Family, friends, and many community members gathered last Saturday at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bethel to remember Blanche Jacobs. She died on June 6 in Anchorage after succumbing to heart complications at the age of 75. KYUK spent the past week collecting stories from those who knew Jacobs and her work best.
Jacobs came to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta as a Vista volunteer in the 1970s to work with youth in Kongiganak. She stayed to make a life in Bethel, living off and on in the community, married and divorced. Jacobs raised three sons here, working as an X-ray technician and then for 25 years as a paralegal. She is remembered as a passionate advocate against domestic violence.
Michelle DeWitt, former Executive Director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition said:
“Every time she saw a funding opportunity that might improve the lives of people here in our community or in the Delta, she would be one of the first ones to pass that on to me. Over the years I coordinated a lot with Blanche when she was at the District Attorney’s Office, specifically on individuals who were harmed and were going through the criminal justice process. Every time she called it was to express concern about an individual, to make sure that they had adequate support. Always she would say to me, 'Michelle, it’s about the kids. I’m just thinking about the kids.'”
Blanche Jacobs made an impression from the moment she arrived in the Delta. Community member Vicki Malone remembers meeting her in Bethel in 1970:
"She caused quite a stir. She was black, her beauty – there weren’t very many black people here then. And because she had been actively engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, and she had already come in contact, and been to Washington when Dr. King spoke, she was an activist. She was right away talking to all the young people in Bethel about Black Power and that it’s Eskimo Power. She says ‘You have to do what black people did. You have to take charge and advocate for yourselves.’ She was very inspiring. And there were people in town that went ‘Oh God, she’s gonna stir up trouble.’ Of course, I was just a young idealistic person, and I would say, ‘Oh man, I think she’s so rad!'"
Susan Charles also met Jacobs as a young person in the early 1970s:
“I think I was fourteen. I was very young, still in high school. She was very open and friendly and she just fit in right away with our group. When my father passed away, my mom named one of her sons after my dad. So, he carries my dad’s Yup’ik name, so that brought us even closer. And his name was Ayaginanas, but I can’t tell which son it was.”
Malaki Bell is Blanche Jacobs' grandson:
“My younger brother, Kylen Bell, his dad is Julian, Blanche’s middle son. Apparently she didn’t know that she had a grandchild, and she ended up coming up when he was about three years old or something like that. And I was in, like, first or third grade, and she ended up taking me in along with Kylen as well. So I mean, although we’re not blood related, she took me in as her own grandchild as well, so that’s how I met her. All her sons treat me like their own nephews.”
Torin Jacobs is Blanche’s youngest son:
“She always wanted to speak [Yup'ik] fluently, and whenever she had the opportunity to attend some free classes that they offer in Anchorage every now and then, she would take them. And she is definitely better at Yup’ik than any of us boys, which is funny, but I guess that goes to say that she was an honorary Yup’ik woman. Her Yup’ik name was Takarukawak, and I don’t know what it means, but I know that somebody in Kongiganak gave it to her, because they thought that she looked like somebody named Takarukawak. And so Takarukawak just loved to correct us in our pronunciation when she had the opportunity to and just share the things that she learned living in the village, which is something that we never did growing up.”
Julian Jacobs is Blanche Jacobs' middle son:
“Her ability to have people trust in her is why she just had such an impact on so many people's lives. And from Kongiganak to here, to Anchorage and Philadelphia and throughout the world, her impact was just massive on so many people. You know we had people from all over the world telling us stories about who she was, and what she did, and the things she would address and challenge, like BIA, all the way to doing Eskimo Power. I think one of her most valuable assets was that she believed that talking was a way that we all collectively think."
Andrei Jacobs, Blanche Jacobs’ eldest son, remembers one of her favorite songs to listen to on KYUK from his childhood:
“My mom loved to hear stuff from other places, but I think that the 'Song [Promise] of a Fisherman,' to me, that was a good representation of my mom. The austereness, the angelic quality, the minimalism, but yet at the same time it was still thick and chunky, so she liked thick, chunky music. But it had a very distinctive quality and certainly was not just your normal stuff that you could just hear on any pop radio station here in America.”
In the audio version of this story, you can listen to Promise of a Fisherman, by Sergio Mendes.