SHE PASTORED FROM KETCHIKAN TO SAVOONGA
Alice Stevenson Green, the first woman ordained as a Presbyterian minister in Alaska, passed on Dec. 7, 2020 at the age of 103 and 1/2. She had been living at the Anchorage Pioneers Home since 2007.
On the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2017, the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her and wrote this tribute:
On July 21, 2017, for Green’s 100th birthday, the communities of Anchorage and Savoonga came together to honor her. The celebration recognized Green, who served as a religious leader, social advocate, gifted educator, courageous pioneer, and world traveler.
The Municipality of Anchorage and the City of Savoonga both proclaimed Green’s 100th Birthday, “Alice Green Day”. The City of Savoonga sent the Mayor to Anchorage to attend Green’s Birthday Party. In honor of her birthday, Reverend Karns reported that Green was made an honoree moderator for the annual Yukon Presbytery meeting in October 2017.
Green, who was named after her mother, was born on July 21, 1917, in Scott City, Kansas. Green’s mother died giving birth. Green was born two months early with club feet and only weighing four pounds. Her family had difficulty finding formula she could eat and Green was not expected to live. Green’s Aunt Frances, a nurse, cared for her during her first year of life and subsequently married her father, thereby becoming her stepmother. During Green’s first year of life, while living in Scott City, Green developed whooping cough and pneumonia and had her club feet repaired in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite her battles, Green tripled her weight quickly and her stepmother is credited with saving Green’s life.
Green had two aunts she loved dearly. They were her Aunt Lottie and Aunt Frances (also Green’s stepmother). Both worked at Sheldon Jackson School between the years of 1914 and 1917. Green recalls their stories about Alaska which ignited her desire to come to Alaska.
Green had six siblings, two born with cerebral palsy. Green helped care for them before leaving home and it helped shape the person she is today.
Getting an education and Green’s impact on the church:
Green grew up with little money and a big family. A friend named Mr. Boggs who had been a member of her family church paid for Green to go to college and seminary. He knew Green had intended to go to college in Parkville, Missouri, which cost a mere $250 at the time including room and board for that price. When Mr. Boggs saw Green sitting at church after local college classes had already started, he asked her why she wasn’t at college. Green admitted to Mr. Boggs that her family lacked the funds to pay for her attendance. The family friend immediately paid for college for Green. Women at the time could not become ministers but they could be missionaries, so Green signed up and became a missionary.
Green earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education from Park College (now Park University), near Kansas City, MO in 1939. Green had hoped to teach history at Sheldon Jackson School, but the plan fell through because Sheldon Jackson wasn’t looking for history teachers at the time. After obtaining her history degree in Secondary Education, Green taught 7th and 8th grade in Marble, Colorado, where quarries, owned by a company in Vermont, mined the stone for statutes, notably the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Lincoln Memorial, and sent it to Washington, DC. When the Republicans came into power under Eisenhower, marble was no longer obtained through the Vermont (Democrat) company, so the mine closed and Green was out of a job. That same year a gold mine reopened in Dunton, Colorado creating a need for a school teacher, so Green moved to teach grades 1-8. While Green was on summer vacation after her first year, the mine collapsed on a “change Sunday” (a day when no one worked). Alice was again unemployed. Green headed to graduate school.
In 1943, Green obtained her Master’s Degree in Christian Education from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after, Green took her first assignment with the church in Maine, becoming a Sunday School Missionary.
Then Green moved to Savoonga, Alaska in 1945. Green arrived by steamship, the SS Aleutian, in Seward, Alaska, and from there, she took a train to Anchorage, a plane to Nome, a U.S. Navy PBY to Gambell, and finally Green took a whaling ship into Savoonga, where she arrived on July 5, 1945. Aside from a one year furlough, Green stayed in Savoonga until 1955. Furloughs afforded Green the opportunity to share her missions’ efforts in remote locations, something she reportedly loved doing. Green described the remoteness of Savoonga but it didn’t stop her from loving the community and its people. She quickly made Savoonga home.
Green was the first woman Moderator of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, a region that includes Alaska, Washington and Northern Idaho. The Synod, an advisory council, enabled Green to practice her skills and provide guidance and advice to leadership within the region. She reported what she enjoyed most about this position was moderating the yearly meetings, travel and interacting with representatives from throughout the Synod’s region.
Friendships along the way:
Green’s mentor in life was her pastor from junior high and high school named Reverend George Henry Green (a man who had the same name as her father and brother), also known as “G”. Henry Green. Green reported that Reverend G. Henry Green motivated her because “he was a loving Christian man who was particularly good with the youth.” Green reported that he helped shape her into the person she would become. She was the only woman in her group that went into the ministry. The other seven were men.
In July, 1945, when traveling to Savoonga, Green met her dear friend, Norma Hoyt, who was traveling from Seattle to Anchorage via the same steamboat out of Seward as Green. Green reported that she had planned to stay with a local minister, however, he was out of town when she arrived. Norma Hoyt invited Green to stay with her until the local minister returned to town, thus forging a 44 year friendship.
From 1945 to 1988, Alice Green reported that she often traveled for leisure and vacation, managing to go to six continents with her friend, Norma Hoyt. Green reports going around the world with her friend, traveling to Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Belgrade, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Denmark, Switzerland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Iran, Jordan to Syria, and later Antarctica. Green and her friend Norma Hoyt were scheduled to go to Iraq, however, they cancelled the trip due to a cholera outbreak. Going to Iraq would have prevented them from traveling to some of the other destinations on their list of places to see because of concern about the spread of the disease. Green reported that Hungary offered the best food, wholesome and homemade, but Nepal was her favorite destination because they offered active programs for travelers. She enjoyed visiting the many clinics in the countryside in Nepal just outside Katmandu. Green claims she took that trip so that she could see the people of remote locations, comparing it to Savoonga which was also remote.
Green’s life in remote Alaska and its impact on the people:
Restricted by practice limitations of the church, Green served as a Presbyterian missionary from 1945 to 1954 in one of the most remote Alaskan villages, Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, an island about the size of Connecticut in the Bering Sea approximately 50 miles from Siberia. When Green arrived in Savoonga, she moved into a tiny home that was a mere 15 x 16 feet in size. It was too small to hold her trunk, so she stored her trunk in the attic at the local school. At the time there was no church so she held services at the local school until the school burned down in 1946, when services were held in homes. Shortly after arriving in Savoonga, Green helped the community manage the construction of a church using volunteer labor. The “new” church was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1950. The church is still there and in use after over 70 years. When Green is asked about her role in the construction, she quickly gives all credit to the local people of Savoonga, downplaying her role in the effort.
While missionaries often left negative impact on villages because of forced assimilation, Jenny Alowa reports Green wasn’t like that. She always had her services and hymns translated into Siberian Yupik for the local residents. She made people comfortable; she loved the people of Savoonga and they knew that. The key to her success while living there was ensuring she treated people with respect. When asked if it was hard living in Savoonga, away from all of the luxuries of the big cities, Green said: “Not at all. She loved the place and all of the people there. She never missed the city, and since she traveled, she was able to see amazing people and go amazing places while doing her work.”
Green was employed by the National Council of Churches and worked as a religious coordinator for the Alaska Native Service (ANS) at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage from 1955 until 1970. At that time ANS was treating tuberculosis (TB) patients. While working there Green met top Alaska Native artists, including George Ahgupuk and Robert Mayokok. Green pointed out that many of them had contracted TB carving ivory and had been institutionalized for treatment.
In the 1960’s many issues consumed congregations in Anchorage including space, locale, escalating costs and a need to sustain congregations into the long term future. Land was becoming expensive. As chairman of the Presbytery’s Committee on Mission Strategy, Green was instrumental in facilitating changes that included moving Faith Church and combining it with Woodland Park to become Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spenard. Faith Church had a mission outreach program in the Nunaka Valley area that originally operated out of homes, but eventually became Immanuel Presbyterian Church. The Korean Church moved into the Spenard space when Trinity bought property on Huffman Road so there was a south side Presbyterian presence. These changes drove down costs and allowed the churches to benefit from shared administrative duties.
From 1965 to 1972 Green attended national meetings twice a year for the Presbyterian Church, voting on budgets and opening or closing new church sites across the country.
In 1971, Green accepted an interim pastor position in Ketchikan where she served for a year. In 1972, when the rules changed to allow women to be ordained, the Savoonga church (following church protocol) called Green to be their pastor. Green became the first woman ordained in Alaska as a Presbyterian minister. After being ordained, Green returned to Savoonga and served from 1972 to 1982. In 1982, Green was required to retire from service with the Presbyterian Church because she reached age 65.
During the 1980’s while Green worked at ANS, she became involved in the work of the Presbytery. Green was elected by the National General Assembly to serve on the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church USA where she served for seven years and was elected Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Yukon (1982-1991). Green helped establish the Anchorage chapter of Church Women United, a national ecumenical Christian women’s group that brings diverse cultures together for fellowship and prayer advocating for peace and justice worldwide. Green also served in a leadership role with both the Korean and Alaska Native Presbyterian Congregations at Anchor Presbyterian Church. She traveled to meetings and conferences throughout the Lower 48, took minutes for the local churches and continued to remain active in the church as a volunteer after her forced retirement.
Reverend Kurt Karns, explained what it means for Green to have been the Moderator of the Synod. The Presbyterian Church is broken down by regions and Green’s leadership roles allowed her to influence the regions from Anchorage to the North Slope, including having a say in providing pastors across the Presbytery. Green used her roles to help Presbyterian women advocate for peace and justice, ensuring that across the state women’s issues were always at the forefront. Her involvement in three churches: the Nome Presbyterian Church, the church on St. Lawrence Island and Anchor Christian Ministries significantly advanced the role of women and Alaska Natives in the church. Reverend Karns contributes much of Green’s success to her ability to network with others. He described Green as “knowing everyone”. Reverend Karns pointed out that Green’s ordination in Alaska was a controversial topic for the time.
Green often attended and traveled to other churches. Green helped organize the Jewell Lake Parish, a joint venture between Methodists and Presbyterians. Green was intent on trying to make better sense of the church’s mission by joining forces and streamlining reporting functions for the various churches. Green’s longtime friend (since 1982), Viola Markson, describes Green as a unique person who is a wonderful minister. She explains that Green ministers to all people and that there is never a wrong thing to say. According to Ms. Markson, Green is not critical, but she is stubborn.
While serving in Anchorage, Green also performed weddings, often for the people from St. Lawrence Island. As a ruling elder, Alice served at every judicial level of the church. Her knowledge of the people helped others better meet the needs of culturally diverse congregations.
Green played an active role in the Anchorage Chapter of Church Women United. Green reports that this Christian women’s movement makes the world better for all women and children. The mission helped bring diverse cultures and races together for fellowship and prayer advocacy for peace and justice worldwide. Locally, Green focused on serving both the Korean and Alaska Native Communities. When asked what drove her to advocate for these two particular groups, she noted many Alaska Natives were moving to Anchorage from the villages. She replied, “I felt we needed to be responsible to the people.”
Green’s advice to anyone who doubts the existence of God, is “there is no reason to doubt God. There has to be someone bigger than ourselves to help things move along the way they should.” Green pointed out that “she can’t see how things came into existence without a higher power: Allah, God, whatever that might be.”
Green’s personal life:
Green and her friend Norma Hoyt took their final trip together in 1988, when they went to Antarctica, just months before her friend died. Green always stopped at hospitals and mission stations along the way. Green and Hoyt drove across the country visiting old book stores, buying rare/out of print books on Alaska. She collected Alaskan books exclusively and had an amazing collection which she eventually sold and donated to local libraries and museums. Much of her collection can be found in the Nome library.
Green taught Bible study at Trinity Presbyterian in Anchorage until 2016, when she turned 98 and her vision started to fail her.
When asked if she made any mistakes along the way in life, Green said, “I made many, but what I learned is that I needed to find out what motivates people and to remember others may think differently but it doesn’t make them wrong.”
When asked what advice she would offer young women about how to accomplish their goals, Green quickly pointed out that “women should not give up and they should do what they want to do in life. Her advice is to get the education that you need to follow your dreams and just do it.”
Green stated that she got up every day to do the work she did “because it was her calling, it was what she was supposed to do!” She never detoured from her work and said she never wanted to change course. When given options to leave for assignments in the Lower 48, she chose to go to Anchorage instead because that was the only other available option and she didn’t want to leave Alaska and the people she loved.
Green reported that she often found herself outside of her comfort zone when dealing with family difficulties; she didn’t want to pick sides. She listened to both sides of every story and often stayed as neutral as she could, although she did occasionally have to pick sides and provide advice over issues. When needing to do so, she sought wisdom through prayer.
When asked about meeting the glass ceiling, Green pointed out that when she arrived in Savoonga there was no formal building for people to meet, but the community was organized. She fought for women’s rights and it worked. She became very much a part of the community and the community became a part of her.
For fun, Green plays double deck pinochle with friends on Sunday afternoons, she attends Bible studies on Wednesdays, since her eyesight has started to fail she is now an avid audio book reader and she likes to take walks. She loves reading non-fiction and is currently listening to a book on tape of a biography about the 2nd George Bush. She also reports listening to the 2nd book in a 4 volume set about Abraham Lincoln titled “The War Years” which was written by Carl Sandburg. Green reports her favorite book of all time is the Bible. Her favorite verse is a most famous bible verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Green likes watching football, baseball, the nightly news and Jeopardy on television.
It is fitting that Green is being honored for her achievements, social rights activism, religious and educational leadership and long dedication to Alaska and the Presbyterian Church.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/n7dBYZUKjHg