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“‘Ruined for Life’ or: The Whole Concoction…Was Pretty Good” –

Laurie Graves (St. Mary’s, AK ’80-81, Portland Staff ‘82-83)

After some 18 happy years of trying to climb the corporate ladder at Tektronix, I was looking at my empty house when my youngest child left for college. Then, at my church I saw a poster about what was then called JVC: Northwest. Shortly thereafter, I was on my way to a remote village in Alaska where I would help cook for a boarding school that served Yup’ik Eskimo and Athabascan Indian children.

We had about 22 volunteers, some of them in their second year, plus the Ursuline sisters staffing the school. When we arrived, many of the volunteers went fishing with the local people to help fill up our freezer with huge salmon and many other fish; as a school serving with that population, we had some special hunting and fishing privileges. Also, the families often shared meat and fish with us. I learned to cook moose stew, seal meat, and “agutaq,” otherwise known as fish ice cream.

To make that ice cream, you first go out on the tundra and pick buckets of blueberries. Then you catch (or thaw) big chunks of white fish, cook and cool them, and squeeze out all of the liquid, saving the fish fiber. Then you whip up a big bowl of whale blubber and seal oil (okay, we cheated and used Crisco and salad oil). You combine this mixture with the fish fiber, making just enough to stick the blueberries together, and freeze the whole concoction. Sounds weird maybe, but it actually was pretty good.

Our nurse at the mission, Mary Curry, had to function almost like an old country doctor, being the only trained health care professional for miles around. She had returned to school to become a registered nurse sometime after her college graduation. The light went on. It wasn’t too late for me to realize a dream. Upon returning to Oregon at the end of the JV year, I worked as a C.N.A. to make sure that my middle-aged body could do the work. Then I enrolled at Good Samaritan School of Nursing in Portland. I signed up for a year on JVC Northwest staff in Portland, living and working at the Mac House, which was in walking distance.

I enjoyed a great career in nursing, starting at age 47 and retiring at age 70. Much of that time, I trained nursing assistants to prepare for their state board exams; some of them went on to become “real nurses.” So Mary Curry started a chain of much-needed nurses. My one claim to glory in this career was writing a manual for care planning and another training manual for nursing assistants, both of which sold well nationwide.

JVC Northwest really did “ruin me for life,” and I’m glad that they did.

Laurie as a JV in Alaska
Laurie on the Alaska tundra
Laurie, 2019





1 thought on ““‘Ruined for Life’ or: The Whole Concoction…Was Pretty Good” –”

  1. What a grand narrative in making meaningful life decisions at every age! Thank you for the inspiration — and all your work for others! The tundra is a temple!


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