Update here.

The Sitka Summer Music Festival is rehabilitating Stevenson Hall, one of the iconic buildings on the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark. It is wonderful that the Sitka Summer Music Festival has a home where it began back in the 1970s on the Sheldon Jackson College campus. The rehabilitation is a huge benefit to our community. The $4.2 million project includes heat and ventilation.

However, the plan includes removing all the building’s windows and putting in plastic-clad Andersen A-Series replacements. I’m a fan of the Festival and have background in historic preservation, and would like to share information about why this would be a bad idea.

Experts, from the National Park Service to the state preservation office to local preservationists, also object to the Festival’s plan to replace windows. Replacing windows means replacing all the trim, and the plan also calls for replacing all the shingle siding, for loss of at least 85% of the historic exterior. This would destroy the historical integrity of the building, which I’m sure is not what the Festival and its donors want.

The Festival wants to have a modern, efficient building, that will securely house priceless musical instruments. Contemporary historic preservation science makes it possible to have all this, and retain historical qualities and material, too, more cost-effectively than it is to replace everything with new. However, none of the Festival’s staff or board has experience with historic buildings, and their architect has left the project.

We all value authenticity and history, and we understand this intuitively – that if you have a historic building, you do what you can to keep it historic. What many people don’t know is the contemporary historic preservation technology that allows us to keep historic character while efficiently modernizing: with good planning, you don’t have to make a choice between history and a comfortable, modern building.

The critical piece of technology is Interior Storm Windows. Interior storm windows have all the benefits, at a fraction of the cost, and with none of the downsides of full window replacement.

This is a large, complex and costly project on a National Historic Landmark building, and it is concerning that none of the staff or board have background in historic preservation and that the plan has been flagged by those who do.

Here is the letter sent by the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer to the Festival on May 30 2019, on how the Sitka Summer Music Festival plan is in violation of mandatory Plat Notes and a covenant, and of their responsibility to preserve this National Historic Landmark for future generations:

Links and documents about the economics and technology of preserving historic windows can be found on the Documents page on this site.

On June 3 2019 Stevenson Hall was listed on the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation’s “10 Most Endangered” historic properties for 2019.

Why Replacing Historic Windows on Stevenson Hall is a Really Bad Idea

People in Sitka care about authenticity and history. It is part of our identity as Sitkans, and part of our economy. When we have a National Historic Landmark building, we do what we can to preserve what is authentic and historic about it.

If a part is too damaged to save, and you have to replace it, you replace it with something identical.

We also want to get historic buildings into reuse, so we have to make modifications for energy efficiency, accessibility, comfort, and security. We work to make sure that modifications do not destroy historic features.

“New construction” windows like the Andersen A-Series require replacing all the trim, which is a substantial part of the architecture of Stevenson Hall. Everyone who sees the building with plastic-clad replacement windows next to the authentic, historic buildings of the Landmark will notice it looks wrong, even if they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is. That’s too bad, but it is also completely unnecessary.

Don’t you have to replace windows for energy efficiency and to support indoor humidity control for protecting delicate musical instruments? No. All the benefits of double-pane windows are gained by installing a modern interior storm window. And, you can get storm windows that open.

These give you all the benefits of replacing windows, and better acoustics, with none of the downsides, at a fraction of the cost.

Another important factor is that the plans include an efficient heat-pump heating system, state-of-the-art mechanical ventilation, and complete air sealing.

Efficient heating, ventilation, and air sealing means that any window won’t make much of a difference in comfort, air quality, or heating costs.

Isn’t keeping windows too expensive? No. Replacing windows is too expensive – especially when you take into account their relatively short lifespan. Not only are the replacement units costly and expensive to ship, installing them involves major construction and fabricating and installing all new trim. On Stevenson Hall the trim is large and complex.

For the same cost you can fully restore historic windows and add interior storm windows. (Details below.)

But don’t old windows require too much maintenance? No. The existing windows are over 100 years old. Dozens of windows on the neighboring Landmark buildings have been thoroughly restored, by stripping them down to the wood, repairing and refinishing so they are literally as good as when they were first built.

Thoroughly restored windows are as good as new. They take no more maintenance than wood siding.

Replacement windows may be “maintenance-free” but that comes at a cost: they are not made to last. The glass seals are warranted for 20 years, the rest of the window only 10. Manufacturers estimate 35 years at the most before they need replacement again. You are replacing a permanent, historic window with one with seals that will fail, and plastic that will break down.

Another big problem on this project is that when it comes time to replace one of them, all the exterior trim has to come off in order to get the window out. Replacement windows are not designed to have elaborate trim, as on Stevenson Hall.

Besides the usual stewardship responsibility of owning a building in a National Historic Landmark, the property also has Plat Notes and a covenant requiring work meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The Festival agreed to this covenant when it purchased the property. The State Historic Preservation Office has determined that replacing windows does not meet the Standards, putting the Festival out of compliance with their legal obligations.

The main point is that replacement windows are inappropriate on a historic building, even if they had advantages. But, they don’t, and cause more problems than they solve. The Festival would be spending as much or more money, and would gain nothing in insulation or protection of the interior over interior storm windows. They would be replacing permanent, historic windows with plastic-clad windows designed to be replaced. They would replace something priceless, genuine and historic with something new and generic that could just as well be in a subdivision. They would be in violation of their responsibility to the public and future generations to preserve this National Historic Landmark, and creating problems for the future.

Preserving the windows is the right thing to do, it’s efficient and effective, it’s the easy choice, and it’s a solid legacy for the Festival.

Replacements Look Wrong

Replacement windows in a historic building can never look like the original, and they never look right. This will be an especially obvious contrast next to buildings that are intact. The entire new window assembly exterior, not just the sash, is molded plastic (“Fibrex,” which is 60% vinyl and 40% wood dust, and painted fiberglass (polystyrene) on the sash); the dividers are fake; and they install flush with the outside wall, so they look flat. They can’t match the craftsmanship or appearance of the originals.

Replacement Causes Additional Costs and Loss of Material

Installing these full-frame (“new construction”) replacements requires removing the old window and its frame and windowsill, adding framing for the opening and all new trim, so that once you replace windows, there is no going back.

Installing all new trim might not be an issue on an ordinary building. On this building, it is serious loss of most of the exterior.

Reusing old trim is problematic anyway, because it has already been cut to length – reusing it on windows that are configured differently would be difficult or impossible. So either you are trying to make old trim work, or, you replace it all, which is expensive and would eliminate most of the remaining historic material. In either case, you have a cascade of costs and loss that you would not have if you just kept the original windows.

Because of the way these windows are made, to install from the outside of the building, all the trim has to be removed in order to replace one when it goes bad, which I don’t think the Festival has thought through.

In addition, the Festival’s plans call for taking off all the siding and trim, and adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, further complicating any reuse of trim. (The wall assembly does not need air channels and performs well. Air sealing and insulation in the plan is by 1 1/2 inch Expanded Styrofoam insulation, on the inside surface of the walls.) Plans also call for replacing all of the shingle siding, which is not necessary and means there will be almost nothing left of the original exterior.

This Building is Historically Significant

This is a National Historic Landmark for its association with Alaska Native education, and the Founders of the ANB. It includes the suppression of Indigenous language and culture, and the strength of men and women who used the tool of education to fight for civil rights. It’s important and difficult history that should not be forgotten. Standing in the place, experiencing authentic spaces missionaries and students did, connects us and helps our understanding of those times and those people, like nothing else can.

The other reason is the remarkable architecture, and the intact survival of the entire suite of unique buildings. It would really be too bad to lose the architecture now when it’s survived more than 100 years.

Replacing Windows is Opposed by All Historic Preservation Specialists

Unfortunately, none of the Festival board or staff has experience with historic preservation. Their architect did have training in preservation architecture (and he recommended keeping the windows), but he and the Festival parted ways in May and he is no longer on the job. Even when he was, however, he was not acting as a historic architect on this project: the plans don’t mention what the historic features of the building are or how the plan would meet the Standards, which are the basics of a historic architecture plan.

Incorrect terminology throughout the plan and presentation, including incorrectly naming the Landmark and the title of the Standards, further show this lack of familiarity with historic preservation methods and goals.

Other parts of the Festival’s plan don’t meet the Standards: the way the addition is designed and new features like a balcony and bay window. Additions are fine, but should be designed to not detract from the architecture. The two-story addition would require removal of a wall and part of a roof, in order to add on 20 feet and build a copy of that wall and roof, that would be designed to look continuous with the original building. The appropriate way to add on to a historic building is to do it so you can still tell what was there originally, which also saves costs when you don’t have to try to tie the old and new together seamlessly. The plan eliminates the classical symmetry and proportions of the north and west walls.

These changes add to the incremental, and permanent loss of character and materials of the Landmark. The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office accepted those changes because they will be mostly out of sight from the front of the building.

The State Historic Preservation Office did not approve replacing the windows. The National Park Service and the local Historic Preservation Commission also object to replacing windows.

Replacing Windows Puts the Festival Out of Compliance with Mandatory Historic Preservation Plat Notes

Sitka people value history and authenticity. That is why, when Stevenson Hall was subdivided from the college in 2010, the City facilitated the addition by the owner of mandatory preservation plat notes on the property requiring work be done to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These were added in an effort to protect the National Historic Landmark. The Festival also has a covenant on the property, from a federal grant for repairing the foundation, that requires the same thing.

The Standards are guidelines for working on historic buildings: First, you identify what it is that defines its historic character. Then you plan your work to conserve those elements as much as possible.

In January 2019 the State Historic Preservation Officer determined that replacing the windows does not meet the Secretary’s Standards. They determined that the Festival’s plans for the windows put it out of compliance with the covenant and with the plat notes on the property.

They sent a further, strongly-worded letter on May 30.

The City and Borough of Sitka does not enforce plat notes (of any kind), but that does not mean they are not legally binding. The Festival has stated that they will wait for the covenant to expire in October 2019 before removing the windows. That does not make them in compliance. More significantly, the Festival would be violating the intention of plat notes and covenant, which are to protect the integrity of this National Historic Landmark for the benefit of future generations.

Historic Preservation 101

The goal of historic Rehabilitation is to bring buildings into productive use – energy efficient, comfortable, accessible, safe – while saving what it is that makes it historic in the first place.

It’s not complicated, but it is different from working on non-historic buildings. It starts with analysis of what is most important to preserve, and looking carefully for alternatives that will solve problems while at the same time keep historic materials and character.

Each case will have different considerations, in weighing function, costs, and practicability against permanent loss of authenticity, character and materials. For example, a modification that meets the Standards is accessibility ramping. This is very important to a building’s function, and has little impact on its appearance or character. Another example of an acceptable solution is using architectural asphalt shingles instead of wood. “Architectural” grade asphalt shingles have the same texture as wood shingles, which means little is lost in character. (Also, on these buildings, in 1910 the architects specified either wood or asphalt shingles.) And, roofing is made to be replaced, and asphalt shingles now do not prevent a wood roof in the future.

Are the windows important to the historic character of Stevenson Hall? Yes. A Getty Foundation-funded Historic Preservation Plan from 2004 listed the original windows, which comprise nearly half the surface of the building, as a defining feature. This is often the case with historic buildings. The windows are important, and replacing them would mean losing this important architectural feature.

Replacing windows also requires replacing all window trim. Siding and trim are also listed in the Preservation Plan as defining features.

The main point is that if you have a National Historic Landmark building, you will do what you can to preserve its historical character and materials, even if it requires compromising other aspects of the building’s function or cost. But in this case, you don’t have to:

Adding Interior Storm Windows Has the Same Benefits as Replacing Entire Window

The Festival believes that replacement windows better protect the building’s interior acoustics, heat, and air, which they need because they house priceless musical instruments.

Fortunately, you get the same benefit – and better acoustic performance – by adding interior storm windows, at a fraction of the cost. This is well documented in many studies, by states, universities and other entities. Some references and studies can be found on the Documents page on this site or at windowpreservationalliance.org.

Most manufacturers offer operable storm windows, with a part that opens. There are some of these in the Laundry Building on the Sheldon Jackson School NHL.

First, even double pane windows are not good insulation. You get essentially the same energy-efficiency benefits by adding a storm window. Replacement is not recommended even in ordinary buildings: by the time you recoup your costs in energy savings, the windows have had to be replaced again.

The plans call for air sealing and an efficient heating system, and mechanical heat-recovery ventilation throughout. Every room has mechanical (as opposed to passive) ventilation. The main room has two systems – one kicks in when there are large numbers of people gathered and the humidity gets too high. A window won’t make much of a difference in indoor air quality.

Historic Window Restoration Makes Them Literally Good as New

These windows are reparable, and the technology to restore windows is close at hand: the Fine Arts Camp has been restoring windows on the neighboring buildings, using a steam box to strip the windows then making repairs and refinishing, so the windows are good for another 110 years. All of the windows have been easily reparable, which is remarkable when you consider their great age (109 years) and lack of maintenance, especially in the last decades of the college. The most that has been required is the replacement of the bottom rail. That is because these windows were made to last, out of high quality, old-growth wood. Restoration includes the varnish inside on the beautiful Douglas fir.

There are also many commercial services in the Seattle area who do this.

When properly repaired, they take no more maintenance than wood siding. Yes you have to paint them, but you should be painting your siding on that schedule.

Paying the Price for “Maintenance Free”

Replacement windows, by contrast, are not made to last. They last no more than 35 years, with many failing long before that, on an exponential curve, and the entire unit has to go to the landfill. (The Andersen windows are guaranteed for 20 years on the glass, which is about when many seals fail, and only 10 years on the rest of the window. It is for replacement only, not labor.)

The selling points of these windows are also their weakness: “no maintenance” vinyl and fiberglass deteriorates. The seals in double-pane glass fail. These buildings and their windows were made to last, which is not the case for replacement windows.

Restoration costs money for labor. The Festival estimates the cost to restore windows and add interior storm windows at $5000 apiece, which is also roughly what replacing windows would cost. But, they are good indefinitely.

The replacement windows cost in the neighborhood of $2000 just for the replacement unit with shipping. Labor is going to be about that amount again, plus the cost of buying and installing new trim, which is a major part of the building’s surface, so that the cost is the same – possibly more – than the cost to restore. In addition, making one change to an old building often means other changes have to be made, that you didn’t anticipate. You aren’t saving money.

Restoration is a long term investment, saving beauty and character and saving the cost of having to replace the replacements. An added benefit of repairing existing windows is it keeps donated money in the community by employing local tradesmen instead of paying for factory windows.

Keeping Windows is the Right Choice

What is great is that making preservation a priority and restoring windows on Stevenson Hall does not call for hard choices. It is cost effective, longer lasting, better looking and has all the benefits of full replacement, at less cost to the environment. It would bring the Festival into compliance with the law.

I’m sure musicians and other visitors would much rather experience an authentic space, with the actual varnished windows and wood that was there when students used the building, and not the all-new surfaces that could be anywhere in the world.

I know that the Festival has the best intentions, and that they are making decisions based on their past experience and understanding of what is best. That understanding might be adequate if it was an ordinary building. However, on this historic structure, they must learn about and integrate historic preservation expertise, technology and best practices. They must do their due diligence, and consult with experts in the field, and listen to what they have to say. They must do their own research, do the math, and learn about how and why we preserve historic buildings.

Replacing windows would make this building an imitation of what it is, would cause unnecessary and irreversible loss of everything that makes it historic in the first place, and it will detract from the rest of the Landmark.

I’m sure the Festival contributors, whether private donors or foundations, don’t want to be associated with the loss of a historic building, especially when the expertise is available to do it right, at the same or less cost. Restoration is the responsible, long-term option, for the public and for the Festival. The Festival will leave a legacy it can be proud of.

A Few Other Preservation Notes:

Another place the plan can be improved is the proposal to take all the siding off and put it back on. Prying off siding and trim will cause damage that could be avoided by restoring siding and trim in place. In addition, the plans call for adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, which would make it really tricky to reuse old trim.

The wall functions well without air channel; there is no need to take the siding off. The Festival can weigh the benefits against the costs of removal, taking into consideration that the plans include an efficient heating system, and air sealing and insulation on the interior of the wall, with 1 1/2 inch “Styrofoam” board lining all the walls.

The interior of Stevenson Hall has been extensively remodeled, with little to be seen that’s original. In the plans for redoing the interior, white-painted beadboard wainscoting and trim is specified. Why not take the original interior trim as an inspiration? Originally these buildings had plain walls and wide varnished baseboard and window trim. This could be less expensive than all that beadboard, and varnished wood would probably be more attractive.

When these buildings were made, bead board was for utilitarian areas like kitchens. The original wainscoting in the student dining room seems to have been linoleum.

The entry of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_2572.
Sheldon Jackson School student dining room, which was in the west end of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_25598.



Cover 2019

The 2019 Outer Coast calendar is available from www.theoutercoast.com, or buy in stores in Sitka, or bookstores in Alaska and a few select places in the North West – including Powells Books in Portland and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

I’ll also be at WhaleFest in Sitka November 2-4, at the Alaska Juneau Public Market on Thanksgiving weekend, and at the Sitka Artisans Market December 7-9. I’ll also have original wood engraving prints and notecards, which are also available on the website.

Calendars are printed in color on heavy, vellum-surface Natural colored paper by Alaska Litho in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

This calendar features my original art, poetry by Alaskans and other greats, gardening reminders for southeastern Alaska, and wilderness anniversaries. It opens out to 11 x 17 inches (8 1/2 by 11 closed), has a handy hole for hanging, and, has complete year of 2019 on the last page. The price is $15 but there are discounts starting at two.

This year’s calendar is built around the theme of imperfection – nobody’s perfect, and that’s ok.

Poetry includes lines from William Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and Beat poet Lew Welch (1926-1971).

This calendar also features work by John Straley, novelist and poet, and some beautiful, inspiring work by Caroline Goodwin.

Below are the images from the 2019 calendar:December2019February2019January2020July2019 (2)June2019March2019May2019November2019October2019September2019image only


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 2018 I got to teach at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Elementary School session. The camp groups students by age and rotates four sections of each age group through four different classes, in music, theater, visual art, and dance.

This year I had the 5th grade group, kids going into 6th grade, who came in for I think around 50 minutes each. Each group had around a dozen kids, and we had to set up, work, and clean up in that time before the next group came in. The camp was one week, so five mornings total.

The cleaning up is an important part of the process – young people actually like knowing what’s going on and they actually like cleaning up, especially sponging off the tables.

The first day I gave them watercolors, and had them try various techniques, with nice watercolor paints (they are Cotman travel sets, and over the years we have replaced the paint as it was used up with Daniel Smith watercolors) on 80# drawing paper. First we looked at some slides of the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Vasili Kandinsky, and told a little about those artists and periods.

Tuesday, we did observational drawing, of a wooden stool, doing fast draw, blind contour, then a longer drawing, then, if they had time, a smaller object of their choice. In this one I showed them basic drawing tricks, using angles, proportions, overlap, scale, and the trick of using the back ground, and the angles of the box the stool was on, to give their drawing depth.

Wednesday we drew the counselor, with the same drawing instruction, with the addition of learning to show the model respect.

Thursday we drew a still life of at least two objects, on the table near them. We didn’t do any warmups, but instead sketched on newsprint, then drew with pencil and outlined with pen or drew with a pen, then watercolor, on 80# drawing paper, using the various watercolor techniques from Monday.

On Friday, I set up lights and pushed the tables together, with the lights at one end, and kids sitting on the long sides of the tables. They did a quick draw then shaded (modeled) drawing of white styrofoam balls. Then, had them gather all their art, and put their favorite piece on top, and we did a little art walk, where each said something they liked about (someone else’s) picture.

One more thing was to have each kid at the end of each session put his or her work in a stack. I didn’t have any drying racks, so we arranged the stacks of pictures all around the edges of the room on the floor.

This is a review of The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin.

The problem with this book is that the author has an extremely limited and mechanistic notion of how our minds work.

You assume that this book will help you to deal with the complexity and volume of information, stimuli, expectations, tasks that can feel overwhelming, but it is actually more like a collection of magazine articles on how to organize information, and not how to “organize” your mind in any way to limit, or set priorities on the amount of “information” you should be organizing in the first place.

The problem is that our minds do not simply process information, like computers. We are social creatures, we are cultural creatures, we have highly sensitive psychological and emotional processing, and this book leaves all that out.

If we are feeling overwhelmed by information, the solution is not more information, on how to categorize it.

The only useful thing in this book are his tips (which are straight from airport how-to-organize books), which boil down to, write things down and organize your home and office so you can find things easily. The one thing I found useful is how switching from one task to another, or making decisions on what to keep and what to throw away, takes a lot of mental effort, so it’s better to keep on one task at at time.

Some of his tips are goofy – like, in the last chapter, the numbering system for interstate highways, such as “One- and two-digit highway numbers less than 100 identify major routes that cross state lines,” that will supposedly help you navigate (p 371).

He also devotes quite a bit of space to reasoning errors, where we make decisions that seem rational but are actually based on a misperception of the facts, all of which I’ve read elsewhere. He also has a lot of household organizing tips that are not going to be worthwhile for most people, and are found in books on organizing your home or office, if that’s what you want.

Because this book was written when it was, the issue of electronic information is huge. There is no way to deal with all the information we are confronted with now. You have to step back and think about how to limit it, without letting others limit it for you – as he does, when he enthuses about Reddit.

His understanding is demonstrated in his description of the rise of civilization, stating that all humans did was “procreate and survive” until 10,000 years ago, and that literature arose from accounting (p 13), because writing did. Literature is much older, from ancient oral traditions that are essential to our humanity. To me, this is the interesting question: before writing, for most of human time, we kept all we needed in our minds. So, why not look to art, to literature, to non-literate cultures? To truly “organize our minds.”

Another mistake is when he states that new knowledge can stave off Alzheimer’s disease (p 19). No, not new information – new ways of thinking, new kinds of activities. Learning more facts in some area you are already familiar with does nothing, you have to learn a whole new thing, like ping pong or music or social dancing.

He does touch on the human element in how we think, but barely, and it is not coherent. We function well when we feel like we matter, that we have some control over our lives, that others think highly of us. So human relationships and leadership that empowers members of the group are more critical than your filing system, but he calls this “communications (and) competent and ethically-based authority,” as if it’s one more system for organizing a company or the Army; even though his examples of success actually involve giving authority and autonomy to those at lower levels.

I compulsively read this entire book, because it was intriguing to me how he talks about “the organized mind” as if it is simply information management. This is not the only author I’ve read with this limited approach to success. It’s been helpful to me to define what it is that’s missing in this approach, to define what it is that really is at play, in people or organizations that function well. I believe those elements are going to be defined through the exposition of more and more subtle and sophisticated cognitive science, coming full circle to what great artists and leaders have understood and communicated since humans became human.

Why I Teach Art

Some Responses from the Faculty of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, June 12, 2016

Before each camp, the faculty get together for orientation and introductions. In 2016, introductions extended to each of us telling why we teach. It made for a long meeting (!) but some beautiful expressions, and I took notes and am finally posting them here:

to give students an approach to learning

it is the act of giving in a genuine and meaningful way

to connect students to deeper reality

to give students tools for life

it is the act of recognition – of being recognized

empowering people

deep relationships

to counter capitalism

modeling strength for young Native people

collaboration – joyful

using skills and focus, the joy of creating

teaching allows me to question how and why I do my art

to teach problem solving

stretching by teacher and student

to learn empathy, confidence

the only way to make revolutionary, radical change


This is based on a granola recipe from my husband’s sisters but now it’s Chocolate!

12 cups oats

2 cups coconut (unsweetened)

3 cups nuts (like almonds, walnuts, whatever you like) ground up some

toss all that in  a big bowl.

Meanwhile, put these in a heat-proof dish and warm up in a 350 degree oven:

1 1/2 cup good olive oil (if you measure that first, the honey will come out of the measuring cup easily)

1 cup honey

1/4 cup molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/3 cup cocoa

when it’s warm stir it all together and pour over the dry ingredients.

Then, spread it onto two jelly-roll type cookie sheets (the kind with a lip around the edge)

Cook it for a total of about 20-25 minutes, but set the timer for 7 minutes, and rotate the two pans from upper to lower shelves, and take one out at a time, set the timer for another 7 minutes, and turn the granola with a spatula.

When it’s done, which is up to you if you like it more or less roasted, you take the pans out and sprinkle with

2 cups of chocolate chips

and turn the granola, and the chocolate chips get all melty. Then you sprinkle with

sea salt

and turn it with the spatula so the salt is all over the melty chocolate bits and mixed in to the granola.

Let it cool and we store it in those big plastic nut containers. It is really good with nonfat Greek yogurt. And if you look at the ingredients it’s probably got no more sugar than other granola.

Sitka’s First Presbyterian Church in February 2018. Photo by James Poulson, Daily Sitka Sentinel.

Sitka’s First Presbyterian Church building was dedicated in 1958, after years of fundraising and volunteer labor. It replaced one built in 1892, that was on the Sheldon Jackson Junior College campus, which at the time was owned and run by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions. The current church is a quarter mile or so to the west, because the National Missions discouraged building churches on school grounds.

Sheldon Jackson College started as an industrial training school for Native children, became a boarding high school and finally a college. It was always very small, with around 130 students most years, part of why it finally closed in 2007.

The church is large enough to accommodate the entire student body and staff of Sheldon Jackson High School. It has a pleasant, lofty sanctuary with modern wooden laminated beams, and simple stained glass windows. (It was designed by architect Linn Forrest, who also designed the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.) Adjacent is Latta Hall, a multi-purpose, linoleum-floored gathering space, a kitchen, a “fireside room,” and offices and a small upstairs. It is a large, plain but pleasant building, with high ceilings and lots of varnished wood. Membership was around 300 in 1962.

But by 2009, there were only 71 members, and worshipers filled only a small portion of the sanctuary. Like mainline Protestant denomination churches around the country, most of the remaining worshipers were of retirement age and older.

To be a member of a Presbyterian church, you apply to the Session, the governing body of the local church, who decide whether you are sincere. If you are new to Presbyterianism, you take classes. Nearly all the members had joined decades ago, many when they or their parents came to work at Sheldon Jackson School or College, or when they attended school there.


Members had built the church – and ran it. Presbyterianism is named for the system of governance, which is the essence of democratic management, and is, in fact, one of the models for our American system of government. Members, the congregation, elect Elders to the Session, the governing body of the church. Each year at Sitka three Elders were elected for a three-year term on the nine-member Session. The Session runs the church, but decisions are made by the congregation. In the Sitka church, congregational meetings were held twice a year. At these meeting reports were made by committees like the finance committee and the building committee.

Ten or more churches make up a Presbytery. A number of Presbyteries form a Synod; representatives of all the Synods in the nation gather annually at the General Assembly. Decisions are made by voting representatives who have been elected by church members.

Others attended services but were not formal members of the church. With the small congregation, the Sitka church had fallen from the category of churches that were self-sustaining. By 2011 they had not had a full-time pastor for some time.

In 2011 the congregation selected a committee to search for a new pastor. The committee liked a recording of a sermon by an applicant, Diane Wonnenberg, and invited her to Sitka, where she brought, in the words of a congregant, a caring, scriptural, message.

But in the months following her installation in July, most of the congregation became unhappy with her style and her theology.

While she had been ordained in the 1980s as a Presbyterian minister, by the 2000s her practice had become more Pentecostal than the style most of the Sitka Presbyterians were used to. Pentecostalism is a branch of Protestant Christian faith that emphasizes the Gifts of the Spirit – it comes from the Book of Acts in the Bible, in which, at the time of the Pentecost, Jesus performed miracles including healing. Pentecostals believe that those miracles, evidence of God, are just as real, now. Pentecostal services include being taken by the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, miracles of healing, and being called to the altar to witness. Services include vocal, and often passionate, responses from the congregation. Pentecostal sects include the Assemblies of God.

The Pastor, and her husband, who was also ordained in the 1980s as a Presbyterian minister, according to their biography on his LinkedIn page, by the 1990s were traveling revivalists, working out of a van and trailer, with their four young children. In the early 2000s they were Presbyterian missionaries in Mozambique. In their letters on the Presbyterian Mission site of the Presbyterian Church (USA) they tell of her healing a man with prayer, and of her husband healing a man by laying his hands on him and praying, and of speaking in tongues at a tent revival at their home in South Dakota.

In Sitka, the actions that offended members of the congregation were her loud volume, the way she raised her hands, but mostly the “condemning” words of her messages.

Most of Sitka’s Presbyterians are not very demonstrative, and most are relatively tolerant. In 2018 a long-time member passed away, and the scripture reading at his service I think epitomizes the culture of this congregation: the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” from the Gospel of Matthew.

The belief that the best way to honor God is by “shining your light” through service, goes back to the origin of Calvinism (“Predestination” of who will go to heaven means that “works” won’t get you to heaven) but was also in the mission of Sheldon Jackson School and College – secular education, in a Christian setting.

This seems to have been the most offensive to many congregants, in the Pastor’s worship messages – decrying the error of those who did not agree with her interpretation of the Bible.


The Presbyterian Church nationally at this time was riven by the issue of allowing gays to become ordained ministers. Technically, it was the issue of allowing unmarried, but not celibate, persons to be clergy. In 2010 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – the largest body of Presbyterian churches – voted to allow unmarried but non-celibate clergy, which was ratified by individual churches in 2011.

This precipitated many churches to leave the denomination, in a process called discernment. The alternative body which many of them joined, that had been created for this purpose, is called ECO, the Evangelical Covenant Order, now the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

The last president of Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson College had been an employee of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and had been the president of the Board of Trustees of the college. In 2006 he stepped down from his position on the board of Trustees to become the college’s last president. After the college closed in 2007, he returned to work for the Presbyterian Church as the Pastor to the Presbytery, the staff position also known as the Executive Presbyter, of the Alaska Presbytery. The Alaska Presbytery, based in Juneau, Alaska’s capital, represents the churches in Southeastern Alaska, including Sitka.

At the June 2011 General Assembly, the national gathering of the Presbyterian Church, this Executive Presbyter helped write the constitution of ECO and was its spokesman at that General Assembly. (The question of whether or not he could be impartial, in working with churches looking to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join ECO was addressed by the Alaska Presbytery’s General Council in April of 2012, when they decided he did not have a conflict of interest.)

The articles for the new group are quite different from the Presbyterian confessions (the guiding documents for Presbyterian worship), and is closer to evangelical churches, including principles like the inerrancy of the Bible. The issue of gay clergy – whether or not being in a homosexual relationship is a sin – was the spark for its origin, and it demands either being celibate or being in a heterosexual marriage. It is a more conservative option for churches who felt they had to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) over the possibility of ordination of gays.


This issue – of whether being in a homosexual relationship is a sin – has split many churches in the United States. Over time more and more Americans think it is a nonissue; but for those who believe, as the Pastor and her husband do, that even refraining from condemning this behavior is a sin, it is a matter of supreme importance. In this view, it represented “an erosion of Biblical authority.”

For many members of the congregation, whether or not they personally felt that gays should be allowed to serve as clergy, they did not like being told, from the pulpit, that anyone who did not condemn it was not a good Christian.

The majority of the congregation did not like the Pastor’s style of worship or her message. In early June 2012, members of the congregation, following church procedures, petitioned the Session with the signatures of more than a quarter of the membership, for a congregational meeting to discuss ending her call. In August of 2012, a meeting was held, and members voted 22 to 12 to end her call. That should have been the end of it: it was not a good fit.

But the Session, which by this time was down from nine to just four members (including one whose term had expired), and the Pastor herself did not abide by that vote. It is clear in the Pastor’s writing that to her, disagreement with her was not about her conduct, but about, as she wrote in March, “the nature of revelation. . . . either what God has taught concerning sexual morality and the blessing of God for two thousand years is the word of God, or there is a new revelation that homosexual conduct is acceptable in God’s sight.”

This set up the conflict: the Pastor and the Session believed that anyone who disagreed with them was wrong.

The congregation had invited representatives of the Presbytery Committee on Ministry, as the body that would rule on whether or not to end the Pastor’s call, to the congregational meeting. That body, though, decided not to dissolve the pastoral relationship.

It seems straightforward, in hindsight, but at the time, it was very confusing and contentious, and nothing was straightforward; even holding a congregational meeting to vote on the issue took weeks, and when they did, there was no agenda and no minutes taken; the Presbytery called it a “listening session.”


Over the course of 2012 the Session dropped from nine to as few as four members, and met with as few as three. At least seven congregational meetings were called, with a regular meeting to elect two elders in January, but several were marked by dissension, without an agenda and without minutes being taken; one evolved into a shouting match, with Session members and the Pastor’s husband escorting people who had come to the meeting (but who were not members of the church) out of the building. The Pastor and the Session brought in new members of the church, and put them on to the Session, without customary training in Presbyterian service. Committees did not meet or deliver reports; even the church’s financial reports were not made available.

Then they began to push members to resign. The congregation, over the first year, began leaving the church, unhappy with the Pastor’s manner and theology. From a membership of 60, two thirds stopped worshiping there, and instead attended the Episcopal, Methodist, or Lutheran churches. But many were still members of the church, as were others too infirm to come to services. The Pastor and the Session began sending letters to these people, asking them, since they were not attending services, what their intentions were regarding their membership.

At the same time, they were recruiting new members, but were not able to get many, because at the time Sitka had a very popular evangelical church, as well as the Assembly of God, so there was no niche to fill.

Many of the members and former members of the Presbyterian Church were disturbed, but found fighting it, or even attending church, was too upsetting. But others were angry over the takeover of the church, and tried to end the Pastor’s call, seeing her as the source of the problem: these people paid a high price for their efforts.

My impression is that this was where most of the damage was done. The congregation believed in order, democracy, and civility; they saw rules being bent and broken, and decency and civility ignored, and there was nothing they could do.


The effort to end her call began with getting the vote of the congregation, but the Presbytery Committee on Ministry decided to keep the Pastor installed. Annually each church sends a delegation to Presbytery, consisting of the Pastor and, at least one member of the Session. The Alaska Presbytery consisted of all the churches in southeast Alaska. In 2012, Presbytery was held in Kake, Alaska. The Sitka Presbyterians who did not support the Pastor – none could travel to attend the meeting – sent a letter, signed by 22 members of the congregation, appealing the Presbytery Committee on Ministry decision, but the Presbytery voted overwhelmingly to affirm the Committee’s decision.


Over the summer of 2012, church members had sent letters to the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, detailing the exodus of members, and the concerns they had with the actions of the Pastor and the Session, mainly the violations of the Book of Order, the rules for governance and worship, and the Pastor’s confrontational personal style. An issue with her theology was her declaration that physical and mental illness were the work of the Devil. Another issue was her calling out, from the pulpit, individual members for criticism for not agreeing with her. She refused to allow a funeral of a long-time lay pastor to be held in the church, because it was to include a secular song. That funeral was held in the Methodist church, instead. Another matter was not sharing the church’s financial statements, and their concern that the church could not afford to have a full-time pastor. The Pastor also got money from the church and members to go on mission trips.

The church had sold its manse in 2007. The Session at the time put part of the money into a fund for a down payment for a future manse, and the bulk of it in a fund for repairs to the church building. Over the course of 2012 the church was going into savings to pay the Pastor and other bills, then in late summer, tapped into the manse fund, without going to the congregation. In 2012, the church spent more than $48,000 more than it took in.

Money was a problem even before the Pastor came. With the loss of tithing members, and the loss of a church tenant – a secular preschool that the Pastor and the Session encouraged to leave – it was even more of a problem.

The Session at one point had a plan to start their own, Christian pre-school, to raise money, but this fell through in early 2013. Another plan was to recruit more members, who would contribute $100 a month.

While the majority of the group were focused on rationality and civility, the Pastor’s personality brought out bad behavior in at least three of those who opposed her, which helped make it such a messy and intractable problem: One long-time member wrote a letter to the editor, accusing the Pastor of staying on when she was not wanted. When one member, who had been opposed to the Pastor, died, the Pastor would not allow the service to be held in the church unless she officiated; the woman’s daughter called the Pastor “the devil.” One non-member who had been doing work for the church, angrily criticized her personally, and the Pastor asked police for a trespass order.

The letters from Gail O’Dell, the Moderator for the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, don’t acknowledge any fault with the Pastor or the Session. Instead, the Moderator writes that the church was evenly divided, in spite of the nearly two-to-one vote, and accuses those opposed to the Pastor of “agitation” and “campaigns of slander, innuendo, intimidation, and anonymous attack” and that the Committee on Ministry was seeking to support the “emerging mission” of Sitka’s First Presbyterian Church.


When the Sitka church had a congregational meeting later in August, called to reduce the number of Deacons, and of Elders on the Session (from 9 to 6), the congregation elected, to the Session, one of the old congregation who had been appealing the Presbytery decision. When she was not notified of being installed after a few weeks, she was called in to a meeting with the Pastor, who asked if the elected Elder would support her. She replied to the Pastor that she would probably support her in some things, and not in others. The Pastor told her that that meant she was not fit to serve on the Session.

This turns the process of church governance on its head, if the Pastor and Session decide who serves on the Session, overriding the congregation.


In October of 2012 the session distributed a memo from the Pastor, arguing (with lapses in logic) that members of the church had to support the Pastor in order to serve on the session, and a letter from the Alaska Presbytery’s Executive Presbyter, saying that the Session could do what it wanted with the manse fund.


Worse was to come: in 2013 the Secretary of the Session, with the Pastor, delivered a letter to the elected, but uninstalled, Elder telling her that they were taking away her 46-year-long membership in the Sitka Presbyterian church. She was nearly 90 years old at the time, with an impeccable record of service in the church and the community.

The central issue was made clear in a Session meeting with several of the old congregation in April, 2013, at which the Pastor to the Presbytery and another representative of the Presbytery were present. A Session member read a statement on behalf of the Session: that the issues in the church were not about “persons” or the Session, it was over “resistance to Renewal,” as revealed in the Bible.

The Pastor, the Session, and Moderator of the Committee on Ministry repeatedly called for reconciliation, but their intention seems to have been that the dissident members should repent and reconcile themselves to the Pastor’s and the Session’s interpretation of the Bible. The Pastor’s letter to the elected, but uninstalled, Elder is even more clear, urging her to “accept correction.”


The weakness of the Presbyterian system is that, like any human system, it is built on trust, and a common understanding of the rules. With the congregation mostly elderly, and unaccustomed to confrontational personalities, they did not know what hit them.

The worst of it was that the ugly behavior of the Pastor brought out ugly behavior in others. She made people angry and made them feel helpless, and because of the Presbytery’s actions, they were helpless, as they saw the congregation dispersed.

This is a horrible thing at any age, but even more so for people in their seventies or eighties. Parishioners died, and were not buried from the church they had belonged to their entire lives. One member, a loyal, dedicated member all his life, who was battling cancer, after one chaotic congregational meeting in 2012 said: “We’ve lost.” Those who kept fighting, and those who gave up, had something taken away from them. Before this episode, they could believe that a church body could worship together, even if all were not in agreement on every issue. Before this, church could be about being thankful, helping others in need, and trying to be better people. This church had had disagreements, and had even had to dismiss a pastor, but it was done with compassion and deliberation. Before this, they could believe that the process of discernment (choosing whether or not to remain with the Presbyterian Church (USA)) could be civil and democratic, if painful.

All this time the Session and the Pastor were working to promote the Sitka church to leave the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., because of their belief that Christians should condemn homosexual behavior, and called special congregational meetings to enter the discernment process, and another meeting to vote to leave.

In an ironic twist, they were told by the Presbytery discernment committee in December 2012 that because they would “likely be without funds to operate in 12 to 14 months,” they could not join ECO even if they wanted to, because they were financially unsustainable.


The Session and Pastor seemed to ignore this determination. Several Southeast Alaska Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches did join ECO in the spring of 2013, leaving too few churches for a presbytery. The nine remaining churches, under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, based in Seattle, joined the North Puget Sound Presbytery. In March of 2014 the enlarged presbytery named themselves the Presbytery of the Northwest Coast.


The members of the congregation who felt spiritually unfulfilled by the services conducted at the church had, for some time, been meeting after the regular Presbyterian church service, in the Yaw Chapel on the former Sheldon Jackson College campus, calling themselves the Fellowship. This group had spent many hours writing letters and petitioning for meetings with the Session and the Presbytery, which had been ineffective. They learned there is a formal process they could use to appeal to the Synod-the next level up from the Presbytery-to hear their concerns. They initiated the process, and had a scheduled visit from a specialist in reconciling churches in crisis. This became the turning point in progress toward saving what they felt was a more Presbyterian way of worship.

The specialist, a retired pastor with experience helping churches in crisis, with a young minister representing the Synod, visited with the group in early 2014. By this time the Fellowship had more people attending than went to the service at the church. (At one point the Pastor had come to a meeting of the Fellowship, rose and told them they were not good Christians, and left angrily.) Since their primary concern was with process, they hoped to find a sympathetic ear, and someone who could help restore order to the church.

But, when one attendee of the Fellowship brought up that it was the violations of the Book of Order that most bothered them, he responded by telling them they had called their meeting a worship service, which was not allowed, and that the minister leading them was not allowed to lead worship service.

He asserted that the group may have been malicious in their actions toward their pastor, and that they did not sound repentant. All stated they wanted to move on and wanted to forgive. When one younger member said she couldn’t forgive and forget, she was censured by the group. Several old timers said they were ready to be repentant and to apologize and asked, sincerely, what to apologize for?


He probably did not intend to do it, but his words only wounded these people even more and made them defensive; what made me cry was the way not only the Session’s and the Pastor’s actions, but the early actions, and inaction, of the Alaska Presbytery caused a sense of helplessness and injustice, and anger, that was always going to be part of them.


The Pastor finally left in the spring of 2014. The congregation had been unable to get her to leave, but finally the church ran out of money – the funds from the sale of the manse were nearly exhausted.

At the request of the Fellowship, with concurrence of Session, the process of mediation continued. The Presbytery of the Northwest Coast sent two mediators to Sitka in August of 2014 to conduct a Mediated Reconciliation, to acknowledge the conflict, anger, and hurt, to seek forgiveness by those on both sides of the issue, and to move forward towards unity, respect and harmony. The Fellowship stopped meeting separately and some returned to worship at the church.

The Pastor was gone, but many of the congregation would not come back, and the church now had a style of worship that was no longer what it had been before that Pastor. As members who had hung in there, came back, they still found much to disturb them, including the use of songs that were unfamiliar, projected onto a screen, and to the Praise Team – who performed worship songs, both of these displacing hymns sung by the congregation.

The Presbytery supplied transportation and per diem for an interim pastor to be in Sitka about ten days, including two Sundays, each month from October 2014 to November 2016. Then, Presbytery supported a seminarian intern or temporary pastor to serve the Sitka Church for about five days every four to six weeks  until the July, 2018 closure. Members felt it a blessing to have this pastoral care, but attendance and membership continued to decline due to aging and health challenges of the congregation. Income declined and workload increased for the small, aging congregation beyond their capacity to continue. And, as the church moved away from the Pentecostal style and conservative message, the newer members, and the members who had been the Pastor’s supporters in the “renewal,” left.


In July 2018 the church closed. It could be that by this point, the congregation would have come to this in any case. The tragedy is not that it closed, but the hurt done to so many, when a few individuals decided that their interpretation of the Bible was more important than allowing the congregation to work together civilly, to decide as a body whether or not to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The actions of the Pastor and her allies, pushing people out of the church when they did not agree with her interpretation of the Bible, and the loss of any control the congregants had when the Session, and then the Presbytery, did not acknowledge their concerns, led to anger, and a sense of depression and helplessness. It took a toll.