Bernie Karl and Connie Parks-Karl are an unforgettable Alaska couple.
They will be honored as Distinguished Citizens at the 37th annual awards ceremony by the Midnight Sun Council/Boy Scouts of America. The event begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Westmark Gold Room. Tickets are $100 per person.
The Golden Heart City has been the couple’s home for more than 40 years. Throughout that time, they have strived to make Fairbanks and Alaska better places.
Constance Parks was born in Andover, Connecticut. She had four older brothers, grew up in the country, and, according to the Boy Scouts, “it can only be imagined that she had an adventurous spirit from the get-go.”
When she was in her 20s, Connie hopped in her car, and started driving across the country. Whenever she ran out of money, she took a temp job to make enough money to continue driving. At one point, she ended up at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and somehow became part of a camera crew, complete with a backstage pass.
In 1971, her travels took her to Alaska to work on the Alaska Pipeline. At only 5 feet tall, Connie was changing truck tires more than double her height and, according to the Boy Scouts, “powering through a man’s world.”
She met Bernie Karl while working on the pipeline, driving the bus hauling workers to and from camp. According to Connie, he was a “loudmouthed jerk” who happened to ride her bus. It took some convincing, but she finally gave Bernie a chance and their life together began more than 40 years ago.
Bernie was “a paper boy from Peoria, Illinois,” the sixth in a family of 16. He got his work ethic from that large family and he delivered newspapers and mowed lawns to help support them. His first entrepreneurial venture was collecting houses to rent. By age 20, he worked multiple jobs at both Caterpillar Tractor and Pabst Brewery.
His adventurous spirit also took him to Alaska. He moved north in 1974 to work on the pipeline. He lied about his age so he would be better respected by his colleagues and tirelessly read manuals so that he could learn to fix machines without having the experience, according to the Boy Scouts.
Bernie loves Alaska and says, “God lives here, he visits everywhere else.” His mission is to improve the lives of others and his mantra is “sustainable is attainable.” He uses his geothermal expertise to encourage others to live that lifestyle.
Both Bernie and Connie have mined for gold and operated K&K Recycling, turned Chena Hot Springs into a world class resort, moved a camp from the North Slope to Healy and also to Kodiak, and participated in many business ventures.
And both have received numerous accolades over the years. Bernie was named the 2010 Business Leader of the Year by the UAF School of Management. Connie received the 2013 Farthest North Girl Scout Woman of Distinction Award.
Connie was diagnosed with ALS in January and Bernie takes care of her every day.
“Above all, the incredible accomplishments over the years, their biggest accomplishment is their dedication to each other and their family,” according to the Boy Scouts. “These two Alaskans don’t tell you how they feel, they show you with their actions. This couple meant it when they said, ‘for better or for worse’ and they show us all how to live life to the fullest.”
The couple has one daughter, Amber, her husband, Doug and two grandchildren, Ava and Sara.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 4599-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.