Sharing Strength

Lorena Hegdal turned a life of challenge into a life of abundance she shares with everyone around her.

By Lynne Snifka

Lorena

LorenaThe sink in Lorena Hegdal’s kitchen is bright yellow — crazy yellow. It’s just a sink, but in Hegdal’s otherwise traditional kitchen it stands out like a red spot on a Dalmatian. The kitchen is on the north side of her Fairbanks home, and “I wanted it to always be bright and sunny,” Hegdal said. Paint seemed ephemeral. Towels not enough. A sink, however, feels permanent. “I had to order it special,” she said.

On a Sunday morning in early November, the smell of sourdough pancakes and fresh coffee filled the kitchen. At 9:30, the first shift of breakfast — two friends staying with Lorena and her husband, Ian — was finished and headed home to Anchorage. The second shift, including Hegdal’s sister, Ruth, had just arrived.

“Take some water,” Hegdal said to the travelers as she followed them to the door. “Do you want some chips or anything?”

“She likes to give,” Ruth said. “I tell her, ‘You know, you can come over to my house and not bring anything.'”

Hegdal returned to the kitchen, a red apron tied loosely at her waist. With her wide eyes, weathered hands and natural blush on lightly freckled skin, she seemed like an average woman in her 50s, which is what Hegdal insists she is.

blueberriesBut she’s also been the director of engineering at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. She’s a one-woman support system for college students from villages across Alaska. She’s raised two sons. She’s the first Native woman to graduate with a civil engineering degree from UAF. She’s a skin sewer, berry picker, hunter, fisher and role model. She is all these things despite circumstances that would have crushed a lesser woman. What’s more, Lorena Hegdal is, by most accounts, magnanimous beyond compare.

“She’s always done exceptionally well at whatever job she’s been doing, and she’s been a homemaker and mother on top of that,” said Chuck Coyle, Hegdal’s longtime friend and former supervisor at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “And she takes care of everybody. Not just family. Friends, people she gets to know. I’ve never known anybody like that.”