On a land and sea trip to Alaska, my husband and I had the honor of visiting a homestead family. Jonelle, one of the daughters, met us at the hotel, rode on the bus with us, and told us the family story.
In the 1960’s, when she was three years old, her mom and dad, who rented farmland in South Dakota, decided they were never going to get anywhere there, and heard about a program in Alaska where they could homestead 160 acres.
They loaded their four small children, two dogs, chickens, and a cow, and headed to Alaska.
The Porterfields’s couldn’t get to their land, or transport their animals until the river froze over. It took them over a year to get from South Dakota to their land in Trapper Creek, AK.
She was a school teach in SD, and started her own school in Alaska. She started homeschooling her own children, and then realized her neighbor’s kids were also needing education. She talked her husband into building another building on their land, buying desks, and starting a school. She was featured in April 1969 National
Geographic for her Alaskan school.
JoAnne, who is now in her 80’s, still takes care of her house, yard, and garden. She lost her husband ten years ago, and continues forward with the dream she and her husband built together.
Today, she has chickens, goats, ducks, and a beautiful garden. When she moved to Alaska, she leaned to cut meat off a slab of moose hanging in an outside shed , to live in one room with her family so they might all stay warm, to save every nickel because she knew they could not earn a nickel.
Her daughter Ardis, who was in a car wreck in her early 20’s, stayed in Alaska, and had two children, visits her mother regularly, and made oatmeal cookies for our visit. She loved her life and living the simple, sustainable life her parents chose.
Jonelle told us she does anything she needs to do to earn a living. She works at the local pizza place, helps her son Levi who lives close and is involved politically and socially in the community, and, of course, helps her mother.
These three women, one mother and her two daughters, are rural women extraordinaire. They are strong, inclusively kind, and work hard every day. Their connection to each other was touching, and they each shined on their own merits.
They loved the simple life, and the challenges of living with nature. It was their heart, so to speak, and they were very proud to share their joys, compassions, and values.
It was the highlight of my visit to Alaska. They touched my rural women passion. I was envious and nostalgic. I am honored to give them recognition.
Harold Ross says
I often watch some Alaska programs, and the life is hard (I know something about that, I left for a regular paycheck) but the values and priorities that they live their lives by always comes through. Although I’m not interested in working that hard just to exist, I do appreciate those who live a simpler life if a life without convience can be called simple, maybe it is just the opposite, maybe I have the simple life and they have to be aware that the wrong move or choice can be life or death. Thanks for the story Jennifer.
ps I want to hear from a sled dog too, one that really really loves to run, maybe the lead dog???
Jennifer Goble says
Harold, many really do work hard to just survive. I loved our visit with this family. An inspirational example about family and connection and hope for something better.
Michelle Thompson says
I lived in that community for 5 years and the Porterfields are great people. I worked at the Trapper Creek Trading Post when it was owned by the former owners. I spent a lot of time talking to these ladies and Levi. That place is irreplaceable in the since of the kind and loving people whom live there. I sincerely miss all the people there but I now live back in the lower 48. My son is 2 years old and is my parents only grandchild and I want him to grow up with his grandparents. Otherwise I would still be living in that community. When living ther the people there are not your friends but your family.😊
Jennifer Goble says
Michelle, I can see how you would have loved the community and people. I so enjoyed that part of our Alaska experience. They were so welcoming, kind, and informative. Their flowers and gardens were beautiful and the chocolate chip cookies they made for us, delicious. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
David Carella says
Jennifer, There are so many great things I could communicate about the Porterfield Clan. But I am going to keep it simple. Your blog title already sums it up… Rural Women … Rural Stories.
Noting your “comment” being the highlight of your AK adventure, I concur also but with a different slant towards the highlight of my life. My 5 plus Alaska years, I was blessed to be associated with the Porterfield’s through my close relationship with Janel.
Trapper Creek township has high percentages of misfits, loners, rebels, troublemakers, etc, but, that family is a unique anomaly. Much of their successes both personally/family and for the community, in my opinion, are attributed to the strengths of the women and the Porterfield Clan. I personally knew Art and Joanne. And If Joanne was removed for the equation. I do not believe their homesteading journey would have succeeded or blossomed anywhere near the success they all share today. Joanne is the “Rock- of-Gibraltar” of their family and to a greater extent the community.
That is one very special family and am honored to have had them as part of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and rekindling such blessings. David
Jennifer Goble says
Hi, David. It sounds like your experience in those five years really touched your heart. The Porterfield family is lucky to have someone speak so highly of them and their influence on the wellness of the community. I agree that the mom was the anchor of the family, as are many women. Their travel story was so interesting as was their way of living. I’m sure she was the person who landed the opportunity to be the one Alaskan family the prestigious Tauck Tours chose for their one-day excursion. I hope you get to go back and visit – it would probably be good for your soul.