Nome celebrates grand opening of Richard Foster Building
As a bona fide fall storm with high winds and gusts peaking at 55 mph ripped through the region, the invited guests to the opening ceremony blew through the glass doors of the newly built Richard Foster Building to celebrate its grand opening on Friday evening. The building was constructed to give the Kegoayah Kozga Public Library, the Carrie M.McLain Memorial Museum and Kawerak’s Katirvik Cultural Center a modern and dignified home.
For many, the ribbon cutting to the new facility was a manifestation of a longtime dream come true. For others, it symbolized a beacon of light and beauty in a stormy period of Alaskan history. Diane Kaplan, CEO and president of the Rasmuson Foundation summarized the feeling. “This is a symbol of people of all races to come together,” she said. “And this is exactly what the state needs now.”
The grand opening ceremony began at 6 p.m. while the storm outside began picking up speed. Pastor Dan Ward gave the invocation and City Manager Tom Moran emceed the grand opening.
Moran acknowledged Kawerak Inc. as a partner throughout the long process, and honored past and present city council members, Mayor Denise Michels, Museum and Library commissioners and city employees, including former Museum Director Laura Samuelson, who have tirelessly worked to make the building a reality. “We reached this monumental finish line especially thanks to Laura Samuelson and her successor Amy Phillips-Chan,” he said.
The building is named after the late Richard Foster, a longtime Representative to the Alaska Legislature, who died in 2009. His son Neal Foster stepped into his father’s tracks and currently represents House District 39 in the legislature. A large contingent of the Foster family made it to Nome from as far as California and as close as Anchorage.
The Reader family, descendants of Carrie M. McLain, including her last surviving daughter Caroline Reader, were also there to honor the new home of the museum that bears Carrie M. McLain’s name.
Although commercial flights were canceled for the day during the storm, a contingent with the Rasmuson Foundation bounced through the tempest in a private jet to attend the grand opening.
Kawerak CEO and President Melanie Bahnke reflected on the journey it took to create a regional cultural center – now the Katirvik Cultural Center – under the leadership of the Kawerak Elders Advisory Committee. “It was their directive to Kawerak that we seek to establish a cultural center to help perpetuate the richness of the Alaska Native cultures in the region,” she said. By housing the histories of the cultures that call Nome and the region home, it is seen as a bold statement of cooperation. Bahnke spoke of a time in Nome’s history when outright racial segregation was practiced in the city’s establishments and institutions. “Our partnership not only reflects us working together in a public-private joint venture, but more importantly it is a physical manifestation of a coming together in unity to celebrate our region’s rich history and cultures,” Bahnke said. She added that Nome has come a long way as a community and that she is proud to call the Bering Strait region home, “where diversity is embraced and not feared.” “This building will be a place where all people from all walks of life and all ethnic backgrounds will be welcome and appreciated. This is a home where everyone belongs, and reflects the fact that we are one big family, interconnected to one another, regardless of race,” Bahnke stated.
Museum Director Amy Phillips-Chan addressed the crowd in the well-lit foyer with a summary of the new museum’s features. “Our new environmentally-controlled museum comprises a collections storage area, conservation and object preparation lab, community research room, and two exhibit galleries,” she said. For the grand opening, the main exhibit is Nome: Hub of Cultures and Communities across the Bering Strait in the main gallery and Remnant by Sonya Kelliher-Combs in the special exhibit gallery. “We are excited to head into the future as an active and dynamic organization: a center for hands-on learning experiences, creative space to encounter the visual arts, local resource of historical and cultural information, and emblem of inclusive community identity,” Phillips-Chan said
She then invited the crowd “to explore, discover, and perhaps be inspired, by an object, photo, or story that sparks a memory or stirs your curiosity as you help to add your own narratives to the historical and cultural fabric of Nome.”
Cussy Kauer, grand daughter of Carrie M. McLain, and the family’s torch bearer to carry the passion for Nome’s history into the future, held a speech that shone light on who Carrie M. McLain was and the intertwined fates of the Foster and her family. (See complete speech on page 2). “Of special meaning to me was the fact the Foster and McLain names would be intertwined so magnificently, and my lifelong cherished friend Iris, Richard’s only surviving sibling, and I would have a place to put our own fabulous eBay collections, when the time comes,” Kauer said, infusing humor in an otherwise emotional address.
Chairman of the Kawerak board of directors Frank Katchatag honored NSEDC chair Oscar Takak, Bering Straits Native Corporation CEO Gail Schubert and Rasmuson Foundation’s Diane Kaplan with beaded medallions. Schubert drove home the point that everybody from this region has a connection to the museum. “Although the Richard Foster Building is in Nome, it is really a regional museum and cultural center,” she said. Schubert said her grandfather Victor Anagick was one of the Serum mushers who helped deliver the diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925.
Jake Kenick, Museum and Library Commission chairman, delivered an original poem, composed for the occasion. Called “Nome Kids” it is an ode to the Nome spirit “growing up with values/respect for land and sea.” The poem ends with a nod to Richard Foster: “We revel in our spirit/our character is strong. We have so much to offer/and our history is long. And we gather here in honor/For a man who fostered Nome. And we smile as he taught us/For our lives now have a home.”
Other presenters included Library Director Marguerite LaRiviere, Katirvik Cultural Center Director Lisa Ellanna, NSEDC Chairman Oscar Takak and Mayor Richard Beneville.
Finally, Representative Neal Foster gathered his family consisting of mother Hoa Nih, aunt Iris Magnell, brothers Jimmy and Richard Foster and their families. “This is a very big deal for us,” Foster said. He also acknowledged the presence of House Speaker Mike Chenault, Nome lobbyist Wendy Chamberlain and former advisor to Governor Parnell, Joe Balash.
After a performance by the Nome King Island drummers and dancers, Neal Foster and Nome Mayor Beneville cut the ribbon and the crowd was free to hit the buffet and stroll through the museum, library and the cultural center.
The next day, a similar ceremony was held for the general public, with a day of activities and presentations to follow.
The Richard Foster building received $16 million from the state legislature, $1.5 million from NSEDC, $1.3 million from the Rasmuson Foundation, $100,000 from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and $840,000 from Kawerak Inc., according to City Manager Tom Moran.