Alice Bower Keesler Adventure

Last year, we asked classmates to share their adventures before or after retiring.  Alice Bower Keesler has agreed to share her Alaskan story. 

Thank you Alice for sharing. 


By Alice Bower Keesler

In the Fall of 2016, I was with some girlfriends from the Class of 1963 and we were talking about what we wanted to be doing with our lives in five years.  I mentioned that I would like to travel, and I would like to be working since I enjoyed the social part of both.

Marilyn (Mutch) Weiland mentioned that she had a friend whose mother had spent a summer working in Alaska.  I believe she was in her late 70’s. I reached out to HAP (Holland America Princes) and applied for a position for the summer of 2017.  They are the cruise lines that operate resorts in Alaska.  I was hired for the season and spent five months outside Denali Park. They offered positions from office work, to maintenance, to restaurant workers, bus drivers, gardeners, front desk, laundry, gifts shop, etc.  Some jobs required prior experience, but a lot did not.

I worked at the Denali Princess Resort (a short walk to the park’s entrance) as the Assistant to the Director of Transportation and Logistics.  We were the department that ran the buses for the tourists and employees and made up the packets of information for the guests, which included room keys and maps and schedules for their tours.  Since I had retired in 2007, working full time again took some getting used to.  My position was responsible for payroll for our department, uniform inventory, record keeping, planning morale boosting parties and other things involving the bus drivers.

I did not know a sole in Alaska and had no idea what I was getting into, but it was the best decision of my life.  I had recently been divorced, loved to travel but had no travel companion, was at loose ends with my life and wanted an adventure.  I proved to myself that I was up to the experience and have had the courage to travel alone since then and to try new things.  I made wonderful friendships that have turned into weekly Zoom calls during the pandemic, we have taken cruises together, have vacationed together and I honestly believe we will be lifelong friends.  They all have the same sense of adventure and fun that I love.

The seasonal workers were a mixed group of married couples, singles, international exchange workers, young, middle aged and seniors.  It was so fun to hear everyone’s story and meet people from all points of the world plus learn of their travels and experiences.  By working for HAP, we were able to book cruises for half price for 18 months after our work season.  After two seasons, we received a free cruise plus the half price for as many cruises as we wished.  I took advantage by taking the Panama Canal Cruise from LA to Fort Lauderdale and taking a Caribbean Cruise also.  I went with my new Alaska friends and met others on the trips.

We lived ten miles from where we worked in a ridiculously small town called Healy.  There were shuttles for us several times a day and night from The Homestead to Denali Resort. We lived in a large facility which was originally made for the pipeline workers.  It was like a large dormitory, housing nearly 400 people.  We had a nice cafeteria, bar, lounge area, front desk, laundry rooms, library, movie room and pool tables.  Let me be clear, everything in Alaska is RUSTIC!!!  This was not ritzy, but it was clean and utilitarian. All the rooms had room darkening blinds – it was very odd to get up at 2:00 am and see the sun shining as if it were noon.  We had to pick up our mail at the local post office which was about a mile away.  Since I was there without a car, I walked there about once a week.  It was wooded and on one of my trips, I ran into a moose.  They ran freely through the town and it was not unusual to see them in the parking lot of our housing area.  The bus rides to work were fun.  Since I knew all the drivers, I normally sat in the front seat and we chatted along the way.  Later during the season when we all knew each other better, there was always lots of banter and sometimes singing.  The drive was magnificent.  We drove through mountains and at one point drove over a very deep ravine, over the Nanana River.  Some days we could see long horned sheep on the steep mountain slopes.    There was an employee bus into Fairbanks once a week to go to Fred Meyers (like a Super Target).  I would make the trip about once a month to purchase anything I needed and just for a change of scenery.  It was a two-hour bus ride and we were dropped off at the store and were picked back up about two hours later.  When I got back home in the Fall, I was always overjoyed to be able to run to the store and back in a half hour.

 The seasons change very quickly and when arriving in May, there was still snow on the ground and the river was frozen. By the end of the tourist season, in September, we had seen Spring with its beautiful wildflowers (the firebush was my favorite), Summer with lovely warm weather (I wore shorts one time) through the Fall with all the beautiful colors and then snow again before we left.  The growing season is short, but it is very productive because of the long summer days, flowers grow large and beautiful and they are everywhere.  There was a vegetable garden near the lodge that grew produce for the restaurants.  I have never seen such huge and lovely gardens.

I walked everywhere.  There were two resorts side by side (one run by Princess and one by Holland America) and I would go back and forth for work and for lunch at a different employee cafeterias.  We could eat in the guests’ restaurants (the Halibut was amazing) and got a nice discount.  We also received either free or very discounted prices on all the tours and adventures provided for the guests.  We started work a week or so before the first guests arrived and part of that was also to let the vendors running the tours time to practice on us.  One of my favorites was the tour of the training of the dogs for the dog sleds.  We were able to hold and play with the tiny puppies.  They like to have them handled so they get used to humans.  A fun thing to watch was the dogs being trained on a huge treadmill.

On our days off, we took longer adventures and lots of hikes in the park.  I spent a weekend taking the wonderful train ride from Denali to Anchorage (domed cars with dining cars beneath).  The scenery is breath-taking, food amazing and on a clear day you can see Denali herself.  I traveled with a new friend a retired teacher from Goshen, Indiana – we were both amazed that someone so close to home was there and we have become great friends.  We explored Anchorage by trolly and the next day took a bus to Whittier to board a ship for a glacier tour.  It was wonderful except the weather was cold and rainy.  It did not dampen the day – saw beautiful blue ice and some calving (chunks sliding off into the water).  Other tours included helicopter rides to the glaciers with a chance to walk on them or flights to the Arctic Circle.  We all went rafting on the river.

It was a wonderful, wonderful summer.  If you have any interest, check it out at will not make much money, but your memories will be plentiful.

At anytime you want to reread Alice's adventure, just click on Classmates Fascinating Stories on the lefthand side of the  home page.  You will see her experience, along with other classmates' stories.