Kaylene Johnson: Writer and Photojournalist

Our Perfect Wild

An unlikely couple—a wild boy and a good girl—Ray and Barbara Bane, both teachers, set off from the sooty landscape of West Virginia into the snowy panoramas of Alaska. There they make another unlikely commitment: to learn the Old Ways of the land they come to adopt—and defend. With her characteristic poise and bravery, distinguished Alaskan journalist Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan chronicles the Banes’ story of environmental gumption in the wilderness.

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--Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Paradise, Piece By Piece.

A Tender Distance
Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska

July 2009 – Old-Fashioned Icecream Social Benefits Walker Family

February 3rd, 2011 by

When my two grandsons dipped into a heaping bowl of icecream last Sunday, they weren’t thinking about the reason behind Our Redeemer Lutheran Church’s icecream social. They just enjoyed the whipped cream and sprinkles on top of their sundaes. Could we maybe we could do this every week after the service?

As we ate ice cream, the adults chatted about dipnetting at Chitna, the youth’s upcoming bike trip on Resurrection Pass, and the church’s restroom remodel project.  In the back of our minds, however, we were all thinking about Jessica Walker.

Nearly a year ago, the twelve-year-old Anchorage girl was put on our church’s prayer chain as she struggled with the effects of a brain tumor. Her parents, Scott and Cheryl Walker, have been at her bedside in a Seattle hospital nearly around-the-clock since January. In the past two years, Jessica has undergone more than 20 surgeries. Their journey has been a testament to Jessica’s spirit and God’s grace. Without having ever met Jessica, the Walker family story has moved us all.

Her father, Scott, says that Jessica is outgoing, polite and loves horses. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. “She’s a very sweet child,” he said. “I’m not just saying that because I’m her dad. She’s always thinking of everyone else first.”

As Jessica’s health struggles intensified, Scott and Cheryl used all their vacation and sick-leave to stay near their daughter. Their nine-year-old daughter, Hannah, came to Seattle as well and all the while the bills back home began to pile up. Yet when you talk to the Walkers, they don’t tell you about how wrenching it is to see Jessica in pain; nor do they discuss the challenge of staying afloat financially since both of them are now taking leave without pay. Instead, Scott and Cheryl talk about the miracles that occur daily. They talk about their gratitude to the doctors and hospital staff and what a great kid Jessica is.

Gary Bennett, owner of Northern Lights Avionics where Scott and Cheryl work, is holding their jobs until they can return to Alaska. He also challenged his 14 employees to contribute to the ice cream social, pledging to match their contributions dollar for dollar. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is also matching funds for the event.

Scott said, “We’ve been blessed and overwhelmed by the Anchorage community, the Seattle community and the people from across the country who’ve offered their prayers.”

While we were eating ice cream that Sunday, Jessica was preparing to attend a Jonas Brother’s concert in Seattle. The concert was her first outing since being admitted to the hospital five months ago. She went by ambulance with an entourage of doctors, nurses, and technicians at her side. She met the band before the concert and was invited backstage afterward. She may have been in a hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator, but she wore lip gloss and sparkling eye shadow. Her smile was huge.

Scott and Cheryl look forward to returning to Alaska with Jessica, hopefully by the end of the summer. She faces a long road to recovery and will likely be medically transferred to Providence Hospital in Anchorage before she is able to come home. Meanwhile the Walkers are taking life one day at a time, thankful for family, friends, and the kindness of strangers.

To learn more about Jessica, visit her Caring Bridge website at:

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jessicarwalker

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  • About Kaylene

    Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan who makes her home in Palmer. She has found adventure on Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and as a wrangler and cook in the Brooks Range. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Alaska magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Louisville Review and other publications. Her books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray and Barbara Bane's Journeys and the Fate of the Far North; Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith; A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska; Trails Across Time: History of An Alaska Mountain Corridor; and Portrait of the Alaska Railroad.

    She holds a BA from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.

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