Susan Smalley was not born and raised in Alaska. Instead she chose to raise her children and spend her years giving back to the state. Smalley moved to Alaska 43 years ago to teach in a Yup’ik village along the Kuskokwim River. It was only supposed to be a three month gig, but she was hooked.
“We had spent a day in the Kenai and if you’ve traveled in the Kenai at all you know it’s an alluring place,” Smalley said. “So we packed it all up and we came here.”
Susan retired from teaching and now spends her days volunteering. Three days a week you will find her in prison, where she runs classes on knitting. Susan also volunteers at the hospital where she and others sit with people who are dying and don’t have any family. She also does hand massages and healing touch.
Susan says living in the Kenai does mean it garners more attention because of its resources. “Oil and gas has become this huge economic factor that has to be cultivated and sometimes that’s for good and sometimes I’m not sure it’s so good to be so popular,” she said. “We also have fish so sometimes people pay attention to us for those kinds of characteristics and that makes it a bit of a challenge, because those resources are now renewable.”
She says the dipnet fishery makes the peninsula sink a little lower during July, because of the “frantic pace.”
“I love the beaches here. I appreciate eating fish but I’m not willing to go and duke it out with people over fish,” Smalley said. “Fishing has lost its appeal to me.”
For Susan living in a smaller town in Alaska has great benefits. Kenai is the largest city she has ever lived in. She says it has everything she could possibly need, without being too big.