HOMER — Day in and day out, 40 miles a day, for the past 18 years MaryClare Foecke has slipped through the space between the majestic and the mundane. Driveway after driveway, she’s put papers into bright orange plastic bags on paper routes in the Homer area, and flung them onto her neighbors’ paths.
Last month on Saint Patrick’s Day, after a quarter-million miles and seven cars, the woman everyone called the Paper Girl delivered her last Anchorage Daily News.
Foecke, 44, ended her day with a beater Toyota Rav full of flowers, balloons, silly gifts and tips. For Foecke, delivering newspapers wasn’t a boring job to supplement her income, but a meditative journey.
“The route was on the cusp between dream time and wake time,” she said. “It’s a space where anything is possible ... from which possibility, creativity, redefinition and change can occur.”
Foecke came to Alaska after graduating from Stanford University with a psychology degree and kicking around the West Coast. She and a carpenter friend visited Alaska for the summer to build what they thought would be a bird sanctuary in Wasilla. It turned out to be a carport on a duck pond.
“As one of the classic statistics, I came up for the summer 18 years ago,” Foecke said.
The paper route started after she crewed on two unsuccessful commercial halibut trips, one where the skipper holed the boat and another where she broke three ribs and cracked a sternum. In November 1992, Foecke found herself with $800, no car and no job.
“I needed a job for a car or car for a job,” she said.
Foecke got both, buying an old Subaru and delivering newspapers. While Foecke has worked at other jobs, including French teacher, ditch digger, South Peninsula Haven House advocate and, most recently, health educator for Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, delivering papers has been her constant career.
“It’s not like it was really a job,” she said. “It was a way of life.”
The youngest of seven kids, Foecke was born in Spokane, Wash. Her family moved to Paris when she was 18 months, and she grew up overseas. She spoke English at home and French in school. Her father had been dean of engineering at Gonzaga University in Spokane and became a diplomat for UNESCO. At 17, Foecke returned to America to find out about her native country.
At 24, Foecke almost became a nun in the Eastern Orthodox Church. People now sometimes jokingly call her “Sister MaryClare,” but it almost happened. That fits in with a lifelong calling to service and community, Foecke said. Even before the church, she set aside time in the morning for quiet and reflection.
“Every morning was my daily devotional time,” she said. “In some ways the paper route held the space for that.”
Customers who knew Foecke from her route understood that. Michael Craig, who used to have a newspaper bundle route in California, connected with Foecke in that way.
“It’s kind of mindless,” Craig said. “Your mind can go where it needs to go. It’s a time when you can sort out things in your head.”
With sometimes 85 miles of routes, and the challenges of getting papers from Anchorage to Homer, Foecke’s newspaper customers understood that sometimes papers would be late. Craig said he’d get notes from her saying “we guarantee same day delivery” or even “same week delivery.”
“Nobody ever cared if the paper got there the same day or not,” said John Bondioli, a customer. “You couldn’t get mad at her. It was absolutely impossible.”
What customers got was a friend. Customers would stop and chat with her on the route and share their troubles.
“She had quite a following, shall we say,” Craig said.
As a self-confessed newspaper junkie, Craig said, “MaryClare was the deliverer of good things in my life. She brought me something that I enjoyed. That made her special right there.”
Meeting people, getting to know them made the route special, Foecke said.
“The beauty of the route was really just this funny web of connectedness. It’s just the paper,” she said. “It’s a grand equalizer, the opportunity to meet people of all different stripes.”
By now, Foecke will be in France to visit her father, Harold Foecke, for his 85th birthday. She has some adventures planned, like a barge trip down the Seine River. What’s taking Foecke away from the paper route is finishing up a master’s degree in transformative leadership at the California Institute for Integral Studies, “a blend of systems theory and organizational development,” she called it. Her work has opened opportunities for her worldwide.
“I’m going to be going from community to community, doing cross pollinating with people,” Foecke. “Showing up with what’s relevant to them, making those connections and connecting to see what’s possible.”
Sort of like the paper route, she said.