Deb Boettcher settles into a volunteer schedule with a dash of Tai chi

By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Deb Boettcher retired from the National Forest Service (NPS) at the end of February, but she didn’t get far. Now, in her newly discovered free time, Beottcher volunteers for the park service and the Klondike Gold Rush National Park (KGR) museum, the very place she spent more than the last decade of her life.

Boettcher is helping the new NPS intern inventory the unique collection of books housed in the museum. Afterwards, the books will be cataloged into the NPS system. 

Managing collections is what brought Boettcher to the museum. While she started as a volunteer to sort and identify plants, she was soon tasked with categorizing archaeological artifacts from the different properties being restored in Skagway over the years. This led to her working part time at NPS and part time with White Pass & Yukon Route cleaning trains.

Eventually Boettcher found herself deep in the Rapuzzi Collection.  

In addition to their own extensive collection of artifacts, George and Edna Rapuzzi also acquired a collection from Martin Itjen. Itjen came to Skagway during the gold rush and started a streetcar company in the 30s. 

The cataloging and inventory of the massive package took years. The collection included several buildings. The Rasmussen Foundation purchased the buildings and gave the property to Skagway and KGR.

Boettcher is a lifelong Alaskan. Her early travels took her to Iran with the Peace Corps and an all-woman Alaska Fish & Game Field Camp in Southcentral Alaska. Previous attempts to work in field positions counting fish in other parts of the state, specifically Bristol Bay in the 70s, were thwarted because she was a woman.  

Boettcher finally made it to Bristol Bay to count fish from a tower, then spent time in Port Alexander and Petersburg where she worked for public radio. When she arrived in Skagway in Sept. 1994, the last cruise ship had just departed. 

“It was like I had just moved to a ghost town,” she said.

Now Beottcher spends her days volunteering at the museum and trying to keep herself fit with yoga and tai chi.

“I’ve been taking both classes on YouTube,” said Boettcher. “Tai chi is gentler, yoga is for a different group who can balance more.”