Between Breaths: A Teacher in the Alaskan Bush

Between 1998 and 2005,  I spent hours upon hours conducting interviews, researching in Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, and Alaska, and writing about the life of an amazing woman:  Donna Joy McGladrey.

The end product was a book that touches the lives of all who have read it.  Here is the synopsis that appears at the University of New Mexico Press for Between Breaths: A Teacher in the Alaskan Bush (UNM, 2006):In 1958, Alaska was not yet a state; it was one of the last frontiers in the West and offered a life of adventure to anyone willing to relocate there. Donna Joy McGladrey, the daughter of a Methodist minister, had recently graduated from college and was ready for what Alaska promised.

McGladrey became the first band instructor in Dillingham, a remote fishing village 350 miles west of Anchorage. Before she arrived, someone showed her a photo of Dillingham and her immediate reaction was, “It’s terribly primitive.” But later she reported in a letter to her family, “I SAW A GLACIER! WOW! . . . Fall colors are the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen. And the mountains–Wow.”

On her first day of class, the new music teacher discovered there were no instruments for the students to play–she had to convince the parents, who depended on the annual salmon harvest for income, to buy them. But her students were excited about music and they energized their young teacher as much as she inspired them.

McGladrey made new friends, learned to appreciate Alaska and its ruggedness, and decided to make her home in the forty-ninth state. In those days before instant communication, she and her family maintained close contact through the mail. Sandra Mathews, McGladrey’s niece, made extensive use of that correspondence to tell the story of her aunt’s experiences in Alaska. Mathews also interviewed people who had known McGladrey and supplemented the letters and interviews with archival research. Between Breaths reflects Donna McGladrey’s willingness to adapt, accept, and, perhaps most importantly, to rely on herself.


“…a coming-of-age story, a clash of cultures experience, a treasure trove of descriptions of pre-statehood Alaska, with even a little romance and tragedy. It is truly a book that everyone will appreciate.” — Journal of the West

“Mathews has penned an excellent tribute to her aunt…It reminds us why we live here.” — Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, AK
[See her review HERE]

“Donna McGladrey’s example demonstrates how to teach children by committing wholeheartedly to their entire community. Her story provides encouragement for anyone who teaches or wants to teach in a tough place like the 1950s Alaskan bush, as well as reflection for those who already have and enjoyment for lovers of women’s history and armchair adventurers.” — Education Review
See the full  REVIEW HERE
They are listed alphabetically by author’s last name, so you’ll need to scroll down quite a bit.

But you need to read it for yourself.  Order a copy today, read it, then tell me what you think!  Click the link below and order yourself a copy!

One thought on “Between Breaths: A Teacher in the Alaskan Bush

  1. Pingback: Honors | Sandra Mathews-Benham

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