Council mourns loss of Anchorage staffer

Natalie Novik, administrative assistant for the Anchorage office, passed away in October 2021, after a two-year battle with cancer. Natalie joined Council staff in June 2014.

Born and educated in Paris, Natalie was proud of her Breton and Russian roots. She dedicated much of her life to oil spill prevention and response in Alaska and internationally.

She volunteered to help clean up after multiple oil spills that plagued Brittany starting in the 1970s. When the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, Natalie was teaching in New York and already planning to move to Alaska.

In Alaska, Natalie spent 13 years with Northern Forum, a nonprofit group created to improve communications and cooperation in northern regions. In that role she supported providing ongoing know-how and assistance related to the 1994 pipeline spill in the Komi Republic in Russia. As part of Northern Forum’s program on disaster management in the North and the Arctic, Natalie was in charge of relations with the Arctic Council.

Years before joining the Council’s staff, she provided translation and interpretation between the Council and Sydicat Mixte Vigipol, a citizen governance group created after the Amoco Cadiz ran aground in 1978 on the Brittany coast. Natalie also worked two years for Ecoshelf on Sakhalin Island in Russia, translating contracts and documents related to oil spill prevention, monitoring, and response.

Natalie was an advocate for residents of northern regions and cross-cultural engagement in many ways. She worked for the Alaska Native Science Commission’s community self-reliance project from 2012-2013, and the World Trade Centers Association immediately before joining the Council’s staff. From 2009-2014, she served as Honorary Consul of France in Alaska. She was a devoted volunteer for the Celtic Community of Alaska, where she was still serving as president until she passed.

Natalie was very proud of her work with the Council and was a true believer in our mission. She provided vast contributions to the Council’s robust archives, directly supporting the success of many projects that rely on historical knowledge. She firmly believed in the value of gathering and connecting in person, and poured attention into every detail for the annual Science Night event, volunteer workshop, and holiday party.

Natalie left behind her beloved cat Sashka (who has been adopted by a friend), many friends and colleagues, and memories of her sense of humor, caring, creativity, and passion. When Natalie applied for her position at the Council, she summed up her career thusly: “curious and creative individuals will go through life learning new skills and enriching their potential.”

Three new staff members join the Anchorage office

KJ Crawford joined staff as the new director of administration in December 2021, and has been able to focus on training with Walt Wrede ahead of his retirement.

Crawford holds a Master’s degree in organizational management and Bachelor’s in journalism and public communications. She previously served as the programs director for the Alaska Safety Alliance, where she oversaw the North Slope Training Cooperative and other health, safety, and environmental trainings for high hazard industries across Alaska. Before that, KJ held various positions with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. She also volunteers with the Alaska Postsecondary Access and Completion Network.

Ashlee Hamilton joined the Council in October, filling the new position of bookkeeper/office coordinator. In December, Hamilton was promoted to financial manager. Gregory Dixon, who has been the Council’s financial manager for the past 20 years, plans to retire later this year.

Hamilton was raised in southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales Island. She attended the University of Alaska and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. She was previously employed as a branch manager for a credit union, as a staff accountant at a CPA firm, and as a bookkeeper for a restaurant chain in Juneau.

Jaina Willahan is the Council’s new administrative assistant. A life-long Anchorage resident, Willahan holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She came to the organization with eight years of customer service experience. She spends most of her free time playing board games, crafting, and hanging out with her dog, Jack.

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The Council’s “all-purpose bureaucrat” looking forward to a busy retirement

Walt Wrede

Walt Wrede is retiring after serving as the Council’s director of administration since 2016.

Wrede’s passion for and knowledge of the political system in Alaska has been instrumental as he worked closely with the Legislative Affairs Committee to monitor developments on matters related to the Council’s mission in Washington, D.C., and Juneau. He also worked with the Council’s Executive Committee and Board Governance Committee.

Before the Council, Wrede spent most of his career in Alaska working in municipal government. He served as the city planner in Cordova for four years immediately following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He also served for eight years as the borough manager of the Lake and Peninsula Borough and 12 years as city manager for Homer.

Wrede’s easy-going demeanor, willingness to work with those that had differing viewpoints, and great sense of humor were instrumental in moving important work forward throughout this career. He often introduced himself as the Council’s “all-purpose bureaucrat” and, during his tenure as Homer city manager, when asked by Homer’s citizens who he was supporting for city council, would answer, “Whoever wins.”

When asked about where he plans to focus his time in retirement, Wrede noted he is looking forward to spending more time volunteering. He says he is looking forward to being able to give more of his time to meaningful causes.

“It has been a pleasure working with Walt,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “The entire staff greatly benefited from his leadership and composure during difficult situations. Walt’s vast experience and passion for the organization’s mission is unmatched, and he will be greatly missed.”

Staff news: Long-time science manager retires

Joe Banta
Joe Banta

Joe  Banta, project  manager for the Council’s environmental monitoring program, retired this past April. In 1990, Banta was the first project manager hired for the Council, serving for almost 30 years.
In his early years at the Council, he managed oil spill planning projects for the Council’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Committee. He later took a position working with the Scientific Advisory Committee, managing the Council’s long-term environmental monitoring program, and projects to study issues such as oil spill dispersants, the toxicity of crude oil, and the social effects of oil spills on communities.

Prior to joining the Council, Banta witnessed the Exxon Valdez oil spill first hand as a Cordova fisherman and helped with the spill response, rescuing oiled wildlife. Banta was called upon over the years to advise other communities about oil spills. After the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, he visited that area, helping those dealing with the effects of the oil. That same year, he testified about how the Exxon spill affected him, his family, and his community to a U.S. Senate Committee who was looking into the effects of the BP disaster.

”Even though the faces changed over the years since the Council was formed, the one constant was Joe Banta,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “Joe not only gave advice to the oil industry and regulators, he was a mentor to anyone seeking to learn about environmental stewardship. I had the pleasure of working with Joe for the past 20 years and he will be missed.”

Valdez project manager Love takes over science programs

Austin Love

Banta’s position has been filled by Valdez staff member Austin Love. Love has been the Council’s manager for projects related to operations at the Valdez Marine Terminal for the past five years, working closely with the Council’s Terminal Operations and Environmental Monitoring Committee. Love has a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Environmental Science and Management from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

New project manager assistant in Anchorage

Photo of Hans Odegard
Hans Odegard

Hans Odegard has taken the position of project manager assistant, left vacant by Shawna Popovici. Odegard grew up in Eagle River, Alaska, and graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in business administration. Hans has fished commercially out of Prince William Sound, worked in agriculture in Palmer, held various positions within the School of Management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and worked as a social worker at Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage.

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