by Deborah Luper
I was raised in the Brooks Range of Alaska, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We lived in a log cabin, drove a team of dogs to get wood in the winter, flew airplanes instead of driving cars, and basked in 24-hour daylight during the short but hot summers. It was a wonderful way to grow up.
That kind of life had disadvantages, of course. We were the only humans for 40 miles, so we got lonely sometimes. We didn’t have refrigeration, so we had to catch dinner during the warmer months — and then we got very tired of fish and rabbit. We also had to watch out for grizzlies and wolves. But between reading, schoolwork and outdoor adventures, my three younger siblings and I kept ourselves occupied.
The biggest challenge was education. My father decided to home-school us using Alaska’s correspondence course. He taught me first and second grade, and a teacher on leave taught me half of third grade. My brother and I went to public school in Pennsylvania for a few months the following year. After that I was pretty much on my own, and responsible for teaching my siblings as well.
Things worked well enough until it was time for me to start high school. My family had to decide whether to send me to boarding school, at considerable expense, or move. But then Al and Carol Brice came to the rescue.
The Brices had volunteered to participate in a state program. They agreed to take in a child from “the bush” for the school year, in exchange for a small stipend. They ended up with me, a shy, skinny, 14-year-old Native Alaskan girl with almost no self-confidence. I had grown up without television, friends other than my siblings, or any social training. While I was excited to branch out, I was also deeply afraid others would think I was backward and uneducated.
They welcomed me with loving arms. They housed, clothed and fed me, and even gave me an allowance. They paid for dance and piano lessons, skiing and skating lessons, a family vacation, and much more. Their five children made me feel like a sister.
As a result of that year, I gained the confidence I needed to excel in my studies, and to dream of achieving more. I competed in pageants, earned scholarships and got a pilot’s license. I attended college, was accepted to law school for a national Indian paralegal program, and went into law enforcement. Eventually, I entered politics, and today count lawmakers and governors among my friends.
By opening their home and hearts, Al and Carol Brice opened the entire world for me. I hope through telling this story to share the depth of my gratitude with them, and to inspire others to reach out to children with challenges.