Library friends honor Chamberlain, Bunting at Lifelong Learning gala

National Library Week is April 10-16, and the Friends of the Homer Library will be ushering it in Saturday with its annual fundraiser, the Celebration of Lifelong Learning.

A silent auction, live music, appetizers from Maura’s Café and a trivia tree will all accompany presentations of this year’s Lifelong Learner Award and Youth Learner Award. Haines author Heather Lende will be the keynote speaker.  

“We are a community that places an emphasis on learning and knowledge,” said FHL Coordinator Mercedes Harness. “It’s community-building to have events like these.”

Board members choose recipients for the awards based on who most represents a spirit of learning and knowledge in the community — and how they share that knowledge with others.

Linda Chamberlain was selected as this year’s Lifelong Learner. Harness said the board received five nominations for its Youth Learner Award, four of which were for Homer High School senior, Nolan Bunting. All four were submitted independently of each other.

With about 10,000 visits by patrons every month, the Homer library serves a myriad of purposes from story hour for young folks to providing space for a community knitting group that meets in the conference room. 

Harness says that the Friends of the Homer Library step in to help with things like special programming, after-hours events or even new cushions for the teen area. The FHL represent a committed core of individuals who contribute support to the library through donations and volunteer efforts.

“The generosity of our members and volunteers is pretty incredible,” she said.

Saturday’s celebration begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 each and can be purchased at the library. Call the Friends of the Homer Library at 435-3195 for availability.


“It’s just really important to stay curious and keep exploring,” says Lifelong Learner, Dr. Linda Chamberlain. A 16-year resident of Homer, Chamberlain says she never dreamed she would be learning and doing the things she is doing now. 

A self-described scientist turned “translator” of science, Chamberlain travels throughout the United States and Arctic countries, where she speaks about the preventable effects of childhood trauma on brain development, and strategies to help promote healing.

One of the first American Fulbright Arctic Initiative scholars, Chamberlain is headed to Finland next week to develop an educational resource on understanding childhood trauma and healing. It will then be shared with other northern communities.

Chamberlain said that it was a wonderful surprise and honor to be named as this year’s Life Long Learner. Although she travels outside the community a great deal for her work and education, she says she believes the greatest learning happens in the context of community. 

“Working with community partners in Homer, friendships, my husband, and life with my husband and dog team in the high country of Homer, provide the essential environment to be a lifelong learner,” she said by email. 

The founder of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project, Chamberlain is an advocate for the health issues related to domestic violence, as well as adverse childhood experiences, brain development and trauma, and adolescent brains.  

She earned public health degrees from Yale School of Medicine, as well as Johns Hopkins University, and holds faculty appointments at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Alaska.


Nolan Bunting, an 18-year-old senior at Homer High School, is the recipient of the Youth Learner Award. For a busy student with plans for college, Bunting has still made time to be involved in the community in a myriad of ways, from engine repair to the outdoors. 

As President of the Homer Youth Birders group, Bunting said that he is encouraging young people to become interested in birding. He also is a member of the Homer Garden Club, the Natural Plant Society, Kachemak Birders, Friends of Kachemak Bay, president of the Homer chapter of Skills USA, and is a Briggs and Stratton MST, master service technician.

One of the four nomination letters for Bunting was simply a list of his involvements via a Google search.

“I try to be all around Homer, because this community has so much to offer,” said Bunting. He credits his ability to be involved with so many activities with good time management skills — something he says he first learned in Mrs. Gribble’s 6th grade class. 

This fall, Bunting is headed to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he plans to major in zoology.


“I’m a longtime obituary writer for the Chilkat Valley News,” says Heather Lende. “And pretty much all for people I’ve known.”

Lende speaks while walking with her dog along the beach in Haines. Her house is currently full of about 30 people. They have just buried a son, and aren’t ready to go to their own homes yet.

More than just an obituary writer, Lende is the author of “If You Lived Here, I’d know your name” and most recently, “Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer.”

Lende clarifies that finding the good in life doesn’t mean that she never gets down or grumpy. 

“I can get so sad sometimes I can’t even breathe,” she says.

The solution? Walk on the beach or take a bike ride, then write it out. 

In addition to Saturday’s keynote address, Lende will conduct a writing workshop earlier in the day from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 

Although the theme for the workshop is obituaries, Lende says she is always happy to answer questions that veer off topic. As for her own obituary, she doesn’t care who writes it.

“Really, obituary writing is like any other writing,” she says.

It needs to be concise, truthful and have good details that capture the essence of a person. She describes them as mini-profiles, index cards of who people were and how they lived.

Lende first began writing obituaries when her youngest child was five. 

“I didn’t have time for big things,” she said.

But obituaries were right in the “do-ability” range. Now she has five grandkids, has published three books and says, as a writer, of course she’s planning more.

In college, Lende studied history, receiving her degree from Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. 

“I think that’s a good thing for a writer — especially an obituary writer,” she says.

In 2011 she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her instructors included Homer writers Rich Chiappone, Nancy Lord and the late Eva Saulitis. 

Learning how to write poetry is next on her list.

Outside of writing, Lende has served on the Haines library board for close to 30 years. She’s also a volunteer for hospice and hosts a country and western program on the local radio station, KHNS. 

As a current member of the Haines Planning Commission, Lende says she is learning grace, humility and compassion — and how to navigate tricky situations with kindness.  

When she goes to meetings, Lende carries a notecard with her. The name of a little girl with a disability is printed on it. When people at the meetings become hard to work with, Lende says she imagines they are a family member of that little girl. It helps her feel compassion for them.

“It’s a trick of the heart — but it works,” she says. “Even at the planning commission.”

Besides her community involvement and writing, Lende has a dog, chickens and a garden. One daughter lives next door, another daughter across town. She enjoys cycling, hiking and hunting. She doesn’t like to travel. 

“I like living in a small place,” says Lende, of her town of about 2400 people. But that number, as her obituaries testify, is always changing. 


Celebration of Lifelong Learning

7 p.m. Saturday, Homer Public Library

Tickets are $35 each and can be purchased at the library.
Call the Friends of the Homer Library at 435-3195 for availability.


Writing the Obituary: How to Navigate Fact, Life, Death and Creativity, free writing workshop by Heather Lende

10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday

Kachemak Bay Campus 

Sponsored by the Friends of the Homer Public Library

Register at the library or email


1:30-2:30 p.m. Heather Lende book signing, Homer Bookstore

Nolan Bunting-Photo provided

Nolan Bunting-Photo provided

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