FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The first two things that strike you about Stephanie Woodard are her energy and confidence. This 30-year-old New York State transplant is blessed with an abundance of both, and has harnessed these traits to create a happy and fulfilling life. A busy wife and mother, workout fanatic and former local TV anchor and reporter, Woodard is now focusing her considerable drive on her new position as a communications coordinator with the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
Woodard took time out of her busy day Friday afternoon to tell the News-Miner about her journey so far.
Woodard and her two siblings were born and raised in Olean, New York, a small town about 75 miles south of Buffalo. A born performer, Woodard started taking singing, theater and ballet classes when she was 3 years old. Her father, a factory worker and avid hunter, was also a taxidermist, a fact which caused some embarrassment while growing up.
“My house was basically filled with dead animals all the time. Mostly deer. My poor friends would come over and say, ‘My god, Stephanie, he’s added four more?!’” Woodard said.
After graduating high school, Woodard moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to leave New York, and Alaska seemed like a good place to go,” Woodard said.
Woodard met her husband, Clint, within two weeks of arriving. The couple married 11 months later.
“We got married really fast, but it was the best decision I ever made. I’m the type of person that, if I know what I want, I don’t question myself, I just do it,” Woodard said.
Clint was an Army infantryman at the time, and soon after the wedding, he was deployed to Iraq. Woodard found out she was pregnant three days after he left. Clint spent the next 15 months overseas, except for a week home for the birth of their son, Koldyn. After Clint’s return, the army moved them to Arkansas.
“At first we thought, ‘OK, we’re ready for a new adventure.’ But the minute I got off of the ferry in Bellingham, I said, ‘We have got to get back to Alaska.’ I didn’t realize how much of an impact Alaska had made on me,” Woodard said.
After 10 months in Arkansas, Clint was picked to go to flight school.
“I said, ‘You do what you need to do. I will support you through this. I’ll stay home with the kids. I’ll do whatever, but you have to promise to get me back to Alaska. And he did,” Woodard said. “He got to choose his aircraft, which was a Blackhawk, and he got to choose his base, Fort Wainwright. I was so happy.”
The family moved back to Fairbanks in 2010 and Woodard, now a mother of two with the birth of daughter Ella-kay, cast about for a project to sink her teeth into. She knew she wanted to tell stories, and came up with the idea for a reality show about military wives.
“I thought of all the things I’d been through as a military wife and I said, ‘Why isn’t anybody telling these stories?’”
Woodard contacted a friend with connections in Hollywood and was able to meet with 44 Blue Productions, the company behind “Locked Up,” “Wahlburgers” and “Long Island Medium,” among others. She discovered they had been “dying to do a series like this,” but couldn’t because the Army wouldn’t give them access.
“Well, along comes me, saying ‘Here I am in Alaska, I want to do this story, I’ve got a group of women already, and I’ve got a commander who supports me.’ I got them in touch with our commander, and he pushed it through to the next level, and the next level,” Woodard said.
Woodard felt the show was a natural way to marry her wish to do “something bigger” with her need to be in Alaska. She also knew that featuring “real spouses going through real things” could be compelling TV.
“You watch the Real Housewives shows and the women are so superficial. I was the Family Readiness Group leader for almost three years. I had to go to training to handle how to tell somebody their husband was dead. These are real stories,” Woodard said.
Woodard spent a year casting, negotiating and fine-tuning, and the show was picked up by the Oprah Winfrey Network. The decision was made to move the show’s locale to Anchorage, meaning Woodard wouldn’t be able to appear in it herself. Though she was disappointed the show wasn’t going to film in Fairbanks, Woodard found an entertainment attorney who secured her a good production deal.
“He made sure I wasn’t left out, and that I got the credit I deserved,” Woodard said.
The show, called “Married to the Army: Alaska,” premiered on Nov. 18, 2012, and aired for one season.
Once again without a project, Woodard cast about for something that would fulfill her interest in story telling. She saw a job opening at KTVF and decided to apply. She got the job as morning anchor even though she felt her audition was “terrible.”
“I want to apologize to the people who watched me those early months. I was bad at reading (the news) at first, because I was nervous. Even though I’d been in front of a camera before, I had to get my flow and get through that initial, awkward stage,” Woodard said.
Woodard was soon moved to the evening news and began creating features as well as covering major stories such as the Fairbanks Four. Woodard said she found her time at the station fulfilling.
“One thing that I would say is that I never cared about being on the news — I really cared about the stories I was telling,” Woodard said. “There were times I looked so bad. I sometimes look back and say, ‘Oh my god, I don’t have a lick of makeup on, I have bags under my eyes and my hair hasn’t even been brushed, but darn it, that story came out good.’”
After three years with the station, Woodard decided it was time to move on. Since her husband was getting out of the military soon, she began to look for a better paying job that would keep the family in Fairbanks and allow him time to find a new profession.
“When I saw that job open up at TCC, my heart was set on it. There was no other place that I wanted to go. I feel such a connection to Native Alaskans,” Woodard said.
While she’ll always miss the excitement of the courthouse, Woodard said she has no regrets about her career change.
“It’s not hard to be behind the scenes, it’s just a switch-up,” Woodard said. “I still get to shoot video, I still get to write stories. I wouldn’t be happy with anything else, because I need something new every day. I need a lot of deadlines. I need to know that what I’m doing is worth a damn.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.