Two women from Chugiak will take over as co-owners and co-editors of The Skagway News in early March. Melinda Munson, whose family goes back two generations in Alaska, and Gretchen Wehmhoff, a 55-year resident of the state, plan to arrive in Skagway in time to cover the borough assembly meeting on March 5.
Munson, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Washington, has written for local newspapers in the Chugiak-Eagle River area. Wehmhoff also has written for local papers and the two women ran their own web magazine, Alaska Family Fun.
Wehmhoff taught journalism at Chugiak High School for 21 years and advised the student newspaper until she retired. She is a freelance writer and a past president of the Alaska Writers Guild.
Larry Persily, who bought The Skagway News almost a year ago from publisher Chris Sorg, of Whitehorse, has been looking the past couple of months to turn over the business to a permanent owner/editor who would live in town and become part of the community.
“I wanted to get away from rotating editors who move to town, stay a while, then leave and the community has to start all over training a new editor,” Persily said.
Persily attracted national news media attention when he announced in late November that he would give away the newspaper operation to the best candidate. “Skagway deserves a quality newspaper, and the best way I could see to stake a new owner/editor would be to give them the business and let them settle in for the long term without starting out in debt.”
Persily, who was owner/editor of weekly newspapers in Juneau and Wrangell “many, many years ago,” teaches journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage and volunteers to help younger reporters improve their skills.
When Munson read the news story that Persily was looking to give The Skagway News to the right person, she said she told her friend and colleague, Wehmhoff, that they were the perfect “couple” for the job. “I couldn’t have dreamed up a better opportunity,” Munson said. “Skagway is where I want my family to live.”
And a large family it is. Munson and her husband, Paul, have two biological children and five adopted children with special needs. Their children range in age from 3 to 17.
Born and raised in New England, Munson spent her summers in Angoon with her maternal grandparents who moved to Alaska after serving in World War II. In Angoon, Munson waitressed at a fishing lodge, caught halibut that weighed more than her, and dreamed of living in Alaska full time.
After a stint in Las Vegas, the family moved to Alaska in 2016. Munson teaches high school at the Anchorage School District’s PAIDEIA Cooperative School.
“I am excited to meet the 1,095 residents of Skagway,” Munson said. “I’m committed to providing accurate and timely news. Local journalism is not dead.”
Wehmhoff earned a lifetime achievement award from the Journalism Education Association for her work at the Chugiak High School newspaper, the Pegasus, and currently is a part-time English teacher for the Anchorage School District and also teaches communications as a part-time adjunct faculty member at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Her interest in newspapers goes back to when she was 12 years old and started a newsletter for her community school in Anchorage, delivering the news to doorsteps in her neighborhood.
Wehmhoff briefly served as a fill-in member of the Anchorage municipal assembly in 2018.
Munson and her family plan to live in Skagway year-round. Wehmhoff will be in town most of March and then back after her teaching work ends for the summer.
“Small community newspapers cover stories of importance. People depend on them,” Wehmhoff said. “It’s where issues can be covered in terms relevant to the town.”
The new owners visited Skagway in December and have been busy looking for housing and making plans for their move. “Everyone in Skagway has been so friendly and welcoming,” Wehmhoff said. But like most everyone who moves to town, finding housing is a challenge. Anyone with any leads can contact Munson at email@example.com.
Persily said he received about 200 inquiries from people who read or heard about the opportunity to own The Skagway News. “I got emails from Alaskans, Canadians, journalists and adventurers from half the states, even several from overseas,” he said. “They were sincere and heartfelt, and many were journalists with years of experience, either laid off as the industry cuts back or just looking for a new role as a small-town editor.”
It wasn’t easy to choose, he said. “What was most important was finding someone who would be excited to live in Skagway and become part of the community — and make the effort to understand the town’s needs and its residents.”