FAIRBANKS — Talk to Fairbanksan Leslye Korvola about Yakutsk and she will tell you it’s time to inject new energy into our old connections with the capital city of the Sakha Republic, more than 2,000 miles west of here.
Korvola is just back from a visit to Yakutsk where she met with friends and discussed the benefits of cultural exchanges that help break down barriers and build good working relationships.
Yakutsk and Fairbanks became sister cities more than 20 years ago, and for several years, it was standard practice to see residents of one community on expeditions to the other.
Korvola, through an college exchange program between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Yakutsk university, taught business and economics in 1993-94 in Russia.
A host of teachers, librarians, Rotarians, medical and business people and artists from Fairbanks also took part in exchange visits.
With the end of direct flights from Alaska to the Russian Far East in the late 1990s, travelers were forced to go the long way around the world, via Moscow. The travel challenges of a trip across 18 time zones, covering thousands of extra miles, made it much more difficult to keep the connections vital.
When Korvola visited Yakutsk in the early 1990s, she helped start the Yakutsk Rotary Club, which was sponsored by the Fairbanks Rotary Club.
This summer, she was happy to see it is still a going concern. She attended a meeting of the Yakutsk Rotary Club and met with the mayor, who is eager to renew a variety of ties with Fairbanks.
“So much has changed in Yakutsk,” she wrote about her trip. “Everywhere one sees new constructions and the shops are filled with goods beyond imagination in the early ’90s.”
She said alcohol consumption has declined, while the quality of life has improved. The region is rich with resource potential, but she describes the city as a “work in progress” with continuing needs for better infrastructure.
Korvola believes there are new opportunities for exchanges between UAF and Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University. She said she has been invited back to help mark the anniversary of the world economics department at the college.
She is hoping to meet with former students and to travel with a student from UAF “so that a new generation of student exchanges will develop.” The people of the North have a special relationship, no matter where they live on the globe, she said.
Korvola said she hopes Fairbanks finds a way to “rekindle the flame that was lit 20 years ago through sister cities and thrive.” She is one of several Fairbanksans who are working on improving the Yakutsk connection.
If you want to learn more, drop by the Noel Wien Library at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 for a presentation. Admission is free, and the public is invited.
MEMORIAL FUND: Friends of the family set up an account Friday in memory of the 12-year-old boy killed in the accidental shooting this week.
Donations to the Malik Boykins Memorial Fund can be made at Wells Fargo Bank.
For more information, call Mackenzie Johnson at (907) 232-9027.
HISTORIC SIGNING: Veteran Alaska historian Claus Naske will sign copies of his comprehensive volume “Alaska: A History,” released in a newly revised and updated edition by the University of Oklahoma Press.
He will be at Gulliver’s Books from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 26. He also plans to give a short talk about the process of writing Alaska history and “how luck plays such a part in one’s life.”
Naske, a UAF professor emeritus, is the author of more than a dozen history books about Alaska. I have always admired his determination, his knowledge of his subject matter and his work ethic.
As Naske puts it, writing requires the proper state of mind: “You have to sit down and do it and not just talk about it.”
Among his major works, his research and writing on the lives of the late Sens. E.L. “Bob” Bartlett and Ernest Gruening and the history of the Alaska statehood movement are among the most important scholarly contributions made by any Alaska historian.
GRILLER IN CHIEF: The annual governor’s family picnic is Sunday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m. at Pioneer Park.
Gov. Sean Parnell and first lady Sandy Parnell are expected to be on hand. Both are cookout veterans and good sports.
They expect to be joined by most members of the cabinet, who are to put their executive branch expertise to work on burgers and hot dogs.
The annual governor’s picnic, funded by private donations, has become a popular tradition in Fairbanks on the Sunday of Golden Days. It’s a day on which grilling state officials takes on a new meaning.
Dermot Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMdermot.