Bakery_w400The City of Petersburg is, for good reason, known as Alaska’s Little Norway. You likely know the story: in 1897 Norwegian Peter Buschmann arrived at the confluence of the Wrangell Narrows and Frederick Sound where he first built a sawmill and then, with plenty of ice flowing by courtesy of what is now known as LeConte Glacier, a fish cannery. Lots of Norwegian fisherman and their families soon followed and the rest, as they say, is history.

This past weekend, Petersburg rolled out a giant Velkommen mat as it and friends from all over celebrated both Norway’s Constitution Day and the arrival of spring at its world-famous Little Norway Festival. It’s no surprise that the 4-day event is pretty much everything Norwegian: from the Viking Feast to Norwegian sweater modeling to the Sons of Norway Kaffe Hus to the Scandinavian Style Show. Interspersed were events celebrating the melding of Alaska and Norway such as an all-you-can-eat shrimp feed, a beer garden, the Little Norway Festival Pageant highlighting the area’s multi-cultural heritage and the Little Norway Art Show at the Clausen Museum.

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At the same time, the community came together for a reception to celebrate another important success: the Petersburg Community Foundation. Started a couple of years ago by a group of over 100 community leaders, the Community Foundation has grown to approximately $200,000 in assets. A group of local citizens comprise the board that oversees the Petersburg Community Foundation and its work.

Devoted both to improving the lives of young people, the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and strengthening area recreation and safety programs, the Community Foundation made its first grant awards to the community one year ago. In short, the Community Foundation serves as an excellent vehicle through which anyone – be they residents or not – can invest in improving the quality of life in Petersburg.

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Traditional_wear_w400At the reception, the Foundation’s first chair, Cynthia Lagoudakis, welcomed the incoming chair Cynthia Wallesz who outlined the hopes and aspirations for the next few years.

Kris Norosz, among the founders of the Petersburg Community Foundation and board member of The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF), introduced Ed Rasmuson and Candace Winkler, ACF’s new chief executive officer, both of whom shared brief remarks. In a surprise announcement, Ed said that up to $50,000 in new contributions pledged to the Petersburg Community Foundation by July 4th would be matched by Rasmuson Foundation.

In 1897, Peter Buschmann knew a good thing when he saw it.  Only 17 years after the founding of Petersburg, Buschmann’s contemporaries in Cleveland, Ohio launched the nation’s first community foundation. Within five years, community foundations formed in places like Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Rhode Island, and Buffalo. Today, as Petersburg celebrates its unique heritage, there are 800 community foundations around the country, each of which plays a critical role in connecting people with causes that matter, improving the quality of life one community at a time.

Diane_Peggy_Wilson_w400Here too in Alaska, the recognition of the important role of community philanthropy and the subsequent growth of community foundations is, in addition to Petersburg, accelerating in places like Chugiak – Eagle River, Haines, Kenai, Mat-Su, Seward and Talkeetna. If the enthusiasm and passion evident during Saturday’s celebration in Petersburg is representative of that of other Alaskan communities, the future is bright. Clearly the expectations for the promise of community philanthropy are high.

Do you have a story either about the Little Norway Festival or community philanthropy here in Alaska? Please share.