Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:40 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jane Little: strong advocate for community service

Kachemak Color

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Editor's note: "Kachemak Color" features residents who make the communities of the southern Kenai Peninsula interesting. If you know of someone who you think would make a good story, call the editor at 235-7767.


Jane Little

It isn't the length of time lived in Homer, but what someone does with that time that makes them a part of the community. Jane Little is an example.

Little's first glimpse of Homer came in 1989, when she and her husband, Hank, arrived as passengers aboard one of the Cunard Cruise ships.

"I loved it immediately," said Little, who was living in Yuma, Ariz., at the time.

That visit also was the first time Hank, a former resident of the state, had been back to Alaska after leaving it for the Lower 48 years before. Much as they were attracted to the southern Kenai Peninsula, however, moving here was something that evolved over time.

A real estate investor, Little wanted a piece of Homer. In the mid-1990s, with the help of a realtor, she and Hank purchased a piece of property with a view on Skyline Drive. They were in the process of building a home in Yuma at the time and doubled the effort by deciding to build a summer residence in Homer, as well. They spent Christmas 1997 in the partially finished home and returned for a visit the following summer.

"We were out fishing one day, came back in and Hank passed away right on the dock," said Little.

With few acquaintances in the area, Little decided Homer offered the perfect place for her to get back on her feet after her husband's death. She considered moving her water treatment business from Yuma to Homer, but chose instead to sell the business, cutting her ties to Arizona and immersing herself in her new community.

Little served on the Pratt Museum's board of directors, as well as the Homer Senior Center's board. At the urging of Steve Yoshida, she became a member of Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club, enjoying the mix of people, the speakers and club's many activities. At Yoshida's urging, Little attended Rotary's district and international conferences.

"When I saw all Rotary was doing in the state of Alaska, as well as the world, I guess it struck my heart and I started getting more and more involved," said Little, adding that her attraction was to "the people and all the humanitarian works they do all over the world. It's business people with high ethical standards that want to make a difference."

When Little heard of individuals wanting to join Rotary, but having difficulty attending the club's noon meetings, Little went to work creating Rotary Club of Downtown Homer, complete with evening meetings. In less than three months, the 24-member club was chartered. Its long list of activities include wheelchair donations to the Homer Senior Citizens Center, sponsoring a blood bank drive, giving dictionaries to each third-grader on the southern peninsula, working with teens and donating to numerous organizations.

In 2010, after becoming governor of Rotary District 5010, Little focused her energy on new responsibilities. It is Rotary's largest district, stretching from Eastern Russia to Yukon, Canada, and encompassing 11 time zones, three official languages and a landmass about twice the size of the United States.


Photo provided

Members of the new Rotary Club of Homer Downtown celebrate their swearing in ceremony May 17, 2006. Front row, left to right: Marivel Petska, Karen Cauble, Betty Hunter, Jan O'Meara, Frederica Hall, Jane Little, Noko Yoshida and Shari Henkelman. Standing, left to right: Bruce Petska, Bob Moore, Fran Moore, Mike Toner, Cathy Ulmer, Thor Brandt-Erichsen, Nathan Hogg, Michael McKinney, James Dolma, Nina Allen, Frank Hill, Dottie Hill and Jim Henkelman.

"When I was in president elect training last year in Seattle, another district governor said she could stand in her office, look out her window and see all her district. I thought, 'Wouldn't Jane like that?" said a laughing Jim Henkelman, president of Rotary Club of Downtown Homer. "We've seen very little of her this year because she's traveling so much, but e-mail is an easy way to stay in touch. If I send her an e-mail or question, it's almost always within two or three days that I get a response back."

Little's commitment to communication makes it possible for her to remain involved in organizing the district conference to be held in Homer June 16-19.

"She was asked to consider holding it in other communities, but she decided to have it here," said Tina Day, a Rotarian working with Little and Michele Miller, treasurer of Rotary Club of Downtown Homer, to coordinate the conference.

The event is anticipated to draw 300-350 participants from Alaska, Canada, Russia and Korea. Guest speakers include Martin Buser, Iditarod musher and spokesperson for Rotary International's goal of eradicating polio worldwide, and the Rev. Mpho A. Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and founder of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage.

Even at a distance, Little is busy selling tickets for a raffle to be held at the conference.

"She's so great, the best fundraising person I've ever seen," said Miller. "When she has a goal, she goes through with it. If Jane says she's going to do something, you can take that to the bank."

One of Little's goals has been for Rotary to create a new district just for Russian clubs, a step that will actually happen in 2012.

"It's taken years for them to create their own district and Jane's had a huge role in making that happen," said Day.

In the meantime, Little also continues recruiting others to Rotary.

"(Little) coached me and told me what it was all about and was my sponsor," said Jacquie Thaute, whose work schedule fit with the evening meetings of the Rotary Club of Downtown Homer.

Little's commitment to Rotary will continue beyond the end of her term as district governor later this year. Her connections to Homer also remain intact.

"Every time I drive into Homer and come over Baycrest Hill, it never ceases to take my breath away when I see the view," said Little. "I just feel like I've been graced to find a place like Homer where I treasure my friends and family."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.