The manager of the Zach Gordon Youth Center is leaving the town and people she loves for the job she's dreamed about.
Wendie Marriott, head of the center for almost seven years, is leaving after more than a decade with the city of Juneau to take over as Parks and Recreation director for the city of Unalaska. She will get a hefty raise, but Marriott insists it's not about the money.
"This is a wonderful career move and I'm fulfilling my dream to be a Parks and Rec director," said Marriott, who was born and raised in Douglas.
Juneau Parks and Recreation director Kim Kiefer hired Marriott in 1994. Kiefer managed the youth center for 10 years before hiring Marriott to replace her after Kiefer moved up.
"A big heart and the need to be an advocate for youth, that's what it takes to do the (Zach Gordon) job," Kiefer said.
Marriott admitted she was intimidated by teen-agers and the reputation of the center at first.
"Then I realized how amazing these kids were and how well they could function despite coming from dysfunctional families," she said.
Marriott worked on activities, programs and projects - like the climbing wall - that helped at-risk youth survive and thrive. She brought in the teen health center, mediation procedures and advocacy programs.
She adopted the "youth assets program," now a household word at Zach Gordon. It identifies 40 areas that help youngsters cope, such as establishing relationships with mentors and close friends as well as taking part in sports, arts and crafts.
"When Wendie first went down there she probably had one of the hardest years of her life," Kiefer said. "She evolved into that very caring person and a great advocate for kids, which doesn't come easy for a lot of people."
Marriott had to be both friend and enforcer, making sure youngsters were understood but held accountable. The youth center has strict rules on substance abuse and bans everything from alcohol to cigarettes.
It is a difficult and often contradictory set of responsibilities.
"A few years ago I accused a kid who was vomiting of being drunk," she said. "It turns out he was just incredibly sick. I think I did more damage in that one accusation that all the good things we did for him over the years."
Crandall Mark has worked with Marriott for eight years, starting at Parks and Rec and moving over with her to Zach Gordon. He is impressed with her people skills, work ethic and ability to communicate.
"She's pretty close to the ideal boss," Mark said. "She has a real enthusiastic, engaging personality and she makes the job fun. Unalaska has definitely hit the jackpot."
The Dutch Harbor community serves about 4,200 people.
Like Juneau, Unalaska has a department with four divisions: library, pool, community center and recreation.
Marriott will work on projects such as building restrooms and concessions at a softball field and developing trails around a lake. She'll also help rewrite the five-year comprehensive plan for 2003-08.
"She's ready for new challenges and I think she will do great in Unalaska," Kiefer said. "I will miss her energy but I wish her the very best."
Marriott graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1981. After earning a degree in recreation from Western Washington University, she worked several years in Ketchikan before being hired by Juneau Parks and Recreation on Feb. 5, 1989.
"My father died three weeks before I started my job here," Marriott remembered.
Richard A. Marriott, a longtime state sport fish biologist, succumbed to cancer at 52. A section of the Switzer Creek Trail was named after him, in honor of his commitment to educating children through a fisheries program during Juneau Seaweek.
The Marriotts, including mother Betty, like getting together to walk, hike and ski.
"We enjoy anything we can outside as a family," said Robyn Marriott, who is 15 months younger than her sister. "We are very close even though we are very different people."
All three share the same middle name, Sumiko, which means "beautiful child of felicity" in Japanese.
"My late husband said no other Japanese name meant as much to him, so he had both of my girls named after me," said Betty Marriott, who is Japanese-American.
Wendie Marriott leaves for Unalaska on Feb. 1, leaving behind her home town, family and sweetheart of almost 18 years, Bern Savikko, who is from another well-known Douglas family.
Savikko's father Robert was the last mayor of Douglas before unification with Juneau after a vote in 1970. Savikko Park was named after him.
It is this kind of local history and family closeness that has Marriott wondering whether she's taking a step backward in her personal life to take a step forward in her professional life.
"I promised Bern I'd be back in three years whether there's a job open here or not," she said. "I worry about this because we do love each other very much."
Marriott and Savikko grew up several houses away on 5th Street. Now they'll be almost 1,400 miles apart - as the jet flies - from Juneau to Dutch Harbor.
"I was totally against this at first, but I'm accepting it now," Savikko said. "This is going to be tough for all us, including Zach Gordon and the city. But she'll be back."
Betty Marriott agrees but she also knows her daughter is moving a lot farther away than Ketchikan.
"Unalaska is closer to Russia than Juneau," she said.
Savikko even wrote an impromptu contract on gift wrap, with Marriott agreeing to fly back to Juneau for at least three days each month. She quickly renegotiated, changing it to 36 days a year.
The Douglas couple then moved on to the next provision, their dog Baileys.
"I told her I'm holding the dog hostage and she said she was leaving him behind for insurance," Savikko said.
After Marriott leaves, Parks and Rec employee Kristi West will serve as acting youth center manager while the permanent position is advertised.
Meanwhile, Robyn Marriott is setting up a Web page that will include photos of the family's hiking and skiing activities in Juneau.
"We want to show her what she's missing here," she said. "I'll also have an e-mail link so people can contact Wendie."
Mike Sica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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