Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Betty Sheldon, Executive Secretary at NANA Development Corporation

This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.

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Betty A. Uqaq Sheldon is a NANA shareholder originally from Noorvik. Before coming to work for NANA in Anchorage, Betty spent 21 years and 9 months working at Red Dog Mine. Photo by Craig Billingsley.

 

Where did you grow up? Who is your family?

I was raised in Noorvik. My parents were Daniel Sheldon Sr. and Minnie G. Sheldon. The G is important because dad’s mom was also named Minnie.

What is your Iñupiaq name?

Uqaq. It means tongue or to talk.

That does not surprise me. Who were you named after?

I was named after Charlie Sheldon (no relation). My mom loved him. He was a good friend, an Elder from Kiana.

When I was little, Charlie gave me the cutest puppy. I named her Cocoa Head. Our current dog is named Coco. My husband calls her Coco Chanel, but I call her Cocoa Puff. She’s a husky mix we got from the pound.

Where did you go to school?

Noorvik High School.

The Bears. Did you play basketball?

Of course. Ray Jackson Jr. was my coach. He and I have the same Eskimo name. He was a good coach, but he couldn’t fix the funny way I shoot. Some people greet me by imitating my shooting form (instead of waving). One year, I coached the Noorvik girls’ basketball team.

What was your first memory of NANA?

I knew about NANA from a young age. Robert Newlin Sr. (NANA’s first chairman) and my dad were friends. They served together on the board of the Noorvik Native Store (which sells fuel and groceries). I worked for Robert at the store.

Was that your first job?

Like most people who grew up in the region, my first job was at the cannery in Kotzebue, scaling fish. Then I babysat kids at the day care center.

You spent summers in Kotzebue?

I’m guessing my parents wanted a break [laughing] and I wanted to work. It’s been important for me to make my own money.

After high school, I worked in Noorvik at the Native store. I worked my way up from cashier to order clerk, and sometimes I filled in for the manager.  

What training did you get?

I moved from Noorvik to Seward to go to AVTEC (Alaska Vocational Technical Center). It was my first time out of the region, which was crazy. Thank goodness we had so many people from home staying in the dorm (from Kotzebue, Buckland, Noatak and Noorvik).

In May of 1989, I completed training in office occupations and went to work at Red Dog in June.

How long were you at Red Dog?

Twenty-one years and nine months—not all in one job. I was an office clerk, a mill clerk, and an operations secretary (for Ted Zigarlick, the mine superintendent who’s still there). I was a personnel assistant in HR, a control tower officer and a weather observer (rolled into one, as part of being a travel clerk), and a mine clerk.

I’ve always kept myself busy. When I’m done with my work, I roll up my sleeves and look for more work. At Arrow Transportation, for example, I helped the tire man take rims off the truck tires. I got my own coveralls! Those were the good ol’ days.

In the safety department, I kept files up-to-date, tracked incidents and accidents, and made sure all employees’ safety training was current, including contractors. I had to pull people off the job if they weren’t current—even friends, even relatives.

What was your schedule like?

I worked 2 x 1 (two-weeks on and one-week off). On my time off, three or four times a year, I went to Vegas with my BFFs, Diana and Lois.

Why did you leave Red Dog and come to NANA?

I met Jason, my husband, in Anchorage.

What is your current job?

I’m an executive assistant. I work for John Rense, which keeps me on my toes. I also support three other executives: Eric Billingsley, Liz Cravalho and Harry Harvey.  

You’re also a certified CPR instructor.

Yes, I enjoy that so much. I train employees in first aid, CPR and AED. They get hands-on practice so they can help people in real-world settings—which has happened. (AED is an automated external defibrillator that can treat cardiac arrest.)

What has surprised you about working at NANA?

There are so many companies that I didn’t know about.

What would someone be surprised to know about you?

Jason and I got married in Vegas by Elvis. It was livestreamed so our family and friends could see. Then we danced to “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.”

What are you most grateful for?

Jason. He’s a hard worker and the best cook ever. Thank God, because I don’t cook; I never learned. When Jason met me, all I had in my kitchen was TV dinners. Now, I’m slowly learning.

He also really helps my family. My dad would be so proud.

If she were here, my mom would find ways to tease him. For example, Jason’s a much better cook than I am, but I’m much better at driving ATVs and snow machines.

What important lessons have you learned?

Live life to the fullest. I know that after losing so many family members. (Last year, Betty’s sister and nephew died in a boating accident.)

Ask for help. Grief counseling helped me so much. It helped me deal with my anxiety. My counseler’s office was right around the corner from work. In the region, counseling is available in Kotzebue.

What advice do you have for younger shareholders?

Take advantage of all the tuition help that’s available. Don’t stop learning. I love it.

Who has inspired you?

Violet Pungalik, my Iñupiaq teacher in elementary school. She was so sweet and kind and patient. My favorite memory of her was listening to her sing (in Iñupiaq).

My sister-in-law teaches fifth grade. She invited me to talk to her students about growing up in Noorvik, about our culture—how we live, how we hunt, what we eat, and what we wear. I showed them the parka my mom made. And I shared some of the things that Violet Pungalik taught me.

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Betty Sheldon was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.