Indiana, after doing my year of residency at Ohio State I was as qualified and more qualified than anybody that worked -- any of the doctors there.
One of the doctors was 86 years old and had played football with Alonzo Stagg and told me proudly that he had walked the halls, he said, of mental hospital -- of a mental hospital before the turn of the century. I mean, the 19th Century. I kind of figured that out, and I thought, well, that's possible, maybe as a medical student he did that. But anyhow, and one was a graduate of an osteopathic medical school in Pennsylvania called Am -- Amman (phonetic), which still exists, I think, but I think they -- I don't know. Anyhow, so I was called a psychiatric physician, so the superintendent and assistant superintendent and the clinical director all had been grandfathered in by the boards. All the people that worked in the psychiatric field all during their careers, I mean, they -- they would -- they got grandfathered in when their boards were set up. Well, that's more or less beside the point, but I was -- under the board system, I wasn't considered a fully qualified psychiatrist, but -- but I could work at the mental hospital. And because you didn't even have to be a psychiatrist to work there.
So I worked there two years, and then I went to Michigan and was a resident for two years at Ypsilanti State Hospital, which the residency there is combined with the University of Michigan. We -- we did our neurology rotation up at the university, like, for one thing. Their residents came down to us and we went up there. It's kind of a satellite of the Ann Arbor complex.
So then I went back. I went back to the same State Hospital in Indiana and worked there five years. And then I decided to come -- now we finally get -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Why? Why did you decide to come up here?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: My short answer to that, often, not totally serious, is insanity.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Insanity.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And you can take that various ways.
KAREN BREWSTER: You say your insanity or somebody else's?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, that's -- that still remains a question. However, really, more seriously, and I think I -- I mean, this may be recorded for posterity. BILL SCHNEIDER: It is.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And I -- I was looking for a challenge, for one thing. And I was just looking for a change and something -- something different to do. And I had always -- I had always been very much an outdoor person. I mean, I was raised in the woods. People wouldn't believe how -- how some of us used to live in those times, but you know, they say Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin, well I used to sleep in a hollow log when I was a kid. I mean, I crawled in a hollow log and slept in there. And -- BILL SCHNEIDER: So you were looking for a challenge, looking for the backcountry when you came here?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. And I -- I thought -- I remember talking to my wife, Elise (phonetic), my late wife at that time, and I told her, well, I don't want to stay here because it's too much the same thing all the time, and it never changes. And so I had always -- I had always been interested in the outdoors very much, and -- and so I said, I'm in a kind of a -- I've got kind of a building conflict because the psychiatrist has to be where there's lots of people to practice. I mean, I think, you know, it wouldn't be much point in a psychiatrist locating in an area where there was just a few people within driving distance, or whatever. It should be a community maybe with 10,000 people to support a psychiatrist, I suppose. BILL SCHNEIDER: What was your job when you came up?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: What?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Was your job in Fairbanks?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, I'll get to that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: The personal decision was I liked -- I liked -- I liked to be where there's a lot of woods, and everything is not so developed as it is down there. And -- and yet, I like to be where there's a university. And I need to be where there's enough population to -- I could work there. So -- but then studying about that a long time, I've, you know, it wasn't hard to figure out, Fairbanks is the only place that meets those qualifications. And so that's why I decided we're going to move to Fairbanks. So that's -- that's -- that's how come I got the job.
Well, in '68 or '69, I wrote up here and asking about the possibility of working. I wrote -- I contacted the university and the mental health department. I think I contacted the university and -- and I think they gave my name to the -- to the mental health office there, the state mental health operation.
And so my job -- first I worked halftime. The job was only halftime. There had never been a full time psychiatrist in Anchorage -- I mean, in Fairbanks at the time.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Really. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And -- well, in a way there was, stationed with the Army. And I know they had at least one halftime psychiatrist before I came, he was in the Army, but still the Army permitted him to work part time for the state. So I don't know how they made their business arrangements about that. I mean, they had a way, I think some people might say, he said after work on his off time for the Army, he had to -- but somehow they might detach him, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: With business people, where there's a will, there's a way, you know. I mean, they don't -- whatever they can get away with, I think, is what business people do.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: But anyhow, without getting into that, I worked halftime for six months and -- and that was really the hard way to do it because I had -- because I was -- I didn't make half as much money especially when I was working halftime, I -- I don't remember what fraction it was, but -- but I made less than half as much as I did in Indiana. And I came up at my own expense, you know, with my own trip planning and everything, and I -- I didn't find out or think about it until just -- I mean, in recent years since I was retired and had time to think about these things, the state had a program that they would pay expenses for people to come up here and work. And most of them would come up here and work two years, and if you came up and worked for the state for a year, then -- then they would pay you way back where you came from. So that's how a whole lot of state workers came up here at that time. But I didn't even know about that, and nobody ever told me about it. And -- but I do remember, I remember that we had a psychologist who came to work at the clinic in Fairbanks and he had some problems while he was up here. He and I were good friends, but he -- he had some -- he had problems enough that he and his family wanted desperately to get out of here, and -- and he left about a week before -- if he would have stayed another week or so, he would have qualified to get his expenses paid going back. But they didn't even pay your expenses up here until after you had been here a year, then they would pay you for them. So he -- but he went back in spite of that, in spite of the fact if he'd waited a week more, he just was not going to wait until snow flew again. And so I -- I kind of missed that guy, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you were working at, am I correct, the mental health clinic in Fairbanks? DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. And that was at the corner of Cushman and First upstairs. The first, the Corner Bar, there was a bar on the corner, doesn't have an upstairs, it's a flat roof, but the Pastime Cafe is on Cushman level, almost on the corner, and it has a second floor. And so there's the bar on the corner, there's a door on Cushman, then there's a door that goes upstairs, and then there's a Pastime Cafe. So our office was upstairs. That was the state Mental Health Regional Office. It was -- it was just an administrative office at first.
The secretary that was there when I came there, I wish I could think of her name, but I think maybe it was Dorothy, she -- she told me that they used to be in the state office building, that office was in -- it was just a one person office. And she told me some interesting stories about what had happened there. She said that a psychologist or somebody was hired from Outside to come and be the regional administrator.
What they would do would be to -- well, you've got to go back to the law when the state was set up, the state took responsibility for mental health matters. And -- and the federal government took responsibility for Native physical health matters, but not mental health matters. And as Karen and I exchanged in our phone conversation, it used to be Inside, Outside, Morningside, and she added Suicide, which is true. During territorial days, if a person was thought to be or, you know, very often was obviously mentally disturbed, he could be taken into custody by a marshal, I guess, and a federal judge could send him -- send him down to Morningside but the state would -- the state would pay for the some of the transportation in there, that sort of thing. And maybe the state did that. Well, now we've got to where we got the state. When we've got the Territory, we don't have any state yet.
So I don't know what the Territory did but I think they sent people to Morningside somehow. They had a contract with Morningside Hospital in Portland, I think. And so then after API was built, and after this state was -- after the state got Statehood, and there was a state office, and what they mostly did at first was to pay for and arrange the travel for people to -- to -- to go to API, to be taken to API. And so this -- the secretary, she was an older lady and I'm sure is expired now, but she -- she told me that once they had a fellow who came to be the regional officer and he went in his office and closed the door and he never came out again. And a couple of ladies working in and out of her office, the secretary and receptionist types, they wondered about him but they never saw him again. This is what she claimed. I can't imagine this. And so finally they contacted some other people after this went on, she claimed, for weeks or months. That's hard to believe. And -- and finally some people came and carried the man away.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, man.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So sometimes it didn't work so good, and sometimes it worked better, I guess. BILL SCHNEIDER: But you were operating there on the corner of First and Cushman, and then were you seeing patients there?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Absolutely. By the time I came there, the clinic was supposed to furnish treatment for mental health problems, and they had an administrator who was -- I believe he had a masters in psychology, and during the time I was there, usually another psychologist or two and a couple social workers, and they had a part time psychiatrist who would consult from the Army until I came, and then I worked there halftime, supposedly, but in something like psychiatry, I mean, you can't work halftime. You wind up working full time.
So I was -- I was working full time for half time wages and I didn't complain about it, but I -- I would have probably left there the next spring, I mean. I didn't even say that -- I mean, I didn't even feel that way, but I would have probably had to or going to some different practice -- kind of practice there or something. But -- but at the end of that year, they made it a full time position. And then -- and then the administrator told me he didn't need to do this, but instead of telling me that here's an opportunity, your position is going to be full time, he told me the Division of Mental Health is making this job full time and you can have it if you want it, but if you don't take it, we'll get somebody else. Well, I was broke because I hadn't saved up all that much money in Indiana, and I -- like I say, I came up at my own expense and working halftime, and you know, having to outfit all of us and everything. I mean, it was a challenge, but a challenge is what I was looking for. Anyhow, then I began working full time, and so I probably was not -- I came up in the spring of '70, and went to work the 1st of July, I think, halftime, and probably -- it might have been -- it was probably January 1st, 1971, before I was full time. And then I was -- I was the northern regional psychiatrist. And the northern regional psychiatrist had some responsibility for state mental health matters, and especially treatment of mental illness. Everything north of the range in the state or simply -- BILL SCHNEIDER: So did you travel to villages and communities?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: No. I -- I did not travel very much, and probably -- probably I was a -- I think probably some people were -- were critical of that, but I have a different attitude about travel than -- than a lot of people care to have or do have and I -- I try to establish relationships different places, and you know, it's -- if I was going to do anything about the problem, I figured, well, you know, the wheel that squeaks get the grease. After I retired, after I -- after I retired and came down here, I met a lady doctor in Palmer and she's still in practice there, and I think she came to the senior center to -- to give a talk on nutrition, and she and I chatted a little bit, and she told me when I was at -- I forget what they call it now, it doesn't matter, the hospital in Nome, I think it's called Maynard McDougall Hospital, she had been in Nome, she practiced there for a while, she did family practice.
She said -- I asked -- I asked people what -- what -- what do you do when you have a person has mental health problems, and she said, "They told me, 'Call Dr. South in Fairbanks.'" And so -- so then when I came down here, to Palmer, and opened up practice here, I asked, "What do you do -- what do you do down here if you -- you've got a problem, a person, a patient who has mental health problems?"
And she said, and they told me, to my surprise, "Call Dr. South in Anchorage." And I said, "Is he down here, too?"
Because in the meantime, I had moved from Fairbanks down here. And so I did -- I did travel some, but if -- if they had -- if they had a person, like, in Nome and she told me that he was hallucinating and delusional and so on, and his father had been that way before him, just to make up a case, you know. And she had him in the hospital and keeping him kind of snockered with tranquilizers, but I arranged for him to get down to API. And all we had to do in that office administratively, all I had to do was ask the administrator to make a travel voucher, you know, issue the -- to ship that guy from Nome to API, and they did. I mean, they would. And sometimes very often we would have to arrange escorts. And so we could keep in touch with a lot of patients around the state.
Later on, after I had been there for a good while, they -- it was organized and planned that -- that each -- each person at the clinic there would do some travelling and so I -- I had had some contacts already. The Public Health Service, the Native Health Service had a nurse stationed at Fort Yukon. She was in -- what was originally a log building there, it was built by, oh, the famous minister who planned --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hudson Stuck maybe?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Hudson Stuck. Hudson Stuck built that log building for the hospital. And it had been used that way for a long time, but after the development of air transportation, a person in Fort Yukon who was sick could go see the nurse at the clinic and she would -- she could arrange to get a plane and take him to -- to Fairbanks to the hospital there, or to the hospital at Tanana. And so since I was the consultant to -- to the Public Health Service, well, my itinerary was I would go to Fort Yukon to the clinic there, and to -- and down the Tanana to the -- to the hospital, the Public Health Service Hospital, which has since been discontinued. I remember once I went down to Tanana and they had a fellow there, they used to catch people in Tanana that would come floating down the Yukon. In the summer, it was kind of popular. I -- I remember a few cases kind of dimly. One -- one fellow decided he wanted to -- he wanted to go to Siberia, and so quite a few -- there were actually a number of people like this, he came to -- he came to Fairbanks and found out where the Chena ran into the Tanana and went down to the launching place and launched himself on a log, you know, and floated down the river. And they caught him floating through Tanana, you know. And the people there went out in their boats and dragged him in and put him in the hospital. He probably complained they were violating his rights, he just wanted to -- he just wanted to float to the USSR. Anyhow, I don't know -- I don't remember what was the problem, but -- with -- with everybody, but I think that was kind of a common kind of thing, that people would be kind of strained out of the river.
But I -- I remember -- well, I'll try to remember some other things. I used to go to the clinic at Fort Yukon and to the hospital at Tanana, and -- and I remember once I attended a -- sort of a big meeting, you know, and all agencies got together in Nome, and guess what, the subject was the extremely high rate of suicide among Native youth. That summer they had 15 kids kill themselves. BILL SCHNEIDER: Was that in the '70s?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. And if you take a broad view of these sort of things is you look at a paper, if I have it right, I don't have a paper directly I can look at it, they are talking about -- and they are having big meetings this year about it, too. Well, so I'll just -- I'll just touch on suicide a little bit, which is a -- it's been shown that suicide sort of -- suicide prevention hotlines tend to increase the rate of suicide. And so they've kind of gotten unpopular, although people -- people want to do something, but I think -- I think it's kind of like to some degree it's related to raising kids, how you make kids do what you want them to do. Well, you can't. You -- you can, but one thing that the behaviorists learned is that a bunch of people it doesn't work unless it's real severe. And so, but mothers know and everybody should know, like with kids with problems, little kids with ordinary problems, I mean, just, you know, family things, you move and distract. And so I think -- I think they ought to focus on -- I mean, people want to focus on what looks like a problem, like locally in Anchorage, one big problem is people dying all over, the people in the parks and wooded areas and so on. And so they are all focusing on that is we better do, find bodies there or what, or run these people out of these parks so they won't die there, because they are an eyesore, a nuisance or something. Well, you ought to do -- you ought to focus on all the rest -- the rest of life, I mean, you know, like you would -- if you got a kid with a problem, if the kid wants to get in the oven to see how the brownies are baking or something, get him interested in something somewhere else. I mean, this is kind of fuzzy, and it's not so much fuzzy thinking, it's just I haven't just organized this thought, but you need to look at the rest of life. I mean, what have these people got -- what has a person got to live for?
And there's lots of things you can do, but a lot of people say, well, that's not right to the point. The guy can still go get him a fifth of whiskey and go in the park and lay down and drink it and die. Well, that's true, but you kind of got to catch him before that. I mean, you can't do much about that at that point. So I -- I remember going to -- going to -- to Nome to kind of a big general meeting. I remember that the Public Health -- there were two Public Health psychiatrists at the Public Health hospital, the old one down on -- oh, I don't know, Third Avenue in -- in Anchorage, that they -- I remember they -- they were commissioned officers in the Public Health, they wore uniforms. But they did not see any patients, but they were -- for the administrative people, they were in the planning and management or something. So later I think that's changed.
Well, I went to get some dinner at a cafe, and -- and almost got in a fight with a Eskimo guy. An Eskimo woman was agitating because I was just sitting there by myself, and they came and sat down. And when they asked me what I was -- I think they thought I was a tourist, although it was wintertime, from Outside or something because they wanted to quiz me.
And he said, "Where are you here from, San Francisco or LA or New York or what?"
And I said, "No, I'm from Fairbanks."
And -- and he wanted to know what you're here for. And I told him, "Well, there's been a lot of suicides among the young people in Nome, and so we're here to have a meeting to talk about that."
And -- and they said, "No, no, you shouldn't talk about that stuff."
Well, right there is one thing. Right there is the idea that people should -- well, it's kind of like let's ignore this problem and maybe it will go away. But I -- I remember they asked me if -- if I would meet with the other kids who were friends of these kids, and because that was the people they were particularly concerned about. So -- so -- so we did. I did. And later a fellow who was permanently in -- in Nome, I don't know what ages he was with, but -- but he was kind of like the community organizer or something, he called me and thanked me later. Later after -- after that, he said, "I didn't really think when I first saw you here that you could do that, but you did really well." BILL SCHNEIDER: You could do what?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Have a group meeting with these other young people there. The peers of the victims of suicide. Because it was feared that since it had been like dominoes that they were at particular risk, and that's true. This has been known for years. I mean, it's -- it's a fact that if you have a parent who has suicided, you're more likely to suicide, unfortunately. BILL SCHNEIDER: And what did you tell those young people?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, it wasn't so much -- well, I'll tell you one thing I told them. And this isn't really true, totally true, but I had an idea one time that if a person felt that there was one person that give a damn about whether he lived or died, that he would -- that he wouldn't kill himself. That's not -- that's not totally true. But I knew a psychiatrist who did just administrative work, he told me that after he finished his training, he started in practice down in California. In the first three days of his practice, three of the people that he had seen one or more times during that two week days committed suicide, and he decided, "I cannot take this. So I've practiced 30 days and I've lost three patients already. And if this is the way the practice of psychiatry goes, well, I'm out of here." So he became a hospital administrator, which is what happened to me.
So -- but during the time -- during the time -- during the time that I practiced psychiatry, I had -- I had very, very few people to suicide. In -- in Fairbanks, it used to be fairly common that beginning on Monday morning, I mean, beginning Monday I would see three or four people, and in one day I might see three or four people who were referred to me because -- because of being -- because they were depressed and suicidal. It was very common. And I don't -- I never accumulated any figures on it because all the -- I won the prize showing the most promise in research, but, boy, was I a loser on that. I've never done any research. But I've been doing my own learning.
Anyhow, of all the people that I had referred to me to be depressed and suicidal, I could count on one hand the people I've known who -- who actually committed suicide. You know, in my whole career. I mean, in Indiana and Ohio and Michigan and up here.
And so I'm -- if -- if I knew somebody was suicidal, I would not advise anybody to go over there and talk to them about suicide every damn day or make them call in and talk about how suicidal are you today. But try to relate to them, and relate to them.
And people want to know, well, how you relate to them? Well, be interested in other things yourself, and interest them in things. And you know, I mean, material things like if you have the latest DVD or whatever the kids are going crazy about, the iPods or something. Or if it's that, or in Nome, have you -- have you caught any of them little cloud fish, I forget what you call them.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But the time --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: How about let's go do that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: The time in which you were practicing and the suicide issue was raging, kind of, that kind of corresponded with the pipeline, didn't it, and the developments in Fairbanks, and -- DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, it's hard to -- it's hard to say what was on. I mean, the -- the big -- this epidemic of suicide that I was talking about was primarily a phenomenon in the Native villages, but of course, Fairbanks is a Native village, and Anchorage is the largest Native village in the world. There are more Eskimos -- there are more Alaska Natives in Anchorage than anywhere else. But -- but it was mainly -- it was seen as a rural problem, it was seen as a village problem. Because Nome is not a Native village originally. The Natives never settled there, there was no reason to. But -- but after the big Gold Rush there, then -- then after the town got established, Natives moved into it, which is what seems to happen all over the world, you know. I mean, towns grow.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: It's like Fairbanks is -- was not a Native village originally. But anyhow, but --
Starting work at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API)
Retiring from Alaska Psychiatric Institute
Anchorage Community Mental Health Center
Vincent Van Gogh's biography
His opinion on the state of the mental health system today
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: A lot of interesting subjects, you know. Some people like -- like Pete Bowers, he liked -- he talked to me about music and that sort of thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. But now -- now we're talking about API. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah, API. Well, let me -- let me finish up this little story about I remember somebody -- somebody in Tanana had given me some -- some smoked salmon strips, and so we got in the airport, and I think maybe I did call home and tell my wife what I was up to, that I was back from Tanana, but -- but I was going on -- going on down to Anchorage. And in the meantime, I just shared some salmon strips with him, you know. I said, "I'm hungry. Do you want some of these?" Because I didn't want to go -- I don't even know if they had a lunch counter at Fairbanks at that time. The airports and everything, you know, they are a whole a lot different now. They were more simple then. So anyhow, so we got down to Anchorage -- and I want to do this, and then I promise I'll get to -- I'll get to API. And I was at API. And I was acting superintendent. And I took him in and I sat him by the social work office, and social workers were supposed to process the people in. And I -- and I told them, you know, a word or two, a sentence or two of history, and I said I -- this guy was at Tanana so I brought him down, and he's to be admitted here. So then I went to do some of my other work there, came back along that hall about an hour and a half later, and that guy's still sitting there. And I said, "Hasn't anybody talked to you yet?" And he said, "No."
So I, you know -- I looked in the coffee shop or something, you know, I ain't going to go line them up, but I'd go in the office there that's responsible for it, and I said, "This is unconscionable. I just brought this guy from Tanana, I mean, me and him and the pilot flew in a little air taxi, you know, and we waited in Fairbanks, and so on, and we get down here, and he's been sitting down here longer than that trip took, I think. I mean, I want him admitted and I want him admitted now." And some of the people played some other game, kind of games like that.
One -- one -- one -- one guy was -- well, there was a teacher there. I think this is far enough back and it's trivial enough it's not damaging to anybody. They had a managing board there, the heads of the departments, and the superintendent, and that, and so one time we came up -- I mean they would have those when I was there, naturally, once a month. And so they said, "We've got this problem because we -- this -- this area, some area, the area that's now dedicated for school, that's going to be something else, we got to get that department in there, but the teacher won't move the school out of there. I mean, he keeps dragging his feet and he just -- he's been told several times he ought to -- he's got to move the school somewhere else." So I -- so then I said, Well, I'll take care of that."
After that meeting is over, I called the guy up there, and he was kind of a smirky guy, you know. You know how people are, they got, kind of, a little smirk at you all the time like they are playing some joke on you but you don't know it. I said, "They say there's a problem that they want that for the OT or something. So move." And so he starts giving me some kind of song and dance, and I said, "Well, I just come down here once a week, and it's late in the day now, and so I'll be going back this evening, but next week I'll come down, and if you haven't got moved by then, well, I'll help you." And so when I come back next week, he's moved.
You know, it's only -- it was only a matter, I guess, to drag some chairs and table down the hall. I thought -- I thought that a lot of those things were kind of fun to do and interesting. One night I -- I used to stay -- well, one -- one night I went -- I went down -- I was -- I was up and I was -- I was staying in, like, a motel they had there; you know, they had some quarters for travelling people, and I would say in that motel, but I was in the hospital building.
So I went down in the basement where the children's program was, and -- and I had a key to open any door in the hospital, you know. So I -- so I opened the -- opened the door and went in the children's ward, and as I approached the nursing station, there was one -- one nurse on duty there, and there was probably an aide around there or somewhere, but I don't know where.
And she said, "Oh, visiting hours are over and you can't visit here," and -- or some -- and some other stuff like that. And so I just turned around and went -- went back out. I thought, you know, that's -- I thought I would embarrass her if I said, "Nurse, I'm your acting superintendent." But I just didn't. I didn't. And I never heard anything about it, nobody else ever told me anything about it. I don't think -- I don't know if she ever knew the difference.
But the doors in those wards were locked, especially at night. Especially at night, there was no -- nobody could just walk in there off the street or something, so how did she think I got in there? I thought about it, if I was the kind of person who wanted to play games with people, I would show her my key and say, "Do you know what the heck that key is? That's the key to open all the locks." Because generally speaking, you just -- if you worked in the power plant you had a key to open the power plant and so on. But I thought a lot of those so called problems were kind of simple.
But anyhow, back to API.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So we got a -- we got a -- we got a superintendent who stayed there a year, and then left. And like a lot of people who came here or other places and left, and he left saying, "I don't think you people know what the hell you're doing."
But anyhow, then in -- in '78, the clinic was closed in September, and API had no vacancy. And I -- I worked for the Community Mental Health Center in Fairbanks for from, like, October, November, and December, and then they did have a vacancy in -- at API, and so I went to work there and got onboard there the first day of January of 1979. And -- BILL SCHNEIDER: You had to move your family down?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah, but since -- since they were in school, at that time the kids were in school, of course, it was in the middle of the winter, and that didn't change before we went down. In fact, it got worse. But school gets out in -- the school semester ends, like, the 20th of January, or something, whatever. So -- so we didn't try to move the family. I went down there and worked two weeks, I think, and then went back. And I -- I might have flown down, I don't remember exactly, I think I did. I just flew down and I worked a couple weeks, and then -- and then I flew back, and we had a crew cab pickup, and loaded it with a bunch of stuff. And of course, we didn't -- we didn't need a whole lot of stuff because we had furnished quarters down there at API. But I remember the trip because there was a big blizzard, and it was storming and blowing snow and, of course, slick and all that, no visibility, and I drove in four wheel drive all the way from Fairbanks to API. The worst, most extensive storm I was ever in up here. BILL SCHNEIDER: How long were you at API?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, then I stayed there, I became the director of the admission unit, and did that for the rest of the time that I worked for the state until -- that was October of '86 I retired from state employment. And that was an interesting thing. It was -- it's -- it's just -- it's a kind of a silly thing, but I -- and you'd think I wouldn't say anything bad about it because I benefitted from it, but -- but still, it's still, it's like a lot of things I hear about on the TV and stuff, reading and whatever. I was eligible for retirement before I came down here. I could have just retired, but I wasn't ready to retire, and so I -- besides, there was some personal things. I mean, my wife had some health problems and she needed to be down here. So -- KAREN BREWSTER: So did you enjoy working at API?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, yes. Yes. Very much. And so -- but -- but I'm a little ahead of my story because this is how I left there.
I didn't really know why I was still working. I was eligible for retirement and, well, but I thought the work was important because I was the guy who admitted people and could -- and treated them, and could discharge them if they could make it. And during the time that I was there, we discharged -- 65 percent of the people who were admitted were discharged back to their status quo, and that is either maybe back to work or maybe back to a boarding home if that's what adjustment they had reached. 65 percent of them within a month were discharged. And so I thought that was important enough.
And during that time, we had a -- a change or two, we had a change of superintendents, but I served under three other superintendents after I came here, although if I'd have pressed the matter, I had seniority to have been the superintendent as soon as I came down there. I remember when I was in Fairbanks one time, some -- this -- the administrator said that social worker who works for the Native -- the Tanana Chiefs, that's their social side sort of. I mean, the other side makes the money. Doyon makes the money and -- some people might say, and Tanana Chiefs tries to spend it. I don't know. But anyhow, said -- oh, said, "She's leaving and we're going to have a lunch for her today."
So I said, "Oh, yeah? Well, she just came here a couple years ago."
But our administrator said, "Well, that's par for the course, isn't it?" Yeah, it is. I mean, a lot of people just work a couple years somewhere, and about the time they are beginning to catch on what's -- what's going on, they leave.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. That's right. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So anyhow, here I am in -- now in API admitting people, treating them, discharging them, continue in that position until this, what I thought was kind of silly.
In the '80s, they had a -- apparently Alaska had a recession, and that was lucky for me, in a way. They said, we had -- we had a meeting of the medical staff, and the superintendent said, got a RIF, reduction in force, anybody that's eligible for retirement -- I mean, the state wants people to retire to get them off the payroll. If they will take the retirement, we'll give them three extra years, either you can add three years to your retirement or you can use the three years to qualify for retirement, like if you're supposed to be 55 but you're only 52, you can use it that way. So I said, "Does that apply to the doctors, too?" I figured they'd say no. Because we did not have any what you call merit increases or anything. I mean, we were hired at a salary, and whatever they paid us, that's what we got.
And -- and even though I had a lot of seniority, I didn't make any more money than anybody. The superintendent made 10,000 more than any of the others of us, but that was just for extra responsibilities, which is a little large. But -- in fact, very often the least qualified person becomes the administrator. This is one thing that's messed -- messed everything up all over the country, I think. It used to be you got a section gang that works on the railroad, you got to swing a 9 pound hammer. Hell, I got to where I can't even pick up a 9 pound hammer. I mean literally. But I used to could swing one. Anyhow, somebody has always got his back sprained or something, he don't do very good at the work, make him the timekeeper. So -- so it turns out that he's -- he's the timekeeper, he has to pay the guy, so he's the one that's got the money, and so -- so the least qualified very often becomes the -- the top dog. And -- and that's what happened. I mean, we -- we agreed, the medical staff agreed to appoint one of the doctors superintendent because as he got -- complained himself, or -- we wouldn't lose as much by having him to be the superintendent as -- he couldn't do the other work anyway, he couldn't be the -- he couldn't practice psychiatry, I mean, he was not a psychiatrist, so what the hell -- what else is he going to do? Well, be superintendent. Yeah. So that -- that was the last one we had. But I -- I've not identified him.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I ain't casting aspersions on him. Actually, he was a friend -- he was a pretty good friend of mine, and was always kind enough to me, or usually was. But anyhow, here I am in Anchorage, and I guess there's very little to say about it except that mentally ill people came there and were diagnosed and treated and went back to the community, and -- and hopefully were seen and treated as outpatients at the -- at -- at the Anchorage Community Mental Health Center, which -- which was built in those times. And we had -- I mean, it was kind of like the frontline of psychiatry in lots of ways. I mean, we did have a lot of court work, and there was always -- there were -- always was and still is a lot of conflict between people's freedom to do what they want to do and, I guess, public order. And Anchorage -- or Alaska is -- is sort of -- I mean, we're proud of the fact that it's a very free place, and most people -- most people are more concerned about some of their freedom being taken away than -- than they are about seeing that people that are mentally ill get treatment. So the point is, it's hard to get anybody into a mental hospital, it's hard for any individual to get in a mental hospital. It -- it started out, I mean, the idea was originally, you know, I mean, the striking off of the chains in France -- now I forget the name of the guy who did that, but you learned that in grade school. Oh, speaking of France, it's interesting to read Vincent Van Gogh's only account of his own mental illness, or maybe not his own, but -- but using his own statements and so on at the time, for the facts, for someone else to write his biography, wasn't that called Lust For Life, Vincent Van Gogh's biography? I think it was. Well, people had great doubts at that time, and everybody -- everybody knows that he did -- he fell in love with a prostitute who was some -- sometimes a model of his, and he cut off his ear and sent it to her in a box. And he was committed to -- to a sanitorium, or whatever they called it in France at that time. And this is an interesting account of how he recovered and, you know, in the hospital began painting the garden and that sort of thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I think we need to wrap it up.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, oh, yeah.
Well, so I had to -- I had to go to court a lot to try to keep people in the hospital. And that was very difficult.
So the present rule is, the way the system works now is, essentially, it doesn't work. And if anybody's really interested in pursuing that or if anybody happens to listen to this recording, there's a book called Madness in the Streets, it's written by a couple of social workers who documents this -- this -- this whole business, but to kind of parody the thing, if -- if you -- if you're totally mentally ill, you don't know what you're doing and you don't care and you're totally out of control, you're totally psychotic and out of your mind, if you -- if you want to be treated by the present system, then you try to find a Community Mental Health Center, like in the phone book or something, and it's probably got some name like, you know, Happy People Center, or something, or it will have "behavioral" in the name, like the Behavioral Health Center. And -- and you call up there and try to get an appointment, if you can state your problems, you know, pretty clearly and succinctly. And you may have to hold the line a long time, listen to a lot of music that you don't even like, but -- and finally, they'll give you an appointment for, you know, a week from next Tuesday, and then if you will provide yourself with the money to pay the fee and present yourself at the clinic and be clean and neat and well dressed, and behave yourself and sit in the waiting room for two or three hours, they will let you talk to somebody who just got their bachelors degree in psychology or something last week, and then -- and lots of luck on your further course in the so called mental health system. Because essentially, there isn't any. I mean, there isn't any.
It -- it -- a whole lot of people going a whole lot of different directions and don't even -- wouldn't -- most of them probably wouldn't even agree. I mean, some of the things that have caused this are things like the Myth of Mental Illness. I just read in a -- a psychiatric paper, in fact, I still got it in the bathroom, Szasz, Tom Szasz, who wrote the books on mental illness and half a dozen other books with the same theme was recognized by psychiatrists in the UK for his inquiring spirit or something. And he -- he's -- he was a terrible, I think, a malignant intellectual influence. I mean, he was himself a psychiatrist and was getting paid for teaching psychiatry, the younger doctors in Upstate New York or something, during the whole time that he was writing books and giving them names like the Myth of Mental Illness, there isn't any such thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: A bad state of affairs. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, yeah. And -- and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was one of the things that destroyed, I think, practically the mental health system. It's -- it's a travesty.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I think, Doc, we need to leave it at that, but --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. Well --
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- there's a lot -- a lot there. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, yeah. I could and would and will, in fact, from time to time, I mean, if I find some willing victims to go on like this for --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah. Go for it.
KAREN BREWSTER: We appreciate your time.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you.
John and Louise Maakestad - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-30-tp2
John and Louise Maakestad were interviewed by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010at their apartment at the Anchorage Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska.
Return to part one of this interview.
Click to section:
Section 1: Dealing with a patient at Alaska Psychiatric Institute who unexpectedly killed his roommate.
Section 2: The unpredictability of mental illness and the treatment of patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Section 3: Safety issues when working with criminal patients, and other staff he worked with at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Section 4: Effect of age on memory and quality of current living situation.
Section 5: Early stages of diagnosis of their daughter with developmental disabilities.
Section 6: Services and help their daughter has received in Anchorage.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: -- patient, he was from Boston, and he spoke with an interesting slight Boston accent. And he -- he had very peculiar habits. My name, Maakestad, has a double A, and so he would pronounce it Ma-ak-e-stad, Ma-ak-e-stad, as you see, rather than in the Norwegian, a double A is "Mah." But anyway, it's a terrible thing. One night he went over to his roommate and he had gotten a -- a hunting knife and he cut the other patient's throat, and he was a nice kid. They -- I mean, they were both about 20 -- in late twenties, and see, I can't even remember names, but that's good.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's good.
KAREN BREWSTER: We don't want names. JOHN MAAKESTAD: We wouldn't need that or want it. But anyway, I went to -- well, this -- this fellow, one Sunday morning, I came up to conduct the service at API, and there was a circle of -- a clutch of nursing patient -- nursing personnel, and some other people down there, and in -- in the center of attention and being helped was this fellow from Boston. And he had gotten out a third-story window, I think it was, and it was a low building, then, below it, and so the roof was flat, so this Boston boy had run to the edge and he jumped off. I said, what did you do that for? And I used his name or whatever. And he said -- and this is what he told me, he said, I thought I would fly like Superman. You know. And it just shows you the very real mistakes that they make.
Well, this same fellow, then, had -- he was a sleeping giant, you see, and this ugly giant had awakened late at night. I said, why did you cut your roommate's throat like that? And he said, because he snored. Yeah. He snored. His snoring bugged me. Well, that's unexpected. He hadn't, that we -- as far as we'd known, acted so belligerently to -- but -- and then I went into the -- I guess the superintendent called me in to ask me what -- what do you find about this fellow who had cut the throat of his roommate? And I said, well, I had asked him about it and he had complained about snoring. I said I snore, too. You know.
And I was talking to the superintendent and I said, and here is how flagrant he thinks and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's stop for a second.
(Off record momentarily.) BILL SCHNEIDER: And you said to the superintendent?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, I said to the superintendent, he -- he told me that -- he told me this. He said, yes, I cut his throat, and I should have cut about seven more. There were nursing personnel on -- on his ward, you know. Now, he -- he had been reprimanded and restricted, which sounds poppycock, but he was -- I think he -- well, he was under restraint anyhow. I -- I don't want to give the impression that API's security was loose. They -- they had one or two that were on the security unit that were in for murder, and they would spend the rest of their lives in there. Section 2:
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-hum. Now, why didn't they -- why did they stay at API instead of being put in the prison system?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Because they had these strange mental aberrations, and I -- I can't remember specific now just what it might be, but it -- he -- you know, I remember he was a little -- a little fellow, very muscular, and I've forgotten what his crime was. It was murder of some family member or whatever it may have been.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so there are some patients who stayed there because they were never --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- able to go back --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. Chronic.
KAREN BREWSTER: They were chronic patients.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. There are.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then other people were there short term and were --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- healed and able to go home? JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Yes, that's the way it goes. The strange nature of mental illness, and psychiatrists and psychologists get the different aspects of mental aberrations and problems, and they can do quite well at predicting that other -- that certain people will be -- what -- what is it they call it -- recoverable or they -- you know, they can be -- and you see they were giving this fellow that shot the three teenagers, just a terrible thing, that he wiped out three young people, you know. And he -- some witness -- see, he came by in the early morning and walked through Russian Jack Springs Park there, and he -- he saw their little tent, and he was in there going through their tapes and so on, and -- and the young people came -- came back and surprised him, and so he stood up and he was Almighty God with a gun, you know, and he just wiped the three lives out.
Well, he was, you know, on work release when he shouldn't have been. I mean, there was a slip-up that they misfigured. Section 3:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you ever feel that your life was endangered or that you were in a difficult position?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: I think -- yes. You know, there's one thing -- now, I was at San Quentin Prison, I told you, and -- and there the chaplain said, now, you have to recognize that if you go inside the walls, we won't rescue you, we can't -- we can't promise to do that. And that goes for all of the security people. They -- so -- but you accept that, you know, as one of the hazards of what you're doing. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about any of the other staff at API in particular, people that --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- stand out in your memory?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. And they can talk about me. And how did you mean?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, ones that stand out in your memory, people you worked with, and what -- what the staff was like. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Okay. When I came to API, there was an old psychiatrist who was -- he had been on the staff of the University of California, and Dr. Bowman. And he was a very -- he was a very capable man and a very articulate, but he was an elderly man. Like I am now, probably in his 90s or so. And he -- but I admired him in his position.
And how -- I got into a little misunderstanding with one of the head psychologists over some little matter. I -- it was when I was new out there and I -- he -- this little Eskimo boy had told me that he was supposed to get me to read a Scripture at the next staff meeting. And as I say, I was new and -- to the situation.
And so there was -- in department heads, there was an exchange of comments there, and I said, I understand that I misunderstood in this situation, and anyway, he -- Dr. Bowman handled it in such a professional way, you know. And he -- and the head psychiatrist, Dr. Robbins? -- no. I can't say his name right now. But we were good friends, and he understood how I explained how I had been taken in by this Eskimo boy. And part of it was that he was from Shishmaref, and I had known him. Peter Tuktu (phonetic). So -- but that's not a serious matter, but it's one of the realities. Section 4:
KAREN BREWSTER: And what other doctors or staff members you worked with?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: The one that moved to Portland, you thought highly of him.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. Yes. Dr. -- hmm. You know, it is terrible.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's a long time ago to remember. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Memory bank, you know it's there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, you -- no, the thing is, you'll think of it when we leave. That's the way it is.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it often happens that way.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you shouldn't feel badly.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that's fine.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: You've given us a great deal.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That particular administrator was so positive in his --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Can you say his name?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I can't, John. I'm sorry. Oh, boy. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, you know, ask me more, if you have a mind to.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Too many years.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: There are a few, but it's a strange experience for -- you know, I've been -- had a pretty good memory, but -- and I depend on it, and it's just a blank wall there. BILL SCHNEIDER: But as you know, being someone who works in the helping field --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- that -- that this whole aging process is -- is such a natural thing.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And we -- we fight it.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: And we don't understand or accept it. You know, it's like people my age being concerned with all these drugs that will make them more active physically, where they don't accept the fact that their bodies are changing.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You know what I mean?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Absolutely.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So I would think as a pastor, that this would be something that, you know, would be very, very close to your understanding.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: But you do great. I think --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, thank you.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think your life here is a good move. I mean, you're in a secure place.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Thank you. Yes. We -- we both enjoy reading, so we have reading material, and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I see that.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Loussac Library comes over and brings book. Section 5:
KAREN BREWSTER: I have one more question before we finish.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sure. Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: As parents of a developmentally disabled child, you talked about her experiences in Harborview. And I'm wondering your assessment of going through that system of trying to get help for her and -- and how that functioned and did you feel satisfied with that, or did you -- were there challenges and frustrations along the way? JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, quickly, I was pastor at Nome when Muriel was born, and the assessment of Muriel's condition or Muriel's development was in Louise's purview, and so I just more or less looked to her to explain. She'd say, Muriel isn't cooing or doing something. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And there were early signs that she wasn't developing. I think when I looked back that I should have had more advice --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, that's what I was trying to --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: -- from the medical people in Nome to take her at least to Anchorage for. At that time, Dr. Helen Whaley was the only pediatric -- pediatric neurologist, because she did see her when she was a year old, and at that time Dr. Whaley, who is a fine Stanford medical graduate, she said, yes, Muriel has severe neurological impairment. But you know, a lot can happen in a year if you have more infant stimulation. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But when you tried to get help for her here in Anchorage, and the services, who did you turn to for help and how did that work?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, actually, that one time when I saw Dr. Helen Whaley, she had come to Nome for consultation for babies and children, and I -- I -- I was frustrated because I felt, now, do I just tell John, I'm packing up, we're leaving, because she's not going to get what she needs here? But I -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: That's what we should have done.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I was well brought up to think, well, you know --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Hindsight.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: You know, it's hindsight. After normal babies, you keep hoping, well, I'll do what I can for her but, you know, that is -- you need to really get on it. By the time we went to Berkeley, she was already three, and not -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. That was part, a little bit why we chose Berkeley.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, yeah. You know, it was delayed. Now when I see a child that I spot, I just really encourage the parent to immediately find out what they can because you're just delaying help. And it seems like they do -- they do. In the hospitals now babies are born, they are much quicker to spot -- to spot problems but -- Section 6:
KAREN BREWSTER: As she got older and you lived here in Anchorage, and she needed special help or services --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Special education.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- who helped you navigate that?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, Dr. -- at Special Ed, Margaret Lowe was her principal, and, you know, she could see that Muriel -- and her behavior became so frustrating to the teachers and to fellow students, that she would act out so much. And it increased to the point when she would hit her -- got into her teens, I just felt we've got to do something because she's so terribly unhappy at home in the family. She would pull her sister's hair and she would just do a lot of acting out. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Destroyed property.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. But you know, it was --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: She'd go into the garage and she'd cut some bungee cords that I had in there, she found an old knife on the --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Well, anyway.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Just what kind of acting out. KAREN BREWSTER: And is Hope Cottages, is that here in Anchorage?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That is. She's under the umbrella of Hope -- Hope Resources, Incorporated. They changed the name.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you explain what Hope Cottages is and what those services are?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes, it's for all types of handicaps of mental and physical also, and they must have over 20 group homes, and Muriel's in a very nice one. She has her own -- own room. She's already 51 years old. And it's over there on Lake Otis, and we visit her and we -- we have her with us at least one weekend a month. And she -- she calls this the grampa and grandma group home. Her talking ability is still at about five years old. But we're just pleased that she has a good program. And Hope Resources, I can confer with them any time, because at times, I feel that we need to move further South and how -- how would you manage moving her because that's no small project in itself. So but I think as of right now, her program is well suited to her, so...
KAREN BREWSTER: Do they have activities?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like at Harborview they had activities that the residents did. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. They had a real program there. She -- she had been swimming and enjoyed that very much, but her seizures, after 19 years of absence, her grand mal seizures came back, and the neurologist said you better not have her go swimming for a while.
And she's gained too much weight. She has a person that comes in and takes her four hours a day for mental stimulation in the community, they go to the library, they go many different places, and that is helping her right now. But it's an up-and-down program. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.
Bill, do you have any other questions?
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I think that's good. I appreciate your sharing and appreciate your personal comments, too. I know it's not easy, but this gives us --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Did you ever hear of Dr. Carl Koutsky?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Koutsky. He was the one I couldn't say. That's the one I thought that was -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: He's the most outstanding psychiatrist that I've been acquainted with. He came from the University of Minnesota, and he passed away here about a year ago. But he was an excellent man.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Did you see that he really put API on the good --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, he helped, you know. This old Dr. Bowman I told you, the first one here.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: He was a good one. JOHN MAAKESTAD: They had good people that they'd get from University of Minnesota or University of California.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Dr. Koutsky. Well, you thought of his name faster than I did.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it comes slowly, like you say.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Wish we had done this interview 10 years ago.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No, that's great.
Is there anything else that you we haven't asked you about that you had wanted to make sure and talk about?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: No. I -- I'm just very pleased that you're doing the work that you're doing, and I'm trying to put it all together, but I know if it's in the interest of mental health and treatment of -- of associated problems that it's wonderful. Yeah. I'd like to see your program some day.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.
John and Louise Maakestad - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-30-tp1
John and Louise Maakestad were interviewed by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010at their apartment at the Anchorage Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska. John was born in Petersburg, Alaska, became a Lutheran pastor, served in Shishmaref and Nome in the 1950s and early 1960s, and served as the chaplain at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute from 1963-1984. In this interview, John talks about his ministry career working with the mentally ill and the specialized training he received in pastoral care. In addition, as parents of a developmentally disabled daughter, the Maakestads discuss delivery of and access to services for the developmentally disabled.
Part two of this interview.
Click to section:
Section 1: John Maakestad talks about being born and raised in Petersburg, Alaska, and following in the footsteps of his father to become a Lutheran pastor.
Section 2: His education and training, and getting involved with pastoral care issues.
Section 3: His training in pastoral care in California.
Section 4: Louise Maakestad talks about meeting and marrying her husband, John, and their early years of living in Shishmaref and Nome.
Section 5: Working as staff chaplain at Alaska Psychiatric Hospital and McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage, Alaska.
Section 6: Responsibilities of staff chaplain, including patient consultation and holding religious services in the hospital.
Section 7: Importance of having clergy involved in delivery of mental heath services and how acceptance of that has changed.
Section 8: Personally benefiting from mental health services for their developmentally disabled daughter and another daughter who was diagnosed bipolar.
Section 9: Sending their daughter to Harborview Hospital in Valdez, Alaska.
Section 10: Difficulties for patients being separated from family, encouraging family visits, and changes in medical care in the villages.
Section 11: The pros and cons of family visitation to patients and of returning a patient home, and living in Shishmaref in the 1950s.
Section 12: Types of counseling provided by clergy.
Section 13: Assessment of Alaska Psychiatric Institute's treatment program, and example of a patient on work release who committed murder.
BILL SCHNEIDER: All right. Well, today is December 8th. Seems like this month is flying by already.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: It is.
KAREN BREWSTER: 2010.
BILL SCHNEIDER: 2010. And I'm Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster's with me. And we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with John and Louise Maakestad, and we're here in the Pioneer Home in Anchorage in their lovely apartment. And you've been here just about a year, you say?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum. So thank you for taking time to meet with us and talk.
Let's begin a little bit about where you were brought up and how you got involved in your life's work. And John, we'll start with you.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, I'm a native-born Alaskan, I'm going to say, though not of one of the Native tribes, but one of the immigrant groups that have come in to Alaska and the United States in quite large numbers. And I'm speaking of the Norwegian population that has become part of the citizenship of Alaska.
My father was a Lutheran pastor, and the Norwegian people are largely of Norwegian -- of Lutheran faith, denominational wise. And so his first parish was in Petersburg and his first pastoral experience was from '17, that is 1917, to '20.
I was born in 1918, and we moved South from Petersburg in 1920. Then my -- at that time, my father began a mission development among the Norwegians in Pasadena, California, were quite a number of Midwestern Scandinavians, particularly Norwegians, in -- in the way in which we are speaking. So that's how I came to be born in Alaska. And my father was called back to serve an additional time at Petersburg in 1928, and he was there for five years. During that time I was 10 to 15, and so that's my experience in Alaska. And then as an adult, I felt the call into the Lutheran ministry and became a pastor, and I also have served congregations in Alaska as my father did. So... Section 2:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you get your schooling in Alaska?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: The lower grades, that was true, but my -- my graduate work was done in the Midwest at one of our seminaries, Luther seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. And so otherwise, I -- my schooling was not inclusive of the schools in Alaska, other than special symposiums, or whatever, were carried on in the -- in the line of Christian ministry and how it relates to the problems of life. And I was always particularly interested, after World War II there was a great deal of emphasis on holistic treatment of human illness, as you well know, and I was glad to be a part of that because the spiritual nature of human -- humanity or humankind is inclusive of why am I here and why do these things happen to me. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And what year was it that you left for your mental health training to be a chaplain?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. That was -- let's see. Louise? I --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: '62?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. It would be in the summer of '63, wasn't it? That's all right, dear. It's quite immaterial. But I had come to a point where I had a year of sabbatical for study, and at that time, the religious forces of -- of society were trying to step into rhythm with the rest of human life, and -- and the human helping activities available, such as social work and -- and mental health. The idea was for clergy to become acquainted with the in-depth work of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and of course, nursing -- the nursing emphasis or the particular part that they have in holistic treatment of human problems. BILL SCHNEIDER: So this was specialized training that you got?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. There were two religious agencies that had developed after the World War II, and they were particularly interested in how pastoral care could be helpful in treatment of human problems. And those two agencies, the Institute for Pastoral Care and the -- the other agency that developed became a part of that Institute for Pastoral Care. They went through a process of consolidating. And these included Protestant and Catholic, as well as whatever their religious affiliation a person might claim or have. Yeah. Section 3:
Have I gone afield, or --
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I think you're -- I think you're doing a fine --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I was just trying to figure out how to ask you about how that training, then, fit into your life's work.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. All right. I find -- found myself with a year of sabbatical freedom to pursue studies related to the work of pastoral care that I was in. And so I had a very good social work person, an elderly single woman, she was a Dane, and she -- she was a social worker, and had done time in Europe working in the Red Cross structure, and she said, why don't you take a quarter of clinical pastoral education? That's what they began calling this where clergy were requested to come along and make contributions and insights and so on from the spiritual side of human problems. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And instead of just having a quarter, you found out that you could have four quarters in the --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. The first quarter was done at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley, California, so I moved our family down there and we leased a house for a year because I decided that I was going to take a full year, that was four quarters, three-month quarters was how it was offered. And people like the administrator of the -- the hospitals and other staff members would be included in their care plans and so on. So -- so my first orientation and exposure to this -- this point of view, this way of going about treatment of human ills. And part of that was done at the University of California. The first month and a half or six weeks was done over at Herrick Hospital, which is general medical/surgical. Then I was transferred over to University of California in San Francisco in pediatrics and -- pediatrics and cancer research. So I worked in that milieu. And then the next quarter was at San Quentin Prison with the correction aspect. So they were very thorough exposures. You -- in fact, I was assigned to two men on death row, you know, and went with one of them, I went home at five o'clock on Tuesday, and at ten o'clock the next morning he was scheduled to be executed. And they used the gas chamber. But when I came to work at eight o'clock and was going to walk with him down the last mile, as they say, the -- some lawyers had found some way to delay it, and so that man, he actually died in prison. They kept delaying his -- there were all kinds of maneuvering, you know, to -- it was a feather in the lawyer's cap to have delivered a man from the gas chamber. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And your last quarter? The last quarter for the mental --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes, Louise. She hurries me along, and that's needed very much.
After I had been in a correctional setting, then I was able to get into Metropolitan State Hospital down in Norwalk, California, which is a 4,000-bed mental hospital, or was at that time. And that was my third quarter, then. And the final quarter was completed at Norwalk. So I had general hospital at Berkeley and cancer research in San Francisco. So it gives you the idea that these organizations, the Institute for Pastoral Care, were interested in making a connection for therapy and the benefit of humanity. And particularly in our health structure here in the United States.
I am afraid I have gone far afield, but -- BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's -- that's okay. That background --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Is -- general rambling is acceptable.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That background must have prepared you pretty well for --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: It did.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- coming back to do the work here.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: It was very interesting, too. Section 4:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Before we get into getting you back to Alaska, though --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- let's ask Louise about how you met John and raising a family. And I suppose you had your family in California at that point?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes. That was interesting because we'd had seven years in Alaska, we had had twelve years in Alaska, he served a parish in Fairbanks five years, and then had the call to the little village of Shishmaref, and we had been there three years and then to Nome for four years, and by that time we had five children when he had this opportunity for pastoral clinical education. And it was, you know, a change, but we had realized that the Native people were in a time of change, too, this way, that we were seeing more mental problems, and -- and John wanted to be more of help to them that way.
And then we had had one child that had severe developmental disabilities that was born in Nome, and we were eager for her to have an evaluation. But back to the time when we met as young people, our families knew each other, and we've always said our courtship was more by letter than -- because he's nine years older than I am, but we -- I grew up in North Texas near Amarillo, Texas. My father was a cattle rancher and wheat farmer. And one summer I went to the University of Bould -- of Colorado at Boulder and John's mother lived near there, so anyway, we became engaged and were married in 1948 in Texas. And I followed him to his first parish up near Everett, Washington, and from there he had the call to Alaska. So that's where we are. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, we should go back to those earlier years a little bit when you were in Shishmaref and -- Kotzebue, did you say?
KAREN BREWSTER: Nome.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Nome.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Nome.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Nome, yes.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Seven years on the Seward Peninsula.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Which is south of Nome. Kotzebue is -- let's see, Nome is south of Kotzebue. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And it was very much a subsistence life-style in those days. You know, people had no electricity and they had no -- they -- it was interesting to watch how the seasonal work. Shishmaref very much had a pattern of seasonal work from catching herring by net in the fall and going up rivers with their fishing in the summer, and I just really marveled at how much food they could put away for their large families, and rugged life-style they had. KAREN BREWSTER: What years were you there?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: We were in Shishmaref from '55 to '58, and in Nome until '62, and that's when he found out about this pastoral -- clinical pastoral education that was an opportunity. Section 5:
BILL SCHNEIDER: And then you came back from that training --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And where was the next place?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, you see, at that time, in '58 to '62 was when I was in Nome, and that's when I made the decision to go into clinical training after that period. That -- it was then that I decided that I would apply for this scholarship and made plans to move to California for a year. And so...
BILL SCHNEIDER: But when you came back from -- from the fellowship --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh. Oh, yes. From --
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- what was your next assignment? JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. During that time, you see, Alaska had become a state, and Alaska was seeking to build up its -- its structure to function in this new, wonderful experience and freedom of statehood. And so they were building the psychiatric hospital and they needed a qualified clergy to be this staff chaplain. And I applied for that. I had done a little forethought about it, you know, I knew that it was coming up and I saw or heard the building plans for API.
API had already been built, then when I came, and so they had the structure and so on. And it just was a matter of stepping into the role. And I really had to introduce the idea of chaplaincy in institutions, the helping institutions, hospitals, and...
And so I was accepted and became a member of API's staff, but I also served in McLaughlin Youth Center halftime for a while when they -- because they needed chaplain services periodically. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about your duties at API.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. Well, we used to think in concepts of the reason for having a chaplain, a religious person of bona fide qualifications such as being an ordained pastor and being accepted as a person of the helping professions, a qualified person, and so I would sit in on the staff meetings and help with -- that is, accept the role of consultation for individual patients. And then as chaplain, I was not only available for consultation with, you know, we had a young lady that said she was the Virgin Mary and she was expecting a child; I mean, such things as that the chaplain would deal with. And then the chaplain would also be available for staff members asking about particular, oh, dietary abstinence in various ways as -- as requested by the religious, like fish on Friday and somehow or other, that's just a minor consideration, but -- and I arranged for the attendance of orthodox patients at the special Christmas services, you know, they are a week later than the rest of Christendom, but that's a big segment of Christendom, too, the Orthodox. Section 6:
BILL SCHNEIDER: I was wondering how you dealt with the woman who said she was the Virgin Mary.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. The psychiatrist was in charge of her, you know, and she -- today she's well married, mother of several more children, lives down in Florida, and she actually was the daughter of a Lutheran family that belonged to one of the Lutheran churches in south Fairbanks. Let's see. It's -- LOUISE MAAKESTAD: What are they?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Christ Our Saviour Lutheran Church, I think it is.
But it could have been any. And there were other denominational attachments that it didn't make any difference. There's something in the growing-up process that some -- some people have that they just -- they have to have some extraordinary reason for living, and it's just a part of the difficulties that they have to learn to deal with. And so this -- this young lady, as I say, is a very successful mother of her family. So --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: She had regular -- you had regular Sunday services and chapel services.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes, yes.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And family.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Excuse me, I --
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's all right. JOHN MAAKESTAD: That was a very important part of a chaplain's position, too, to provide a religious service within the hospital. There were many patients who could not leave the hospital, and so we -- we had a Sunday morning service and -- BILL SCHNEIDER: How did you -- how did you think about making that service in a way that it would be welcoming to different denominations?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, we -- we sought to make it a general Protestant service, and then we did have a Catholic, there was quite a large Catholic population, and so we had a priest come in once a week and conduct that service, but there were Catholic patients that would attend also the general service, which was Protestant in -- in its -- its structure. But acceptable. Yep.
I'm -- I don't -- am I --
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's fine. JOHN MAAKESTAD: -- getting -- yes. The chaplain provides religious services within the hospital.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: So I have said he -- he or she acts as a religious reference and -- within the hospital. He -- he functions as a part of the consultation and available for working out differences between patients and whatever medication or the requirements they have, and helping them to understand the treatment process and what it is for and why it's done and -- Section 7:
BILL SCHNEIDER: I would imagine that they would be very important to make sure that the spiritual aspects of people's lives weren't cut off when they became institutionalized.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. That is very true. And also, there are some times when religion must be removed or, you know, say, now, don't -- we won't participate in some peculiar religious rite. The little girl from -- a little Native girl, she was about 12 or 15, she came down from Nome and she put her foot under a hot water shower until she burned her foot, you know. And they said what are you trying to do? And she said, I'm trying to drive the evil spirits out. Well, that's a religious concept, and damaging your body in which the spirit lives will not be pleasing to God or helpful to yourself. I mean, there are problems of that nature. BILL SCHNEIDER: So you were able to help out, provide some --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. And -- and there were some people that thought, well, mental illness is really a religious problem that we can exorcize, the religious term, you understand. Tell the spirit to flee. And you have to have realistic explanations and understanding or help.
It's been quite a few years, I was chaplain for 20 years, from '63 to '84. That's 20 years, isn't it? LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That's a long time ago now, since you've retired.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: The years have worked to fade.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. Sure.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. But I remember with great satisfaction and gratitude that I could be a part of developing this aspect of religion as an active part of the treatment of human ills, so that -- so that a clergy is cast in a helpful -- helpful concept, so... BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. That's quite a change, isn't it?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. It -- it has been. And it now is very much accepted. For instance, there is a program out at Providence Medical Center that offers clinical pastoral education to clergy in Alaska, and when I was there, I was the only chaplain that had graduated, so to speak, or I had completed the four quarters required for -- which include corrections and mental health and physical mental -- medical/surgical problems.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But that's common now, you say?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes, it is. And accepted. Yeah. Section 8:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Back to your -- your family and -- how was your daughter treated? Did she receive the care she needed?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, we went to Shishmaref in '55 with three children, they were at that time four, two, and six months. And when we lived there, we had one more daughter, Ellen, and she was born in Nome; and then after we left Shishmaref and moved to Nome, then we had Muriel, who was born in '59, and that evening that she was born it was a big baby night. They had 12 babies, they had never had that many, and a set of twins. And Muriel had some breathing problems, and anyway, it turned out she had some brain damage that was much more severe than we thought at first. And I realized she -- we needed to get some more evaluation of her. And that was the way it was.
And we went to California, then, when she was three years old for John to take this clinical pastoral education, and she was evaluated then, and then we realized that she would need more attention. She didn't have that early infant stimulation that they have nowadays for kids, I think it would have helped her a great deal.
But anyway to make a long story short, she went through the Special Ed program here in Anchorage and is now in a group home, and she's not physically handicapped except for her mental age is about five years old or reading readiness age. And she's had various little jobs that -- under Assets, and they do a good job in Anchorage of helping these young people. And then we had one more child when we lived here in Anchorage, Carol. And now our children are scattered all over the world. We have a son teaching school in Saudi Arabia, oldest daughter is retired with her husband, went to Hawaii, and we still have Muriel here and our daughter Ellen. And our daughter Ellen is the one who developed a mental problem, bipolar, which is quite commonly known nowadays, but at the time, I had no idea why she was having a sudden personality change in her early twenties.
She had been in Norway for six years, and I could tell from her letters there was something wrong. And so we brought her back and she spent a couple of days at API, which was very -- she was very against that because of her dad's association. But I'm going on too long about that, but it was a traumatic time for our family because she typical bipolar, she refused any -- any medication, she refused -- and she would get a job and lose a job. And she, all of a sudden, disappeared to California. And then we tried to find out how she was, and it was getting more difficult, and finally she -- she was diagnosed down there and she accepted it for the first time and came back to Anchorage, and then has been here 10 years now and is doing well. She's off medication, but she has a little condo and is working and so we're real thankful for that. And so -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: We've -- we've benefitted from the full spectrum of help.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Needed and offered.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, there's so much help available now. And our youngest daughter married an ophthalmologist who is a medical missionary in Borneo, so the children are far and wide. And we are very thankful they all seem to be doing quite well right now. Section 9:
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you have any experience with Harborview Hospital in Valdez?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes, we did.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes, we did.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: She was there for a period of time.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: And -- and Muriel was residing there, too.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah, that's what I mean.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And how was that for her?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: You know, it was amazing. It just went well. When she was at Denali School, she was having some difficulty behavior wise, and the school psychologist said that -- he noted that Muriel kept comparing herself with her older brothers or sisters, and she's saying, when I get my driver's license, she was very frustrated. And so he thought she would do better away from the family for a period of time. And we first sent her to a Lutheran school in Beatrice, Nebraska, and they -- they -- she did well there. She brought up her skills more for group home living; and at that time, Harborview had improved considerably, so we decided we wanted her closer to home.
And so we brought her to Valdez, and she did well there. And people had a lot of criticism, and they -- they closed down, and sent these kids to group homes, and she had quite a hard adjustment to Anchorage because she was used to that little town of Valdez and they knew her and she had a good program. So I -- I was very positive about that experience in Harborview, contrary to much publicity against it. Anyway, that about sums up the family, I think.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. But that's interesting about Harborview because --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- in talking with other people, the issue has come up of a small community that was somewhat accepting of and inviting of people.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Right. I just really think -- Section 10:
BILL SCHNEIDER: But this whole question of separation, I want to ask both of you about this, both from a personal standpoint as well as from a professional standpoint, how did you deal with separation, both professionally with people being separated from their home communities and coming to API? And both from a personal standpoint, your being separated from your children. So maybe the first part would be professional. JOHN MAAKESTAD: And by the way, we haven't mentioned Morningside.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Maybe that's on your list. But Morningside was being replaced by API, that's really what was -- or went on.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And we forgot to mention we lost our second son in a hang gliding accident in '76, and that was a real trauma for the family. He was 21, and he'd climbed Mt. McKinley that summer, and I thought if he gets off that mountain, he'll be safe, but you know, life has strange turns, but he -- he very much accomplished what he wanted to do in life. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Excuse me, you asked a question, and I left it hanging.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Separation.
KAREN BREWSTER: Separation.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: The separation, from a professional standpoint, how did you counsel and minister to people who were separated from their families? Was that an issue? LOUISE MAAKESTAD: At API.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. We would try to find relatives that lived in Anchorage or could come along and -- we didn't have residence for families of patients at API, but that is a difficulty, but the Native Medical Center has come a long way by providing residence for family members to come right along with -- LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, the fact that you knew so many of the Native families from Nome and further north --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: -- you could -- you could make connections and help them see their family here in Anchorage.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Some of -- a number of the people that lived at Shishmaref, for instance, would go to Kotzebue for medical treatment, unless it was very severe, then they'd airlift down here. So that's how I became acquainted with Kotzebue patients and so on. Kotzebue is -- you know, is -- it's positioned to benefit from these oil developments in the future, in the not too distant future. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, and medical care has improved so much compared to the early '50s when the school teacher usually would be the health representatives in the village, and be on the radio with the doctor in Kotzebue for advice on how to treat this patient or that one patient.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: You know, it was very -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: When we were at Shishmaref, there were times when the teacher would be away, and the teacher had the radio, but I would cover for him --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah, the doctor.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: -- or the powers that be. Section 11:
KAREN BREWSTER: When you worked at API, did families come to Anchorage to visit their --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- family members in the hospital?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sometimes, yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That increased.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sometimes that could be helpful and sometimes not so helpful. You know.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: But that visitation increased in those 20 years compared to --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And the travel, people traveled a lot more. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. And the residence for families is a very good thing because it's very expensive, but -- well, yeah. That problem that you mentioned, separation from the family, sometimes it's better to send them home as soon as you can to -- rather than, you know, keeping them here and far away from family. KAREN BREWSTER: As you said, though, in some cases, the family situation might not be a healthy situation.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Yeah. That's true. And it's not easy. I was just reading in the paper for yesterday about this family in Teller.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Alcoholism related.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Terrible. I wouldn't want to -- I shouldn't read it to you. I mean, that's --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, that's okay.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: You can --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, being in Barrow, I imagine you --
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: -- run into situations like that.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. Well, now, I think your experience is -- KAREN BREWSTER: Well, nothing compared to Shishmaref in the '50s.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, you know, in a way, it was healthy and easier; life was harder, but the people themselves say that. Life was harder but we enjoyed life more.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was a healthier community.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I think you see that, the Native foods were very much eaten. JOHN MAAKESTAD: And you know one of the spectacular things when you live in a place like Shishmaref at that time was that the North Star made one trip up, and Louise had to make the grocery list for a year. I mean, it sounds spectacular.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: All the basics, yeah. All the basics.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: But it's very true, and workable.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And the way that people would work together unloading that thing when it did come. You know, they had their teams and it was so well done. Section 12:
KAREN BREWSTER: I'm wondering about, again, your work at API and working with the patients. What kind of individual counseling might you have provided that was different than what a psychiatrist-type session might be?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. Well, for one thing, you can clear up misunderstandings about religious teachings. The thing that comes to my mind quickly is, you know, the -- Jesus was asked, what must I do to be saved, and the New Testament says, he that believes and is baptized shall be saved. And then some little baby boy dies, and the family will say, well, does the -- is the baby rejected because the family was unable to carry out the Rite of Baptism and -- and the attached teaching responsibilities, Sunday School and, you know, so on, to build upon the ministry of the church. And -- am I. BILL SCHNEIDER: So how did you respond?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh. Oh, yes. Well, God is a God of love, and we know that -- and the Scripture itself says he that -- he that lives without the law is judged without the law. There is -- there's some clear teachings. But they -- they aren't easily apprehended by some people. Some people find distortions of religion more attractive than realities, and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Boy, that's for sure, isn't it?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Section 13:
KAREN BREWSTER: How do you think patients were cared for at API? Do you think they got good treatment there?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: I think they got treatment that was available.
Louise reminded me of this man that killed three teenagers in Russian Jack Springs Park, you know. And -- LOUISE MAAKESTAD: He had been at API for quite -- quite some time.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. And they -- they had -- he had moved along in the treatment program to where they even approved him. The initial infraction that brought him to API was that he beat up a Native grocery boy to death. And among the things that -- the reason or in the process of taking him into the API and setting up a program of treatment, he -- he said, I wanted to show the police authority that I'm real tough, and that they -- they ought to put me in the Marines and make me commandant of an elite -- he had a bad distortion, you know. And I, myself, had misgivings about the way they were pushing him along. They actually, you see, had approved his going out and working at Sears Roebuck a couple hours a day, and these were things that you can read in the files. In other words, I'm conscious of not to -- divulging information that is not available. But that shows you some bad mistakes can be made. He was on a work release for two, three hours, and he had gotten himself a pistol, bought someplace, see, loose control, but -- and I had been teaching -- I'm speaking as a part of the team, that -- well, so...
KAREN BREWSTER: Were there residents at API, people who came for treatment, and spent the rest of their lives there, or was it an in and out? JOHN MAAKESTAD: There are a few that, for instance, they have committed very serious murder, in particular. Quite a few. You know, I'm not very mentally agile.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's fine.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: And it's frustrating. So did I answer your question?
KAREN BREWSTER: I'll ask it again. I want to change the tape, then I'll ask it again.