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Coming to Fairbanks in 1968
Teaching in Fairbanks
A Charlie Brown Christmas tree
We all belong together as a family
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I'm Judy Shiffler, and my husband Wendell and I came to Alaska for two years in 1968, and that's the common experience among people of our age group that we came and we fell in love with the community.
It's a nice place to live, geographically. The air pollution is something that really sits in my head and makes me wonder. But everything else overshadows the air pollution and we are definitely making the decision to stay here forever and ever more for so many reasons and the sense of community is a very large part of that.
This story telling has to do with Christmas primarily, and I am sitting in the back of the room thinking about our first Christmas, in particular in Fairbanks and having come most recently from New Mexico. It was a bit of a change and we were living in Fairview Manor. We arrived in August of '68, there were two apartments available in the entire town.
One was in Fairview Manor and the other one was in... across the street. It's not called Arctic Village...Arctic Park. We had the grand choice of two, which was more than the people that arrived after us.
It was real interesting because Christmas and... I taught at Denali School, and my husband taught at Lathrop so we walked to school which was a real gift, because we had an air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
And our first Christmas, it was 55 and 60 degrees below continuously for two weeks. It was quite an initiation into living in this area.
I had already fallen in love with Denali School, and all the people had been so loving to us both at Lathrop and Denali. And by the way, Doris Southall was part of my life, because she was a good friend of our school nurse Dolores at Denali.
Those folks that couldn't be called pioneers then, because they were still in their mid-life, and were already just embracing every new person that came to town. Every new teacher was thoroughly embraced by these people,
and we felt like we had family from the first day that we arrived, even though we were living in an anonymous situation in Fairview Manor.
That Christmas... I was compelled to come up here and speak, because the building I'm standing in now is very related to that first Christmas.
We needed a Christmas tree. We had no property, we had not the sense that we could go out and cut a tree someplace, nor the vehicle with which to do it.
And they were selling Christmas trees in, um, what had become kind of a little community center, which was a former gas station, which was sitting where I'm standing right now on the corner of Airport Way and Barnette...Not Barnette...Cowles.
And we didn't know a library was going to be sitting here, the library was further down the street on First Avenue. So they were selling... I believe it was Kiwanis even in those days, and they were selling Christmas trees, and of course, they were very overpriced for our budget, but we needed a Christmas tree, and after all you know, you just grin and bear it, and you go buy a Christmas tree.
So we sashayed in, and we said, "We want to buy a Christmas tree." And they just kind of looked at us, and they said, "Do you realize how cold it is outside?"
And we said, "Well, yea." They said, "Well do you realize that it's not good to take the tree out in those temperatures, because it will be ruined by the time..." They were telling us not to buy a tree from them at that time.
And so we said, "Yea, but we want a tree. How do we do it, we're new to town?" And they said, "Get someone with a pickup truck. And how far do you live from here?"
And we said, "Well we're in that last set of apartments down in Fairview Manor." They said, "Well, figure it out so that you can..." Well, I'll tell you what we did.
We went back the next day with a friend's pickup truck, and we had it totally choreographed. We had three people, and everybody had their job.
And the people at the Kiwanis wrapped it up as well as they could in those days with as much insulating material as they had in those days, and we all kind of went, on your mark, get set, go!
And we raced it out, and put it in the back of the pickup truck, which was already pointed in the right direction, and in gear, and we raced around that back street behind Fairview Manor, and somebody-- the wife of the third person, of the other man -- was waiting at the backdoor, the closest door to Fairview Manor,
to throw the door open while my husband leaped out and got the tree out and went inside the basement of Fairview Manor. So we thought we had beat the whole game, and we very carefully carried it upstairs. And the people at Kiwanis had said, "Now, you know, be real careful how you unwrap this, because it's going to suffer between here and there a lot so be real careful."
So we followed all their instructions and then over the period of the next week, we watched the whole thing just completely drop all of its needles. I mean it was definitely a Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.
And the four of us, the other couple which had been wise enough to not buy one, just kind of laughed our way through Christmas watching the pile of needles grow below the tree.
So that was our first Christmas tree, and it was again sold by a community group and sold with a lot of love, but with a lot of forewarning and we had a wonderful time.
Also speaking about the community. During those Christmases, and it really didn't matter what time of year it was, but especially during the Christmas season,
if any of our friends that we met through our teaching, or we met through the apartment, or we met through any area or...church, if any of our friends had their parents come to town for Christmas holidays,
it was a major event. And we would all go over to meet their parents, and we would basically adopt their parents. And their parents would adopt us, and they'd come over to dinner at our house, and we'd all gather at the, the...
our friend and their parents for an event, and then later when we'd be travelling around the United States, up to today, always stopped by those people's homes, because they were our parents, our adopted parents.
And some of those couples have moved on to other communities, but their parents are still our adopted parents. And we will not be in that region of the country without stopping and when we lose them, from death, we miss them.
And it's all because of the community of Fairbanks. When our parents come up, and we want them to know all of our friends, and we invite all of our friends from all of our various parts of life over, they are adopted by our friends.
And our friends ask us, for years, you know, how's so and so, how's your mom, how's your stepfather, how's your dad, and they care.
Our folks have been adopted likewise, and that's a real unique thing about... in my experience, about Fairbanks is that sense of, we all belong together as a family.