Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:12 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homer honors three women of distinction

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Three local women will be honored Friday as Women of Distinction award recipients. They are:

• Kate Kerns, Young Woman of Distinction;

• Bonnie Betley, Woman of Distinction;

• Susan Phillips Cushing, Woman of Wisdom.

Kerns was born in Fairbanks and grew up in a cabin on the north side of the Alaska Range. It was accessible by small plane; the closest neighbors were a day-trip away by snowmachine. When Kern was three years old, her family began spending summers in the Homer and eventually moved here full-time.


Susan Phillip Cushing and her granddaughter, Wyndre.

Most of Kerns schooling has been in a homeschool setting. For her senior year of high school, she enrolled at Homer Flex School. She completed her studies Feb. 28, and will walk in graduation ceremonies with her classmates in May.

"That was about the best education decision I've ever made," she said of Flex. "It's a really great school that allowed me to work at my own pace."

"My parents have always taught me that my story, bizarre adventure that it is, is worth telling," said Kerns. "As a graduate from Homer Flex who is preparing to leave home in the fall, my story is that of a daughter who is proud of her heritage, a passionate activist with a heart for the gay community, and a teenage artist who loves colors and words.

Kerns works part-time as a peer educator at the R.E.C. Room. Her artistic talent is evident in the paper collages she creates. Her flair for writing can be enjoyed on her blog, mermaideyes.com.

Kerns plans to pursue her interests in journalism and business by enrolling in a community college in Eugene., Ore., this fall.

Until being nominated for the Woman of Distinction award, Kerns was unaware the awards existed.


Kate Kerns

"I had no point of reference, and then it was like, oh my goodness, this is so cool," she said.

Betley grew up in Wisconsin and lived in Alaska since 1979. She attended nursing school at the University of Alaska Anchorage, completing her final semester in Homer working with Donna Fenske, a public health nurse at the time.

"I knew in school I wanted to do public health, but working with Donna really cemented the desire for me because she was incredible," said Betley, who also worked with Susan Arndt in the obstetrics department of South Peninsula Hospital. "Susan was wonderful to work with. I loved doing labor and deliveries and would probably still be doing it if the hours were a little different."

Since 1988, Betley has worked as a state of Alaska public health nurse. She is involved with MAPP (Mobilzing for Action and Partnerships) of the Southern Kenai Peninsula; is on the board of directors for Sprout Family Services; is co-chair of Families First in Homer a Best Beginnings Partnership; helped start the Homer Imagination Library; is on the advisory board for the Kenai Peninsula Children's Advocacy Centers, the community advisory board for the Harmful Legal Products Prevention Project in Homer; the Chugachmiut Head Start Health Services Advisory Committee; and is a member of the Safe Kids Coalition in Homer. Betley credits her father's example and her experience in Girl Scouts for having instilled in her a "desire to help folks, especially people in need."

Like many others, Betley fell in love with Homer as soon as she topped Baycrest Hill.

"I saw the view, met some people and spent the first night out on the Spit," she said.

She and her husband, Garry, have one daughter, Natalie, and a granddaughter, Kaia.


Bonnie Betlely with husband Garry and granddaughter Kaia

Cushing grew up in Seward, where her father was a doctor for the Seward Sanatorium, a tuberculosis hospital. The family visited Homer often and moved to Anchorage in 1957. Cushing attended the Claremont Colleges in California, earning a degree in fine arts.

Cushing and her husband, Jack, raised their three sons — Zak, Cody and Whitney — in Homer. They have one granddaughter, Wyndre.

Cushing's interests in art and social services compliment each other, as evident in "Women of the Sea," her solo exhibit at the Pratt several years ago. Through watercolors, Cushing told the stories of local women who have made their lives by the sea.

"I've always been a women's advocate, was a feminist women's libber in the 60s and am always advocating for women and families,' said Cushing.

She points to the example her parents set.

"They were fair and just and always giving to those who weren't as lucky and fortunate as we were. They set that kind of a model," she said.

For the three years, Cushing has served on the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. For the past year she has been the council's chair. Her term as chair was recently extended another two years.

The council's mission — providing safety for Alaskans victimized or impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault through a system of statewide intervention, perpetrator accountability and preventions services — is challenging, said Cushing.

"But to receive this recognition from my own community makes it all worth it," she said. "There's incredible work being done in the trenches, so many people of distinction who are out there not receiving awards. We're all linked in a chain of family strengthening."

Women of Distinction awards were created by South Peninsula Haven House. They are presented annually to three women "who have made extraordinary contributions to improving the lives of other women and girls," said Karrie Youngblood, a Haven House board member and coordinator of the awards. The women are nominated by members of the community and voted on by Haven House's board of directors.

The awards will be presented at a celebration at Land's End Resort, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The evening includes an auction benefiting Haven House's programs providing shelter for survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault, community education and support groups for women and children. Through a partnership with the Homer Council on the Arts, original artwork based on the theme of "shelter from the storm" will be auctioned. Tickets for the event are available at the Homer Book Store.

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