Three long-serving health aides were given a final “thank you” in Unalakleet Thursday as they officially stepped down after nearly a century of combined service.
Henrietta “Tia” Wilson, Rose Towarak, and Ella Agibnik were honored with a special retirement party Thursday evening. The event was an extension of a farewell that began in late May, when Norton Sound Health Corporation brought its continuing 45th anniversary celebrations to Unalakleet and recognized the women for their years of work and service.
“All three were outstanding health aides. All three put in over 25 years of service,” said corporation CEO Angie Gorn.
“You know, Ella, with over 40 years, started way back in the day, when radio call was the only communication with the physician,” she laughed. “When we presented her award to her, we mentioned the first paycheck she received, and I think her pay was $40 a day.”
At that May celebration, the Unalakleet community and NSHC also honored the memory of Kermit Ivanoff Sr., who served as a board member and passed away in April.
“We had the honor of having Kermit serve all of last year, 2013, on the NSHC board,” Gorn said. “I think all of us remember that … Kermit was quiet, but when he did speak up, people listened.”
The May celebration in Unalakleet, as well as Thursday night’s farewell for the departing health aides, is part of the ongoing anniversary celebrations for NSHC. Gorn said the realities and costs of travel in western Alaska meant only some communities were able to celebrate the corporation’s 40th anniversary five years ago. The communities that missed out then are first in line for acknowledging the 45th anniversary.
Celebrations are continuing in Gambell today, Friday June 13.
“We have some excellent health aides out in Gambell as well … and we’re excited to mirror that same celebration experience [that we saw in Unalakleet] in Gambell,” Gorn said. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Gambell school.
The trip to St. Lawrence Island is especially important, Gorn stressed, as it’s allowing the final designs for new health clinics in both Savoonga and Gambell to move forward. She estimated the projects are roughly 65 percent complete and will be ready for bidding by October.
While not tied to the Friday event in Gambell, Gorn added that another long-serving health aide, Phyllis Farell, also retired recently. Gorn said Farell supervised every community health clinic in the region at some point in her 30-year career with NSHC.