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Sitka is the only town in southeastern Alaska that faces the Gulf of Alaska head on.

Jumbos in…Paradise?

Meet the handful of Tufts grads who somehow wound up living on a tiny island in Alaska.

Jumbos, it seems, really are everywhere. Even here—five of them mixed randomly among the 9,000 other souls in a small Alaskan town that’s set in the damp reaches of the Tongass Rainforest, on a narrow strip of craggy coast and islands seven hundred fifty miles northwest of Seattle.

So what are they doing here in Sitka, Alaska, on the far, far West Coast, where the average annual precipitation of 131 inches a year is three and a half times that of Seattle?

Christine Pate, J88, showed up one rainy day in 1993 with a former boyfriend. Pate hadn’t arranged for lodging, but ran into Lisa Busch, J88, whom she’d known at Tufts. “If she had not let us stay at her place and dry off, we probably would have been like, ‘Oh my gosh, this place is so wet,’” Pate said. With that bit of shelter, though, she was able to appreciate the beauty of the setting, among mountains and evergreen forest. “There’s also a thriving arts world here,” she said, “and folks who love the outdoors and being part of a small community and a place where we can have an impact—kind of like Tufts.” Pate decided to stay in town, and these days coordinates a domestic-violence legal network.

Busch is still in Sitka, too. She’s the director of the Sitka Sound Science Center, and whenever she happens to pass Danielle “Dani” Snyder, E00, E00, on the street, she greets her with a Go Jumbos! or sometimes just a Jumbo! “Every time she sees me,” said Snyder. “It’s happened going on fifteen years or so now.”

Meanwhile, Jacqueline “Jackie” Hamberg (née Fernandez), A08, is the curator of collections at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which is known for its ethnographic collection. She moved to Sitka in 2011, attracted to the area partly by the greenery and mountains, which made her think of Vermont. “I think folks who are drawn to the natural setting in New England could be drawn here,” she said.

Finally, there’s Zephyr Feryok, E16. He didn’t actually choose Sitka; he grew up there, the son of a bush-pilot, flight-instructor father. Feryok learned to fix things rather than wait for a rescue crew—and went on to study mechanical engineering in college. During his Tufts years, Feryok spent a couple of summers working with Busch at the Sitka Sound Science Center. He did computer networking, led tours around the salmon hatcheries, and did some handyman projects. After graduating in May, he moved to Utah for a job, but remains more than familiar with the doings of his fellow Jumbos in Sitka. “There, you kind of cross paths with everybody eventually, whether you see them on the street or on the police blotter,” he said. “Tufts grads, I feel like, probably won’t make the blotter.”

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