Alaska Governor Jay Hammond died in August, 2005 -- almost 13 years since we last heard his deep, warm voice. There’s something about it that leaves you with a smile in your mind’s ear. Maybe it was his long-running TV show, “Jay Hammond’s Alaska,” that keeps his memory alive

But what about Bella Hammond’s Alaska? Last summer we had to a chance to explore the Alaska first lady’s world -- on a trip to Lake Clark, off the road system about 180 miles from Anchorage. We had to fly to Port Alsworth, then take a boat to reach the cabin Bella’s husband had built by hand.

When we visited, she was gracious and kind – offered us cookies, coffee and a great conversation, which we bring to you in this week’s episode of Frontiers, “Bella Hammond’s Alaska.”

Here are some of the highlights from the show, a genuine Alaskan love story, told with old family films, as well as footage and photos from archives all over the state -- set in the backdrop of an important time in our state’s history.

  • When Jay met Bella: She was only 17 when she caught his eye. They married two years later and raised two daughters, Heidi and Dana. The family eventually moved into a log house their father had built.
  • Life in the mansion: After a successful run for governor in 1974, the Hammonds left their home in the wilderness for life in the governor’s mansion. How Bella Hammond, who enjoyed the solitude of their Lake Clark cabin, made the transition.
  • A return to the cabin: Jay Hammond always promised that he would go from the mansion, back to his “fine” cabin. A look at the remarkable life the Hammonds led after their return to Lake Clark.
  • Memories of the Hammonds: Francine Taylor, founder of the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association, shares some thoughts about the impact of this unique first family.

“I was born in 1932. I’m an artifact,” she laughed and continued to tell us the story of how she and her husband met, fell in love and how they weathered the storms of politics in the governor’s mansion. 

We have many people to thank for helping us bring you this program – first and foremost, Jay and Bella’s daughter, Heidi, who shared many family photos and films with us.

We’d also like to thank the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association, for access to its archives – which included footage from Jay Hammond’s Alaska, produced by RTR Television, as well as video from Sprocketheads, another longtime Alaskan production company.

Their footage of the Hammonds at Lake Clark holds special significance for many Alaskans --not just for its beauty, but because the homestead was a source of inspiration for many of Jay Hammond’s ideas that changed Alaska history, such as his Permanent Fund Dividend program.

We also had help from Alaska Public Media, the Alaska State Library and Archives and the UAA Consortium Library’s Special Collections. What an adventure it was to hunt for these historical treasures and share them with you.

And of course, we have Bella herself to thank. Just after we visited her last summer, she had a stroke. Her recovery required her to winter in Anchorage, where she met with us one more time, to look at family films and describe what was on them.

What an honor it is for Frontiers to bring you this week’s program.

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