Being dubbed a hero is no modest accomplishment, and for the late Emma G. Widmark, of Juneau, the adjective seems quite fitting.
The National Resource Centers on Native American Aging and the Administration on Aging recently recognized Widmark for extraordinary service to her community with the National Hero Award, for which recipients were chosen from across the United States for their dedication to helping Native elders solve local problems, share cultural traditions and build stronger communities.
The "Emma G. Widmark is a Hero" plaque was presented by Andrea Ebona-Michel, Elderly Service coordinator for Tlingit & Haida and director of Title 6, to Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 at a ceremony Friday at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. The presentation was held during a performance by local Native dance group, Yaaw Tei Yi, in honor of Widmark and Native American Heritage Day.
Andy Ebona, leader of Yaaw Tei Yi, praised Widmark and her life's work.
"She was a firecracker. She had a strong personality," he said. "She believed in the (Alaska Native Sisterhood) and all of the things the organization has accomplished since 1912."
Widmark, who died July 7 at age 68, was a strong supporter of the local ANS and ANS Grand Camp. She dedicated her life to the promotion of higher education and the well being of Native Alaskans by serving as a delegate for the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, ANS Grand Camp president and as a lifetime member of ANS Camp 2.
"Emma did a lot for our elders program until her last week of life, and we are very honored to present this to ANS Camp 2," Ebona-Michel said Friday.
"She was an individual who believed in a lot of things that she was involved in," Ebona added. "She believed the elders needed to be supported by whatever means, and that included the programs that were available, either by the state or federal governments. She also was a big believer in the exercise program, because she felt it gave the elders a lot of mobility to get some exercise, whereas they wouldn't otherwise."
Micalyne Kunz-McGee, ANS president and second-vice for ANS Grand Camp, said Widmark, as well as Connie Munro, took her under their wings when she was a teenager.
"Between Emma and my grandmother, I don't think I'd be as active as I am," Kunz-McGee said. "You name it, Emma was the type of person, if there was a camp anywhere around Southeast struggling to meet membership quota, fundraising, simple parliamentary procedures, going to meetings - Emma was always there."
Widmark was particularly active in the Tlingit & Haida Elders Caregivers Council, its fitness group and the annual "Journey to Wellness" event. She also took it upon herself to complete the "Identifying our Needs" surveys door-to-door in 2007.
"She was at every group meeting at the hall to help people with their papers," Ebona-Michel said. "She was door-to-door getting elders. We hadn't even thought of going to, and she got the surveys done that way."
Apart from being a vigorous home economist for the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension, traveling extensively throughout rural Alaska over the years, Widmark devoted her last year to advocating for the betterment of the Elderly Services Program.
"The last thing she did for our program was meet with the Tlingit & Haida president to petition for more support of the elders program," Ebona-Michel said. "It was very important to me to have someone speak up, because we need more help in the program. The elderly population is growing. It's just not enough for one person to (assist) all the elders who live in Juneau. For her to do that and stick up for the program meant a lot."
A teary-eyed Ebona-Michel commemorated Widmark on Friday.
"We miss her, but we're glad this award happened, because now we can make a really special presentation to her family and show them how much we cared about her," she said. "Her memory will live on with us this forever."
On Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, ANS Camp 2 will present the "Emma G. Widmark is a Hero" plaque to her family.
The plaque reads, "Emma Widmark is a hero. The National Resource Centers on Native American Aging and the Administration on Aging are proud to recognize Emma G. Widmark for extraordinary service to her community. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Your courage and love will be an inspiration to us for many generations to come. Thank you, Emma G. Widmark. Your heroism lives on."