EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitkan, RN Marge Ward Dies at 95

Marge Ward

In November 1949, after a three-day journey from New York, 24-year-old Marjorie Louise (Marge) Ward arrived in Sitka aboard an amphibious Grumman Goose airplane.
Three years earlier she had graduated as a registered nurse from her hometown nursing school at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, New York. She found work in Gloversville and New York City but those jobs didn’t provide the adventure she was seeking in a wider world. The Communist revolution derailed her plan to work as a nurse in China, so when a nursing school classmate suggested they take jobs in Sitka because “they want us in Alaska right away,” she was ready to go.
Her one-year nursing contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Mt. Edgecumbe hospital launched a remarkable life dedicated to serving others as a nurse, naturalist, birder, historian, park advocate, mentor and role model.
After her arrival in Sitka she spent the next 61/2 years working as a floor nurse then head nurse and orthopedic supervisor at the hospital. Mt. Edgecumbe was one of only two hospitals in the nation researching the use of antibiotics for bone tuberculosis so it was on the front line of the battle against the TB epidemic. Marge later recalled that it was exciting to witness the turning point made possible by the introduction of new drugs. “It was dramatic work. When we finally got to where we were getting ahead of TB, it was wonderful. Even from the start we could see the patients were getting better, especially the kids, instead of going on a downward slide.” she said.
In 1956 the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Robert Shuler, went into private practice and Marge worked as his office nurse for 11 years. The School District offered her a part-time school nurse position in 1967 for the next school year. But she took an interim job at Service Transfer and “after I’d been there two months I knew I wasn’t going any further in nursing.” Her second career as Service Transfer’s Office Manager ended 21 years later with her retirement in May 1988.
Retirement meant more time to dedicate to the home she shared with fellow nurse and partner, Marlys Tedin. The two nurses bought four lots in Sitka’s “rural” outskirts (now Kimsham Street) in 1958, and in 1971 they built a home to replace a trailer on the lot. Their home and yard exemplified their dedication to nature and citizen science. The yard included trees transplanted for wildlife habitat, several flower and vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, container gardens, berry bushes, hanging baskets and many bird feeders. Everything was strategically arranged to maximize observations of the natural world surrounding the house. In 2005 judges for Sitka’s first Arbor Day Tree and Landscape Contest honored them for keeping the trees in their garden and designing their garden to attract birds.
Birding was a lifelong interest for Marge. She recalled her mother feeding birds in New York. In the 1950s she and Tedin ordered an illustrated bird book by Ithaca, New York, resident Louis Agassiz Fuertes, at that time America’s most notable ornithological painter since John James Audubon. They kept a bird list in the back of the book and attracted birds to their feeders with oatmeal since birdseed was not available in town. In 1980 they took a natural history class from a U.S. Forest Service employee who had an ornithology interest. As part of the class they began keeping weekly records of their bird observations. In 2000, Sitka National Historical Park received funding for a baseline inventory of area birds and converted Marge and Tedin’s 20-year records from paper index cards to an electronic database.
In addition to their own daily bird observations, they contributed to many local, state and national birding projects. These included collecting Sitka data for Alaska’s rare-bird quarterly reports, coordinating National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Counts and for 13 years reporting for U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Breeding Bird Survey. In her 1988 Survey report she included notes about the sounds of a humpback whale in Silver Bay and that caught the editor’s attention. So, “I was written up in the newsletter this year.” she said. This was just one example of her worldview that precise observations about nature should include information about weather, habitat, behaviors, context and interactions as well as an individual organism.
The birding duo helped create many publications, including Sitka’s first “Finding Birds in Southeast Alaska” map & guide pamphlet, sponsored by the Juneau Audubon Society and U.S. Forest Service. They edited Sitka National Historical Park’s first bird checklist and wrote the Sitka chapter of the 2002 American Birding Association’s “A Birder’s Guide to Alaska”.
The pair guided local groups and shared their “local knowledge” with worldwide visitors to Sitka on many birding outings. And although they specialized in local birding, they also traveled to locations like Attu, Alaska; Churchill, Manitoba; British Columbia and the American Southwest.
By 2017, Marge had recorded 284 bird species, which made her a member of the Alaska 200 Club, an organization of those who have recorded 200 or more species of wild, alive and unrestrained birds in Alaska. She always enjoyed seeing “mystery birds” that could not be identified. When asked if she had a favorite bird, she would usually reply, “The one I’m looking at.”
Marge was also a dedicated historian. She was among eight local nurses whose work was honored at a March 2010 event in recognition of World TB Day. And in 2016 she added her memories and photographs to an Alaska Day event themed “Nursing in the Last Frontier: Stepping into the Unknown.” Dr. Marilyn Coruzzi organized the event to see that “nurses get the recognition they deserve.” Marge’s memories about nursing during the TB epidemic along with photographs from her personal collection are included in literature such as “To Die in the Silence of History” by Dr. Linda Green, “Indian Hospitals and Aboriginal Nurses: Canada and Alaska,” and “Healing Histories: Stories from Canada’s Indian Hospitals” both by Laurie Meijer Drees, “Health Aspects of Arctic Exploration” based on the research files of Dr. Robert Fortuine and “A Divided Forest: The Life, Times, and Lineage of Roy Daniel Bailey” by Doris Chapin Bailey. An oral history of her work at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital during the TB epidemic is archived as part of the Alaska & Polar Regions “History of Tuberculosis in Alaska” Collections at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Community participation was always important to Marge. In the early 1950s she was active in bowling leagues and treasurer for the Alaska Crippled Children Association’s White Elephant Shop in 1961. After retiring she joined Tedin on the Sitka State Parks Advisory Board, saying “We’ve always been interested in the natural world and parks.”
Their determined advocacy and keen knowledge about local, state and national politics gained capital projects, maintenance and expansion funding for local State Parks projects. Sitka’s State Parks Advisory Board pioneered the national trend toward cooperative interagency projects and soon earned a reputation as one of the most effective state park boards in Alaska, according to a Legislative commendation.
In 1995 the Starrigavan Estuary Life loop and Forest & Muskeg trails were completed, followed by the Mosquito Cove Trail in 2000. In 2004, the Advisory Board dedicated a Halibut Point Recreation Area shelter to Marge and Tedin for their years of service. But they were not ready to step back from leadership quite yet. In 2008 the list of trails, recreation areas, historic sites and marine parks grew with the addition of the World War II era causeway known as Ft. Rousseau State Historic Park. In 2014, the Daily Sitka Sentinel interviewed Marge for an article headlined, “State Park Users Urged: Take Care, Not Sand ” about people taking truckloads of sand from Halibut Point Recreation Area. Then in 2016, Marge began a campaign to rename the Forest and Muskeg Trail in honor of State Representative Ben Grussendorf, who had supported funding for many local State Park projects. In 2017 she attended the “Ben Grussendorf Trail” dedication. Although she was discouraged with funding cuts that closed many of the park projects she worked on, her commitment to Sitka’s State Parks continued for the rest of her life.
Although she became a hardy Alaskan, she maintained her East coast sensibilities. Her reading stack usually included copies of New Yorker, Yankee and Adirondack Life magazines along with The Economist, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and many birding publications. The Sunday New York Times was a favorite newspaper in addition to the Anchorage Daily News and the Daily Sitka Sentinel. She routinely clipped articles to send to friends and family. She enjoyed music from Broadway along with the contemporary music of her era, opera and the classics. The television was often tuned to thoroughbred horse racing and dog trials as well as baseball and the UK Parliament’s Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Her art collection included Alaskana, carvings, beach treasures, bird images and many paintings. In 2018, she gave the Sitka Pioneer Home a special print by her good friend, fisherman and artist, Carl Kerr, who also lived in the Pioneer Home. When she sold 120 artworks from her collection in 2015, she was pleased that family members of the artists purchased so many items.
A voracious reader, she often read several books at the same time. After moving into the Pioneer Home she commented on, “the joy of re-reading forgotten books as we age.”
Marge was a gracious, generous and caring person. She was humble, resisted being the focus of attention and preferred working in the background to promote others. But her many strengths and obvious leadership skills usually prevailed, which earned her the affectionate moniker of ”Sarge Marge.” Her keen wit and wry sense of humor often lightened tense situations. She was disciplined, precise and described herself as a good planner who was strong in a crisis. Her wisdom guided most of her friends and family through times of intense difficulty and major life decisions. She cared passionately about people and encouraged the best in everyone.
She was born Nov. 17, 1925 in New York City to William Ward and Hazel Margarette Olmstead. She had two siblings, Richard Ward and Julia Ward; both are deceased and neither had children. Although Marge was the last surviving member of her immediate family, she leaves behind generations of her “Alaska family.” That includes descendants of lifelong friends Carl and Alice Kerr, the Tedin clan, her birding network, patients whose lives she touched and a community of people who will walk the many trails she helped create for generations to come.
A memorial service will be held 2-4 p.m. Sunday, January 5, 2020, at Centennial Hall.

August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-6-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:45 a.m. Thursday.

New cases as of Wednesday: 40

Total statewide – 3,484

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 19 (14 resident; 5 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

The city’s solid waste incinerator closed Wednesday, two days after the contract with Sheldon Jackson College for its operation ended. ... The city will ship all municipal waste except biosolids off-island to a landfill in Washington. The biosolids will be buried in the Kimsham landfill, Public Works Director Hugh Bevan said.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

Ernest Robertson, a Sitka resident most of his life, has moved back here with his family after a five-year sojourn in Anchorage. “Anchorage was just too big,” Ernie said. “It wasn’t like Sitka, where every time you go out on the street you meet your friends.”

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