KENAI - For many, retirement means relaxing beach vacations or developing new hobbies.
For Larry Porter of Kenai, retirement has meant four years and countless hours volunteering as the CEO for the nonprofit Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
Porter was recently awarded a "Volunteer of the Year" award from Alaska first lady Sandy Parnell for his out-of-this-world efforts.
"He's impacted a lot of children and continues to do so," said Melissa Stepovich, a chairwoman on Parnell's Volunteer of the Year awards committee and director of the governor's Fairbanks office. She said that Porter, as one of this year's 12 recipients from a pool of 95 nominees, had affected many committee members' children with his work at the Challenger Learning Center.
According to staff at the center, some 6,000 Alaska students were reached last year through the center's various in-house and traveling programs.
Porter, former superintendent of ConocoPhillips' Kenai LNG Plant, said he was surprised and honored by the award. But he did not seem to think his work is anything phenomenal.
He said he was just trying to keep the Challenger Center open to be able to teach children about math and science and related professions.
"I'm doing a little part to hopefully inspire kids to go a little bit further than they would have," he said.
Marnie Olcott, chief operating officer of the center, said that the whole staff joined up to nominate Porter for the award.
"There aren't too many people who would've done what Larry has done over the past four years," she said.
The Center was about to close for lack of funding when Porter began volunteering there. But Porter was able to start fundraising and donation efforts to keep the facility running on its own without any federal, state or local monies.
At the center, students complete simulated space and earth missions by using math and science skills. Porter said in this way students can see how these abilities are applicable to real jobs.
"It just seems to click with them," he said.
He spoke to the importance of science and engineering fields in Alaska's economy. Without those professionals, the North Slope and Cook Inlet oil fields may not have been discovered and developed.
"I have spent a lot of time here," Porter said of the Kenai facility, adding that in the past he has volunteered five to seven days a week for almost 365 days straight. "I've slowed that down a bit so I can enjoy what is supposed to be retirement."
The Volunteer of the Year awards honor unpaid and committed volunteers in different categories including business, faith-based, family, military veteran, youth and adult.