Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 2, 2002

Howard Lake couple heading to the Arctic Circle, for good

By Julie Yurek

Minnesota winters are nothing compared to the Arctic Circle ­ but that's where Craig and Leta Moen of Howard Lake plan to relocate to.

"The opportunity came sooner than we had planned," said Leta Moen of Howard Lake.

The couple is leaving in the next several weeks for the interior of Alaska, for good.

Craig was hired as a fiscal officer with the non-profit organization Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments.

Craig will probably be leaving in mid-December and Leta hopes to follow a few weeks later after she gets things wrapped up, she said.

The couple visited Fort Yukon the last week in October so Craig could interview and Leta could see where they could possibly be moving to.

Leta came home in early November. Craig stayed up in Alaska for a few more weeks to help the council reorganize its financial matters.

It's actually a lot like Minnesota

The Fort Yukon wilderness may seem like the other side of the world for some, but the weather and kindness of local people is actually similar to Minnesota.

Some people probably think of snow when they hear the word Alaska, but there is not always snow on the ground, Leta said. "In the summer it gets between 70 and 80 degrees," she said.

The population of Fort Yukon is about 700, nestled into houses that are built on stilts because of the perma frost, Leta said.

It was a Russian settlement about 100 years ago, she said.

Residents speak English, though each village or town has its own dialect, Leta said.

By the end of December, the sun rises at 11:30 a.m. and sets at 2 p.m., Leta said.

During the month of June, however, it is continuous daylight, she said.

"I was told that vegetables grow fabulously during the summer," she said.

The nearest city to the Moens is Fairbanks, which is "a big metropolitan," Leta said.

"There are a lot of Minnesotans there," she said. "Everyone was so friendly."

The only way to get to Fairbanks from Fort Yukon is to fly, Leta said.

Supplies are driven across the Yukon River in winter and for the few months it is open, a barge brings things in, she said.

The town has one grocery store and one restaurant. It also has a school for kindergarten through 12 grade, she said.

The prices for food are pretty high. A twelve pack of pop is $4, she said. "But the store will order in anything you want."

Housing on the other hand is relatively cheap, she said. There is a part of town called the Old Village, where the houses are handbuilt cabins.

The Moens will be renting a house.

Wildlife control, land management, and a biology department relates to the natural resource issue. A new biology department is being created there to study the environment, Craig said.

A different kind of life

The council that hired Craig is made up of about 15 villages, mostly from the interior of Alaska, Leta said.

The aim of the council is to improve health care, education, communication, and protect natural resources, Craig said.

The council wants to educate and train the area children so they stay in the community, he said.

One way the council is improving health care is to offer telemedicine, Craig said.

"The doctors interview the patients remotely through satellite," he said. "It's part of the Clinton administration so all rural people get health care."

To provide education to their children, a training technical center was built, Craig said. However, there are some problems getting educators, he said.

The council has been without a fiscal officer since April, Craig said.

Craig was told he had the job about a week before he came home.

"We've always discussed working for a non-profit in semi-retirement," Leta said. "The opportunity just came sooner than we expected." They both have quite a number of years before they are close to retirement or even semi-retiremtent.

Neither has ever worked for non-profit work before, though Craig did work as a missionary when he was younger, Leta said.

"We figured it would take awhile to get into the non-profit sector because we are a little older and have no experience in non-profit," she said.

So it was quite a surprise when they offered Craig the job, she said.

The couple has only lived in Howard Lake for one year. They have been married for three and a half years.

Leta is a certified medical assistant at the Allina Clinic in Lichfield, and Craig is the current CEO and former CFO of Kalco, LLC in Delano.

The Moens wanted to get into non-profit because "we wanted a purpose to go to work," she said. "It feels positive."

Leta will not have a job with the council, but she is hoping something opens up. She may decide to do day care, which she has done in the past. "They are desperate for day care up there," she said.

Even though the couple is excited about this new adventure, it will be bittersweet. Leta's parents live in Stillwater, and both Leta and Craig have children from previous marriages.

Leta is hoping to get back to visit every couple of months, she said.

There is a chance though that Leta's youngest son, who is 11, may be moving with them to Alaska. Also, her daughter, who will be graduating from high school next spring, has applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

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