Francis Reich, AK ACES Enrollee

Francis Reich, AK ACES Enrollee

Francis Reich’s 42-year adventure in Yup’ik territory would read like a classic Alaskan novel full of drama, humor, cross cultural encounters, and the brutal realities of life in bush Alaska. His formal education, historical perspective of the region, cross-cultural communication skills and practical small business development talents allow him to facilitate complex processes with successful results. Fran’s tenacity was instrumental in the development of the Kuskokwim Community College, the Kuskokwim Fisherman’s COOP, the Yuut Yaqungviat Flight School, and the famous Bethel Alligator Acres neighborhood. Fran is currently employed in Bethel, Alaska with NOWCC-ACES Program, assisting in the development of Tribal Conservation Districts.

Prior to joining the ACES Program Fran worked for The University of Alaska residing in Bethel and served as Director of a Small Business Development Center for Southwest Alaska. The SBA/UAA Center received funding through The Small Business Administration.

Providing direct, small business development assistance to the numerous fledging entrepreneurs, established businesses and village corporations located within the geographically vast Yukon/Kuskokwim Region, (inhabited by 27,000 individuals; each enrolled in one of the 56 Federally recognized tribes and primarily speaking their Yupik language) required him to constantly utilize a long cultivated awareness of the complexities inherent in assisting individuals and tribes when they work with various municipal, federal and state agencies. Living and working in the area for 42 years has immersed him within a unique cross-cultural arena full of language, logistical and organizational challenges.

Fran completed his Master’s Degree at the University of South Florida and came to Bethel, Alaska in 1975 to work as a contractor (Education Specialist) for The BIA – Bureau of Indian Affairs. During his career he has had the opportunity to work for many years for The Association of Village Council Presidents (Regional Non-Profit Tribal Corporation) as a Program Development Specialist, Dean of Students for Kuskokwim Community College, Director of UAA/SBA Small Business Development Center and owner/operator of a small-scale agriculture, lodging and commercial fishing business.

He was introduced to the ACES Program by Alaska NRCS staff members (Ryan Maroney & Ann Rippey) who work out of Fairbanks location. They had been working with Fran for about a year on his EQIP contract and when they came to certify his initial High Tunnel they mentioned the NOWCC–ACES program. At the time he was working closely with the newly formed Tribal Conservation District Board, located in the Village of Kwethluk, to establish a small scale – 3 High Tunnel – community garden/business venture.

With the official federal recognition of many newly formed Tribal Conservation Districts within the Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta, much of what Fran does is appropriately called “Capacity Building”. Most of the Conservation District Boards operate as voluntary bodies, which experience high turnover rates and have needs for leadership training, improved planning skills and increased knowledge as to how to access and benefit from USDA/NRCS programs.

He also frequently travels with various NRCS planners and engineers to remote village sites to assist them in their efforts when they work with tribal leaders on active NRCS contracts. He accompanies and serves as the boat driver for NRCS staff when they travel to villages located on The Kuskokwim River. River trips are often several days long and cover hundreds of miles. He has also been asked to transport and accompany various Washington D.C. USDA/NRCS high level staff to isolated communities where NRCS programs are ongoing.

This past August, Fran was asked to accompany NRCS Biologist/Planner Ryan Maroney on a several day, 600 mile boat journey up The Kuskokwim River from Bethel in order to certify 4, EQIP (high tunnel) contracts. The trip required travel to an original Alaska Homestead parcel established in 1974 situated up the Holitna River and difficult to reach by air transport. Upon completion of the certification of the 2 high tunnels on the Holitna they stopped in the village of Aniak late in the evening and provided technical assistance to two EQIP customers putting the poly on their newly erected 2000 sq. ft. high tunnel. After completion of the certification documents Fran and Ryan decided that they had enough time and good running weather to make the 130 mile trip back to Bethel. They would have made it, had one of the boat engines not stopped operating late in the evening and 50 miles from the port of Bethel. Navigating a “limping” boat at slow speed in the absolute dark with out navigational aids on the vast Kuskokwim River, with its numerous sloughs, took an additional 6 hours and delayed their arrival until 2:00 a.m. Imagine pulling into a dark port, tired, chilly and with a busted boat early in the morning after being on the water for over 20 hours. By virtue of sheer tenacity, decent weather and good fortune Ryan was able to catch his long, two segment flight, and make it back to his family and NRCS North Hub Office in Fairbanks on time.

Ryan says: “Fran is someone you want at the helm and in your corner when working in a remote and challenging environment. With more than four decades spent living and working in Bethel – the heart of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta – Fran is a valued member of the NRCS Alaska family”.

Fran says: “Some challenges of the job have been working with traditional hunting/gathering groups located in isolated, small, roadless villages in order to advance the utilization of NRCS’s programs and practices within their Tribal Conservation Resource Districts”.

Maintaining personal creditability and strong friendships for 42 years while working with an array of tribal governing bodies, federal and state organizations, numerous advisory boards and educational institutions, as well as establishing a tribally operated, FAA approved Flight School are two accomplishments that Fran is most proud of.

In his spare time, some of Fran’s hobbies and interests include:

  • Sled Dog Racing
  • State of Alaska – Commercial Fisherman – Salmon/Drift Gill net
  • Cold Climate commercial agriculture growing/sales operation

Fran built his log-home where he raised his family and now operates The White House Bed & Breakfast. When he’s not greeting guests, Fran can be found around his compound, caring for a 30-dog racing kennel, tending strawberries in his USDA/NRCS high tunnel or commercial fishing on the Kuskokwim River. You can reach Fran at francisreich.nowccaces@gmail.com.