Cindy Boesser wrote a regular column for the Juneau Empire during her time in Russia. She spent almost a year there as the Soviet Union was falling apart.
Story last updated at 12/11/2013 - 3:09 pm
Cindy Boesser was one of only a few women to operate heavy machinery for Alyeska when the pipeline was under construction. She's co-authored a textbook. She's clog-danced across Russia with the Alaska Performing Artists for Peace, accompanied by Jay and Bella Hammond. Boesser does stained glass. She's done trips on myriad rivers, and throughout what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She's helped build houses-and helped design the firehouse- in Gustavus. Boesser studied in Russia as the Soviet Union was falling apart. After her son was born, she ran one of the first nationally accredited family day cares in Southeast. And now she works as circulation desk supervisor at Egan Library.
Part of the reason Boesser been able to do such a wide variety of things is because Alaska is Alaska, she said.
"It's something about being raised here - or maybe it was my parents," Boesser said. "You can do whatever you want to do, or wherever you find your passion or interest... I learned canning because I didn't have electricity, so I didn't have a refrigerator. I learned how to garden because there wasn't a store where you could buy fresh stuff. You learn things because you can and you need to."
Boesser was four when she and her family moved to Juneau in 1959, just before Alaska became a state.
It was when she was visiting her parents in Fairbanks in the 1970s that she heard about opportunities on the pipeline. Boesser got a job operating large excavators, bulldozers, and a truck crane for two seasons, working 16 hours a day, every day, in the summer, and 11 hours a day, every day, in the winter.
"I love working outside, so I loved that part of it," she said. Boesser also enjoyed working with heavy equipment. At first it was hard, she said - some men resented her working that job (though others stood up for her). It also wasn't always the safest environment for women.
"Your crew kind of helps you be safe, and you learn not to be alone... (but) the food was great!" she said.
After working on the pipeline Boesser went to North Carolina, where her father is from, for architecture design school.
During her time in Gustavus (about five years in the early 1980s) she did carpentry, dug outhouses, and, "since I'm short," rebuilt foundations beneath houses.
Boesser also loves traveling, especially in remote places. She's floated a lot of rivers and spent time in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before that's what it was called.
"ANWR is an incredible place," Boesser said. "You want it because you can't drive to it. There are places in Alaska you can get to where you don't see people for weeks and weeks on end. You can make your own trail, or follow an animal trail if you're sure-footed enough. Those experiences are life-changing and enriching."
As far as travel around people, she loved touring with other dancers in the Soviet Union.
That experience led to her wanting to return. In 1991, Boesser received a Rotary Club Student Exchange scholarship and became the first exchange student from the University of Alaska Southeast to Moscow State University. She arrived right after the attempted coup, and was there to witness the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boesser also wrote a series of articles for the Juneau Empire during her experience.
"Life in Moscow is not unlike a backpacking trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," she wrote in a Nov. 6, 1991 column. "In both cases, once you're there it's nearly impossible to get what you need."
She jokes that she studied "line theory" in Russia - look at a line, and she may just be able to tell you whether or not it's worth waiting in (hint: the longer the line, the more desirable the object at the end). Boesser spent time in a number of lines, trying to get clothing hangers, for instance, or trying to convince the university she was actually a college student.
"My return ticket had been stolen, so I wasn't going anywhere," she said.
Boesser also spent time in class, visiting schools (she was studying sociology with an education focus) and working on her Russian.
After she returned, she had a hard time relating to the way things happened in the U.S., and took at job at the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc. (JAMHI) as a case manager for mentally ill adults. It was a natural transition, after Russia - "I'd seen a whole culture go into shock and denial," Boesser said. "I was fascinated with mental health after watching a country in a mental health crisis."
Her son, Ben, was born in 1995 (she had a son and a step-daughter, Shalom) and she began a child care, after that working as a youth services librarian, working in special education, and managing an assisted living home.
Part of this wide variety of experiences is recognizing and being open to opportunity when it's there, Boesser said.
"The pipeline was there, and I was there," she said. "I took an 'Intro to Architecture' course and found myself attracted to it... it's being open to opportunity and going with the flow.... that's just part of being in Alaska," she said. "I like challenges."
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