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Forester News

In Memoriam: Jerah Chadwick ’78

The Class of 1978 announces the Jerah E. Chadwick ’78 Endowed Poetry Reading Fund to honor the Writer Laureate.

The class of 1978 lost one of its own on June 7, 2016 to a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Jerah E. Chadwick ’78 was the Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2004 to 2006, and a poet of astonishing power, whose best work grew out of his years in the Aleutian Islands. He was also an early and ardent supporter of the strengths and needs of the LGBTQ community, and advocated for the community’s rights and acceptance throughout his life.

Chadwick came to the College from Tucson, Arizona, and was a double-major in English and Sociology and Anthropology, and went on to earn a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Alaska.  He stayed at the University to teach and direct the University’s extension program for the Aleutian and Pribilof Island Center until his retirement in 2008, when he was awarded Professor Emeritus. He is remembered as an astute and innovative teacher, whose infectious enthusiasm touched every student. A former student, Joel Adams, remembers: “He was one of the first people to speak to me as though I was an adult. He was intellectually generous, encouraged me to do things that seemed impossible and crazy at the time like publishing articles in the local newspaper, and he taught me almost everything I know about English syntax. …he was glamorous, and peculiar and fun.” 

Scott Jensen 2nd Gang 5Among the classes Chadwick was proudest of sponsoring were bent wood hat classes. These hats were worn for centuries by kayak hunters in search of sea mammals, birds and beluga whales along Alaska’s western coast. The shape of the hat helps the hunter see and hear better by shading the hunter’s eyes and cupping and the hunter’s ears. This visor is like one created in the 1840’s on the Aleutian Islands by an Unangan (Aleut) carver. The hat is made from a driftwood board that is carved very thin and bent while it is hot and soaking wet in a steam bath. Chadwick was a tireless and ardent proponent of honoring this lost art of the Unangan people. He regularly helped with classes.

Chadwick helped establish the Museum of the Aleutians, and returned regularly to Camp Qungaayux – an organization dedicated to preserving Unangax cultural heritage – and bentwood hat classes. He modestly referred to himself as an “apprentice’s assistant.” In addition to his work in this area’s cultural preservation, Chadwick was also a founding director of Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence.

As a writer, his work was featured in countless journals, and his poems appeared in book form in 1980, 1984, and 1999. His collection Story Hunger, was published by Salmon Publishing in Ireland, and reprinted in 2005. Just before falling ill to Alzheimer’s, Chad wick was at work on a memoir and another collection of poetry. He spent his final months with family and connecting with Forester classmates. A memorial was held at the College on May 3, 2019. Visit the memorial photo gallery.

It is in this spirit of intellectual curiosity and creativity that Katherine Amato ’79, Kim CookChadwick ’79, Sally Lapiduss ’77, Kate Lawrence ’78, Jackie Neff ’79, Diane Scott ’79 and Sue Susman ’80, among others have created Jerah E Chadwick ’78 Endowed Poetry Reading Fund , and invite alumni to donate in his honor.

Make a gift.