SITKA TRADITION – Ricky Jarvill, Blatchley Pool manager, and Emma Edson of Alaska Marine Safety Education Association help third-grade students walk out of the water at the Crescent Harbor boat ramp Thursday. The entire third grade learned about cold water survival in the program coordinated by Jarvill and AMSEA. The Sitka School District has been sponsoring the program long enough, more than 30 years, that some parents on Thursday recalled their own third-grade survival experiences. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Tanya Birkeland, Former Sitkan, Dies at Fairbanks

Tanya Birkeland

Sitka native Tanya Birkeland died at her home outside of Fairbanks on April 29, 2019, after a short battle with liver cancer.

Tanya was born in Sitka May 25, 1954, to Walter Birkeland and Natasha Calvin.

A great-granddaughter of Father Andrew Kashevaroff, a priest at St. Michael’s Cathedral and curator of the first Territorial Museum and Historical Library in Juneau, Tanya  was proud of her Russian and Tlingit ancestry. Her father Walter Birkeland was a music educator in Alaska and Washington, and her mother was well known for spearheading efforts to excavate an archaeological site on Baranof Island, and for providing a number of artifacts for the Calvin/Kashevaroff Collection of Native artifacts at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka. 

Tanya studied at Western Washington University and earned a computer science degree from Colorado State University. She had a successful career as a software developer, working both for U.S. West in Colorado and later in her career for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

She returned to Alaska in the late 1980s and homesteaded a 40-acre site on the Kantishna River. She became a fixture in the homestead community, and became one of the few women to pilot the Kantishna, Nenana and Tanana rivers.

In addition to being a dedicated caretaker of family members as they battled illness, she was known for being extremely literate, funny and intelligent, as well as being an outstanding gourmet cook.

Tanya’s two sisters – Mary Purvis and Sonia Birkeland – live in Sitka; her half-sister, Kirsten Birkeland, lives in Portland, Oregon.

She is survived by her longtime partner Rich Driscoll at their home in Fox, outside of Fairbanks.

In lieu of flowers, family and friends are encouraged to send donations to Sitka Hospice Care or Fairbanks Medical Hospice Service.



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