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John and Louise Maakestad, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with John and Louise Maakestad by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010 at their apartment at the Anchorage Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-15-30_PT.2

Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Dec 8, 2010
Narrator(s): John Maakestad, Louise Maakestad
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: Dealing with a patient at Alaska Psychiatric Institute who unexpectedly killed his roommate.

Section 2: The unpredictability of mental illness and the treatment of patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Section 3: Safety issues when working with criminal patients, and other staff he worked with at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Section 4: Effect of age on memory and quality of current living situation.

Section 5: Early stages of diagnosis of their daughter with developmental disabilities.

Section 6: Services and help their daughter has received in Anchorage.

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: JOHN MAAKESTAD: ‑‑ patient, he was from Boston, and he spoke with an interesting slight Boston accent. And he ‑‑ he had very peculiar habits. My name, Maakestad, has a double A, and so he would pronounce it Ma‑ak‑e‑stad, Ma‑ak‑e‑stad, as you see, rather than in the Norwegian, a double A is "Mah."

But anyway, it's a terrible thing. One night he went over to his roommate and he had gotten a ‑‑ a hunting knife and he cut the other patient's throat, and he was a nice kid. They ‑‑ I mean, they were both about 20 ‑‑ in late twenties, and see, I can't even remember names, but that's good.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's good.
KAREN BREWSTER: We don't want names.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: We wouldn't need that or want it. But anyway, I went to ‑‑ well, this ‑‑ this fellow, one Sunday morning, I came up to conduct the service at API, and there was a circle of ‑‑ a clutch of nursing patient ‑‑ nursing personnel, and some other people down there, and in ‑‑ in the center of attention and being helped was this fellow from Boston.

And he had gotten out a third‑story window, I think it was, and it was a low building, then, below it, and so the roof was flat, so this Boston boy had run to the edge and he jumped off. I said, what did you do that for? And I used his name or whatever. And he said ‑‑ and this is what he told me, he said, I thought I would fly like Superman.

You know. And it just shows you the very real mistakes that they make.
Well, this same fellow, then, had ‑‑ he was a sleeping giant, you see, and this ugly giant had awakened late at night. I said, why did you cut your roommate's throat like that? And he said, because he snored. Yeah. He snored. His snoring bugged me.

Well, that's unexpected. He hadn't, that we ‑‑ as far as we'd known, acted so belligerently to ‑‑ but ‑‑ and then I went into the ‑‑ I guess the superintendent called me in to ask me what ‑‑ what do you find about this fellow who had cut the throat of his roommate?

And I said, well, I had asked him about it and he had complained about snoring. I said I snore, too. You know.
And I was talking to the superintendent and I said, and here is how flagrant he thinks and ‑‑
(Telephone rings.)
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's stop for a second.
(Off record momentarily.)

BILL SCHNEIDER: And you said to the superintendent?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, I said to the superintendent, he ‑‑ he told me that ‑‑ he told me this. He said, yes, I cut his throat, and I should have cut about seven more. There were nursing personnel on ‑‑ on his ward, you know.

Now, he ‑‑ he had been reprimanded and restricted, which sounds poppycock, but he was ‑‑ I think he ‑‑ well, he was under restraint anyhow. I ‑‑ I don't want to give the impression that API's security was loose.

They ‑‑ they had one or two that were on the security unit that were in for murder, and they would spend the rest of their lives in there.

Section 2: KAREN BREWSTER: Uh‑hum. Now, why didn't they ‑‑ why did they stay at API instead of being put in the prison system?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Because they had these strange mental aberrations, and I ‑‑ I can't remember specific now just what it might be, but it ‑‑ he ‑‑ you know, I remember he was a little ‑‑ a little fellow, very muscular, and I've forgotten what his crime was.

It was murder of some family member or whatever it may have been.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so there are some patients who stayed there because they were never ‑‑
KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ able to go back ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh‑hum. Chronic.
KAREN BREWSTER: They were chronic patients.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. There are.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then other people were there short term and were ‑‑
KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ healed and able to go home?

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Yes, that's the way it goes. The strange nature of mental illness, and psychiatrists and psychologists get the different aspects of mental aberrations and problems,

and they can do quite well at predicting that other ‑‑ that certain people will be ‑‑ what ‑‑ what is it they call it ‑‑ recoverable or they ‑‑ you know, they can be ‑‑ and you see they were giving this fellow that shot the three teenagers, just a terrible thing, that he wiped out three young people, you know.

And he ‑‑ some witness ‑‑ see, he came by in the early morning and walked through Russian Jack Springs Park there, and he ‑‑ he saw their little tent, and he was in there going through their tapes and so on, and ‑‑

and the young people came ‑‑ came back and surprised him, and so he stood up and he was Almighty God with a gun, you know, and he just wiped the three lives out.
Well, he was, you know, on work release when he shouldn't have been. I mean, there was a slip‑up that they misfigured.

Section 3: BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you ever feel that your life was endangered or that you were in a difficult position?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: I think ‑‑ yes. You know, there's one thing ‑‑ now, I was at San Quentin Prison, I told you, and ‑‑ and there the chaplain said, now, you have to recognize that if you go inside the walls, we won't rescue you, we can't ‑‑ we can't promise to do that.

And that goes for all of the security people. They ‑‑ so ‑‑ but you accept that, you know, as one of the hazards of what you're doing.

KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about any of the other staff at API in particular, people that ‑‑
KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ stand out in your memory?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. And they can talk about me. And how did you mean?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, ones that stand out in your memory, people you worked with, and what ‑‑ what the staff was like.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Okay. When I came to API, there was an old psychiatrist who was ‑‑ he had been on the staff of the University of California, and Dr. Bowman. And he was a very ‑‑ he was a very capable man and a very articulate, but he was an elderly man. Like I am now, probably in his 90s or so.

And he ‑‑ but I admired him in his position.
And how ‑‑ I got into a little misunderstanding with one of the head psychologists over some little matter.

I ‑‑ it was when I was new out there and I ‑‑ he ‑‑ this little Eskimo boy had told me that he was supposed to get me to read a Scripture at the next staff meeting.

And as I say, I was new and ‑‑ to the situation.
And so there was ‑‑ in department heads, there was an exchange of comments there, and I said, I understand that I misunderstood in this situation, and anyway, he ‑‑ Dr. Bowman handled it in such a professional way, you know.

And he ‑‑ and the head psychiatrist, Dr. Robbins? ‑‑ no. I can't say his name right now. But we were good friends, and he understood how I explained how I had been taken in by this Eskimo boy.

And part of it was that he was from Shishmaref, and I had known him. Peter Tuktu (phonetic). So ‑‑ but that's not a serious matter, but it's one of the realities.

Section 4: KAREN BREWSTER: And what other doctors or staff members you worked with?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: The one that moved to Portland, you thought highly of him.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. Yes. Dr. ‑‑ hmm. You know, it is terrible.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's a long time ago to remember.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Memory bank, you know it's there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, you ‑‑ no, the thing is, you'll think of it when we leave. That's the way it is.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it often happens that way.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you shouldn't feel badly.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that's fine.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: You've given us a great deal.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That particular administrator was so positive in his ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Can you say his name?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I can't, John. I'm sorry. Oh, boy.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, you know, ask me more, if you have a mind to.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Too many years.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: There are a few, but it's a strange experience for ‑‑ you know, I've been ‑‑ had a pretty good memory, but ‑‑ and I depend on it, and it's just a blank wall there.

BILL SCHNEIDER: But as you know, being someone who works in the helping field ‑‑
BILL SCHNEIDER: ‑‑ that ‑‑ that this whole aging process is ‑‑ is such a natural thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And we ‑‑ we fight it.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And we don't understand or accept it. You know, it's like people my age being concerned with all these drugs that will make them more active physically, where they don't accept the fact that their bodies are changing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You know what I mean?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Absolutely.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So I would think as a pastor, that this would be something that, you know, would be very, very close to your understanding.

BILL SCHNEIDER: But you do great. I think ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, thank you.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think your life here is a good move. I mean, you're in a secure place.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Thank you. Yes. We ‑‑ we both enjoy reading, so we have reading material, and ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Loussac Library comes over and brings book.

Section 5: KAREN BREWSTER: I have one more question before we finish.
KAREN BREWSTER: As parents of a developmentally disabled child, you talked about her experiences in Harborview. And I'm wondering your assessment of going through that system of trying to get help for her and ‑‑ and how that functioned and did you feel satisfied with that, or did you ‑‑ were there challenges and frustrations along the way?

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, quickly, I was pastor at Nome when Muriel was born, and the assessment of Muriel's condition or Muriel's development was in Louise's purview, and so I just more or less looked to her to explain. She'd say, Muriel isn't cooing or doing something.

LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And there were early signs that she wasn't developing. I think when I looked back that I should have had more advice ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, that's what I was trying to ‑‑
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: ‑‑ from the medical people in Nome to take her at least to Anchorage for.

At that time, Dr. Helen Whaley was the only pediatric ‑‑ pediatric neurologist, because she did see her when she was a year old, and at that time Dr. Whaley, who is a fine Stanford medical graduate, she said, yes, Muriel has severe neurological impairment. But you know, a lot can happen in a year if you have more infant stimulation.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But when you tried to get help for her here in Anchorage, and the services, who did you turn to for help and how did that work?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, actually, that one time when I saw Dr. Helen Whaley, she had come to Nome for consultation for babies and children, and I ‑‑ I ‑‑ I was frustrated because I felt, now, do I just tell John, I'm packing up, we're leaving, because she's not going to get what she needs here? But I ‑‑

JOHN MAAKESTAD: That's what we should have done.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I was well brought up to think, well, you know ‑‑
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: You know, it's hindsight. After normal babies, you keep hoping, well, I'll do what I can for her but, you know, that is ‑‑ you need to really get on it. By the time we went to Berkeley, she was already three, and not ‑‑

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. That was part, a little bit why we chose Berkeley.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, yeah. You know, it was delayed. Now when I see a child that I spot, I just really encourage the parent to immediately find out what they can because you're just delaying help. And it seems like they do ‑‑ they do. In the hospitals now babies are born, they are much quicker to spot ‑‑ to spot problems but --

Section 6: KAREN BREWSTER: As she got older and you lived here in Anchorage, and she needed special help or services ‑‑
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Special education.
KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ who helped you navigate that?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, Dr. ‑‑ at Special Ed, Margaret Lowe was her principal, and, you know, she could see that Muriel ‑‑ and her behavior became so frustrating to the teachers and to fellow students, that she would act out so much.

And it increased to the point when she would hit her ‑‑ got into her teens, I just felt we've got to do something because she's so terribly unhappy at home in the family. She would pull her sister's hair and she would just do a lot of acting out.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Destroy property.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. But you know, it was ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: She'd go into the garage and she'd cut some bungee cords that I had in there, she found an old knife on the ‑‑
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Well, anyway.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Just what kind of acting out.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is Hope Cottages, is that here in Anchorage?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That is. She's under the umbrella of Hope ‑‑ Hope Resources, Incorporated. They changed the name.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you explain what Hope Cottages is and what those services are?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes, it's for all types of handicaps of mental and physical also, and they must have over 20 group homes, and Muriel's in a very nice one. She has her own ‑‑ own room. She's already 51 years old.

And it's over there on Lake Otis, and we visit her and we ‑‑ we have her with us at least one weekend a month. And she ‑‑ she calls this the grampa and grandma group home. Her talking ability is still at about five years old. But we're just pleased that she has a good program.

And Hope Resources, I can confer with them any time, because at times, I feel that we need to move further South and how ‑‑ how would you manage moving her because that's no small project in itself. So but I think as of right now, her program is well suited to her, so...
KAREN BREWSTER: Do they have activities?
KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like at Harborview they had activities that the residents did.

LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. They had a real program there. She ‑‑ she had been swimming and enjoyed that very much, but her seizures, after 19 years of absence, her grand mal seizures came back, and the neurologist said you better not have her go swimming for a while.
And she's gained too much weight. She has a person that comes in and takes her four hours a day for mental stimulation in the community, they go to the library, they go many different places, and that is helping her right now. But it's an up‑and‑down program.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.
Bill, do you have any other questions?
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I think that's good. I appreciate your sharing and appreciate your personal comments, too. I know it's not easy, but this gives us ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Did you ever hear of Dr. Carl Koutsky?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Koutsky. He was the one I couldn't say. That's the one I thought that was ‑‑

JOHN MAAKESTAD: He's the most outstanding psychiatrist that I've been acquainted with. He came from the University of Minnesota, and he passed away here about a year ago. But he was an excellent man.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Did you see that he really put API on the good ‑‑
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, he helped, you know. This old Dr. Bowman I told you, the first one here.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: He was a good one.

JOHN MAAKESTAD: They had good people that they'd get from University of Minnesota or University of California.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Dr. Koutsky. Well, you thought of his name faster than I did.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it comes slowly, like you say.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Wish we had done this interview 10 years ago.

KAREN BREWSTER: No, that’s great.
Is there anything else that you we haven't asked you about that you had wanted to make sure and talk about?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: No. I ‑‑ I'm just very pleased that you're doing the work that you're doing, and I'm trying to put it all together, but I know if it's in the interest of mental health and treatment of ‑‑ of associated problems that it's wonderful. Yeah. I'd like to see your program some day.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.