March 21, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 11

Local 'igloos' are history

The Haines Pioneers of Alaska has dissolved.

Don Poling, who served as the group’s recent president, said a decline in membership and lack of manpower are the cause.

The local men’s and women’s “igloos” of the statewide organization formed in 1983, led by Fort Seward residents, Poling said. “Things went well until about eight years ago when that crowd started dying off. They just weren’t replaced by people joining. We were down to about six people doing all the work that was required to maintain the organization.”

The group had about 40 members and was largely social in nature, hosting monthly potlucks. But it also held fundraisers, sponsored scholarships for Haines students and made donations to groups like the Haines Dolphins. It published three books about lives of local pioneers, “Glimpses” and two editions of “Frost on the Steampipe.”

Members were required to have lived in Alaska for 30 years.

Jim and Julie Shook joined the group when they moved here in 2001. Jim, who grew up in Haines in the 1960s, said a benefit of membership was getting to know residents of his parents’ generation. “It was a great opportunity to be with people we enjoyed. There may not have been another place you would see those people.”

Annette Smith, whose father Ted Gregg helped form the group and served for years as its secretary, said the ranks of the organization once included the town’s “movers and shakers.”

“That was the fun of it. You were rubbing shoulders with the people who had built the state, and the generation of people who came before.”

Although the statewide organization establishes separate men’s and women’s “igloos” in communities, the two igloos here operated as a single organization, with Poling and women’s igloo president Julie Shook sharing duties presiding over meetings.

The purpose of the group is to preserve the history of Alaska, and for local groups to preserve history of their areas. Poling said he believed the community was in good shape for preserving history through groups like the Chilkat Valley Historical Society and Sheldon Museum.

The Pioneers has donated its treasury to the Haines Senior Center, Inc. ($1,606) and to the Chilkat Valley Historical Society ($800). “The Pioneers of Alaska has been a long-time renter of the Haines Senior Center, and we appreciate having such a fine facility in our community,” Poling said in a March 11 letter to the center.

Poling said the statewide organization was started as an exclusive men’s group. Alaska Natives weren’t admitted until 1980 and the statewide organization only recently allowed a woman to serve as president.

The group’s order of business was modeled after the Masonic Order and those of similar, fraternal organizations that have seen declines in recent years, Poling said. Its by-laws, which weren’t strictly observed by the local chapter, included a requirement for votes of approval on new members.

To their credit, Haines members lobbied the statewide group to make changes, including that the women’s organizations be granted status as an igloo instead of an auxiliary, Jim Shook said. “The group here was more advanced… We politicked hard and heavy for that equality.”

The Pioneers of Alaska was launched in Nome in 1907 “to keep alive the memories of the trail blazers.”

Along with the local Elks Lodge, the Pioneers is the second fraternal organization to fold here in less than one year.

“People just aren’t interested in sitting around, pretending to do this highfalutin’ stuff. They just aren’t interested in that. There’s been a cultural shift of the way people do things in organizations. This model of fraternal organizations has gone out of vogue,” Poling said.