Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

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In 2005, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority celebrated their tenth anniversary and wanted to recognize the accomplishments of the organization and its people through a historical documentation project. The Mental Health Trust settlement went on for many years. It was a complicated case of selecting land and fighting over funding that consumed the lives of the participants, but was relatively unknown by most Alaskans. This project is an attempt to explain the details of and increase awareness about the story behind delivery of Alaska's mental health programs and services to meet the needs of this special community of individuals. We wish to share the experiences of some of the people who devoted much of their lives to improving these services and fought many of the subsequent legal and political battles. It was a long-fought effort that took its toll on many people, but in the end laid an important foundation for better public understanding of mental illness and improved mental health services in Alaska.

The Mental Health Trust History Project Jukebox was created in 2005 by the Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and offers insight into the long struggle to provide quality mental health services in Alaska from the perspective of people who participated. There is discussion about how the mentally ill were treated prior to Statehood when they were sent to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon; how in 1956 Alaska was given one million acres to manage in trust to fund mental health services; a 1982 lawsuit against the State for mismanagement of these lands and funds; the lengthy legal, political, and legislative effort to settle this lawsuit by re-constituting the lands, providing a cash settlement, and creating the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The information in this project reflects the context of the original creation date. Some information may now be out of date.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has a terrific write up about the history of the organization. You can also learn more about the history, by downloading this video presented by Chief Executive Officer Jeff Jessee. Lisa Morris of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks researched archival collections throughout the United States looking for Mental Health Trust related materials and compiled a resource guide for future researchers.

There is also a Morningside Hospital Blog which was initially the result of research by Ellen Ganley and Karen Perdue into the history of mental health care in Alaska. Once the focus became Morningside Hospital, the volunteer research team grew. They are assisted by Information Insights’ web staff Jana Peirce and Emma Funk.


Dr. Joseph Bloom Dr. Joseph Bloom

Dr. Joseph Bloom helped establish mental health programs for the Indian Health Service in Alaska in the late 1960s, and worked to provide coordinated services for rural Alaska. He also worked as a private psychiatrist in Anchorage.

Don Brandon Don Brandon

Don Brandon grew up near the F.E. Gold Camp in Chatanika, Alaska where his father worked. He now lives in Seattle, Washington and works at Region 10 Disability Business Technical Assistance Center.

Dick Branton Dick Branton

Dick Branton worked with the Department of Corrections for the State of Alaska and developed programs to reform and rehabilitate prisoners. He served as Deputy Director for the state's Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities where he helped promote cross training between mental health providers and corretions staff in order to best help mental health patients with criminal backgrounds.

Steve Cowper Steve Cowper

Steve Cowper was a lawyer on the Vern Weiss case in 1982. He served in the Alaska House of Representatives before being elected the sixth Governor of Alaska from 1986 to 1990.

Ella Craig Ella Craig

Ella Craig was a social worker in Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands, and in Anchorage, Alaska. She helped start the National Association of Social Workers chapter in Alaska, she advocates for the elderly and was on the Alaska Commission on Aging, and volunteers with the Geriatric Education Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Ella Craig passed away in 2017. For more about Ella Craig, see her... Read More

Jim Gottstein Jim Gottstein

James Barry "Jim" Gottstein is an Alaska based lawyer who specializes in business matters and public land law, and is well known as an attorney advocate for people diagnosed with serious mental illness. He was the one of the lawyers on the original mental health trust lawsuit. Since 2002, Jim has devoted the bulk of his time pro bono to the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights) whose mission is to mount a... Read More

Judge Mary Greene Judge Mary Greene

Originally from Wyoming and having graduated from Harvard Law School, Mary "Meg" Greene came to Alaska in the late 1970s to work as a law clerk for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz. She went on to work as a public defender, became the state's assistant Attorney General in 1980, and was appointed a Fairbanks Superior Court judge in 1985, a position she held until 2002. During her tenure, Judge Greene was responsible for some of the legal decisions regarding the Mental Health Trust... Read More

Tom Hawkins Tom Hawkins

Tom Hawkins worked as a land manager for the federal government, the State of Alaska, and Alaska Native corporations. He was an original member of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board of trustees formed in 1994 and served until April, 2009. He also chaired their resource management committee for many years. Tom passed away in February 2023 at age 76. For more about Tom Hawkins, see his obituary... Read More

Jeff Jessee Jeff Jessee

Jeff Jessee is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority based in Anchorage, Alaska. He began his career in 1980 as an attorney for the Disability Law Center. In 1985, Jeff represented a subclass in the litigation involving the state’s mismanagement of the Alaska mental health land trust. After that lawsuit was settled, he became the CEO if the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and is an advocate for Trust beneficiaries.

Tom Koester Tom Koester

Tom Koester was the attorney for the State of Alaska for the Vern Weiss case in 1982.

Charles Kurtz Charles Kurtz

Charles Kurtz worked at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon, first as a kitchen helper when he was a teenager and later as a psychiatric aide in the early 1960s. His mother, Tina Kurtz, worked as a cook at Morningside Hospital in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pat Lando Pat Lando

Pat Lando worked at the Harborview facility for the developmentally disabled in Valdez, Alaska from 1972-1999. He was superintendent from 1976-1999, when Harborview closed and he retired.

Herb Lang Herb Lang

Herb Lang is the last surviving staff member of the Alaska Territorial Land Office who made the original mental health trust land selections in the late 1950s.

Thelma Langdon Thelma Langdon

Thelma Langdon 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.

Sharron Lobaugh Sharron Lobaugh

Sharron Lobaugh is the parent of a son with mental illness and a longtime mental health advocate who helped establish the Alaska Alliance for Mental Illness.

Margaret Lowe Margaret Lowe

Margaret Lowe 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... Read More

John Maakestad John Maakestad

John Maakestad was born in 1918 to Laura Ellefson and Walter John Maakestad in Petersburg, Alaska where his father was serving as a Lutheran minister. Eventually, John also became a Lutheran pastor, and served in Stanwood, Washington, and Fairbanks, Shishmaref and Nome, Alaska in the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1962-63, John attended training in clinical pastoring in Berkeley, California, and in January 1964 began to serve as Chaplain of Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage, Alaska. He... Read More

Louise Maakestad Louise Maakestad

Louise Maakestad was born in 1927 to Cora Geneva Stedje Knutson and Emil Knutson in Oslo, Texas. She grew grew up on a farm in the Texas panhandle, learned to play the piano and organ, and attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota from 1944 to 1946 and graduated with a teaching degree in 1948 from West Texas State Teachers College in Canyon,Texas. Louise married John Maakestad on September 5, 1948 after having met him at her sister Leona's wedding a few months earlier. John was a... Read More

John Malone John Malone

John Malone helped establish Bethel Community Services, and later served as the statewide president of the Alaska Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and was a Trustee of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board from its founding in 1995 until 2007.

Dr. Roy Moss Dr. Roy Moss

Dr. Roy Moss was a psychiatrist at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon from 1962-1966. He currently specializes in psychiatry in Santa Maria, California.

Myra Munson Myra Munson

Myra Munson is an attorney with the law firm of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson and Perry in Juneau, Alaska. She was Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) from 1986-1990, and prior to that was Assistant Attorney General in the Alaska Department of Law primarily representing DHSS cases.

Nelson Page Nelson Page

Nelson Page is a lawyer with Burr, Pease and Kurtz in Anchorage, Alaska. He was an original member of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees serving until 2008, and was the board's first chairman.

Elaine Ritschard Elaine Ritschard

Elaine Ritschard worked as a nurse at Morningside Hospital in the 1960s, first on the emergency unit and later she was head nurse of the children's ward where she established a kids activity center.

George Rogers George Rogers

George Rogers was born in 1917 in San Francisco, California. He came to Alaska in January of 1945, charged by the Office of Price Administration to roll back the price of fish. Rogers worked as a consultant for the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955, served as an economic advisor to two territorial governors, helped develop Alaska's tax and revenue system, taught university economic courses, and served on the Juneau Assembly. He earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree in... Read More

Dr. Jerry Schrader Dr. Jerry Schrader

Dr. Jerry Schrader was Director of Alaska's Mental Health Division from 1973-1978, was a private psychiatrist in Alaska and was also president of the Alaska Mental Health Association for about ten years.

A. Robert Smith A. Robert Smith

A. Robert Smith was a young journalist in Washington D.C. in the mid-1950s reporting on the congressional oversight hearings for Morningside Hospital, and the battle over Congress' passage of Alaska's Mental Health Enabling Act.

Harold "Doc" South Harold "Doc" South

Dr. Harold "Doc" South was a psychiatrist in Alaska, beginning in 1971 at the state's mental health center in Fairbanks and then at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) in Anchorage until his retirement in 1986. He is also known for his passion for traditonal music. He has been credited with reviving old-time and bluegrass music in Alaska in the 1970s. In 2010, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Alaska Legislature for his contributions in spreading interest in traditional... Read More

Judge James von der Heydt Judge James von der Heydt

Judge James Arnold von der Heydt is an American lawyer and judge. In Nome in the 1940's and 1950's he was a federal marshal, a US commissioner, a private practice lawyer and a US Attorney. He was one of the eight Superior Court judges appointed when Alaska became a state in 1959 from 1959 to 1966. He served as chief judge, for the United States District Court for the District of Alaska from 1973 to 1984 and assumed senior status on July 15, 1984. For more about Judge von der Heydt, see his... Read More

Vern Weiss Vern Weiss

Vern Weiss was the lead name on the 1982 lawsuit filed against the State of Alaska for misuse of the Mental Health Trust. He is the parent of a child with mental illness.

Dr. Aron Wolf Dr. Aron Wolf

Dr. Aron Wolf came to Alaska in the late 1960s with the United States Air Force to provide mental health services to soldiers at remote bases, to dependents, and to veterans. He worked at the Langdon Clinic from 1970 to 1995, was medical director for Providence medical system until 2004, and then returned to private practice.