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Paul Sugar
Paul Sugar
Paul Sugar talks about moving to Bethel from Fairbanks, the friendly people who live there, and the incredible scenery in western Alaska.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-03

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 27, 1996
Narrator(s): Paul Sugar
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Coming to Bethel from Fairbanks and his friends' reactions

His wife getting job offers as soon as she arrived

Beautiful area with wonderful seasons

The people in Bethel

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I moved to Fairbanks in 1980. Lived there for 6 years. Taught for a year in southeast.

Left there, came back to Fairbanks and was hired by LKSD to come out here to Bethel. I've been here for 9 years now.

And when all my friends in Fairbanks, when I told them, "Wow, I just got hired in Bethel. I'm gonna go to Bethel." I was really excited.

And all but two of my friends looked at me and said, "Ohhh, you're going to Bethel."

And now of all of my friends who had that same reaction, or reactions like, "Oh, it's the armpit of the state, Paul. What are you going to do out there?"

Only one of them had ever been in Bethel and that was because he was on a governmental commission. Came in for a quick half-day meeting and left with the commission.

None of them had ever been here. Very few of them had ever met anyone from here.

The two friends who came to me and said, "Oh, you're gonna have great time out there." Well, one said, "Oh, you're going to have a great time Paul, you'll love it."

He lived in Emmonak and Marshall for a while -- a number of years and Bethel was the big town for him to come to.

And you know, so he thought, oh, you'll have a great time. It'll be great.

And the other friend had never been to Bethel, never really met anyone from here, hadn't heard much about it. But was a tremendous dead-head.

Big Grateful Dead fan. And he had all the books and literature about the Grateful Dead and he opened up one of his Grateful Dead books.

And he said, "Look, there's stories in here. There's Dead-heads in Bethel."

Look, here's Bev Hoffman, check her up when you get out there. And they said, you'll have a great time. You'll be fine. No problem.

And so, you know, I didn't think there would be a problem. We left and actually I came about a week before my wife.

And here are the reasons why we stay. 1. Like I said, I came about a week before my wife.

I had my job. I talked around with people that I met, "Hey, my wife's coming out, these are things she likes to do. This is kind of, some of her experience", etc., etc.

I picked her up at the airport on a Monday night.

Tuesday morning there was someone knocking at our door offering her a job. By Wednesday she had another job.

And she now, in case most of you -- probably already know, she works over at the college.

So the opportunities, the openness, the willingness to just take someone new at face value and say, we're gonna give you a shot, give it your best shot, is one level.

On another level. I came in August and the tundra was just beautiful.

I mean it was red and yellow and I had seen the tundra change colors before around Denali.

You know, being from Fairbanks, but it just wasn't the same as seeing it here. It was wonderful.

And then to go through the winter. Watching that first winter here.

Watching the blowing white sand serpentining across the ground. It looked like something out of "Lawrence of Arabia" or something.

Only it was snow instead of sand. And the following spring came and the tundra just turned so beautifully green and the wonderful mists would roll in.

And I thought I was in Ireland or something. I had never seen anything like that.

I come originally from Detroit, you know, the only mist that rolls in has a funky smell and kind of gray.

Then summertime came and I got my first ride down the river.

And I saw these things in the distance and I thought they were these beautiful red flowers. They looked huge from a distance.

And of course, they were people’s salmon drying on the racks as we got closer. And so the land and just the look of the place is another reason why I stay.

But then as a teacher, I met the kids and through the kids their families. And you know, the people.

That's the main reason to me. It's a beautiful place, wonderful opportunities, wonderful people. I can think back my first year here.

Teaching up at M.E. School [Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat] and having Nellie Wassilie just laughing uproarlessly in my class. Sometimes with me, sometimes at me.

But just, I can still hear her laugh. And every time I see her in town, we don't work together any more, but that laugh comes out just seeing her.

And, you know, I'll stop there with that example but it's the people, the land itself and the opportunities for me and that's -- that's why I stay.