Wendy Johnston

Kitchen Manager, Ilisagvik College.



In this video, Wendy Johnston recounts a memorable incident involving polar bears in Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska. She recalls an October, four or five years prior, when polar bears congregated on the campus, preventing people from entering or leaving for half a day. Describing an instance where a young polar bear roamed the parking lot near dining patrons, she highlights the community’s response, including a creative solution by a heavy equipment class instructor using a backhoe to scare the bear away. Johnston also discusses the risks and misconceptions about polar bears, emphasizing that they are wild animals, not the cuddly creatures often imagined. She shares stories of polar bears lounging on the tundra, affecting local life, and recounts a tense moment when a professor’s husband, attempting to photograph a bear, was cautioned about the animal’s speed and potential danger. Johnston’s narrative captures the unique challenges and experiences of living in close proximity to wildlife in the Arctic, showcasing the community’s adaptability and respect for nature.

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Wendy Johnston, originally from Anchorage, moved to Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska, nearly 15 years ago for a rotational program at the local college. Discovering that full-time employees received free tuition, she pursued the unrestricted CDL program at the college and obtained her CDL, a notable achievement, especially as a female in Alaska at that time. She recalls an incident where her CDL skills were unexpectedly called upon to assist a local elder, a task that garnered attention and respect within the community. Wendy continued her education in business administration while working at the college and now manages two departments: the kitchen and shipping/receiving. She describes the unique challenges of living in Utqiaġvi, such as starting cars 30 minutes before use due to extreme cold and being vigilant for polar bears. Wendy also highlights the cultural diversity in Utqiaġvi, with a mix of Iñupiat Eskimo, Tongan, Samoan, Filipino, Mexican, and other communities, making it a culturally rich and varied environment. She reflects on her journey from Anchorage to Barrow, emphasizing the differences even within Alaska and the enriching experience of working with diverse staff and cultures at the college.

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