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Nuts and Bolts

As this month’s guest author, Inian Islands Institute welcomes our board member Molly Kemp from the tiny town of Tenakee, in rural Southeast Alaska.

Just over a year ago I was invited to join the Inian Islands Institute board of directors.  I was flattered , and jumped at the chance.

“By the way” wrote Zach, “you’ll have the Treasurer position.”

Gulp… This was not the assignment I expected, as my frugal personal economy is still measured in nickels and dimes.  I’ve had some experience with non-profit organizations, but only on a similar nickel-and-dime basis.  The scale of the Inian Islands vision, and a business plan with seven digits, was more than a little intimidating.

I live on Chichagof Island in my log home of forty years.  Between our large garden, harvest of wild food, firewood from our land and a solar array, we are able to provide for most of the necessities of life directly.


A coastal brown bear cruises a river on Chichagof Island, just south of the Inian Islands.

My rustic way of life has made me the Inian board member who invariably brings up mundane practical matters.  While other board members expound beautifully on their visions for the future, I mutter about the logistics of setting up shop at the Hobbit Hole.  Longterm caretakers.  Garden upkeep.   Equipment maintenance.  Record-keeping.  Bank accounts.  A file cabinet!  And as treasurer – first, foremost, and always… money.

After decades of research work on remote Alaska salmon streams, where large brown bears can be as thick as fleas,  I have a pretty high standard for what counts as excitement.  While it’s true the thrill of a balanced budget has a somewhat different quality than close encounters with large omnivores, it’s been pretty darn exciting to be part of an organization that has moved so far and so fast.

In less than two years, the idealistic vision of the Inian Islands Institute has become a vigorous reality. Inian Islands Institute has:

– achieved IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit status in record-breaking time

– registered as a corporate entity with the State of Alaska

– complied with all state and federal requirements for non-profit organizations

– hosted three successful programs in 2015

– scheduled three more programs for 2016

– created and funded the position of Executive Director

– engaged a professional bookkeeper

– gratefully accepted over $116,000 in cash donations

– secured another $250,000 in pledged funds

– signed a purchase option agreement, the first step in making the Hobbit Hole the Institute’s permanent home.

For the board treasurer, the really exciting part is that all this was accomplished within Inian’s planned budget.  We ended 2015 well in the black, and with a reasonable expectation of meeting our 2016 budget goals.  These are the accomplishments that make my bean-counting heart beat faster.


Author and board treasurer Molly Kemp compares her paw to that of a brown bear.

There have been some obstacles peculiar to Southeast Alaska, particularly with regard to communication. On a recent trip to Seattle I was stunned by the universal availability of lightening fast internet and universally functional telephones.  It’s not like that where we live.

The technological challenges in remote parts of Alaska make any interaction with the rest of the world a source of difficulty – or comedy, depending on one’s attitude.  In the winter I often walk four miles from my home just to get to a reliable phone.  Zach conducts most of his internet business at the Gustavus public library.  He sits outside when the library is closed.  Sometimes it’s snowing.

Resolutely overcoming technological challenges is just one measure of the commitment and enthusiasm of the ever-expanding Inian Islands team.  The Hobbit Hole and the Howe family have touched many lives in the past four decades.  All that love is pouring back now, in a flood tide of support for the Inian Islands Institute.


Humpback whales bubble-net feeding for herring off Chichagof Island, in Southeast Alaska.

From my tightwad’s perspective, each financial goal we’ve set has seemed unattainably optimistic.  Seeing those goals met, and then exceeded, has convinced this skeptic.  I’ve always wanted to believe that a powerful idea can overcome all obstacles.  Now I’ve seen it happen.

Every audacious gulp fuels the next one!


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jane Button #

    Oh Molly–this is beautifully written. You’ve made me cry!!

    April 23, 2016

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