Margaret Lowe was interviewed by Bill Schneider and Karen Perdue with videography by Deborah Lawton and Michael Letzring of KUAC radio/tv, Fairbanks on April 16, 2008 at the Marriot Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. She has been involved with mental health treatment and services in Alaska since the early 1950's and has been a strong advocate of helping the mentally ill. She was a school teacher with an interest in special education for young children, and earned a masters degree in Special Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has been the chairperson for the Governor's Council on Special Education and Developmental Disabilities, the director of the State Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, was Commissioner of the State's Department of Health and Social Services, and was a trustee on the board of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority from 2005-2008.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Apr 16, 2008
Narrator(s): Margaret Lowe
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Perdue
Videographer: Deborah Lawton , Michael Letzring
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: Her background and family history, coming to Alaska, and one of her first jobs working as a teacher in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Section Two: Earning a masters degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, having a local television program for pre-schoolers, and helping establish a parent support group and preschool for special needs children.
Section 3: Moving to Anchorage, and becoming more involved with delivery of services for developmentally disabled children.
Section 4: Returning to special education teaching, switching to school administration, and how important parents and volunteers have been in helping people with developmental disabilities.
Section 5: Changes in the terminology associated with different types of mental health issues, and the importance that all groups were included as beneficiaries of the mental health trust settlement.
Section 6: Being an advocate for mental health, and observations on the mental health trust settlement.
Section 7: Dealing with the Mental Health Trust settlement land issues, and providing mental health services around Alaska.
Section 8: Key people who worked hard on the mental health trust settlement.
Section 9: Accomplishments and role of the Mental Trust Authority, development of in-state programs to help children in need, and the Trust Authority's relationship with state agencies.
Section 10: The Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority working together to provide services, the history of the mental health trust as a civil rights story, and the need for more trained professionals to work in the mental health field.
Section 11: The history of the Mental Health Trust as it relates to statehood, and her personal interest in and involvement with politics.
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: Today is April 16th, 2008, and we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Margaret Lowe, Trust Board member. And I'm Bill Schneider, and I'm here with the KUAC recording crew. And we appreciate the opportunity to get this recording with you today. And let's start, Margaret, if we could, going back to your early history. Tell us who your parents are and where you grew up and a few of your childhood experiences.
MARGARET LOWE: Well, my parents were immigrants from Norway. They did the Ellis Island thing around 1910, 1914. And they settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And that's where I was raised until I was ‑‑ until I left for Alaska.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And when you think about your parents, what do you think about in terms of the gifts that they gave you, in terms of your personality and perspectives on life? MARGARET LOWE: I think they gave me the gifts of stability, security. They always put their children first in all situations. And they modeled just real down‑to‑earth, I think, common sense.
I always felt my parents were way ahead of the game in raising children in that they knew that kids needed a lot of positive support, and we were always treated as if we were very valuable. And they had very, very limited education themselves, but they had a great high regard for education, very concerned that all of the children would have good educations.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And where did you have your K through 9 education? K through 12, I should say. MARGARET LOWE: In Minneapolis public schools, five of us kids, and we all went to the same grade school, junior high school and high school. My father had a grocery store on the same corner for 46 years in the neighborhood in South Minneapolis. BILL SCHNEIDER: And I guess the next question is what brought you to Alaska?
MARGARET LOWE: Well, my fiancee and I had gotten very interested in Alaska, we thought it looked interesting. We had read about it, heard about it. And so we made a plan. And the way I got to Alaska the first time was that we drove the Alaska Highway for our honeymoon in 1951. And camped the whole way without a tent. And had a ‑‑ just a wonderful trip on the highway. We drove to Fairbanks. BILL SCHNEIDER: And did you stay there, or ‑‑
MARGARET LOWE: We had jobs lined up at McKinley Park, and so I was a waitress and worked in the hotel in housekeeping, and he was with the ‑‑ with the Park Service, was working on the construction. And so we had that whole first summer was at McKinley Park. And then when we did leave, we went back for his senior year of college in Minnesota, and then returned again in '52, and stayed on from that time on. BILL SCHNEIDER: And what brought you back?
MARGARET LOWE: We just loved it. We just thought this was the only place to ‑‑ to be, so we just were very excited and enthused about it. And if you may recall in those days, all the men were drafted for the military. So our first two years in Anchorage, he was in the military at Ft. Richardson. And at that time, if you were inducted in Alaska into the military, it was guaranteed that you would not leave Alaska. So it was a great way for us to get sort of established in Alaska.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what were you doing during that time? MARGARET LOWE: I was teaching school. There were five elementary schools in Anchorage at that time, and I was teaching in a brand new, the fifth one to open, I was teaching first grade. And then the next year I taught as the first teacher in the Alaska Native Medical Center Hospital, which was quite new then on 3rd Avenue in Anchorage, and I became one of two school teachers in the hospital.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did that opportunity develop? MARGARET LOWE: The hospital decided they need a school. The kids were there for months and a year or more in the hospital, and it was a federal, of course, hospital, and they recruited for a teacher, and I thought it sounded like a very interesting job, so I applied and I was hired. And it gave me a wonderful start to begin to know about real Alaska and Alaska Native people.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum. And you had, by that time, your teaching certificate and all? MARGARET LOWE: I had graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in early childhood education and elementary education. And I was always interested in sort of the special parts of education, so again, the hospital school idea really appealed to me. That was a wonderful experience.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What do you remember most about that experience? MARGARET LOWE: I remember the children, how developmentally they were just like children I had met in Minnesota and known all my life, the child development stability. I remember we ‑‑ the way we knew it was a new patient would come in was because the child would have a great, big, white Turkish towel wrapped around his head. That was because they had to be deloused upon arrival.
And I remember having the opportunity to talk with ‑‑ with adult Native people. And many of them had never been to the city before, but they would tell interesting stories about their life. And I learned and learned and learned a great appreciation and admiration for the people. They were patient, they were appreciative of their care. And it was a wonderful experience dealing with the kids.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, that really was an introduction to Alaska. MARGARET LOWE: Yeah. And at that time, there were very few Alaska Native children that went through 8th grade in school, so our first graduating class we had 8 people who got their 8th grade certificates with a great, big glorious graduation. And we had people aging in range age was 14 to 21. And that was, we felt, a good achievement for our first year.
Section 2: BILL SCHNEIDER: And then ‑‑ and then what next? MARGARET LOWE: Well, somehow we went out to Michigan for graduate school, and then ‑‑ BILL SCHNEIDER: For your husband's graduate school? MARGARET LOWE: My husband's graduate school, and I also, and I taught school, taught elementary school in Michigan for a year. And then we returned to Alaska, and then we settled in Fairbanks for the next 9 years. Mid '50s.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's spend some time on those 9 years. MARGARET LOWE: Okay. BILL SCHNEIDER: Because some important things happened there. MARGARET LOWE: Well, I had ‑‑ we had our first child. And then as we got settled in Fairbanks, I decided that since there was only one university in Alaska that I had better try to get a masters degree while we were living there in Fairbanks, since that was where the school was. So I proceeded to get enrolled in a graduate program.
And based on a lot of good things that happened coincidently, I was able to get a masters degree in special education. And the university that year, those ‑‑ those three years, they were bringing in some very good professors from leading colleges and universities across the country for 3‑week sessions and semesters,
and so I had wonderful professors and I did manage to get the masters degree just before we got transferred and had to leave Fairbanks to go back to Anchorage in 1964. During that time, I had a daily television show for preschoolers for two years. And that was lots of fun.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And the name of that show was? MARGARET LOWE: The name of the show was School for Fun. BILL SCHNEIDER: School for Fun. MARGARET LOWE: It was a full preschool curriculum every day, which you can do in 30 minutes when you don't have bathroom breaks and snack times and taking coats off and putting coats on and everything, so it was a full preschool curriculum.
And it had ‑‑ I was very grateful that the ‑‑ the advertisers who were sponsoring the show, we did not have ads, they just ‑‑ they listed their names at the end of the show.
And the other thing we did with life the way it was in those days, I tried to have all the projects be things that were commonly found in the home so parents didn't have to go out and shop because I'd have an art project that they could do with tin foil and light bulbs and safety pins and whatever, and ‑‑ and tried to make it very worthwhile for the children in their own homes.
And in those days, most moms were home with their kids in the house. BILL SCHNEIDER: And you were mentioning to me earlier today about how people listen to that show and ‑‑ and in particular, how that ‑‑ that kind of led into a group forming to deal with a support group of parents.
MARGARET LOWE: Well, it ‑‑ it was with one television show for children, and it was during the daytime, usually in the afternoon, and it was broadcast everywhere, in the TV stores that sold TVs and in the bars and everywhere, so everyone in town knew me because I was ‑‑ I was, you know, Mrs. Lowe, and I was the teacher in the TV show. And that meant that almost every family in town knew me.
And so when the time came that there was a gathering time for parents who had children with special needs, they kind of knew me from the TV show. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about that gathering, how that came about.
MARGARET LOWE: Well, I was working on my masters degree in special education, and I had really strong intentions of wanting to go into sort of family counseling and parent counseling and all, but education was the route and the available degree.
And there was an ad placed in the Fairbanks Daily News‑Miner by Mary Carey who was a public health nurse, and it said that she was inviting parents of children with special needs, basically in those days we used the term mental retardation, and that there was going to be a gathering at her office area, and everyone that was interested was welcome to come.
So I went to the meeting because that was the area I was interested in at that time. And from that, with Mary's good direction, this group decided to form a support group and kind of create a club. And many of these parents had children at that time were living at ‑‑ in Oregon, in the institution, Baby Louise Haven or Haven Acres, and a few, two or three, had their children at home.
And of course, there was no school or any schooling for those children, but they were parents who had wanted to keep their children with them at home. So it ‑‑ it progressed to the fact where we decided to really start an organization. And the decision was made that we would become a part of the Association for Retarded Children, which had started in 1950 and was nationwide.
So we went ahead and applied to become a member, and we were going to name it the Fairbanks Association for Retarded Children, but we thought FARC didn't sound like a very good name, so we decided to call it the Arctic Association for Retarded Children.
And it became a very, very busy group. We began having a lot of fund‑raising, and we had one very ‑‑ one of our real strong guiding parents who had two sons at Morningside, but she was determined things were going to get better for all of these children.
And ‑‑ and so she had a secret recipe for tacos, so our main fund‑raising was that we had taco booths at every Fairbanks occasion that we could, and that's how we ‑‑ we started to garner some funds. And we became a chapter of the National Association of Retarded Children.
And then got into the very revolutionary at that time idea of having a preschool for the little children. And we succeeded in getting a preschool organized. And my special ed masters thesis was the curriculum for that preschool. So we got into business and we were able to hire one teacher, and then parents had to volunteer to help a lot.
Section 3: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Good. And Margaret's smiling so we're ready to -- So that's an interesting story. You had finished your masters degree and had your masters, and then the next day you were on the train or on your way South?
MARGARET LOWE: Yes. I managed with two little boys and 50‑below weather and all of the usual about getting a thesis done and everything, I managed to have my oral exams the day before we flew to Anchorage, which was our move to Anchorage. So I was very fortunate that I got it all done. And ‑‑ and then we took up residence in Anchorage and have been here ever since.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And so what were you doing in Anchorage when you arrived and got settled? MARGARET LOWE: When I arrived in Anchorage, I had figured I had worked really hard on behalf of children with special needs and all, and I was going to be anonymous for a while and just stay home and take care of my children. And shortly had another baby on the way.
And then one day the phone rang and it seemed that somebody I had never met was calling because there was an award I had been given in Fairbanks, through Fairbanks and the National, and that the Fairbanks people would call these Anchorage people who were very involved with kids with special needs and said could they do this award for me on the radio or television or something. So that kind of let the cat out of the bag.
And the next thing I knew, of course, then I was being invited to more meetings and all. So I got very active in what was a very, very vital group of families and parents here in Anchorage ‑‑ in Anchorage that were ‑‑ and that was, again, the Anchorage association.
First they called it PARCA, Parents Association for Retarded Children of Anchorage. And they were a very, very, very enthusiastic and very, very competent group of people who all had ‑‑ pretty much all had a family member, mainly children, who were mentally retarded, developmentally delayed, disabled.
And so I began to work as a volunteer with them. Next thing I knew, I was setting up another preschool and kind of one thing or another. But there was lots of work to be done at that time. This was in 1965, '66, there was a lot of these people were working hard on legislation so that these children would be statutorily allowed to be in public school programs and all.
So they were very, very busy days for families who were interested in the whole area of developmental disabilities. And lots was accomplished.
During that time, the earthquake had occurred. Harborview had been built in, or set up in 1961 or so, Alaska Psychiatric Institute had been built, and so then the institution at Harborview in Valdez had gone down in the earthquake, and we worked hard to see if we could build it somewhere else other than in such a remote community.
But the earthquake distress money could only be awarded if the building went up in the same place it was. So with the village of Valdez having been moved by the earthquake, but Harborview had to be rebuilt right there in Valdez again.
We worked on issues. There was an issue during that time of people from Washington wanting to put an institution at Whittier. And we worked very hard to convince them that having our people all placed in an institution at Whittier where no one could get to them by car or anything was not the right thing to do, and we won that battle.
So there was ‑‑ at that time was just when President Kennedy had instigated the President's Committee on Mental Retardation, which was a very big historical back ‑‑ breakthrough for all of the whole field of mental retardation, developmental disabilities. And so there was a lot of sort of federal interest and we had people come from the federal government up to Anchorage and really talking and everything.
And we got our first state coordinator of mental retardation. It was a very, very important time, in the late '60s. And then the, what is now called the Governor's Council on Special Education and Developmental Disabilities at that time was called the Governor's Council on Mental Retardation. And I became a member of that, eventually chairperson of that council. And so there were ‑‑ there was a lot of stuff happening.
Section 4: And then in 1969 I decided I was out working on it all the time, I decided to go back to work and become a special ed teacher, so then I started teaching again. And then after two years of teaching, I got my administrative credential and then went into public school administration and special education.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It's interesting, both you and John have talked about how active the beneficiaries and their families were in working through these issues, and it's been a constant thing. MARGARET LOWE: It was incredible. People now would not believe it. We didn't have any paid employees anywhere. And parents spent hours and hours, spent their own money flying to Juneau back and forth.
Everybody helped each other. They'd share baby‑sitting and, you know, a mother that had had a five year old Downs Syndrome child could probably help with another person's 8‑year‑old Downs Syndrome child better than another caregiver. And of course, mothers were not working outside the home much, so they spent a lot of time. But it was ‑‑ it was unbelievable the volunteer work, the history of, for instance, the ARC of Anchorage, how much was done totally volunteer.
The military volunteered, we would get construction help, and they would send in tractors to grade property and all kinds of things. And ‑‑ and teachers, too. It was very different. Teachers thought nothing of working, you know, 9, 10 hours a day, going into the homes on the weekends, and ‑‑ and going to meetings in the evening and all.
It was a tremendous amount of volunteerism that was not backed up by paid employees, it was just we do it. The ARC of Anchorage has had 8 different thrift shops through the years, and 6 of those were just totally volunteer. BILL SCHNEIDER: And tell folks what the ARC is.
MARGARET LOWE: The ARC of Anchorage is ‑‑ it's the ARC of Anchorage, but it has a special concern for persons who experience developmental disabilities. It grew out of the old Association for Retarded Children, which then became the Association for Retarded Citizens, and then eventually the word "retardation" or "retarded" became kind of a stigma word, so once the Federal Government began to use the word "developmental disabilities," then we don't use that word quite as much anymore.
Section 5: BILL SCHNEIDER: I think this would be a good point to ‑‑ to talk about the evolution of terms for the beneficiaries and some of the issues involved in that because our ‑‑ the viewers and listeners to this won't have that background.
MARGARET LOWE: Well, there was the ‑‑ the term "mental retardation" was a clear term that indicated exactly that cognitive condition of mental retardation. And I'm a little hesitant to say how many years ago it was, but it was probably at least in, say, the early '80s. And the federal definition then became developmental disabilities.
And in 1991, when I was ‑‑ I was the ‑‑ I was the director of the Division of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, we changed the Alaska definition to be the same as the federal definition, which was developmental disabilities.
And that became more inclusive because the ‑‑ the term "mental retardation" meant just that, you can measure that a person was mentally retarded. Developmental disabilities were all sorts of concerns that made you a special person who had special needs for Special Ed, special other considerations. And it was based on behavioral traits rather than the measurement of IQ.
So the term "developmental disabilities" is the term we used for that particular population now, for years.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It's interesting as we look at the history of the trust and the trust settlement and all, it could easily become focused just on lands and distribution of money, but there's ‑‑ there's also these other stories that you've brought out and others have brought out about the beneficiaries and their activity, as well as what you're just saying now about the evolution of ‑‑ of services that were provided and the scope of who could qualify for those.
MARGARET LOWE: Yeah. I think it's really important to realize that historically, when the trust was set up, it was called the Mental Health Trust back in the early '50s before statehood, and that indicated that in sort of down‑to‑earth vernacular, but it was like if a person just didn't act quite right, they were a mental health person.
And we didn't have the knowledge, really, to clarify that well between mental illness and mental retardation and other things such as brain damage, autism, epilepsy, all kinds of things. So it was just a generic term, mental illness or mental health.
And that became important when the settlement began to happen because by that time, we knew mental illness and we knew mental retardation, we knew learning disabilities, we knew closed‑head injury or brain injury, and so we were much more sophisticated in sorting out the different kinds of programs that people needed to benefit from.
And so when the Mental Health Lands Trust thing came up, it was important that all of these people be included, not just those who experienced mental illness. And that became a big issue for me. I wanted to be sure that all of these people who had special needs, they needed special early childhood training, they needed special education, they needed special programs and support programs that were appropriate as they became adults.
And so being sure that the developmentally disabled people and the ‑‑ the mentally ill people and people who experienced severe emotional disturbance, and people who experienced cerebral palsy, autism, physical ‑‑ severe physical disabilities, all of those areas needed to be included to be beneficiaries of the land trust.
Section 6: BILL SCHNEIDER: And at that point, you were in some administrative positions that allowed you to advocate. MARGARET LOWE: Yes. I ‑‑ I always advocated a lot because I ‑‑ I guess going back to my childhood, I guess we were raised to really believe that one person can make a difference, and that the very best things that happen in our country are those that are ‑‑ come from the ground up, that every person really can be an agent for change.
So while I was a teacher and a public school administrator, I was very interested in ‑‑ there's a professional organization that's like the NEA for teachers, only it's for special ed teachers, called the Council for Exceptional Children.
And we became very active in Anchorage in that and around the state, to some extent, too, in making a lot of good changes and improvements and taking advantage of everything we knew for special education. And then I was teaching at the University of Alaska Anchorage part time, and so I had a lot of students that I could advocate with in the evenings.
And I was teaching special education courses mostly at the graduate level. And so all of those opportunities I would always say I would incite my students to action and get them all concerned about what they could do as change agents.
And then I made a bit of a change and went to Juneau as a director of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, and so there again, I was finally a state bureaucrat, but also in a very good position for advocacy and change.
And so that was, coincidentally, my term of four years, almost three years as division director, and then a little over a year as Commissioner of Health and Social Services where just at the time when the realities of settling the land trust issues were happening.
So I was in a great position to kind of be involved in everything. And ‑‑ and by the end of my term as commissioner, the papers were all signed and the actual ‑‑ the statutory existence of the Mental Health Trust was all established. BILL SCHNEIDER: Were there some issues at that time when you were director and then commissioner that you'd like to talk about now?
MARGARET LOWE: Well, I guess the issues, the really confusing issue was it was a land trust, and it had started in the early '50s, and so coming back to it in the early '90s with 40 years of enormous development in the state of Alaska, obviously, the land had ‑‑ much of the land had been taken by then, had been given away, sold, whatever, every which way, it was already in use.
So the big, big issue, once the trust issue was settled in court that we did, in fact, have to reinstate the Mental Health Trust, then the ‑‑ the issue was, well, give us that land back. And that land was everything from homesteads to reserves to main streets in Anchorage, all sorts of things. And of course, again, prime land is usually prime land. Logging land, all of that.
So then the enormous task of saying how do we do this now to not disrupt what is already established in Alaska and yet be fair about the settlement of the million acres of land. And that was an area for experts, certainly not an area I had any expertise in, but bringing a lot of good people into that, and to this day, that still goes on to an extent.
And then the way it was solved as far as making up for the fact that a lot of really good land was not available to us that would have been a lot more valuable, there was $200 million cash put into the settlement. And so that started the corpus of the trust.
And then the statutory obligation is that that the trustees are responsible to say that this continued use of this land is going to continue to be profitable so that services can be provided for all the beneficiaries of the trust.
Section 7: BILL SCHNEIDER: But in ‑‑ in your job as director and then later as commissioner, were you as concerned with the land or with the beneficiaries or both or ‑‑ MARGARET LOWE: Well, I guess I was ‑‑ I was concerned about the land. I was listening to experts, not trying to be an expert in that area, but I was very concerned that it had to be a very good settlement because that's what the settlement was all about was the land.
Coincidentally with that, of course, we were optimistic about that we were going to have a source of funding that we hadn't had to date, and that we really needed to get busy and develop the best concepts of service to the beneficiaries that we could come up with so that we could be assured that as we had the resources that we had programs and services available that were the best we could come up with.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And how did you go about that, coming up with the services? MARGARET LOWE: Well, I think that we had a lot of good people working, we had a lot of people out in the communities that had a lot of good ideas.
We were listening to families, listening to parents saying this is what we need, this is what would be helpful to me as a mother, this is what would help our daughter if we could have some ‑‑ for instance, respite is an example, where if you have a youngster who needs 24‑hours‑a‑day care and supervision, and respite means somebody will come and spend a little time, a competent person will take care of that child for you, so you can go out and shop or you can go out and take a breather or maybe even have a little relaxation.
So things like that where we began to see what would really help not only the child or the adult, but also their whole family. And we came very, very person centered and very family centered. We developed a lot of opportunities where parents could actually be ‑‑ even be hired to be doing work that they were very good at because they were experienced, they had raised their own child, they were raising a child, they could help with others, they could help other parents try to set up a lot of parent‑to‑parent communication.
And then, of course, resources, education was always a biggie. Even though the Department of Education was separate from what I was doing, it was a very basic concern of ours that ‑‑ that the education programs be equitable and of good quality and available. We set up, for instance, SESA, that's the Special Ed Services Association, which serves what we call low‑incidence children all around the state.
A village might only have one deaf child, and an expert can come out from Anchorage to help that teacher and that family to have an appropriate program for that child. That's the sort of thing that SESA does. And that was the typical kinds of things we were setting up.
And ‑‑ and then non-profits, the state of Alaska made a decision back in the mid '60s that they would not operate services themselves, that the state would just put services out to nonprofit corporations, so then the state needed to review the nonprofits, supervise, and also fund so that the nonprofits, which, to this day, are doing almost all of the services to people with special needs in the state.
The only facilities the state owns is Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the Pioneer Homes. Other than that, our services are all provided by nonprofits. So there again, it takes a lot of advocacy. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. It sure does. MARGARET LOWE: Because you keep having to fight for those people to be funded.
Section 8: BILL SCHNEIDER: So as you look back at that period when you were director and later commissioner, who are some of the people that you would point to as making really very important contributions?
MARGARET LOWE: During the time of the settlement, I guess we would firstly certainly give a lot of credit to Judge Greene who was the judge who did such meticulous, meticulous homework and was so ‑‑ just sustained the thing all the way through and was so thorough. And she certainly would be a hero.
I think I would give Governor Hickel a lot of credit because it was during that 4‑year period that he was governor that the settlement actually got supported and accomplished. And so that was very important. And that could have easily been staved off by a governor's office with, well, we'll work on it later. So I ‑‑ I think that he is ‑‑ deserves a lot of credit at that time.
I think there are a lot of private citizens who worked very hard as volunteers. Thelma Langdon I think of, John Malone, others that I think of that served on the Mental Health Board that was created to sort of steer through into getting to the settlement.
I certainly would say that Jeff Jessee and ‑‑ and another attorney, Phillip Volland, were very, very important people in their ‑‑ their ‑‑ they just didn't give up. They just worked and worked and worked and worked.
Harry Noah was the Commissioner of Natural Resources, and he certainly had a monumental task in dealing with the land and how that was going to be settled. There were just a lot of people who worked very, very hard. Some were working on salaries and others were really volunteers that just worked and worked.
There were a lot of people in the ‑‑ there were environmentalists, some of whom we got a little weary of on some days, but generally, again, they cared enough to really be concerned that the Alaska natural settings were going to be protected, that we weren't going to go in and ‑‑ and take a place where there was a concentration of owls or concentration of eagles or whatever.
So there were just so many people involved. And certainly all of our staff in our departments in division, I wouldn't single out any one of them particularly, but I ‑‑ they were genuinely concerned and they had their day‑to‑day work to be done because the services were being provided while all these lawyers and all these land specialists and bureaucrats were working diligently on the settlement.
And the detail was enormous. It was just unbelievable. Because we had the facet of the land and the facet of the people. So it was a ‑‑ it was just a tremendous energetic. Certainly Jeff Jessee was one of the very key people who worked tirelessly literally day and night.
And it took a lot of ‑‑ it took a lot of original thinking because this was not something you could say, well, how did Iowa do it, or how did Vermont do it. This was a unique situation. There wasn't anywhere to go for answers or ideas. It just ‑‑ we had to ‑‑ it had to be invented as it went along.
Section 9: BILL SCHNEIDER: Why do you think Governor Hickel got behind this and made it happen ‑‑ MARGARET LOWE: Well, I guess ‑‑ BILL SCHNEIDER: ‑‑ as you put it? MARGARET LOWE: ‑‑ from a ‑‑ a real practical standpoint, I would say maybe he didn't have much choice. The court had made the ‑‑ the settlement, so it had to be taken care of. That was part of it.
And I think the other is that I see him as a person who really cares about people. And it was very, very evident that this was going to be a way that a whole population of Alaskans were going to have better days and a better quality of life.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And were there certain agencies or groups that you would see as disruptive to the process or not supportive? MARGARET LOWE: No, I don't think there was any disruption. I think there wasn't, for instance, political battles or anything like that.
I think on certain days we might feel the environmentalists were little disruptive because they ‑‑ they were being very tenacious in ‑‑ in their logic of what needed to be protected as far as land and everything. But I ‑‑ I don't think it was negative, it was just an enormous task of negotiating and of problem solving. Very meticulous task when you look at how much land and how much money and how much ‑‑ how many people, and all the details of what are the best ways to plan to serve people.
And especially identifying exactly who the beneficiaries would be and how that would be. For instance, one of the issues that was very demanding was these advisory boards, which we had four major advisory boards that work under the umbrella of the Mental Health Trust. And that is the Mental Health Board and the Governor's Council on ‑‑ on Special Education and Developmental Disabilities.
Then there's a board of substance abuse, and then the psychotic elderly, the senior citizens who experience dementia, Alzheimer's, et cetera. So there's four major boards. And then under that there's two sub‑boards have evolved. One is a Suicide Prevention Council and the other is a traumatic brain injury board. And so those have developed first as subcommittees, and then they have become boards in their own right.
So there really are six boards that function under the umbrella of the Mental Health Trust. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum. And when did you become a board member for the trust? MARGARET LOWE: I became a trustee ‑‑ BILL SCHNEIDER: Trustee. MARGARET LOWE: ‑‑ in April of 2005. I've been a trustee for three years. But I've been watching and listening and talking and everything.
I've never lost my interest from the time the trust settlement occurred. I've been ‑‑ because I've been very involved programwise with people who experience disabilities. BILL SCHNEIDER: When you look at the language of the final settlement, and you look at where the Trust Board is today, what do you see as your achievements, the major achievements?
MARGARET LOWE: Well, I think from my own personal perspective, from the outset of the establishment of the trust being a board of 7 people who would serve 5‑year terms as trustees and would manage the trust, I saw that as very much a group of financial people, people who knew a lot about investment and managing money and land management.
And what I've seen evolve over the last 10 years is that the trust has gotten more and more involved in really not only disbursing funds, but to actually instigating programs and becoming much more of an agency that has ‑‑ although they don't ‑‑ we don't really have programs going, but we really do.
And we're really much more involved, for instance, in the issue ‑‑ a good example would be the issue of bringing the kids home.
And that, something occurred in the previous 10, 12 years where we began to find that there were not facilities as our population was growing in Alaska and we were getting a lot of seriously emotionally disturbed children, and there were not programs in the state, became a practice to have them be sent out to other states to appropriate boarding facilities and boarding schools and everything.
And it seemed that that got to the point where a whole lot of people said, wait a minute, you know, how many kids from Bethel can you have going to school in Brownsville, Texas? And so it became a concern in that, for instance, the trust, I think, took a lead then and said how can we figure this out with the funds we have available and the ‑‑ you know, the power we have to start to be concerned and ‑‑ and to support the concern people are feeling that we should be able to take care of more of these kids here in our own state.
So then the trust can put their ‑‑ their intellectual energy into it and program development, pull in experts, and begin to visualize a program and then make plans. And there's a plan called a Comprehensive Mental Health Plan, which we must ‑‑ we are responsible for in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Services.
And so now, after four years of energetic work on bringing the kids home, we really have a lot of different agencies in the state, a lot of people and a lot of funds. We have turned that whole picture around so that we are taking much more responsibility for providing programs. So that's the typical kind of thing that the trust has gotten into more things like that.
We have focus areas where we say this is a cutting edge issue or this is an issue that's being ‑‑ not being well served, so with some of our funding and our ability, we will start the ball rolling. Very important that the trust not supplant what the state has the obligation to do.
The trust has to be the frosting on the cake. It isn't the agency to fund and run programs, but it's a wonderful way to be able to bring in new innovative ideas and look at problems and begin to go into key areas and sort of turn ‑‑ turn things around.
Section 10: BILL SCHNEIDER: How has that, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Services, how has that worked? MARGARET LOWE: I think that the Trust and the Department of Health and Social Services has worked wonderfully together. I think the Trust well understands its obligations and its responsibilities and its roles, and the department understands its role, the commissioner of the department, and all of the key people, division directors and everything, it's just a very steady ongoing, I think it works very, very well.
And very compatible. There's a lot of mutual respect. A lot of exchange of ideas and a lot of ‑‑ a little bit of sometimes a trust has a little more leeway than the department, and that's where this ingenuity and this sort of creativity can come in, and I think it works very well.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Karen Perdue has described the history of the Trust as a civil rights story. How do you ‑‑ how do you see it? MARGARET LOWE: Well, I would say that that's a very good way to describe it, yes. I think that it is a civil rights story.
It's a ‑‑ it's a ‑‑ it's been the tool or the way for people to realize what their real rights are, rights to equal opportunity and education. Opportunities for supported employment. Opportunities for treatment. Opportunities for families to have a quality of life that is compatible with other families.
It's just a whole lot ‑‑ I guess one of the things I think of a lot as I look at it is the ‑‑ the whole idea that we always have to keep it very much in the public eye. I think that a lot of people that advocate for certain areas will say, if I don't stop it ‑‑ if I don't keep advocating, somebody's going to forget about it, somebody's going to let it go.
And I find that, you know, coping with all of the issues, there are many financial issues in coping with disabilities, many rights, many convenience issues that they are ‑‑ it takes ‑‑ it takes a lot of advocacy. It takes a lot of training.
And at this point, I think we can be effective in a national issue and certainly we're interested in it for Alaska, and that is the work force development issues, because the whole nation is suffering from the fact that we are not able to train enough people to work in these fields. We're not able to keep them working. We're not doing good jobs of training.
And there's just a tremendous shortage of people to work in the field where direct care for people where it takes a lot, a lot, a lot of staff. And so that's an area where, again, now, a lot of advocacy is required. But I think that Karen is right, that it is a civil rights issue, that everyone has a right to equal opportunity.
BILL SCHNEIDER: When you say work force development, what type of fields are you referring to specifically? MARGARET LOWE: Well, the ‑‑ there is a tremendous scarcity of medical doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, physician's assistants, just to name the whole field all the way, and you'll ‑‑ you'll find that there's a shortage of people trained and working in those fields.
And the most severe, probably, shortages of all are right at the direct care level. If you have, say, a parent, an elderly parent who is ‑‑ is ‑‑ has Alzheimer's and you need somebody in your house maybe three times a week for six hours or so, so you can get out and shop or get out and do some other things you have to do, finding those direct care people is very, very difficult.
And we know within our field that we all admit we're not training them well enough and we're not paying them enough. And there's no unions, there's no organizational thing to it. So we have a tremendous amount of turnover in that field, in that area, and yet it's an extremely important field.
I liken it to when I was first teaching special ed and we didn't have teacher aides in the classrooms, and then we finally got a couple of teacher aides, and I remember at one point my teacher aide was making $1.89 an hour in Anchorage. And as dedicated as a person could ever be.
As I saw this go on and we convinced people that there were more need for more teacher aides in the special ed classrooms, and then pretty soon they got together and they got unionized, and we don't have a shortage of special ed teacher aides, throughout the whole field because they are well trained and they are well paid, and it's good work. They enjoy it and they stay with it for years and years.
And at this point, with the direct care in all the fields with the nonprofits, we're doing things like taking people out on the job, and they have to have someone with them while they are at the job because they can't do it independently, they need transportation, and they need people with them when they go to a social event, and they need people certainly with them to help them with their meals and their personal care and all of that, and there's just a tremendous shortage of direct providers for that.
So that's one of the major issues in the field now. And the Alaska Mental Health Trust is working on it. We're funding, to a great extent, we have that area of what we call work force development. Trying to work with the University of Alaska and all other sorts of training opportunities to get more people trained, and to get them interested in the work and get them well established.
Section 11: BILL SCHNEIDER: Are there ways in which you see the Trust story as a statehood story? How does it, in your mind, fit in with the emergence of Alaska as a state? MARGARET LOWE: I think that anything that has to do with the welfare and quality of life of the people of Alaska is a statehood story.
I go back to when we were not a state and remember the kinds of feelings we had that we were not fully accommodated by the United States Government, that when we became a state, we would be able to determine our own destiny a lot more. And so as we became a state and the Trust was in force at that time, that seemed to be a place that we would go.
I recall Mary Carey saying to us, we don't ever have to worry about money for our mental health issues because we have the Mental Health Trust, we just have to worry about bringing good professionals into the state and training good professionals to work with people.
And that was the look that we had as we looked forward to and then became a state, that we could, then, determine our own destiny. And reinstating the land trust was certainly a piece of that. It was a long, long time to have it happen, but it ‑‑ it was a piece of that, and I think, again, it was a part of our becoming a state that ‑‑ that does the right thing for the quality of life for all of its citizens.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You -- You were talking about your involvement in sort of the politics here in Anchorage in the early years at the time of statehood and ‑‑ and then you mentioned about your father. Would you retell that story? MARGARET LOWE: Well, I was raised in a house where my father, with his lack of education and having come as a really poor young man, immigrant from Norway, but somehow he had a real interest in politics.
And so I was raised that we would sit around the kitchen table in the evening and lick envelopes and put stamps on. And he would go to precinct meetings. This was a Democrat Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota. And we did some door‑to‑door hanging things on people's doors and all. And so we were raised to know that election was important, and that it was very important to be interested in politics.
And I heard politics discussed in our home or on the corners in my dad's store, and I think there again, people really had a very down‑to‑earth patriotic interest in ‑‑ they believed in the political process of the United States. So as ‑‑ as I grew, I became very interested in politics. All my siblings did. And none of us have ever run for office, but we have all worked on campaigns.
And so it was very exciting to me when the statehood movement began in Anchorage, and I walked up and down Fourth Avenue carrying a sign that said, I am a little man for statehood. And that was all right in those days. We didn't question that I was not a little woman for statehood. And I was a member of the League of Women Voters who were a very strong chapter in Anchorage. And I was a charter, helped charter the American Association of University Women, which, again, I felt was an advocacy group.
Our first cause was that there was no physical education offered at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks for women, and that was our first advocacy was to deal with the administration at the university to get physical education for women in there, which we accomplished. It might have been accomplished eventually anyway, but we certainly felt we had a piece of it.
And so the whole idea that ‑‑ that the political system only works if people are involved in it has been a very important part of my life. And I really believe in it and I believe in it now. Sometimes I work now on issues that affect people that are over 65 or over 75 or whatever, but there just seems to be a place, it's an area that I'm very concerned about our quality of education in our country because I think democracy requires a literate population.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And this translates certainly into your work over at the Trust Board? MARGARET LOWE: Yes. And again, very, very much that the whole issues of keeping politics so that it's productive for people rather than negative, which can happen, and yet knowing that we have to be pretty political in many instances and to see what's happening in the political scene in our state and in our country.
And I think we've been fortunate with our ‑‑ our people in Washington D.C. that we have, we're a small enough state so we all know everybody personally, and we get to have a lot of input and a lot of ‑‑ we get to be ‑‑ really feel like we are involved, I think, to a great extent. I think this past year was the first time I've ever voted for someone I didn't know personally. BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you.