‘Lifelong learners’ honored Saturday

Kyra Wagner is the recipient of the Friends of the Homer Library’s 2014 Lifelong Learner Award. Also being honored at the Celebration of Lifelong Learning on Saturday is Hannah Baird, this year’s Youth! Learner Award recipient. 

Guest speaker for the celebration is William Iggiagruk Hensley, a former state senator, author and recipient of the 2014 Governor’s Award for the Humanities.

The event will be held at the Homer Public Library beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Wagner arrived in Homer in 2000, after spending four years with the Peace Corps in Paraguay. She came for a week-long visit with a friend, who connected Wagner with a month-long bird study being done on the Barren Islands, and stayed.

“What was really interesting about Wagner is that she kind of came into the community and really took on the role of talking about ‘community.’ She didn’t just move here and look around. She came with that entire mindset, that she was going to help Homer be the best it could be,” said Erin Hollowell, coordinator for Friends of the Homer Library.

Since settling in Homer, Wagner, who defined “lifelong learner” as someone with “endless curiosity and an acceptance of constant change,” has been involved in a variety of activities including Homer Farmers’ Market, Sustainable Homer, the Southern Kenai Peninsula Communities Project and coaching Homer High School’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team.

“And then those gets me involved in all these other things: high tunnels, the farm bureau, you name it,” said Wagner.

As an example, she has public presentations scheduled almost every day this week, including gardening classes for Seldovia Village Tribe and a talk on sustainability at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Wagner seemed a pretty easy fit,” said Hollowell of selecting her as a lifelong learner. “We are trying to help people understand that a lifelong learner doesn’t have to be someone 90 years old. You can be a lifelong learner and still have a lot of life left for learning.” 

Hannah Baird is another case on point.

“She’s involved in everything at the high school,” said Hollowell. “Sports, dramatics, choir and she also maintains this really high level of commitment to her academics.”

Having watched her older brother Jason play hockey, Baird has been part of Homer’s hockey-playing community since she was four years old. Encouraged by the late Kevin Bell to develop her on-ice skills, and saying she likes “the speed of the game and the intensity it requires,” Baird has played on the Mariner team for her four years at Homer High School. She also plays on the Lady Mariners soccer team.

In November, a make-upped and coiffed Baird was on the runway at Land’s End Resort, modeling creations of local fiber artists for the Wearable Arts event. 

She is the former sixth-place winner in the “Caring for the Kenai” competition and an inductee in the National Honor Society. Due to graduate from high school in May, Baird has been accepted at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and has earned the Presidential Scholarship.

“She seems like one of those kids that’s involved in everything and also is really helping others students as well,” said Hollowell. “That’s really what we’re always looking for, that student who other students feel comfortable being mentored by or coming to with questions.”

Originally from Kotzebue, Hensley is the recipient of a 2014 Governor’s Award for the Humanities. He is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage College of Business and Public Policy. Hensley served in Alaska’s House of Representatives from 1966-1970, in the Senate from 1970-1974 and 1985-1986, and on numerous boards and commissions. He is co-founder of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

In addition to this year’s award for the humanities, Hensley’s many honors include the Walter J. Hickel Award for Distinguished Public Policy Leadership from Commonwealth North in 2009. He is the author of “Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People.” 

In 2009, Hensley was the keynote speaker at KBC’s commencement. 

“Coasting along is the easiest thing to do,” Hensley told that year’s graduating class. Doing something “unusual takes passion. Change is difficult, but it’s a fact of life.” 

Hollowell happened to contact Hensley on Facebook, invited him to be Saturday’s guest speaker and he accepted.

“He has been so lovely to deal with,” said Hollowell. “I’m really excited for him. He has been funny, down to earth. I can’t wait.”

Saturday’s celebration includes food from Maura’s Catering, live music from Burnt Down House, the popular trivia tree and a new twist to the silent auction.

“We’re auctioning off services instead of items,” said Hollowell.

“Things like yoga classes, a haircut, massage, acupuncture, dog grooming, tire changes, knitting lessons and water taxi services.”

The Celebration of Lifelong Learning is Friends of the Homer Library’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Tickets for the event have been sold out, but the library has a waiting list. Call 235-3180 for more information.

“It’s funny because I don’t think people understand it’s a fundraiser,” said Hollowell. “They think of it as an event. I think of it as an event.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.

Kyra Wagner, this year’s Lifelong Learner, came to Homer in 2000 after spending four years with the Peace Corps in Paraguay.-Homer News file photos

Kyra Wagner, this year’s Lifelong Learner, came to Homer in 2000 after spending four years with the Peace Corps in Paraguay.-Homer News file photos