Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Powering the Community

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Mark Ahsoak II found a career in his community as a utility plant operator thanks to Barrow Utilities and Electric Cooperative.

Electric utility jobs fuel local economies and the nation

Electric utilities offer much more to their communities than instant gratification at the flip of a switch. Aside from supplying the lifeblood of our nation—electricity—the industry provides an asset crucial to the prosperity of every community: jobs.

Electric utilities bring working professionals in communities across the country competitive pay, a sense of community and stable career opportunities.

In 2017, the leading public power associations—the American Public Power Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Edison Electric Institute—joined forces to produce a study about the power sector’s economic benefits in the nation’s job market.

The report found nearly 2.7 million jobs across the United States are directly provided by the electric power industry, including employees, contractors, supply chains and investments. This creates a ripple effect, supplying more than 4.4 million additional jobs that support the industry.

In total, that is 7 million American jobs, or about 5 percent of all jobs in the United States, according to the public power associations’ report published by M.J. Bradley & Associates.
“The direct jobs within the companies, cooperatives and municipally owned enterprises number just under half a million, and these are well-paid jobs,” says Paul Allen, senior vice president at M.J. Bradley. “The median annual wages for direct electric power industry employees were $73,000 in 2015. This is twice the national average.”

Many Options Available
Jobs available at utilities are diverse—from hands-on linework and system planning to accounting and management, says APPA Vice President of Education and Customer Programs Ursula Schryver.

On a local level, these positions are filled by neighbors, loved ones and residents who help local economies thrive.

“Public power utilities are unique in the electric utility space as they are community-owned and not-for-profit,” says Ursula. “This presents a unique opportunity for qualified individuals to work in an exciting and challenging field while supporting their community.”

A Chance to Stay Home
What does this mean for people looking for a job?

Take Ben Frantz, who for the past 19 years has been general manager at Barrow Utilities and Electric Cooperative. Ben has worked in Ukpiagvik, Alaska—formerly Barrow—since 1971. Most of his career has been spent at the multi-utility cooperative, which supplies electricity, water and gas to Ukpiagvik and neighboring villages.

For Ben, the utility offered him a chance to stay in the community and build a career.

“There are decent wages up here and a lot of opportunity for people to support their families,” he says.

On average, electric utility employees work in the industry for more than 15 years, in careers that support their families and allow them to put down roots in their communities, according to the M.J. Bradley report.

“Our community recognizes that this is a really good place to work,” says Ben.

Ukpiagvik is no ordinary community. Located in the northernmost reaches of Alaska, it has a population of about 4,300. With unrelenting daylight in the summer and total darkness in the winter, it offers a lifestyle like no other.

“It is a challenge to recognize the elements as something that does contribute to a close-knit community with a lot of culture locally and a lot of diversity,” says Ben. “Folks have come up and made this their home from faraway places.”

While 64 percent of the population is Alaska Native or part Native, Ben says people from Texas, Samoa, the Philippines and Pakistan call Ukpiagvik home.

For the 60 employees at BUECI, the utility offers a chance to remain in the community and thrive.

“Working at Barrow Utilities means providing services for the entire community,” says Ben. “We offer citizens the opportunity to support themselves and their families. It is sustainable and a consistent career.”

Next Generation Steps Up
As baby boomers reached retirement age in 2010, the industry reeled. There was concern whether younger generations would step up to replace the professionals who had spent their entire careers building the electric utility industry into what it is today.

The fear was there would not be enough skilled labor to fill the technical positions required and being vacated at electric utilities. That was eight years ago. Retirements and new recruitment are still big topics of conversation.

The Center for Energy Workforce Development’s 2017 survey reported that between 2012 and 2014, the number of employees with the potential to retire in the next one to 10 years declined by 7.4 percent.

While the mass exodus may be slowing down, many utilities have put infrastructure in place to continue recruiting and training the next generation of workers.

BUECI offers six to 10 internships a year. In 2004, Mark Ahsoak II was one of those interns. He learned under the tutelage of senior utility plant operators at the utility’s water treatment facility and received valuable hands-on experience.

Mark—who grew up in the community—had not considered a job at the utility.

Once his internship started, he was hooked.

“I enjoyed it quite a lot being a summer hire,” says Mark. “I learned how the water was cleaned before being given to the public and thought it was the coolest thing.”

The on-the-job experience prepared Mark to take the state certification to work full time in the water treatment facility. For the past 11 years, he has been a utility plant operator.

“The (work) hours allow me to hang out with my family,” Mark says.

A Chance to Return Home
While working at the utility allows some people to remain in their community, utility jobs also give people the chance to come home.

Shawna Snyder moved back to Walla Walla, Washington, from Kansas City, Missouri, to work at Columbia REA. She became the utility’s member services and communications specialist in September 2017.

Shawna previously worked in the banking industry. She wanted to make a move away from the corporate world.

“What is really neat is how tightknit it is,” Shawna says of the cooperative. “It builds the camaraderie that you don’t get everywhere, especially coming from a corporate background.”

Her career change came with a learning curve. Yet true to the cooperative utility culture, Shawna was not left to sink or swim. Fellow employees made sure she met with department heads to learn how different roles operated, from engineering to the warehouse.

“They showed me what the different parts are to put the pieces together and figure out how the utility functions,” says Shawna.

As she nears her one-year work anniversary, Shawna has a new appreciation for the inner workings of cooperatives.

“Public power is a great industry in terms of benefits and competitive pay,” she says.

Job Diversity Attractive
The power industry is broad and complex, with many roles that require specialized skills and training. There are a variety of roles to fill, reinforcing the vital role the industry plays in the local community.

“For small communities, the jobs in the electric industry are particularly important for several reasons,” says Paul of M.J. Bradley. “The power industry needs people to provide customer service and billing information. The power industry needs people to communicate with the public. The power industry needs accountants and economists, and it even needs lawyers. Taken together, these skills provide the backbone of the economy everywhere and contribute to the base of knowledge and stability in every community.”

Depending on the size of the community, many utility workers become well-versed in a wide range of skill sets.

A utility communicator’s job responsibilities can stretch from posting about outages on social media and writing articles about new utility initiatives to addressing members’ requests at the front desk.

Big Bend Electric Cooperative Communications Coordinator Kelly Duggar has been in the industry for 12 years. Like Shawna, she came from a different background: hotel and restaurant administration.

“I didn’t go to school for this type of thing, but I learn a lot every day about electricity, about people and just everything that goes along with the industry,” says Kelly.

Day-to-day work from her Ritzville, Washington, office can involve communicating with members about outages, helping with billing questions or unraveling a technical inquiry about net metering.

“You know, I’d say it is scary and fun all at the same time,” says Kelly. “It’s a daunting task not knowing about something. On the other hand, it was a lot of fun figuring it out.”

Kelly is preparing to take the next step in her career. Her colleague, Manager of Member Services Dale Anderson, retires in June. Kelly’s new job will be a dual role, with member services added to her responsibilities as a communicator.

“Why hire another person if I can do it on my own?” Kelly asks.

Advancement Potential
Clint Woods had the same reaction when a geographic information systems position opened up at Graham County Electric Cooperative in Pima, Arizona.

“I first started working in the electric field as a meter reader simply because it was a dependable job with good benefits,” says Clint, who has worked in the industry for 12 years. “The desire to continue working in it came from knowing it was a growing field which would provide many opportunities to grow, learn and expand my skill set.”

To become the GIS/GPS technician, Clint had to take classes. He continues to pursue learning opportunities to help him better do his job.

Although Clint’s day-to-day work has not drastically changed, he now focuses on building and improving the GIS structure for the cooperative’s gas utility.

“I want to learn more to improve my workflows and expand my understanding of how to best harness the technology available,” he says.

Clint says the fundamental qualities of the industry have helped him grow his career.

“It is a field that the basic theory doesn’t change, but technology is constantly providing more efficient ways to do it,” says Clint.

Whether an employee is just starting out or has spent their entire working career at a utility, what is never lost is the sense of community that powers the industry.

Public power utilities are designed to serve the community and employees with stability and opportunity.

“I think the most important thing about public power utilities is their motivation,” says Ursula of the American Public Power Association. “They strive to provide safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible power to their customers. They are motivated by service—not profits.”

Fishing for Lifelong Memories

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Fishing memories may last a lifetime, but it doesn’t hurt to take a photograph or two as well. Photos help stimulate recall in later years, and make it easier to share fishing experiences with family and friends.
© iStock/Willard

Most people have vivid memories of their first fishing trip. I remember mine, even its first moments: up before dawn, a cold truck cab, and the acrid smell of a struck match and a lit Camel filling the cab as we waited for the engine to warm up before heading to the lake.

I hated cigarettes, but I loved fishing with Dad. I enjoyed the one-on-one time with him.

That first trip—and the many others that followed—created memories I can share and enjoy for a lifetime.

Following are seven tips for creating and sharing the same kind of memories with your own family and friends.

  • Keep the purpose of the trip in perspective. Fishing is always about catching fish, but when first-timers come along, the focus should be on them, on spending quality time together and the experience itself.
  • Stay in the comfort zone. Find ways to alleviate or minimize the discomforts of cold, heat, rain or tedium. For example, pick a fair-weather day for the outing, and ensure everyone is wearing clothing to match the weather.
  • Bet on a sure thing. Go where you know the fish are biting. Getting skunked doesn’t exactly create the kind of first-time memories people are looking for.
  • Bring along a variety of snacks. Dad always packed cheese and kipper snacks. It’s a good thing I liked cheese.
  • Take lots of photos.
  • Engage in show and tell. Be prepared to give newbies a crash course in basic fishing. Be patient. Assume they know little or nothing about it.
  • Allow first-timers to do things for themselves. Resist the urge to do everything for them. After initial instruction, help only when asked or as needed.

Subtle Colors Make Bass See Red in the Dry Season
Florida lakes and rivers tend to be clearer this time of year than during the rainy season, when heavy rain and runoff can muddy the water. Use subtle colors for these water conditions. The best clear-water colors tend to be natural ones that mimic native forage, such as crawdad and shad.

Fishing Line Disposal Website Gets Facelift, Interactive Map
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has updated its Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program website. The site not only sports a new look, but features an interactive map with fishing line recycling bin locations across the state. Check it out at

What Day is It?
March 12, Girl Scouts Day.
March 12, Learn About Butterflies Day.
March 20, First Day of Spring.
March 30, Take a Walk in the Park Day.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Tell us the story behind the picture, and remember to identify people and pets. Email your submission to moc.stnerrucadirolfnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Staying On Track

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Few things capture our imagination and connect us to the past the way the iron horses of yesteryear can. These 19th century machines trigger deep memories—either good or bad, depending on our relationship to them. For most, trains represent freedom, progress and the romantic wonder of the Old West. To others, they are grim reminders of wartime and Holocaust nightmares from Europe.

Growing up, I was fascinated by both real trains and models. I remember Little League baseball games temporarily halted as a whistling engine and rattling boxcars passed the field.

I still get goose bumps when I hear a train whistle.

Photographers are often drawn to trains and the railroad culture. One of my all-time favorite photographs, “Hotshot Eastbound,” was made by O. Winston Link in 1956 of a train passing a drive-in theater in West Virginia.

I have a student who began photographing trains before he was in high school. His love of trains—shared with his father—set him on the photographic path he now follows.

I must begin with a safety warning. These big, beautiful, romantic machines can be deadly. A train cannot maneuver or stop quickly.

I am sadly reminded of a former student and dear friend who watched in helpless horror as his brother, who he was photographing for a fashion shoot, was struck and killed on the tracks by a train.

Another warning: The tracks and trestles are property of the railroad. Walking or playing on them is trespassing.

I remember walking across a trestle in Virginia to get in better position to photograph an oncoming train when I was whisked into a car and detained by railroad officials. Thankfully, they didn’t arrest me. It is not only illegal, it is extremely dangerous and dumb to navigate trestles, especially with a train coming.

Warnings aside, photographing trains can be challenging and rewarding. Consider these techniques:

  • Scout locations for the best perspective. Often, the landscape the train passes through is more interesting than a close-up of the train itself. Be prepared to wait. Freight trains are hit and miss. Passenger trains are easier because routes and times are posted. Sometimes getting above a train on an overpass is the best angle to see the shape and length of the train.
  • Using a slow shutter (1/15th or slower, maybe even a half a second) can help create a picture that captures the feeling of motion while dragging and smearing trails of color across the frame. Panning works best if you have clutter—trees, poles and wires—rather than a clean landscape of sky.
  • A fast shutter speed, say 1/500th and above, will freeze the motion if you want to see details: texture, words, graffiti or faces of people.
  • Use a telephoto lens 300mm or more straight-on to squeeze together the field of view so things near and far appear to be on the same plane, with background elements appearing closer and larger than they are. This can create a feeling of power and urgency. The greater the lens magnification, the more subjects will be compressed.
  • Consider using foregrounds to add depth and make pictures more than one-dimensional, creating a cause-and-effect narrative while also providing context and scale.

There is something nostalgic, even magical, about hearing the whistle of a train on a silent morning and watching a mighty metal steed appear, snorting smoke from its nostrils. It’s even better when you capture and forever preserve those images in camera.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Mom’s the Word

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

We asked readers to share photos that show what motherhood means to them. Here are the results.

Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day celebrations in 1908—the same year she petitioned the U.S. Congress to make it an official holiday. Although Congress rejected the idea, the celebration became popular around the country. Anne succeeded in 1914, when Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

No one understands the aches and pains, ups and downs, and worries and excitement of pregnancy better than mothers and moms-to-be. Having close friends and family with whom to share the experience makes the journey better. From left, Jamie Chambers, Alisa Boehler and Kristen Laymon shared many of those experiences. Photo courtesy of Jamie Chambers


Hobbies and helping one another are great ways for parents to bond with and teach their children. In this 1956 photo, Susie Clement Zimmerman helps her mother, Yvonne Clement, in the kitchen.
Photo courtesy of Susie Zimmerman


Family outings are an ideal way to create memories that can last a lifetime for moms and grandmas. Childhood seems to fly by these days, and many parents and grandparents try to make the most of that time. That’s just what Duncan Valley Electric members Chad and Janet Richardson did when they climbed Table Top Mountain in Cotton City, New Mexico, with their grandchildren, from left, Sidney, Gracie, Hobbs, Davis, Amaya, Jaci and Troy.
Photo courtesy of Janet Richardson


Lorene Guffey took this photo of her mother, Marge, on Mother‘s Day in 2017. Lorene’s brother sent Marge the flowers in the photo. She had a photo taken to send to her brother’s family in Montana so they could see what the flowers looked like. Marge died within a year of the picture.
Photo courtesy of Lorene Guffey


Eileen Loftus and her grandson, Ronan, were stationed at a checkpoint for the “Two Way Torture Test” in Fairbanks, Alaska. Ronan’s excitement level did not quite match that of his grandmother’s. Photo courtesy of Eileen Loftus

4,000 Volts, a Dying Man, and The Kiss of Life

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Jacksonville Electric Authority Lineworker J.D. Thompson performs CPR on co-worker Randall Champion as he hangs unconscious from a utility pole on July 17, 1967. Photo by Rocco Morabito; reprinted with permission from the Florida Times-Union

This April, many Americans will join energy cooperatives and utilities across the U.S. in celebrating National Lineworker Appreciation Day. Roughly 116,650 lineworkers work around the clock to keep 325 million Americans connected to energy, and there is perhaps no better image to illustrate the gravity of the job and the sacrifices lineworkers make than Rocco Morabito’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo “The Kiss of Life.”

As a young newspaper photographer for the Jacksonville Journal, Morabito was on assignment on July 17, 1967, when he happened upon a very troubling scene. Lineworker Randall G. Champion had been working on a utility pole when he contacted one of the power lines and absorbed more than 4,000 volts of electricity. According to First Coast News, the powerful current shot through Champion’s body, burning a hole in his foot as it exited, and he fell back, hanging unconscious from his safety harness at least 20 feet off the ground.

Fellow lineworker J.D. Thompson, who was working on the ground nearby, had been hired by Jacksonville City Electric (now Jacksonville Electric Authority) four years earlier on the same day Champion was hired. Realizing his friend was in trouble, Thompson’s emergency training kicked in, and he sprinted toward the pole.

In the 2008 documentary “Kiss of Life,” Morabito says when he arrived on the scene he heard people on the ground screaming and then saw Champion dangling. He snapped a single photo before rushing back to his car to radio back to the Journal’s newsroom and tell them to send an ambulance. Then he quickly reloaded his Rolleiflex camera with a fresh roll of film and rushed back to the scene.

By then, Thompson was ascending the pole, and when he reached Champion, he thought he was surely dead.

“His face—his cheeks were just blue, and there was no movement to him, no breathing, nothing going on there,” Thompson says in the Kiss of Life film.

He started administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a lifeless Champion.

“I was putting air in him as hard as I could go and also trying to reach around him and hit him in the chest,” Thompson told First Coast News.

As Thompson tried desperately to breathe life back into Champion, Morabito started shooting and captured the iconic moment that netted him the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.

After a while, Thompson felt a pulse.

“When he actually started breathing, I can remember it was just like a hiccup or something,” Thompson says in Kiss of Life. “He just kind of jerked a little bit, and I knew there was some life there then.”

Thompson yelled down to workers on the ground: “He’s breathing!” He unhooked and rigged Champion’s harness so he could get him down to the ground. Just before he reached the ground, Champion regained consciousness. Disoriented, he began flailing and kicking.

“I started fighting, trying to get loose from the wire because I didn’t realize I had been out, and I thought I was still on the wire,” Champion says in a 1985 interview featured in Kiss of Life.

Thompson and the other workers calmed Champion down and lay him down on some grass to wait for the ambulance.

Morabito, having captured the entire sequence of events, raced back to the Journal’s newsroom, and the paper’s editors pushed back their printing deadline to get the photo in the paper that day. After it was published, the wire services picked it up, and it ran on the front page of newspapers all over the country and was even distributed internationally.

In Kiss of Life, the narrator notes that, “After saving a man’s life, [Thompson] quietly went back to work. A thunderstorm was on the way, along with power outages. J.D. would be at it until 3 in the morning.”

Telling his story in the film, Thompson deflects the suggestion that his actions were heroic. Perhaps for him it really was just another day at the office for a lineman. But as he recalls his supervisor’s praise after the incident, viewers get a glimpse of what appears to be a more honest reaction to how it affected him.

“[Our supervisor] was proud of the fact we had helped this fella,” he says with a southern drawl. “I felt at that time, you know, that, well, I did it …”

Thompson then trails off as he’s overcome by emotion. His chin slightly quivers, and his jaw tightens as he stares off camera, lost in the memory of the day he saved Randall Champion’s life. The film then cuts to the interviewer’s next question: “Did you feel like a hero?”

“No … no,” he says.

According to the film, Champion was angry when he saw the photo in the newspaper the next day, and his daughter, Ann Dixon, offered this explanation: “He told us that he always kissed us goodbye in the mornings before he would go to work. And all he could remember as he lay in the hospital was he didn’t kiss us goodbye that morning, and he could have easily never had the opportunity to do that again. And that really weighed heavy on his heart.”

In 1991, Champion suffered a second injury in the line of duty, coming in contact with 26,000 volts (roughly six times more voltage than the 1967 incident) while carrying out his duties as a lineman. He suffered third-degree burns to his face and hands, according to the Orlando Sentinel. By that time, Thompson was the chief of the division where Champion worked at Jacksonville Electric Authority, and he told the Sentinel, “I’ve got 26 of these trouble men (linemen are sometimes called trouble men) working every day, and I worry about them every day.”

According to a 1997 Florida Times-Union article, the surge from 26,000 volts of electricity burned off the side of Champion’s nose, his lip, the top of his forehead and one of his fingers. He spent five weeks in the burn unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center and almost six months at Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital, where Thompson visited him regularly as he underwent plastic surgery and rehabilitation.

Initially paralyzed by the incident, Champion eventually regained movement but had to use a wheelchair to get around. He retired from JEA in 1993 after 30 years of service. In 2002, he died at age 64.

Morabito, who had served as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 with the Army Air Corps in World War II, worked for the Jacksonville Journal for 45 years, retiring in 1982, according to the Florida Times-Union. He died April 5, 2009 after a long, full life.

Thompson retired from JEA in 1994 after 31 years of service, and today, JEA uses Morabito’s iconic photo and the incredible story behind it in its orientation training for new lineworkers.

Every spring, American Public Power holds an annual Lineworkers Rodeo where one of the timed events requires lineworkers to put on gear, climb a 40-foot pole and rescue an injured man. The record for this feat is 43.33 seconds.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association celebrates National Lineworker Appreciation Day on the second Monday of April each year, and throughout the month, all Americans are encouraged to celebrate the service and sacrifice of those who keep the power on across the U.S.

A Second Chance at Life

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Chris Cooke, center, at his wedding in Stellenbosch, South Africa, with his father, Howard; grandmother, Eleanor; wife, Michelle; and mother, Liz.
Photo by Michelle Joubert-Martin

Son repays his mother with the gift of a liver transplant

In 2012, Chris Cooke—now of Prosser, Washington—restored life to the woman who gave him his.

His mother, Liz Cooke, was in liver failure and needed a transplant.

He was a willing donor.

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation, nearly 127,000 organs were transplanted worldwide in 2015, the latest year statistics are available.

In the U.S., about 115,000 men, women and children are waiting for a lifesaving transplant because of a disease, trauma or birth defect that is causing one or more of their organs to fail. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list. Unfortunately, 22 people die each day because the organs they need are not donated in time.

Growing up on his family’s farm outside Lusaka, Zambia, in south central Africa, Chris remembers his mother as a strong, busy person—a woman who ran multiple businesses and a working farm while raising three boys.

Slowly, over the years, Liz’s health and energy declined.

Doctors in Zambia and South Africa were unable to determine the cause of her symptoms.

“When you come from a close-knit family and see the core of the family unit degrade over a prolonged period of time, it is one of the worst tortures a family can endure,” Chris says. “Watching boundless energy slowly drain from a loved one by some pathetic disease that you cannot do anything about makes you feel helpless and frustrated.”

During a medical appointment for another ailment, a doctor noted the whites of Liz’s eyes had turned yellow—a sign of liver failure. At age 52, she was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis. The hereditary disease is found in people of Dutch descent and Afrikaners—like Liz—from South Africa.

With limited medical options in Zambia and South Africa, Liz’s doctor referred her to one of the world’s leading liver transplant surgeons outside Delhi, India. Her entire family underwent testing to determine if any could be a living donor.

Chris was the best match.

“I would like to think that the experience brought my mum and I closer for sure,” says Chris, now 32.

He was living in South Africa at the time. Two years ago, he moved to his wife’s hometown of Prosser, Washington. He works at Benton Rural Electric Association, recently transferring from the cooperative’s internet company to the engineering department, where he is a staking technician.

“Stating that our family is very close would be an understatement,” Chris says. “We have always put each other first above all else, and any one of us would have done the same, no questions asked. I just happened to be the lucky one.”
Liz, who had become frail and fragile prior to the transplant, began to improve almost immediately after the surgery.

“The first thing we noticed was her eyes had turned white,” says Chris. “Her jaundice yellow color returned to normal, and her appetite and energy returned.”

Chris remembers his mother laughing while holding her side despite the stitches, staples and pain from the surgery.

“She was just eternally grateful to everyone for this new lease on life,” says Chris. “I never knew anything about a liver until this whole ordeal. I was fascinated to know that a portion of a liver—the smaller of the two lobes—could be used to save someone else’s life.”

Today, Liz, 57, is running the family farm and a thriving company, Sunshine Kitchen, where she makes and delivers homemade fresh meals to businesses, schools and the U.S. Embassy in Zambia. She rises at 4:30 a.m. to bake bread for her customers and is on the go until 6:30 p.m., when she returns home.

“Donating half my liver to my mum is hands down my greatest achievement,” says Chris. “Saving the life of the person that gave me life is an accomplishment I honor. How fortunate we were to have this opportunity to save her.”

An Anonymous Gift
Ella Hogan of The Dalles, Oregon, owes her second chance at life to a kidney donor she never met.

In March 2017, Ella became the 1,327th patient to receive a kidney transplant at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland.

Ella learned her kidneys were failing due to Type 2 diabetes in 2012. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of end-stage kidney disease in the U.S.

With her two brothers and her husband, Ed, excluded from being living kidney donors due to health issues, Ella’s name was added to the national kidney transplant list in February 2013.

The hope was finding a match with a deceased donor.

In 1984, the National Organ Transplant Act established the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network—a national system to guarantee fairness in the allocation of organs for transplant. The United Network for Organ Sharing operates the OPTN, which maintains a database of all people in the U.S. waiting for kidney, heart, liver, lung, intestine, pancreas and multiple-organ transplants and helps coordinate organ placement.

The waiting list is more like a pool of patients than a numbered list. Organs from deceased donors are matched to transplant candidates based on blood and tissue typing, medical need, time on the waiting list, geographical location and other factors. More than 80 percent of patients on the national waiting list are in need of a kidney transplant. The average wait is three to five years.

While Ella waited for a transplant, her life revolved around trips to the dialysis center. Three times a week, her blood was pumped out of her body to an artificial kidney machine, which cleaned the blood and returned it to her body.

Legally blind from diabetes, Ella depended on Ed to drive her to and from her appointments. She often suffered bouts of low blood pressure and severe cramping during the procedures, which left her exhausted in the days that followed.

More than four years after beginning dialysis, a donor kidney became available for Ella.

“I got the call on a Tuesday and had surgery on Thursday,” she says. “Even after surgery I kept asking, ‘Did they put it in?’ I couldn’t comprehend it.”

A year after her transplant, Ella, 63, walks 2 miles a day on her treadmill and is a greeter at her church. She took a trip to Hawaii to visit family—something she could not do before the transplant.

Ella must take antirejection medication and manage her health the rest of her life, but sums up what it is like to be off dialysis in one word: freedom.

“I was hooked up three and a half hours a day, three days a week,” she says. “For four years, I considered it my job. It tied my whole life up.”

In 2017, more than 34,700 organ transplants brought renewed life to patients across the U.S. More than four of five donations come from deceased donors.

While Ella does not know the identity of her donor, her transplant center was able to forward the thank you note she wrote to the family, expressing her appreciation that “I’m living a better life than I ever would have before.”

Donor Encourages Others
Kristie Lemmon, executive director of the Alaska Kidney Patients Association in Anchorage, has a personal interest in kidney donation.

She became an organ donor 25 years ago.

The nonprofit organization she now heads provides support, education and advocacy for kidney patients and their families, including free kidney screenings for high-risk Alaskans and workshops for living kidney donor and transplant candidates.

About 6,000 people in the U.S. acted as live organ donors in 2017, donating a kidney, a lung, or a portion of their liver, pancreas or intestine.

Thanks to improvements in medications, living donors no longer are limited to immediate family. A spouse, friend, in-law or stranger can also donate.

Living with one kidney has not slowed her down, Kristie says, noting, “I can do almost anything I want. I pay attention to my kidney function. It’s my responsibility.”
She encourages those considering becoming living donors to do their research.

“Take time to think about it and get educated about it,” Kristie says. “You can donate even if you are 50 or 60. It depends on your health. Don’t rule yourself out. Get tested.”

Spectator or Participant? Think Longer and Closer

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Using the built-in wide-angle iPhone lens, I show a broad scene of people intensely watching the final seconds of a youth lacrosse match, at right. By taking a step closer, I watch, anticipate and record the moment of victory.
Photos by David LaBelle

Waiting a half second or taking one step closer might seem like a simple thing, but it can be the difference between static, lifeless pictures that leave viewers feeling like invested participants rather than distant spectators.

Much of photography is about moments: fractions of seconds that capture and hold pieces of time forever. An average picture and a compelling image are often measured in inches and half seconds.

When I speak of moments and moving closer to subjects, some complain such advice is fine for those using DSLR cameras, but not practical for smartphone camera users.

I disagree.

Because cell cameras come with built-in “fixed” wide-angle lenses around 20mm, you can work extremely close with great depth of field—the area that stays in focus. But as with any wide-angle lens, to capture the depth and layers of information in a photograph, you must get close and anticipate action or emotion.

When we photograph from a distance with a wide-angle lens, everything dissolves onto a one-dimensional plane. We lose energy and depth—critical components of a photograph.

Getting closer requires a bit of courage and abandonment of self-consciousness.

Many great conflict photos have been made with wide-angle lenses on the camera bodies of photographers who were close enough to touch the subjects of their pictures.

They understand a sense of intimacy or urgency is seldom captured from a distance. Sometimes you have to be in the fray to see and feel it.

Yes, you can add clip-on lenses to go wider or add magnification with a telephoto lens. These add-ons make a cell camera much like a 35mm digital camera.

A common practice I see with cell camera users is enlarging the image on the screen to bring action closer. Unfortunately, the magnification comes with the price of reduced image (pixel) quality.

Images you enlarge look less sharp and pixelated.

Using magnification is like taking a magnifying glass to a TV screen. You are better served to shoot without magnification—which preserves the integrity of the image file—and enlarge the image in Photoshop after the fact.

Most cell cameras have a fixed aperture of around f.2—the widest lens opening—so they can handle low light fairly well. My iPhone is 2.2.

The ongoing quest for photographic craftsmanship—whatever camera you use—is to see all four corners of the frame, fill the viewfinder only with the desired content and press the shutter button at precisely the right moment to capture the scene you have anticipated or envisioned.

It sounds easy, but few true photographic artists have mastered this. The late Henry Cartier Bresson, who I have often quoted, did not believe in cropping his pictures after the fact. What he saw and captured in the 35mm viewfinder is what he shared.

He was an artist indeed.

Once you get past selfies and posed pictures, recording real storytelling moments with a cellphone requires courage, anticipation and luck.

When you think you are close enough, take one step closer and fill the frame.

Trust me, you will see how different your pictures feel.

You might also practice moving close to subjects, hold your composition, then allow the movement—the action—to move into your frame.

Average pictures suddenly come alive with energy, movement and depth.

Above all, have fun, experiment and please shoot more than one frame.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Finding ‘Kidney Twins’ and Saving Lives

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Kristie Lemmon, left, became a living kidney donor 25 years ago. She is pictured here at a school she raised funds for in Kenya, Africa.

For Kristie Lemmon, the lifesaving work of the nonprofit she runs is personal.
Kristie, who lost both of her parents to kidney failure and is a kidney donor, is executive director of the Alaska Kidney Patients Association.

Since 1999, the Anchorage-based nonprofit has helped kidney patients live happier, healthier lives.

“We’re focused on the whole spectrum,” Kristie says.

The organization’s services range from prevention and treatment education to free kidney screenings. But Kristie is most proud of the association’s work of pairing donors and patients with their “kidney twins.”

She says 150 Alaskans are waiting to receive a kidney transplant. Due to low donor rates, less than 25 percent are actually getting the help they need.

According to the AKPA website, only about 30 kidney patients a year actually receive transplants. That’s where AKPA comes in: working to pair healthy donors with patients.

Founded in 1999 by a group of dialysis patients banding together for support, AKPA grew to a small steering committee by 2002. It eventually evolved from a patient association funded by grants to the 501(c)(3) it is today.

Kristie has been with the AKPA since 2008, working to empower Alaskans to take charge of their own health by helping them better understand their risk and resources. Free kidney screenings are one of many ways the association accomplishes this.

“We usually see about 100 people come through these events,” Kristie says.
Patients who take advantage of the screenings receive free 15- to 30-minute clinical consultations, which many of them might not otherwise receive due to high out-of-pocket costs.

The association also hosts workshops focused on helping donors and recipients find their “kidney twin” while learning firsthand from patients who already have undergone transplants as recipients or donors.

In promoting an April 19 kidney donor workshop, the association emphasizes, “Conversations can save a life.” Kristie points to a recent success story where a simple conversation did just that.

While undergoing dialysis treatments at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Terri Teas ran into her friend Judie Wolfe. Their chance conversation resulted in a living kidney donation from Judie, which saved Terri’s life. Both women now enjoy healthy, active lives.

Kidney patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from AKPA’s events. As a donor herself, Kristie knows it’s just as important to provide living kidney donors with information and resources so they can live active, healthy lives.

AKPA’s upcoming Kidney Education Symposium on April 21 features classes such as, “Prevention with Foods” and “Taking Care of your Soul.” New to the symposium this year is an herbs class for those interested in using complementary and alternative methods to heal and prevent kidney disease.

Kristie is committed to providing credible, scientific information, and AKPA approaches kidney health from a holistic perspective.

“So many people don’t question medical advice,” Kristie says. “They’re sometimes afraid to become educated. We really want to help people learn that they can take charge of their health and that they have the final say.”

Kristie has devoted her life to helping patients exercise that freedom and regain confidence in their health.

“We’ve learned a lot over the years about what works well and where we need to focus more effort,” she says.

Kristie and AKPA are also strong supporters of the Living Donor Protection Act. Introduced in March 2017, the bill prohibits life and long term care insurers from discriminating based on an individual’s status as a living organ donor.

AKPA also encourages and facilitates national collaboration through the annual Transplant Games of America. Every year, Kristie’s team of 20 to 35 from Northwest Alaska, Oregon and Washington travel to Salt Lake City August 2-7 and compete with other donor families. The games feature sports competitions, such as rock climbing and bowling.

There is also a donor quilt program on display during the competition. Quilts are part of a pinning ceremony. The pinned quilt squares are later combined to create a final Transplant Games donor quilt that represents the games’ ultimate spirit of collaboration.

Kristie says the association relies heavily on volunteers, and is always looking for people to help and participate. When AKPA hosts a kidney screening, for example, up to 50 volunteers are needed.

“It’s really about people learning they’re part of a team,” Kristie says of AKPA’s mission.

To learn more about how you can become part of the AKPA team and help advocate for kidney patients’ health, visit Learn more about the annual Transplant Games of America at

From High Desert to High Winter Fashion

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Olympians and U.S. ice dance champions Maia and Alex Shibutani model
Team USA’s closing ceremony garb.

Imperial Stock Ranch provides warmth and style for Winter Olympians

The 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams were warmed by a little bit of Wasco County, Oregon, sunshine during their stay in chilly PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 23rd Winter Olympic Games.

“For me, wool is harvested sunlight,” says Jeanne Carver, owner with her husband, Dan, of Imperial Stock Ranch in the high desert of southern Wasco County.

The ranch’s wool was a key material used in the Team USA uniforms.

“Wool is a miracle fiber that is the best natural insulating fiber that exists,” Jeanne says. “Grazing animals play an integral role in healthy grasslands. They convert the sunlight energy in plants into new forms of protein that provide life to humankind as food, clothing and shelter. As grazing animals bite plants, that action stimulates plants to produce more seed, increase root development and biomass above and below the soil.”

This was the second Winter Olympics in which Polo Ralph Lauren used Imperial Stock Ranch’s wool.

“We are very humbled, as well as proud, of being a small part of Polo Ralph Lauren’s Olympic uniform program,” Jeanne says. “It will always be special, and seems like a miracle.”

Polo Ralph Lauren used about 25,000 pounds of raw wool for the knit items in the Team USA uniforms.

“Not all of the wool for the uniforms came from Imperial Stock Ranch, but Imperial Stock Ranch remains the core of the wool supply behind the branded yarn production,” Jeanne says.

Following the 2014 Olympics, Polo Ralph Lauren maintained a relationship with Imperial Stock Ranch on other projects. The relationship has changed a bit since then, however.

“In early 2015, National Spinning Co., Inc., one of the strongest spinning mills in the U.S., proposed a licensing partnership based on the value of Imperial Stock Ranch’s rich history,” Jeanne says.

The two venerable companies—National Spinning was established in 1921—launched their Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino program later that year.

“Ralph Lauren liked the model and chose those branded yarns for their 2018 Olympic uniform program,” Jeanne says.

At 147 years old, Imperial Stock Ranch is even older than the Winter Olympics—old enough, in fact, that the headquarters of the privately owned ranch is a national historic district.

Sheep, cattle, grains and hay are sustainably produced on Imperial Stock Ranch’s 32,000 acres.

Ralph Lauren found Imperial Stock Ranch when it searched out American yarns in 2012 for the Olympics uniform program. The ranch’s heritage and sustainable practices were factors in the Carvers’ favor, Jeanne says.

“Being able to deliver a quality yarn product was also necessary,” Jeanne says.

Four of the five opening and closing ceremony knit items were 100 percent wool. The fifth was 70 percent wool and 30 percent American alpaca.

From design and distribution to manufacturing and marketing, the parade ceremony uniforms worn by Team USA athletes were produced in the United States. More than 500 athletes and staff were outfitted for the Olympic Winter Games. For the Paralympic Winter Games, more than 200 athletes were outfitted.

Polo Ralph Lauren worked with nine manufacturers in the U.S. to create the opening and closing ceremony uniforms. They included traditional materials such as wool and denim, but also featured advanced technology designed to keep the Olympians warm during the chilly Korean winter.

The opening and closing ceremony uniforms were individually tailored gifts to each athlete. Eleven tailors and two stylists had four hours to fit and tailor the parade uniforms.

The Carvers have been able to bring international attention to their corner of Wasco County, and their association with Polo Ralph Lauren has helped them forge new alliances. At home on the ranch, the Carvers are strongly focused on the legacy they are protecting.

“It’s both sobering and inspiring,” Jeanne says. “We work on land and in buildings that have been here so long. We are grateful, and often reminded that we are temporary. There’s a constant awareness of the responsibility to do a good job of managing natural resources to ensure the future.

“The timelessness of the activities—and the endless cycles of the seasons and year—provide belonging, work of value and a sense of purpose. It’s a good life.”

Spring is Prime Bird-Watching Season

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Fifteen of the world’s 319 species of hummingbirds are found in the West. They are the smallest and some of the most beautiful birds in the world. They also travel some of the greatest distances, such as this rufous hummingbird, which migrates between southeastern Alaska and Mexico. © iStock/Jimmyhuynh

The American West is famous for its picturesque scenery and wide-open spaces, but it is also one of the best places in the country to view birds—lots of them.

More than three-quarters of the 900-plus species of birds in North America are found here. That means plenty of prime bird-watching opportunities exist throughout the region.

One of the beauties of bird-watching is you don’t have to go far to engage in the activity. Birds are everywhere. Of course, certain areas provide better bird habitat than others.
To find the greatest diversity and concentrations of birds, look for the three essentials birds need: water, cover and food.

Waterways and coastal areas tend to offer some of the best bird-watching opportunities. However, the West’s forests, fields, mountains and deserts also provide excellent bird habitat. That diversity attracts myriad bird species, many of them not found anywhere else in the country.

Another advantage of bird-watching is it does not require a lot of equipment. A good pair of binoculars or spotting scope and a comprehensive birding field guide provide the basics for a gratifying outing.

App of the Month—iBird Pro Guide to Birds
Many of us loathe the idea of paying for apps. Yet sometimes an app comes along that is well worth the splurge.
iBird Pro Guide to Birds costs a relatively hefty $14.99, but is worth every penny for serious birders.

Identify birds by searching the app’s comprehensive database using one or more of 14 different attributes, such as size, color, pattern and call/song. That feature alone makes the app worth the money. In addition, the app has all of the vital features and information you expect to find in a top-notch birding app.

Correct Lure Color Choice Makes Fish See Red
Spring means challenging water conditions for much of the West, due to the bounty of rainfall the region receives this time of the year.

Rivers and streams run fast, deep and muddy. Fish have difficulty seeing bait, making lure color choice crucial to success for anglers. The best murky-water colors tend to be bright, light and solid colors, such as metallics, yellows and dark blues.

What Day is It?

  • March 12, Girl Scouts Day
  • March 12, Learn About Butterflies Day
  • March 20, First Day of Spring
  • March 30, Take a Walk in the Park Day

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.