Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
April 2008

Other Duties as Assigned: Karen Mitchell
Keeps Busy in Nome

By Sue Steinacher
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Karen Mitchell shows off a bear skull as she inspects and seals a bear hide in the Nome office of Fish and Game.

Just the fact that Karen Mitchell makes sure budgets are tracked and paychecks are timely makes her indispensable to Division of Wildlife Conservation employees from Bethel to Barrow, but she is appreciated for carrying out far more than the typical duties of an Administrative Assistant III.

Most people in her job category have a quiet office somewhere where they can record invoices; enter timesheets, balance budgets, complete travel authorizations and process personnel action forms – all the administrative minutiae of conducting state business. But in the Nome field office Mitchell sits front and center, and greets every member of the public who walks in the door. She graciously listens to people’s hunting stories while issuing hunting licenses and permits, explaining reporting requirements and monitoring harvest quota numbers.

Then there’s the hunter who comes in with a wolf, wolverine, river otter, lynx or bear to seal. Mitchell is up from her desk again and in the lab, measuring the skull, extracting a tooth, tagging the hide and recording biological data. She laughs recalling that six months after being hired she told Doug Larsen, “I’ll seal the furs but I’ll never seal the bears!” Now her name leads the list on the lab’s marker board where the number of bears sealed by office employees is tallied.

When biologists are flying surveys Mitchell monitors the log book, and they check in with her at home if they return after hours. When the bunkhouse pipes sprung a leak Mitchell got the early morning call at home to find someone to fix it. Need meeting notes transcribed, a blanket crocheted for an employee’s new baby, or a cake baked for a retirement party? Mitchell handles those tasks, too – and with a smile.

Fortunately the demands that make Mitchell’s position so unique are also what she likes about it. “I love the variety, and I really want the public to feel like this is a friendly place,” she says, although she also admits, “Occasionally I do need a little quiet space when doing budget reports.”

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Karen Mitchell on duty.

Mitchell also appreciates that she feels, well, appreciated. “The staff here is very generous, and I feel appreciated for what I do. If that atmosphere ever changed I wouldn’t be happy here any longer.”

Asked how she ended up in western Alaska, Mitchell explains that she married an Alaskan man, “But not one from the calendar!” she claims. Since arriving in Nome in 1997, Mitchell worked as the administrative assistant for the Alaska Gold Company, managed budgets and payroll for the regional non-profit Native Corporation, and served as the City Manager’s executive secretary, before coming to Fish and Game in 2001.

Mitchell feels she has come full circle in her time in Nome, from walking down Front Street with her new husband and not knowing a soul, to now being able to greet most people coming into the Fish and Game office by name, and inquire about specific family members. And since her first time eating muktuk many years ago, Mitchell says, “I’ve really come to appreciate just how much the Nome community practices subsistence.”

Mitchell has been in her position for seven years and she’s not planning on leaving for at least three more, although she misses her daughter who is studying microbiology in New York, and her son who works as an engineer in Seattle. “I’m here for now but after ten years all bets are off,” she explains. “Once I’m a grandma I won’t want to be so far away from family.”

Whenever that time comes, Mitchell will be greatly missed by the co-workers she assists daily, the community of friends and neighbors she has cultivated in this small town, and the public she has made feel so welcome at the Nome Fish & Game office.

Sue Steinacher is an educator, artist and writer with the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Nome.

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