How I Met Eben Hopson
Eben Hopson became a familiar name to me in 1968 when he took over the
management of the Alaska Federation of Natives, which was in financial trouble
at the time. It seemed that after he took over, there was less worry about the
future of the AFN, and we were glad Eben came to live with us in Anchorage.
At the time Eben came from Barrow to Anchorage, I managed Anchorage’s
Community Action Agency. This was a private non-profit corporation funded by the
old federal Office of Economic Opportunity. Community Action Agencies were
supposed to organize communities to "fight poverty." In restrospect, President
Johnson’s war on poverty seems to have been a bit of show business to mask the
terrible things we were doing in Viet Nam. Remember "guns and butter?" But, the
diversion was successful.
I quickly learned how to mine the butter, and realized that I could get
federal money to do just about whatever I wanted to do.
I wanted to do something about poor village health conditions in rural
Alaska. I had come to the Community Action Program from the employ of the
Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta for whom I had served as a Public Health
Advisor to California, New York, and Alaska. So, I wrote a grant application
proposing to organize health delivery service programs aimed at senior citizens,
and it got funded in the summer of 1969. We got a grant of $40,000, and I began
wondering what I was going to do with it.
In the fall of 1969, I was visited by Dr. Joseph English, a friend of the
Kennedy family, and a psychiatrist who had been enlisted in the war on poverty
to organize low-income community health clinics for the Office of Economic
Opportunity and the Peace Corps. His visit to Alaska followed that of Sargent
Shriver, who directed Johnson’s anti-poverty and Peace Corps programs. When
Shriver visited Nome, he was told that Nome’s Presbyterian Hospital was about to
close down, and would leave Nome without a hospital. So, Shriver asked his
friend, Dr. English to visit Alaska to see what he could do.
Dr. English and I met at the Top of the World lounge of the Anchorage
Westward Hotel. He asked me to meet him for a drink because he had heard that I
had visited all of the villages of rural Alaska to eradicate measles in
1965-1966, and had an interest in rural village health.
Dr. English told me that he had money to fund comprehensive clinics in rural
Alaska, but that he would need a work program plan that would meet the approval
of Alaska’s conservative Medical Association, as well as the Alaska Indian
English said that while he had lots of money for clinic construction and
operation, he had no planning funds. He had always relied upon medical schools
throughout the nation to finance the initial planning and organization of
low-income community medical clinics. He said the medical schools had sufficient
clout to overcome the resistance of the local medical associations to free
clinic services for the poor, and used them for medical student clinical
There was no medical school in Alaska, and he said he had not been able to
find any one else willing to take on the task of planning, organizing and
operating village clinics. Strangely, the Alaska Native Health Service had
turned down his money, stating that if Congress had wanted the Indian Health
Service to plan village clinics, it would have appropriated money for this
purpose. It was not interested in Joseph English’s OEO health clinic money.
So, I told Dr. English about my $40,000.00 planning grant money, and I
offered to hire someone to coordinate the planning that he needed. I persuaded
Dr. English to agree to make a large grant of funds to the AFN for regional
village clinic organization. I hired John Shively, who was just leaving his term
as a Vista Volunteer in Bethel, to work with Eben Hopson to organize an AFN
Health Department, and to sponsor village clinic planning.
We decided to begin with the Bethel Region and organized the Yukon-Kuskokwim
Health Corporation, and later, the Norton Sound Health Corporation.
That is how I met and began to work with Eben Hopson. The village health
clinic programs Eben began in the Bethel and Nome regions succeeded and
flourished, and provided the model for health and medical services throughout
My relationship with Eben Hopson began this way, and continued until his
death ten years later in 1979.