Lifelong Learning event celebrates Homer

How a community nurtures learning, and how libraries inspire that, kept coming up in speeches last Saturday for the Friends of the Homer Public Library’s Celebration of Lifelong Learning. Speakers mentioned the library as one of the prime places to build community togetherness and enjoyment. 

“You go across Alaska, and the one building that almost all of the communities are most proud of is their library,” said Michael Hawfield, one of the honorees. “From the time I was a kid, libraries have always been important to me, as a storehouse for information, of course, but also as a meeting place.” 

The annual Celebration of Lifelong Learning honors one adult and one youth within the Homer community who exemplify the pursuit of lifelong learning. 

This year’s honorees were Sabina Karwowski, a student at Homer High School, and Hawfield, a history professor at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College. Alaska author and guest speaker John Straley talked about the characteristics of lifelong learning and the impacts it has on a town’s culture. 

The Celebration of Lifelong Learning also is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Homer Public Library, a nonprofit organization that supports the programming and material needs of the library. Librarian Ann Dixon expressed gratitude for the Friends’ help. 

“Because of the Friends, we have varied and frequent programs we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. 

Some of the programs the Friends of the Homer Public Library contribute to include the summer reading program and the year-round story times that are popular with the younger generation of Homer residents. 

While the event was named a celebration of lifelong learning, it also was clearly a celebration of Homer itself.

Local folk music from a string quartet filled the air, and it was hard to ignore the Homer flair that ran through the items up for silent auction. Beaver pelts, local artists’ ceramics, paintings, books of poetry and a certificate for a tire change and balance all helped raise money to support the Friends of the Homer Library. 

Maura’s Café catered the event, and the wait staff was comprised entirely of Homer High School’s Drama Debate and Forensics team, who wanted to support one of their own, Karwowski, as the youth Lifelong Learner award winner. 

Andy Haas, a member of the Friends board of directors, agreed with Hawfield about the importance of libraries.

“It’s a great community place. It’s full of people doing stuff that’s meaningful to them, and meeting each other in the process,” he said. 

“Homer has inspired me to take what it has to offer and make it my own,” said Karwowski. 

Hawfield added to that sentiment. He said he was puzzled when Friends of the Homer Public Library coordinator Erin Hollowell called to tell him they wanted to honor him.

“My first question was ‘Why?’ This is what we do. Everyone involved in this community is a lifelong learner,” Hawfield said.

Although guest speaker Straley currently lives in Sitka, he was quick to honor Homer and its lifelong learners in his talk as well. He opened his talk, speaking slowly and carefully, by saying, “This town has given so much to the state of Alaska. I have nothing to teach you about lifelong learning.” 

As examples of Homer’s contributions, Straley  paid tribute to notable Homer scholars and authors like Nancy Lord and Tom Kizzia, among others, and had this piece of wisdom about learning to pass on: “The subject of lifelong learning is vast and mysterious and there is no way through. It doesn’t have an end, and it only begins at birth,” Straley said. 

Aryn Young is a freelance writer for the Homer News.