Three long-time Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College professors said their goodbyes as they left their offices and retired from their full-time positions.
Professor of English and communications Beth Graber, associate professor of history and political science Michael Hawfield and assistant professor of anthropology Catherine Knott are leaving their posts in pursuit of travel, volunteer work and other passions. For Hawfield and Graber, retiring also means teaching part-time as adjuncts at KPC’s Kachemak Bay campus.
Each professor left their own mark on KBC-KPC and the students they taught, said Kachemak Bay Campus Director Carol Swartz.
“It’s totally a life-long passion and the impact on people’s live has been exponential, you can’t even quantify it,” Swartz said.
Graber began teaching at the Kachemak Bay campus in the fall of 1982, when it was the newly opened Kachemak Bay branch of Kenai Peninsula College. Graber moved to Homer after a visit in August 1982, answered an ad in the newspaper and found herself working as a part-time learning facilitator in the basement of a Pioneer Avenue building.
“When I first started we were one room in the basement of the Acropolis building, where Bay Realty is now, and so we’ve evolved to two buildings and 700 some students,” Graber said.
In the 35 years Graber has worked at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus, she has taught numerous English, composition and communications classes to students of all ages. The median age of students when she started was 30, but with the rise of dual credit and more students coming to KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus after high school, students are often younger these days, she said.
Graber was also at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus when it merged into the University of Alaska system and became a branch of University of Alaska, Anchorage instead of a community college. Though the change raised the price of tuition higher than most state community colleges, the merger benefited students by allowing them to take upper-division courses in Homer, she said.
“You can’t separate the impact of the campus and her role on this campus. It’s integrally tied together,” Swartz said. “There’s not a person who’s graduated from here without taking a class from her or three classes from her. Over the years students have said not only she helped them with their writing, but she changed their lives. She instilled in people an appreciation and passion for lifelong learning.”
“It’s never been boring,” Graber said. “It’s never been dull.”
Retiring, even though she will teach an on-campus and online class in the fall, is difficult for Graber after dedicating so much of her time to her students. However, it is time for a change, she said.
“This job has been a gift to all facets of my life,” Graber said. “I feel like this was meant to be. I feel like this is still meant to be. This is really hard. It’s an emotional thing for me to retire…I’m a teacher, but I’m ready to do it part-time. I’ve been grading papers every weekend of my adult life since the ‘70s because when you teach composition that’s what you do.”
Graber plans to become more involved with community organizations, play with her marimba group, and travel with Hawfield, her husband.
Hawfield met his wife, Graber, at the same time he came to teach at KPC, he said. During a meeting with Swartz in 1997 about the possibility of teaching as an adjunct, Swartz introduced the pair.
“We just immediately felt a connection and we pretty much have been together since we met in 1997 in Carol’s office,” Graber said.
Not only was Hawfield new to KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus at the time, but he was new to Homer. Five years after spending a summer camping on the Spit and working as a deckhand on a fishing boat, Hawfield moved from Indiana to Homer in 1997 for a development director position with the Pratt. Soon after arriving, the then-director left and Michael applied for and was given the position.
“The Pratt is a magnificent museum, a world-class museum and one of my highlights is working there. The staff there is just amazing, the kind of education programs that they envision,” Hawfield said. “(Director is) basically the role of enabling really talented people to do their job.”
Hawfield worked at the Pratt as the director and then as the executive director of the state museum association while teaching classes as an adjunct at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus. In 2008, Hawfield accepted a full-time teaching position. Though Hawfield had worked in museums for most of his career, he originally intended a career as a professor. Instead he worked in museums while teaching adjunct in Virginia and Indiana.
“It was something I set out to do many decades ago … That pathway got skewed for a variety of reasons and I got involved with the museum world, something I never expected and I loved it. I loved it because I could teach on the museum platform and be a teacher to people of all ages and different walks and use objects to tell stories,” Hawfield said. “This is ironically ending up where I thought I was going to start.”
As a professor at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus, Hawfield taught political science and history. The first course he was hired to teach adjunct, Alaska state history, is one of his favorites as he has a passion for state history.
“He instilled in students an appreciation for the role history plays in our lives,” Swartz said. “He brought a level of intellect in terms of a global worldview into the classroom and made history become alive and he taught people the relevance of history in their lives and in the future of their own family and this community.”
Hawfield, who is on the board of Hospice of Homer with Graber, plans to use his newfound spare time to volunteer more with hospice, as well as the environmental organization Cook Inletkeeper, he said. The pair also want to travel in the lower 48 and internationally as opportunities present.
Knott already has plans to travel internationally. Her first trip will be to a women’s cooperative project in Nepal where ginger is grown and small livestock is raised. A neighboring village has a weaving cooperative. Knott’s background in anthropology and natural resources, experience that she taught from for the past 10 years at KPC, makes this an ideal place for her to visit.
Knott moved to Homer in 2005 and began teaching at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus as an adjunct in 2006 after her son, who was looking to take one of Hawfield’s classes, mentioned that she worked in anthropology. Knott became a full-time professor in 2012.
“We have such amazing students coming to KPC … they’re just really dedicated to making a huge effort in terms of their education and I can’t say enough about the students participation in courses,” Knott said. “I also enjoy the faculty. We have a small faculty here and they’re really dedicated and interesting with different backgrounds.”
Knott leaves a lasting legacy at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus in the form of a 400-level Cultures of Africa course that she designed. She taught the first and only semester of the course in Homer in 2015 and the course is now in the UAA permanent listing of courses. Any professor with a background in African studies can teach it, Knott said. It was significant to Knott that she was allowed to create the course from KBC-KPC and that she was given support by Swartz on the project.
“She really opened students’ eyes to other cultures in Africa and Asia and other places,” Swartz said. “Truly, her level of intellect is, she’s really incredible. We were very fortunate to have her teaching here.”
In addition to traveling, Knott is now placing her focus on her family’s organically grown peony farm in Anchor Point. Knott’s family recently started the farm and will sell the flowers to commercial markets in the lower 48, Knott said.
Though she is moving on from KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus, she welcomes former students to reach out to her, she said.
Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.
High School Graduations
Graduation season is starting. Mark these dates in your calendar.
Connections: May 19 at Soldotna High School, 4 p.m.
Homer Flex: May 18 at Land’s End in the Quarterdeck Room, 5 p.m.
Homer High: May 18 at the Homer High gym, 7 p.m.
Kachemak Selo: May 23, location TBD, 2 p.m.
Nikolaevsk: May 16 at the Nikolaevsk school gym, 5 p.m.
Ninilchik: May 17 at the Ninilchik school gym, 7 p.m.
Port Graham: May 19 at Port Graham school, 4 p.m.
Susan B. English: May 16 at the Susan B. English school gym, 4 p.m.
Voznesenka: May 23 at McNeil Canyon Elementary, 4 p.m.