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By J. P. Tangen
For Mining News 

Those who forget the past must relive it

Steve Borell is resigning as executive director of the Miners Association this year; please help chronicle his impressive legacy


Last updated 7/31/2011 at Noon

Although I am easily impressed, one of the most impressive things about living in Alaska to me has always been the opportunity to rub elbows with so many great men and women who not only witness our modern history, but also frame it. When I first came to Alaska, there were people still living who recalled the first gold rush miners rafting down the Yukon. The people who built the Alcan Highway were still moving dirt. Construction of the railroad, for some, was still a vital memory.

In fact, even now there are still more than a few folks around who recall the fight for statehood, the 1964 earthquake and the construction of TAPS. Virtually the entire modern history of Alaska is still in the minds and recollection of people you can see every day in the grocery stores of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau or Nome. Yet, slowly, one by one, these iconic figures pass from the scene. They retire, withdraw from public life and eventually yield to the passage of time.

The trick, in my view, has always been to capture what they know about our history and to preserve and protect it - to honor and respect it. This occurs, and in many different ways. There are archives and novels, video as well as audio tapes, memorabilia and anecdotes, all of which contribute to who we are as Alaskans. Occasionally, before the heavy hand of history turns the page on those whose larger than life contributions have been recorded, we get the opportunity to grill them personally to actually get their sense of the events in which they participated and give them a word of thanks for their contribution.

Unequivocally, one of Alaska's iconic figures is Steve Borell, the executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. All who know him - whether miner or politician, pilot or religious scholar, hunter or neighbor - are impressed with the depth and breadth of his personality. Those of us who have watched his career at AMA must remain particularly impressed, because he has been a steady hand and skillful leader through a decidedly tumultuous epoch. Although he arrived on the scene too late to have a role in the passage of ANILCA, for instance, he has been central in mopping up the mess.

When Congress, led by enemies of the mining industry, sought to amend or eliminate the General Mining Law not just once but on two separate occasions, Steve was in the trenches fighting back and framing alternatives as aggressively as any lobbyist or elected leader. When there were regulations to comment on, Steve was commenting, on behalf of all of us. When there was testimony to be delivered, whether before Congress or the state Legislature, Steve was testifying. When there were tours to be led to remote mines in faraway places, Steve was organizing and leading the tours.

In his spare time, he was flying around Alaska checking on projects large and small, to add to his personal database and fill in the blanks of the public picture the AMA presented to the world about the status of mining in our state. Steve's knowledge base is undeniably comprehensive, his recollection is impressive and his presentation is flawless.

Readers of this column, however, will know all that already. Now that Steve has elected to resign as executive director at the end of this year, those of us in the Peanut Gallery have a remarkable opportunity. We can commemorate his tenure by documenting our personal perceptions. What I am proposing is that those of us who have clear recollections of some of the events of the past 22 years should reduce those recollections to a series of essays, ultimately to be bound into a book, perhaps to be called "Big Mines and Small - The Alaska Legacy of Steve Borell."

The vision is not to create a testimonial, but a chronicle. The AMA Convention Nov. 7-10 will be Steve's last as executive director. In 2012, undoubtedly, there will be new leadership and new directions to follow. Dust will collect on the volumes or history, and there will be new battles in which to engage. Accordingly, if this project is to gain traction, we who have something to contribute should take pen in hand quickly. I will assume responsibility for organizing the manuscripts, but I would ask that your articles (feel free to write several) be in my hands no later than the first week of October.

AMA has more than 1,000 members - almost every single one has been touched personally by Steve Borell, and most frequently that has occurred in the field of battle. Your contributions to memorializing your experiences will be an important element of the historical record and an essential perspective for those who follow. Please make this your personal quest.

Steve Borell is resigning as Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association effective Dec. 31, 2011. Now is a good time for you to help to chronicle his impressive legacy.


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