Thelma Langdon was interviewed by Bill Schneider on May 24, 2007, at her home in Anchorage, Alaska. She is the wife of Dr. J. Ray Langdon, who was a former medical director at Morningside Mental Hospital in Portland, Oregon and director of mental health services in Alaska just after statehood. She describes their involvement with treating Alaska's mentally ill and broader mental health services. She describes living and working conditions at Morningside Hospital, her husband's approach to treating patients, and she is critical of a federal investigation that occurred at the hospital. Thelma discusses her husband's dissatisfaction with Alaska's approach to mental health services, his firing by Governor Egan, and establishment of the Langdon Clinic to deliver services to patients statewide. Thelma was the first chair person of the Alaska Mental Health Board (1988-1990), and started the first statewide effort to serve people with dementia. Thelma demonstrates a deep connection with and compassion for the mentally ill and feels that not enough has been done to address their needs.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: May 24, 2007
Narrator(s): Thelma Langdon
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: Personal background and employment history prior to coming to Alaska, and meeting and marrying her husband and their first years of marriage.
Section 2: Living in different places around the country because of her husband’s psychiatry training and military service.
Section 3: Her husband becoming the medical director at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon where Alaskan patients were sent, the 1957 congressional investigation of the hospital, and memories of escorting patients from Alaska to Morningside.
Section 4: Describes living on the hospital grounds at Morningside, patients visiting her home and playing with her children, and the experience of the 1957 congressional investigation of the hospital.
Section 5: Moving to Anchorage in 1958 when her husband was hired by Alaska’s new division of mental health, and her assessment of the state’s plan for mental health services.
Section 6: The innovative treatment programs her husband initiated at Morningside Hospital and her view of the quality of patient care provided.
Section 7: The establishment of a mental health program and facility in Valdez and her husband’s disapproval of this effort.
Section 8: Her husband’s resignation from Alaska’s mental health services program because of disagreement over the direction of the program, their staying in Alaska instead of returning to Morningside Hospital, and his continued contact with and care of mental health patients.
Section 9: Describes her husband’s outspoken personality.
Section 10: Her husband’s continued involvement with mental health issues in the State after his resignation and establishment of his own Langdon Clinic.
Section 11: Personal involvement in the mental health field.
Section 12: Continued involvement with mental health issues, service on the Mental Health Board, and seeing herself as an advocate.
Section 13: Key issues that existed while she was on the Mental Health Board.
Section 14: Compares the old Alaska Psychiatric Institute building with and the new one that was being planned when she was on the Mental Health Board.
Section 15: The impact of the Molly Hootch case that required schools to be built in every community in Alaska, and her thoughts and observations on the outcome.
Section 16: Assessment of Alaska’s mental health programs and compares with knowledge of services in New Zealand.
Section 17: Her role in starting an Alzheimer’s support group in Anchorage that later expanded and developed into the statewide Alzheimer's Resource Agency.
Section 18: People involved in mental health issues.
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today, we determined is May 24th, 2007, I'm Bill Schneider and I had the pleasure today of talking with Thelma Langdon. And I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. We're in your home here in Anchorage.
And we're going to talk about the history of mental health delivery. And in particular, we're going to talk about your background and involvement and your husband's background and involvement in the mental health issues as they've emerged. So let me hook you up and we'll -- we'll begin.
Let's start with your personal background, where you were born, and who your parents were, and some of your early childhood influences.
THELMA LANGDON: I was born in Pueblo, Colorado, on May 1925, to Helen and Tony Perse, and last name is spelled P-E-R-S-E. And I was one of two daughters. My sister was three years younger than I.
We grew up in Southern Colorado, both Walsenberg and Pueblo. I went to school in both -- in both towns, and to parochial school, and the names in both towns was St. Mary's. And I graduated from high school in 1942. There were 42 in our graduating class and I graduated in '42. I was too young to go into nurses training, so I stayed out a year and I worked as a cashier with the J.C. Penney company.
In 1943, I went into nurses training at a hospital in Pueblo, Colorado. It was a hospital that was run by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation, which was a steel mill for the people who worked there, as well as their families. And I graduated from there in 1946.
As I entered the nurses training, I also became a Cadet Nurse Corps -- a member of the Cadet Nurse Corps, which started during the war in order to provide nursing care for people in -- in the hospitals because so many of the registered nurses and nurses who were available had gone off to World War II. So the Cadet Nurse Corps was started to fill that gap.
We had our education paid for and there was $10 a month was a stipend we got until we were seniors, and then we got $15 a month. I met my husband, J. Ray Langdon, when he was a patient at the -- Corwin Hospital. That was the name of the -- of the hospital. And he had been burned, badly burned in an accident at the steel mill.
So I was -- I was finishing my last six months of nursing when I met him. And he had -- had to have many, many skin grafts and I just had -- had taken care of him for quite awhile, so I got to know him quite well.
And then one of the interns suggested I take him to mass with me on Sunday. And I said, okay, I'll do that. Well, it was about a threeblock walk to the church, and I was just so scared that he was going to pass out on me and then I didn't know what I would do, but that didn't happen.
Well, we were married in August of 1947. He was going back into his second year of medical school at St. Louis University, so we moved to St. Louis, then, in August or September of 1947. And he finished medical school in 1950.
While we were in St. Louis, I worked as the operating room supervisor in a small hospital, a private hospital in St. Louis, and our first child was born. Steve was born in Colorado while my husband was still in St. Louis finishing -- or in medical school, so then I returned to St. Louis and finished -- oh, finished our -- his medical school in -- when was that -- 1950.
Then we went back to that same hospital where he was a patient and I had my nurse's training for an internship for one year. Then he decided to go into psychiatry. So we went -- moved to Indianapolis to a private hospital there for his start in his residency program.
Section 2: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. So we were talking about your husband's psychiatric training at -- what was the name of it? THELMA LANGDON: It was in Indianapolis at a small private hospital called Norway. And he was there for two years.
And while we were there, we had a letter from the draft board in Pueblo, Colorado, saying if you don't enlist in one of the services, you will be drafted.
So he wanted to go back into the Navy where he had been during World War II, but they didn't have any openings, so he chose the Air Force. We moved to San Antonio to Lackland Air Force Base, in 1953, and we were down there from 1953 to 1955.
By that time, I had two -- two sons. One was born in Colorado when Jay was in medical school at St. Louis, one was born in Indianapolis, and then we had our first daughter when we were in San Antonio in 1954, I guess it was.
Then after San Antonio, we went back to Medfield, Massachusetts, I think there was about 9 or 10 months that he needed to qualify to take the -- to be certified in psychiatry with the American Psychiatric Institute. So we were there from the summer of '55 until February of '56 when we moved to Portland, Oregon.
Section 3: Jerry had been hired to be the medical director at Morningside Hospital there. So in February, we took our three kids and flew back to Portland, Oregon, on a very, very long flight. Of course, this was before the jets, so it was twice as long as it would be -- would have been five years later.
And that became a very interesting period in our life. We lived on the hospital grounds of Morningside. And things were going along pretty good. And then we started hearing rumblings about a congressional investigation that was to be held at Morningside Hospital.
There was a -- I think she was a representative, and her name was Edith Green. And she was not too happy with the way the Coe's operated, so I guess she created enough of a fuss there in the house of representatives that one of the committees decided they should go out to Morningside and have some kind of an investigation. So that happened in September of 1957.
It was a very traumatic experience, to say the least. Then, of course, Morningside was where patients from Alaska were sent. Psychiatric patients also developed -- developed mentally disabled patients were sent there. It also served as kind of a stopover place for other people who were coming down to Portland for medical treatment.
On one trip from Anchorage to Portland, my husband and I were escorting patients down. He was escorting a man who was in a -- who was bedridden, and they were sending him to Morningside Hospital. He must have been -- he must have been demented. I can't remember that exactly, but it seems to me.
And they rigged up on the airplane kind of a hammock where they had him, the patient, and I was -- I had as a patient going down there, an infant who had cleft -- a hair lip and cleft palate. So that was a real experience.
Another time I escorted a woman patient who was going down for psychiatric treatment. And it was just when the jets had come in. And so that was my first experience riding on a jet. Of course, the time was cut in half from the old prop planes to the jet planes, so that was a real step forward. Really liked that.
Anyway, it was interesting because the woman that I took down about, oh, 10 years later, maybe a little bit more than that, I was on the Office of Child Advocacy, which was under the auspices of the Governor, and I was on the board and the staff person for the Office of Child Advocacy was this woman that I had taken down -- BILL SCHNEIDER: That's okay.
THELMA LANGDON: -- that I had taken down as a patient. So it was one -- it was a wonderful success story, I thought. I don't think she remembered me, but I remembered her. But of course, never, ever said anything to her about that experience. So let's see, now, we're in Anchorage.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You were moving patients down to Morningside? THELMA LANGDON: Uh hum. Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: You would escort them down? THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. Oh, there were a lot more than that that went down. BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. THELMA LANGDON: But those were the three that -- you know, that --
Section 4: BILL SCHNEIDER: Can you give us a description of the grounds at Morningside. THELMA LANGDON: The campus was lovely. They had I don't know how many acres. 90, 92 acres. I think it's somewhere in that report. It was a lot bigger than I had remembered how big it was.
We lived in a small corner. We had a really nice home and nice yard, right next to our house was an apple orchard. And then out the back, out our backyard and across the way was where the children's cottage was. Then there was another home on the grounds where another doctor who was the night doctor lived, he and his family lived.
They had pigs and they had cows and I think they had a small garden. I know the two boys, their big thrill was to go -- to go with their dad down to look at the pigs. And then my oldest son, you would go down and watch him play baseball, softball.
And then the patients would come over and play with the boys. They played cowboys and Indians or pirates or whatever kids at that time were playing. So they interacted very closely with a lot of the men patients.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's talk about that investigation. You said that was very disturbing when the Representative Green came? THELMA LANGDON: Well, she didn't come. She -- she stirred up enough of a interest in -- in Morningside Hospital that this committee came and there were -- I don't think there were any women that came with this committee. I think they were all men at the time. There was some women on this committee on government operations, but I don't think that any woman -- women came.
But it seemed like they weren't as interested in what was going on right there at that time, say, within the last two or three years. They were pretty interested at what went on during World War II when there weren't very many docs around for them to have on the staff there. That seemed to be the period that disturbed them the most.
But -- well, I just thought it was silly, this whole thing was silly. And then they terminated the -- they were going along with all their testimony by people and then all of a sudden they said the meeting is adjourned, this hearing is adjourned, and no leadup to the -- to the end of the hearing, no comments, no nothing. Just boom. That's it.
And it was -- and I felt that they were very arrogant. They were all Democrats, and so we switched parties immediately from Democrat to Republican. And then a few years later we decided that wasn't working, so we became Independents. So now I am no party. But that's -- that was that period of time.
Section 5: Then J. Ray was coming back and forth to Alaska, meeting with the child study group and doing various things in Alaska while he was medical director there.
So when they -- when Alaska got the million acres of land and 6 and a half million for a hospital, he was approached by the state to come -- this was before Statehood -- to come up and work in their division of mental health.
And so he brought this topic up to me, that we -- he had been asked to move up. Well, I wasn't all that hot on the idea. So he brought home a plan that Alaska had put together of how they would go about setting up the mental health treatment of -- of the -- of the people of Alaska.
And I read it very carefully. And it was just, I thought, just a great plan. Really, really cutting edge kind of, you know, great look into the future and all. So I was really excited about the possibility of being in on that step of the -- along the way. So I said -- I said, okay, we'll move to Alaska.
So then we came up to just have a look around in February of '56. Was that '56? No, '58. February of '58 we came up to have a look around, and then we moved up in April. This was before Statehood, and then that summer is when they were having the bonfires, and then it was the next January when we became a state. So we got here in territorial days.
We did not want to live in Juneau. We wanted to live in Anchorage. So that -- that was negotiated when -- when J. Ray was negotiating to come up here. So that the main office, of course, was down in Juneau, and they hired a director there.
So trying to follow that plan and -- and get things moving in that direction was just not in the cards. I don't know whatever happened to that written plan, but I would be willing to bet that there's not one thing in that written plan that has come to fruition. So that's been a very, very great disappointment.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You're doing great. You're doing great. When you stop and think about the -- the plan, what are some of the aspects of that plan that you thought were so great?
THELMA LANGDON: They had set up within the state in various communities, not just the big communities, but the smaller communities, smaller communities, not the smallest, but smaller communities, access to mental health services all around the state.
And they had the plan outlined how this -- how this would work, and it sounded very possible. But, of course, that didn't happen.
Section 6: BILL SCHNEIDER: Hmm. Before we get into why it didn't happen, I want to go back to your discussion of Morningside. And you were saying that you were -- I got the impression that you were pleased the way it was being run at the time that you were there.
THELMA LANGDON: Well, it was -- I think -- I think if you read a lot of the written stuff, especially in this report on the investigation and some of the other things, and that report that was done on Morningside, my husband made a lot of changes there. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh.
THELMA LANGDON: He was one -- he believed in what was called -- and I don't know if the term is still in use or not -- a therapeutic community. And the two nurses, Helen -- Helen Nye and Lanette McCoy and my husband all had the same philosophy of what a mental health treatment program should look like. And they worked together so beautifully. And they just started a lot of things that had never been done before.
One of the things that I've always been impressed with was the medications of the patients. They would make the rounds, however often they did that, maybe once or twice a week, maybe more often, I'm not sure, but they would never put a patient -- say, a patient was getting three drugs, they would never add another drug to make it four drugs.
They would take away one of the drugs and then add the new one, so they never, ever wanted to highly medicate people. They were very, very cautious about that. I thought that was -- that was a pretty -- pretty big step.
And then some of the other innovations that they started, I tried not to be too involved with it because my husband used to say, well, then you'll just find fault, so -- so I stayed -- I stayed a little bit away from it. But I had a pretty good idea of what kinds of things were going on in the big picture.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum. I know there have been complaints that in the early days, people might be shipped out of Alaska for any number of reasons to Morningside other than mental illness. And was -- was that going on at the time in which you were there or had that changed by then?
THELMA LANGDON: I never heard that thing. I never heard any kind of comment like that. BILL SCHNEIDER: There was criticism that in the early days that if you were living out in some rural area and you showed any sort of unorthodox behavior that your neighbors might go to a judge and get you shipped out.
THELMA LANGDON: That might have happened. I can't remember ever hearing of any -- you know, any specific cases of that happening. I think in that report that was done in 1957, they give a pretty good view of how many patients they had, how many new admissions, how many discharges, and things of that sort, and I think maybe from that, you could get some idea on, you know, what might be going on.
Section 7: BILL SCHNEIDER: So what was the main reason for moving medical -- mental health services to Alaska?
THELMA LANGDON: Well, the people felt that -- that it was too far away. Portland was too far away. And that -- that Alaska should have -- have their own mental health program. Because the problems here were, you know, a lot different than elsewhere.
The Bush communities and also, you know, the distance for the big three hours to get down to Seattle and Portland, at one time, six hours prior to the jets coming in to be. So they just felt that they were entitled to it and should have it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. So we've got you up in the story line here now, we've got you up to Anchorage, and there's a disagreement that occurs.
THELMA LANGDON: Yes. Yes. Big disagreement between the gentleman running the -- the director, mental health director in Juneau, and my husband. And I don't know what direction he was trying to go in, but certainly wasn't the direction my husband wanted to go in. So there was a bit of a rub there.
And then when they -- they came up with the idea of moving patients to Valdez. And that's when my -- really, when my husband got very, very upset about that.
Valdez was in a depressed area then. I don't know that their hospital was adequate at the time. I think they -- I'm not even sure they had one doc down there at one point in time there.
And then there were these apartments that had been built, and never been occupied. And a couple of these gentlemen in Valdez owned these apartments, so they were successful in selling them to the state.
And then the state, between 1960 and '64 moved the developmentally disabled patients over to Valdez, and I'm not sure when the first API was opened. So maybe they kept those who were, quote, mentally ill down in Portland until API was ready. But they had moved the developmentally disabled people into Valdez.
Well, these apartments in the Valdez townsite at that time were not in a very good spot. So when the 1964 Earthquake came, all the damage in Valdez and the damage to the apartments where the developmentally disabled were being housed necessitated the move of those patients up to Anchorage.
And I think they went into API. I just -- that's very fuzzy to me. I don't know why I can't remember that particular scenario. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's okay.
THELMA LANGDON: I was dealing with my own problems here, with my own house, I guess that's probably why. So then, of course, they decided that they did not want to rebuild the town of Valdez in that same site. So they moved it around to the other side of the bay, where it was a lot safer.
And now it -- if you go down and try to find the old townsite, there's nothing there. Everything's gone. They really cleaned it up very well.
Then the state, as a result of the earthquake, got a -- a grant to rebuild something in Valdez. Well, there was some talk of not putting any kind of a -- a facility down there for mental -- mentally ill or the developmentally disabled, but maybe using it someplace else. Well, that was not permissible. They had to build something in Valdez.
So they built Harborview, that did have the developmentally disabled program there. And the two nurses that had worked at Morningside with my husband -- with my husband moved up to Valdez and they ran that facility for a few years. And we made several trips down there and they -- they were doing a fabulous job.
Section 8: BILL SCHNEIDER: But let's get back to your husband's dispute with the state -- THELMA LANGDON: Okay. BILL SCHNEIDER: -- at that time.
THELMA LANGDON: He was not happy with that. And then -- there was something else, some other thing. I can't -- I mentioned it earlier and I can't remember what it was. The -- take -- putting the patients in Valdez. That was one of the big ones. There were a couple of other things that he just had a hard time --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think in one of the -- one of the newspaper articles there was something about him speaking out publicly.
THELMA LANGDON: Oh, yes. Yeah. That was part of it. That he went to the press. They didn't like that, that he went to the press. And that he was saying bad things about the -- the way the government was being run, and things of that sort, and he just -- he just couldn't -- he could not go along with the direction that was being set in Juneau.
So that's when he decided that he just had to -- had to -- had to resign. And it was funny. He sent the letter of resignation in, and then Governor Egan fired him. And so that -- that was the way that happened. And then he and Governor Egan got to be real good friends later on. They were good friends. But that was kind of interesting to watch.
This Henry Coe who was the owner of Morningside wanted -- wanted us to come back to Portland. So he came up here to try to convince me that we should move back to Portland, back to Morningside. And then my husband said, well, the final decision is up to -- to me. So I said, no, we're not going. So that's why we stayed in Alaska.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Why did you say that?
THELMA LANGDON: Because I felt that Henry, the guy that was in charge of running the hospital, was -- was not very understanding of a lot of the changes that J. Ray had made, and I didn't think that he was very -- you know, worked very well with it. You know, there was disagreements from time to time.
And I thought, you know, I don't know, he says -- he says that J. Ray can have free reign, but Henry was always trying to micromanage the medical side of it. And -- and it was -- I mean, it was inevitable that they were going to have to close that hospital because they were moving the patients and moving -- moving them up to Anchorage. So -- or into Alaska. So what's the point of going back there when you know the hospital is going to close. It just didn't make much sense to me. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum.
THELMA LANGDON: So that's why we -- I decided we better stay here. And my kids are very happy that we decided to stay here. BILL SCHNEIDER: And I guess at that point you were starting the Langdon Clinics?
THELMA LANGDON: Oh, he started the Langdon Clinic about two -- two or three months after he left the state. But you know, he stayed in taking care of a lot of those patients -- patients that were back up here.
There was a place called The Lodge on Spenard somewhere, and it had a lot of the developmentally disabled men who had been patients down at Morningside, living there. And they were all on medication and so he would go to see them and give them their medication.
I remember he even got me to go there once with him. My training as an RN came in handy then, so I went with him a couple of times. Then I had -- oh, several of the patients that came back here would call here from time to time just to chat.
Section 9: BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about your husband's personality.
THELMA LANGDON: Well, some people called him curmudgeon. He was very outspoken. He had very high ideals. He was very controversial. I think he was one of these people which you either liked or you didn't like. He had a lot of friends, but he had a lot of enemies, too.
He was -- his father had died before he was born, so he had to learn how to be a dad because he hadn't had that experience in his own life. He had uncles and a grandfather, but it's not like having a dad. So he had to -- he had to learn that.
And he played a lot with the -- with the boys. He was interested in everything they were doing, academically and sportswise. What else do I need to say?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Why was he controversial?
THELMA LANGDON: Well, I think his expectations of people was very, very high. And when people didn't perform the way he thought they should because he felt they had the responsibility to do certain things, he was very outspoken about that, you know.
He criticized his fellows -- his fellow MDs quite a bit because he felt that they weren't as involved as -- as they should be in the social issues, nor were they willing to give of themselves to make things better for the community or for the people.
I think he just got really discouraged because he thought that we could be doing a lot better than we were, and it was possible to do a lot better.
It wasn't a question of there isn't the money or there isn't -- you know, there aren't the resources, it was the fact that if people were more involved, then these things would come about, you know. I think that was his -- his philosophy. But people were not and still aren't eager to be involved in a lot of these issues.
I know he used to get very upset when my kids -- the kids didn't learn a lot of things that he knew. I could never get him to understand that how do you expect them to know these things if they are not being taught these things? He never got that connection.
His own -- he had three or four aunts that were school teachers, and he was exposed to a lot of the things that my kids weren't because, you know, we were up here all by ourselves. So he he got very concerned about what they were teaching in the schools. BILL SCHNEIDER: But he wasn't afraid to speak out.
THELMA LANGDON: No. He was not afraid to speak out. It probably would have been to his benefit had he been -- had he been afraid to say some things, or used the good judgment to not say some things. But, no, he had to say what he thought.
Section 10: BILL SCHNEIDER: Before we get onto discussing the Langdon Clinic, talk a little bit about how his relationship with Egan changed and re-emerged as something positive. THELMA LANGDON: I don't know how that happened.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Was there any particular event or occasion where -- THELMA LANGDON: Not that I can recall. Not that I can recall. Maybe it was just kind of interesting that that did come about. And he still -- he stayed involved with the state for years.
He was -- he worked with vocational rehabilitation. He was their -- their consultant here for years and years and years. And then he was on the Medicaid -- the Medicaid advisory commission with the state. And so he stayed involved in -- you know, in a lot of these things. BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's talk about the Langdon Clinic.
THELMA LANGDON: Oh, he started the Langdon Clinic, as I said, two or three months after he left the state, and I'm trying to remember. Let's see.
He started -- he got a secretary. And then he hired a social worker. And then a couple years later he hired the psychologist that had been at Morningside with him, Allan Parker. He brought him up here. And so that was the -- the nucleus. His -- his idea was to have a multidisciplinary service, psychiatric service with the social worker and the psychologist.
And also, Troy Sullivan who was a reading therapist was also on the staff of the Langdon Clinic for a number of years, I think until he was killed, until he died. And so that was his -- his idea was to have the kinds of help people needed, not just medically, but in their personal lives. And so that was the kind of a clinic he envisioned when he started.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's neat, yeah. Is Allan Parker still living? THELMA LANGDON: No. Allan died about three or four years ago.
Section 11: BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, let's get into your role in the mental health field. You weren't just sitting on the sidelines through all this.
THELMA LANGDON: No, I was not. I was involved with my kids in the -- in school and PTA, and I was involved with the Medical Auxiliary, the docs' wives. And I was involved with Providence Hospital Auxiliary. And I started out being concerned about health issues.
We had the polio vaccine, or I don't know whether it was -- if it was the shots or the oral vaccine that we did for the kids. And eventually, my interest in health issues kind of spilled over into education issues.
So I was a PTA president, then I was the president of the State PTA for four years. And then Governor Hammond appointed me to the Alaska Board -- State Board of Education. And I served on the State Board of Education for eight years.
And then I -- I was involved with, still with these other things, Medical Auxiliary, and by that time I had gotten so involved with other things I was no longer with the Providence auxiliary. So let's see what happened then. Then the -- oh, the lands issue. We never talked about that.
Section 12: BILL SCHNEIDER: The Mental Health Trust lands? THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. When Hammond was Governor, Mike Bird, who is still living, Dr. Mike, Dr. Mike Bird believes that the land should belong to the people. And so he thought that the Mental Health Trust lands, I think it was -- I don't know whether he was involved in that particular issue, but anyway, he still believes that the lands belong to the people.
But someone in the administration thought that the university lands, the school lands, and the Mental Health Trust lands should not remain as designated to these specific areas. So they took all those lands and put them into the general pool of lands.
The university immediately took it to court. And it was years before -- gosh, I don't know how many years before the Mental Health Trust Lands, Jim Gottstein got involved when his mother was running the mental -- Alaska Mental Health Association.
Jim got interested in that, and so -- and so that's when that litigation started and went on for I don't know how many years, five or six years maybe. And then they -- then they finally came around to setting up the Mental Health Trust Authority.
But when that -- before that, prior to that, about three or four years, they set up a Mental Health Board. And I was appointed by -- I forgot what governor, or asked to serve on that one. So I accepted. By that time, my husband was dead. He died in 1981. And so I said, okay, I'll do that. So we got started on that.
And I was president of that board for a couple of years. And I stayed on that board, I don't know how many, four or five years, I guess. And then -- and then it was settled and the Mental Health Trust Authority was set up. I was out of the picture by that time.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Why do you think you were chosen for the Mental Health Board?
THELMA LANGDON: That's a good question. I don't know. Somebody must have suggested my name. BILL SCHNEIDER: Had you been -- continued to be active in mental health issues?
THELMA LANGDON: Uh hum. Yeah. Kind of on the sidelines. I was with the Mental Health Association and I knew some of the people who were also appointed to that, to the Mental Health Board to start with. So maybe one of those folks suggested it and so they decided to ask me to serve.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you had stayed active in mental health issues? THELMA LANGDON: Uh hum. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Why was that?
THELMA LANGDON: Once an advocate, always an advocate. That's what my friend who is a child advocate told me years ago. So that's why. Even now, I see that as my role. Those people can't -- don't have anybody to speak for them, really. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum.
THELMA LANGDON: I mean, they've got some of the organizations, but lay people to come out and speak on their behalf, there aren't many of them.
Section 13: BILL SCHNEIDER: What were some of the key issues when you were on the Mental Health Board? THELMA LANGDON: Oh, that's a good question.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you want me to shut this off and have a minute to think about it? THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. That would be good.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We're back on and we're -- we're talking about some of the things that took place when you were chairing the Mental Health Trust Board.
THELMA LANGDON: One of the things that we worked on for years was try to decide what the size of the hospital that was being anticipated, the new hospital was going to be. This must have gone on for three or four years, meeting after meeting after meeting, trying to come up with a decision.
And so, you know, ideas would change and it seemed like even philosophies would change and I was just -- it was just a really difficult time. Because I felt a lot of money was being spent needlessly in doing all these meetings and all.
Then I remember meeting with the architects, too, several occasions. And I think when the hospital was finally built, the one that's now in operation, I don't think they used any of those ideas that came out over the period of these years.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Which hospital was this? THELMA LANGDON: API (Alaska Psychiatric Institute). BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, API?
THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. Yeah. So that's -- that was one of the things that really took up a lot of our time. And then we had special committees on that, too. And trying to oversee what was going on in the community mental health centers, the ones that are nonprofits, about funding them, how much state money they should get, that kind of -- that kind of thing took up a lot of time.
And then with the four groups, the four that were entitled to some of the resources from the mental health lands, the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, the Alzheimer's, what do they call them, people with psychosis -- I don't think they called it Alzheimer's -- the senior population, and then the alcoholics with psychosis, that was -- that was always -- we dealt with that, too.
The individual groups, and then they would come to us and tell us what the needs are. And so we would try to get together and take a big look, a look at the big picture on the four groups and what they should get and what direction they should go. And so it was -- it was time consuming. It took a lot of energy. Took a lot of patience.
Section 14: BILL SCHNEIDER: But there were certain things that you wanted in the architecture at API?
THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. Yes. Yes. There were. Yeah. We wanted it to be -- well, keeping up with what's going on now as far as building psychiatric hospitals, that it should be not into the -- not the kind of an institution that the old API was.
And that old API was another story. That hospital had to be built like a general hospital because they were getting federal funds. Halliburton -- no, there was a name for it. Certain funds that they were giving out to build hospitals.
So it had to have an operating room, which they never used. It had to have some kind of facilities for OB, and all those things were costly and -- and of no use in that -- in that institution.
Then as time went on and the asbestos thing became a real issue, I can remember putting on all those suits that you put on to go to look to see how the asbestos is deteriorating. I remember going into the innards on the old API to see how bad it was. So that hospital, it's a good thing it's gone.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But the new API, there are things you would have liked different there?
THELMA LANGDON: I've not been in the new one, so I don't know what they ended up with. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
THELMA LANGDON: I think they wanted it, you know, so that patients would not feel so confined, they could get out into the yard and be more of a homelike situation than an institutional situation. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uhhum. Uhhum.
THELMA LANGDON: So I think -- I think that was the -- the goal of the architects that I know that were working on it, that was -- that was their vision. BILL SCHNEIDER: Good. THELMA LANGDON: So, but I -- I guess I should go out there just out of curiosity to see what the new one's like.
Section 15: BILL SCHNEIDER: Before we talk about the Molly Hootch situation, how do you think the trust is doing today? Do you think it has challenges? THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. It has challenges.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum. Okay. Okay. We're back on. Let's talk about Molly Hootch. THELMA LANGDON: Yes. That --
BILL SCHNEIDER: When you were on the State Board of Education, I guess.
THELMA LANGDON: Yes. Yes. Well, that went on for several years, too. Trying to decide what to do and how to do it. So we -- there was a group of lawyers, either was Harvard or Yale, I think Harvard, that were really interested in it. So, you know, we would work with them.
And the final thing that happened was we had to make the decision whether we were going to have the courts tell us how the education program in Alaska out in the Bush area would go, or whether we as a state would make that decision. And that is what made us come to the decision that we thought it should be with the state and -- and not have the Feds involved at all.
So that was the decision that was made. Well, now, hear a lot of -- a lot of criticism about the Molly Hootch case and how it was settled. But if you think of the alternative, I think -- I think the right decision was made. I think that after it was made, maybe there was some mistakes made. I had my own vision of -- of how it could happen.
But I imagine there was many visions as there were people thinking about it of how it should happen.
I always thought that the schools should be more than just schools and small communities that could serve as community centers, they could have -- maybe take care of the nurses passing through, they could have it as a medical and as a clinic, and I just felt that there were a lot -- a lot of uses that could be made of the schools. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum.
THELMA LANGDON: But that -- I think in some -- in some communities it's probably better than in others. And another thing that happened with the schools is they didn't have anybody on site to really keep -- keep an eye on the construction of the schools. I thought that was -- that was pretty -- pretty critical.
And there are some of them that didn't happen, so now they're having all kinds of problems -- or they, immediately afterwards, were having all kinds of problems. But I still think that probably was the best decision.
Section 16: BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, let's finish this interview up here. We've been going for quite awhile. Any final thoughts on the Mental Health Trust that we should talk about? Any thoughts about mental health delivery of services, some of the dreams that you had and that your husband had and things you'd like to see happen?
THELMA LANGDON: Well, one of the things I think I -- I don't know, and I really would like to find out is how -- for example, how does Fairbanks -- what's Fairbanks' philosophy about mental health services for the citizens of Fairbanks? What kind of a system do they have in place for mental health treatment?
And I still really need to do a little bit more research on what is going on in Anchorage right now. My daughter works at the Langdon Psychiatric Clinic and she spent five years in New Zealand working in psychiatry -- psychiatric services.
And she says that we are so deficient in some of the areas that -- components that are needed in the good -- good psychiatric or good mental health program. We just don't have a lot of the things that she had available to her when she was working down in Auckland in New Zealand.
So I think there -- I don't know that -- how to figure out just what all or where all we're deficit and what to do about it. I don't know if anybody knows that. I guess I could talk to her and see what her suggestions are, but we don't really talk about that all that often. BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. THELMA LANGDON: So...
Section 17: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We're back -- we're back on, and we want to talk a little bit about the Alzheimer's support group and how that got started and your personal involvement in that.
THELMA LANGDON: Okay. In 1981, the year that my husband died, and that's the year that my sister and I were responsible for taking care of our father who was suffering from dementia.
So my dad came and lived with me for a few weeks, and then he went back to live with my sister for a year, then he came back to Anchorage to live with me. And we got him in the day -- day break -- day care program.
And he was the first man in that program. There were several women in the program, I think there was another man, or another one or two men, and the -- one of the women had two daughters. Becky Clemmen (phonetic) and Beverly Tallman (phonetic). And then Darlene Sutherland had, I think it was I think -- I don't remember whether it was her mother or father in that program.
And we started a -- a family support group. So we met maybe once a month, the four of us. And then it grew, oh, maybe three or four more people, and I cannot remember their names.
But the four of us stuck together. And then Becky is really a gogetter so she decided we should become a nonprofit organization. So then we became a nonprofit organization, wrote the bylaws, and got our -- got our paperwork into the state and got squared away on that.
And then it just kind of grew out of that to what it is today, the Alzheimer's Resource, I think it's -- Alzheimer's Resource Agency. And they had services through -- throughout the state.
I know they've got staff -- a staff person up in Fairbanks, and then they have people in the Valley, and then somebody down in Homer. And I'm not sure where else they may have branched out to. But that's one of the things that I'm very proud that I was on the ground floor as an advocate for, for these folks. That's...
And I think they -- they receive money from the -- from the Trust Authority. I'm -- I know they do, but I don't know to what degree they -- they receive money, but I'm sure they do, because they're one of the four -- they represent one of the four groups that are entitled to receive resources or money or whatever from them.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's good. I'm glad we -- glad we got that down.
Section 18: BILL SCHNEIDER: You had mentioned some of the people that had been involved over the years with mental health issues, and I wanted you to maybe just mention them again. You mentioned Pat Claskey?
THELMA LANGDON: Pat Clasby. BILL SCHNEIDER: Clasby.
THELMA LANGDON: Yes. Her mother was Irene Ryan. And Irene Ryan was, I think she was -- she was in the first legislature. I -- I don't know if she was a representative or a Senator. Anyway, when we got Statehood, she was involved in -- in that whole setting up the mechanisms for the state.
Pat is a psychologist, and she worked down in Seward for a while. She currently lives down in Juneau. And she stayed in the field as a psychologist, and then she's retired now, but she was a lobbyist for one of the advocacy organizations. I can't -- I can't bring the name to mind.
But she and I were very interested and talked a good deal about doing a history of mental health -- mental health services and the mental health systems in Alaska, but never got around to it.
George Rogers was on the Mental Health Trust Board, or Mental Health Board with us, too. Oh, what a great guy he is. I really enjoyed having him on that board. He had so much background information and such good insight. And that was good.
John Malone was on the Mental Health Trust Authority now, was also on the Mental Health Board. Evelyn Tucker was on there. Alicia Iden (phonetic), who was Lidia Selkregg's daughter, was on the board. She died a couple of years ago. Mike Graff from Fairbanks was on that board. And the last three of them had served as chair -- as chairman of the Mental Health Board over the years.
Kay Burrows in Anchorage was also very active in the mental health field. Janet McGilvary ran the Mental Health Association for a number of years. It's no longer active or functioning. I know there are some more that I'm -- BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's fine. THELMA LANGDON: -- that I can't bring to mind.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No. You've done well. Lidia Selkregg is somebody that would be important to talk to.
THELMA LANGDON: No. She's -- she's gone, too.
BILL SCHNEIDER: She's gone? ]THELMA LANGDON: Yeah. And then her -- her husband Fred was also active with the Mental Health Association, but he's no longer here. You know, I mentioned that there are a lot of people that I can think of that I'd like to touch base with and try to verify my own memories, but they are not around anymore.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Okay. Well, this has been great. I appreciate the time you've put into this. THELMA LANGDON: Oh, you're very welcome.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And I'll leave and you'll remember lots of other things, but we'll have to get together again. Thank you. THELMA LANGDON: Yeah.