Colleen (Markley) Rutledge
The word Colleen Markley Rutledge would use to describe her life in Alaska is “challenging.” But until a friend told Rutledge she thought a woman had to be tough to live here, it had never really occurred to her.
“… the more I thought about that, the more I realized how true it was. But because I hadn’t had a different life, I didn’t know that.”
Life in Alaska was simply what she had always known. Rutledge’s father came to Alaska in 1935, and her mother in 1936. Rutledge was born in 1937. She’s proud of the life her family lived in the then-territory, fishing, trapping and homesteading.
“You know we commercial fished, in the inlet, and that’s an experience that most people don’t have an opportunity to do. … Dad started that in 1941… at Granite Point in Cook Inlet. And set net sites.
“So that’s part of my history and I like that part. And then dad trapped in the wintertime. … We had a trap line over on Trinity Lake… so he was gone… quite a bit of the time, but a good parent in spite of it.
“And don’t you think that (type of lifestyle) shapes you? Even when I’m talking to people, you know, it colors my life I think. What my dad did, I’m really proud of that.”
Rutledge has mostly lived in Anchorage, and that’s where she considers home.
“Well, it’s the only place I’ve really lived. It’s the people, the friends I’ve acquired or accumulated… who they connect to, what they connect to…”
To this day, Rutledge finds the scenery of Alaska compelling. She feels her home in downtown Anchorage is perfectly situated to appreciate those scenic views.
“It’s being able to look out at the Park Strip, and the Chugach Range.
“I was thinking that driving to Chugiak recently, that what would I do without those mountains to drive into?
While Rutledge admits recent large earthquakes have caused her to occasionally think about leaving Alaska, it’s not something she’d truly consider.
“Well, my son is here. My family is here. And people that I know, women that I talk to, so many of them as they’ve gotten to this age, they’re moving out and it’s because they want to get closer to their kids and that’s a big thing. And mine is here.”
Rutledge fondly recalls her career working for Arco, during what she calls the “very exciting times” when big oil discoveries were happening in Alaska.
“I worked for Arco for 16 years and that was a wonderful experience too. They were so good to their employees, you just cannot believe it… it was a great company. The people there were so good, they’re still my good friends, some of them, those that are left…”
These days, Rutledge’s priorities include deciding what to do with the things she’s accumulated.
“I’d like to culminize my life,” she says. And that includes writing up some family history for her son and others.
“I want to write three stories that I’ve thought of on (my) dad -- and I’m really not a writer. Because my parents were probably like yours, it was really hard making a living in Alaska. It was really tough. So we never got to see them very much. Mom would have jobs at the cannery and just every place, the school kitchen, any way she could make a little money, she’d do it.”
Some of the history Rutledge has uncovered about her family has been inspiring to her.
“I interviewed my uncle a couple times, and he said, OK, in dad’s family there was nine kids… and the boys didn’t go past the sixth grade, but the girls were all nurses or schoolteachers. Because if you didn’t educate the girls the only thing they could do was be a domestic. But the boys could always work in the woods in lumber or doing whatever…
“So they educated the girls.”
Not surprisingly, if Rutledge could pass along a story about her life in the north to her descendants, it would be one of family.
“Well, you know what, I’d want them to know my dad and my mom. You must feel that way too. You know, what staunch people they were. What a good value system they had.”