When Barbara Fallon and Pat Denny came to Juneau in 1972 to conduct a six-month study under the auspices of the Catholic diocese, little did they suspect they'd still be here 30 years later.
Fallon and Denny not only stayed, but also made important inroads on the social services scene in Southeast Alaska.
"They both came highly motivated. Pat had a tremendous background and experience so that anything that we got into, she knew what was required, so we were able to start correctly," said Archbishop Francis Hurley, who, as then-Bishop Hurley, hired the two women away from jobs in Seattle.
"Barbara's forte was a kind of gregariousness. She knows everybody; she knows everything about everybody. That combination (of talents) was remarkable," Hurley said.
"With Pat and Barbara leading the way, things happened. Programs started and were effective. We established a good record, were able to get support and kept going," Hurley said.
Denny and Fallon are being honored in July by Susan Knowles with a First Lady Volunteer Award for starting the Senior Nutrition Program as part of Catholic Community Service. Today the program is in place at 12 senior centers all over Southeast.
But senior nutrition is only one of many programs Southeast residents now take for granted that began under the wings of Denny and Fallon.
"We were only about two weeks into the study when they identified the need for day care and the idea of taking on the old Saint Ann's School, and we went from there," Hurley recalled in a visit to Juneau last week. "That led to the establishment eventually of a full service agency, Catholic Social Service. We were able to get grants and go into a variety of small programs."
Senior Nutrition was one of those "small programs." Hurley coined the phrase "trays on sleighs" - readily admitting Southeast doesn't use sleighs - to bring attention to the need in villages here.
There were, in fact, so many programs generated that Denny nicknamed CCS "the Bishop's womb-to-tomb" service.
"I worked for Catholic Children's Services in Seattle and also spent a year as a Jesuit volunteer in Holy Cross. Barbara and I were referred to Bishop Hurley. I was ready for a change and agreed to come for six months to look at social needs," Denny said. "We had a Catholic philosophic focus, but we worked for the community broadly.
"We wrote the grant for the nutrition program over Christmas 1971. It was one of the very first grants in the state of Alaska for senior nutrition, and we had to have 50 participants a day to qualify," she said.
When the nutrition program got off the ground, it included Juneau, Sitka, Angoon, Tenakee and Ketchikan.
"Barbara was the first director for that program," Denny said. "The federal government couldn't understand why we couldn't give them weekly reports from Tenakee; there were no telephones in those days, and we couldn't always get through on the radio."
Among other programs CSS developed were pregnancy counseling, hospice, housing for homeless women and children, a nursing home, senior transportation, senior centers and adoption.
"That's why we used to call it Bishop's womb-to-tomb program," Denny said.
"In 1972, Pat had an offer from the diocese and the state Department of Health and Social Services to do a survey of the whole of Southeast to find out what services were being offered to seniors, which services were being used and what services were missing. I said, 'You ask that bishop if you can bring your own secretary.' She did, and he did," recalled Barbara Fallon.
"Pat went out to the villages. I held down the office and wrote up the reports. There were no accommodations for people who came in from villages to visit people in prison or the hospital; no monitoring of food stamps; no hospice. So the end of the survey was the beginning of Catholic Social Service," Fallon said.
"It needs to be recognized that Pat and I didn't do this alone," Fallon added. "Danny Plotnick, director of the state's Office on Aging, was very helpful in getting the senior program started. And every one of our site managers in Southeast ought to be given respect for their concern and devotion to the seniors of their communities."
Denny, 72, retired from CCS in 1986 and then worked for the state for seven years. She now operates a bed and breakfast.
Fallon, 81, born in Tacoma, worked for Catholic Social Service until 1988, then became a receptionist in the governor's office until 1990. She recently moved into the Juneau Pioneers' Home.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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