Lifelong learning celebration honors Ken Castner, Ethan Kizzia

A sold-out crowd was on hand Saturday at the Homer Public Library’s Celebration of Life Long Learning. Honored were 2013 Life Long Learner Award recipient Ken Castner and the 2013 Youth! Learner Ethan Kizzia. The keynote speaker was Alaska Humanities Forum CEO Nina Kemppel, a four-time Olympian and nine-time Mount Marathon winner.

“In my world, this is the apex. This is the top of the world,” said Castner upon receiving the award. 

Originally from New England, Castner came to Homer in 1973. He operated a sport shop, Quiet Sports; commercial fished on Cook Inlet; helped found and continues to actively be involved with the Homer Foundation; and provides consulting work for architects.

Of his 25-year involvement producing the Nutcracker, Castner said, “I love to work with kids, so the Nutcracker fills that spot in my heart.” 

On Tuesday afternoons, Castner can be found at the Homer Senior Center, where he plays bridge.

For Castner, “life long learner” suggests “more than what you learn, but how you process what you learn.” 

In selecting this year’s Life Long Learner, Friends of the Homer Library looked for an individual who likes to acquire skill and knowledge over an extended period of time and who helps the community.

“Ken Castner exemplified this characteristic,” said Erin Hollowell, FHL coordinator. Among Castner’s contributions, Hollowell noted his efforts to “help the Homer Foundation raise funds they pour into this community,” his service on the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, his mentoring of “dozens, hundreds of community members to support their goals,” and his efforts to bring the library and the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center into existence.

“He is a veritable juggernaut of learning,” said Hollowell.

In selecting a recipient for the youth learner award, FHL looked for an enthusiastic learner with a “willingness to step outside the typical high school boundaries in pursuit of education and share that learning with other people.”

The award was presented to Kizzia by Homer High School teacher Sean Campbell, who noted Kizzia’s skill with words that “inspire, mesmerize and capture images and emotion with precision and tenderness.” He described Kizzia’s love of sports, mentoring and an ability to “see the essence in those around him, recognize the potential in all. Few would know about Ethan’s success, because he is incredibly humble, learning early that to truly learn one must be open to new discovery and seek it out with vigor.”

Kizzia will graduate from HHS in May. He has participated in varsity hockey and soccer and a peer mentoring program helping freshmen adjust to high school, he enjoys outdoor activities and since last fall has been a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. 

“I’m happy to be recognized for things I’ve done that I thought went largely unnoticed. Apparently people of this town are more observant than I thought. I should be more careful from now on,” said Kizzia, drawing a laugh from Saturday’s audience.

Having taken all the advanced placement classes offered at Homer High, — U.S. history, chemistry, biology, calculus, literature and composition — Kizzia said learning is more than taking classes. Referring to a trekking adventure in Bhutan at the beginning of his freshman year of high school, he reflected on the kindness extended by the people he met.

“It opened my eyes to how people can act toward one another and made me wonder about a world where everyone acted like that,” said Kizzia.

In congratulating Castner and Kizzia, Kemppel said, “You set the bar for what we all strive to do, to achieve. I commend your curiosity and your willingness to share.”

Kemppel related the encouragement to learn she received from her parents when, at the age of 7, she sat them down and announced she was going to the Olympics.

“They said if it was something I truly wanted to do, to go learn about it,” said Kemppel. “Thirteen years later, when I walked into the opening ceremonies, I realized I was not celebrating being an Olympian, but … everything I’d learned to that point. I was celebrating 13 years of growing to be that person and every lesson I learned along the way.”  

Kemppel characterized Homer as a community epitomizing life long learning.

“What you do in leading the state in a way we think about learning, knowledge, sharing knowledge is far beyond what we all should be doing in other communities,” said Kemppel. “Thank you for that. I ask you to continue to lead the state in that, to continue to be a vibrant community in the arts, humanities, culture and everything you do for the state of Alaska.”

Friends of the Homer Library began the Life Long Learner awards in 2009. Recipients have included Daisy Lee Bitter, 2009; Dr. Walter Johnson, 2010; Dick Griffin, 2011; and Carmen Field, 2012. The Youth! Learner Award was added since then and been given to Adi Jo Davis in 2011 and Mallory Drover in 2012.

Entertainment for Saturday’s event was provided by the Fiddleliterates. Catering was provided by Maura’s Café and Fine Catering. Kathleen Gustafson officiated a “Tree of Learning Trivia Contest.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at