Erna Kantner

Kapakagvik | Ambler

  Kantner outside relatives' home in Toledo, OH. Photo by D. Zapotosky.

Kantner outside relatives' home in Toledo, OH. Photo by D. Zapotosky.


when I first came to alaska...

School [brought me here]. I went to Ohio State for two years, and I was totally unhappy. And I quit school and went to work. And my mom wanted me to finish school, and she encouraged me to go far and wide. Europe, if necessary; anywhere. And I got a catalogue from the University of Alaska, and they really wanted women-- they had hardly any. And they really wanted upper classmen-- which they didn’t have very many of. I was a junior, and they had a real good department-- I was switching my major at the time, and they had a real good biology department. And I ended up in zoology [at UAF].

"I came up in January 1960. Dark, and cold...It wasn't very nice."


all very strange and different

[In those first days in Alaska,] I didn’t make any decisions, or anything-- I just kind of accepted whatever was happening to me. And I ended up in the women’s dorm, and it was all very strange and different for me. I had gone to Ohio State, which was like a people factory; in those days they had 20,000 students, now they probably have 100,000. And I came to the University of Alaska, and-- it was, it was much more my idea of going to school. It was very small. ... I can’t remember when [Howie and I] got together, we started hanging out, and we went into Dry Creek which was in the Alaska Range, working. That was before you [Howie] climbed. ‘62 was the McKinley climb, Howie climbed McKinley. ... At that point, I was living off-campus, I was down in the flats, and these guys were getting ready to climb so they all moved into where we were renting, and hanging meat to dry, making pemmican, just all sorts of preparation! ... And we’d ski into campus, from where we were staying. Howie ran dogs [on campus], in the early days. There was just moose all around; you’d run into moose on the ski trail.

extreme, windy, cold

Well, where we ended up was [on the Kobuk River, northeast of Kotzebue]. Very extreme, very windy and cold. It was very difficult for me, and dark; the darkness bothered me too. And alone; it was very lonely. We spent most of our time just us. ... I was raising two children, and teaching school, teaching them school, just taking care of the house. There wasn’t any time to think about what you were going to do-- it just had to be done.