Eva Pauline Ryan
Eva Pauline Ivanoff “Atauchaq” was born in Shaktoolik on November 13, 1929 to Paul and May Tetpon Ivanoff. Eva Ryan passed away on August 18, 2022 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Eva’s early years were spent at Merkoryuk on Nunivak Island in southwestern Alaska. Her father worked for Lomen Brothers and helped manage their trading post while her mother operated the weather station. In the late 30s during World War II, Paul was transferred to Golovin to work for the military. The entire family traveled by boat to their new home on the Seward Peninsula.
Eva completed grade school in Golovin and then attended the nearby boarding school in White Mountain until the end of her sophomore year of high school. She was transferred to Wrangell Institute, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in southeast Alaska. In 1947, BIA opened Mt. Edgecumbe High School (MEHS) in Sitka. Eva was transferred to the high school where she completed her senior year at Mt. Edgecumbe and was in the first graduating class of 1948. As MEHS was established on a deserted World War II installation, Eva often told the story about how the students worked hard to remove paint from windows blackened during the war. During her short time at the school, Eva was involved in many student activities. She was captain of the varsity basketball team and earned the nickname “Tubby”. She made many life-long friends at the boarding school and maintained those friendships throughout her life.
Following high school, Eva moved to Dillingham and worked as a nurse’s aide at Kanakanak Hospital. She spent a year there before returning to Norton Sound where her family had settled.
Eva met Wilfred Ryan, her future husband, at White Mountain in 1946. Wilfred was driving dog teams as an Eskimo Intelligence Scout traveling with Muktuk Marston. When Eva worked as a waitress in Koggiung in Bristol Bay, the two met again. When Eva returned to Norton Sound, she found employment in St. Michael. Upon hearing that Eva had another suitor, Wilfred piloted a boat from Unalakleet to St. Michael, proposed to Eva and she accepted. Their wedding was arranged on a very short notice. On August 15, 1949, Wilfred and Eva were married in Unalakleet. The ceremony was officiated by her grandfather, Commissioner Stephan Ivanoff. Eva found her wedding dress at the local trading post. The two had a handful of friends invited as witnesses and met at her grandfather’s house for the ceremony. Stephan married his granddaughter and her fiancé while wearing rubber boots and work clothes.
Wilfred and Eva moved to Kaltag in 1950 where Eva was hired as a Bureau of Indian Affairs teacher. With some of her wages, Eva paid for Wilfred’s pilot training and license. After a year on the Yukon River, they returned to Unalakleet. Eva worked at the local post office and Wilfred began his flying career. Together, they founded Unalakleet Air Taxi in 1953. Eva funded her husband’s first aircraft and assisted with the business operation. After six years of employment at the post office, Eva returned to teaching at the BIA Elementary School. Their family and Unalakleet Air Taxi grew, and Eva became not only a busy mother but also a hostess to many guests and clients of the air taxi.
In March 1977, Wilfred Sr. passed away after a short battle with cancer. Eva continued guiding their air taxi which later became Ryan Air Service. In 1980, Eva retired from a long and memorable career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She taught 4th grade in Unalakleet for 20 years. As a gifted teacher and storyteller, she made learning a fun experience for her students. Many of her students fondly recall their participation in Mrs. Ryan’s annual Christmas Program.
When the commercial herring fishery began in the Norton Sound in the 1980s, Eva qualified for a permit and started a lucrative fishing career, captaining her own crew during the season.
From 1988-90, she worked for the Headstart Program in Unalakleet as a cook. Eva was hired by Neeser Construction as their summer camp cook in Unalakleet in 1988. Eventually, this employment took her away from Unalakleet to Neeser job sites in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, Stebbins, Wales, and Teller, often for months on end. In 1996, Eva retired, this time for good.
In 1997, The Alaska Federation of Natives selected Eva “Atauchaq” Ryan as the first recipient of their Hunter/Fisher Award. Eva was nominated by her village Native corporation and not only was she the first honoree, but also the first woman to be recognized. Of course, she didn’t attend the convention to accept her award – she was out caribou hunting with her son in-laws near Koyuk. In her own words, “I’ve got too many things to do, I don’t have time to travel.” Eva taught her children and grandchildren how to hunt and fish. She lived a true subsistence lifestyle, providing for her family and others in the community and elsewhere. Villagers near and far received care packages of meat or fish and berries from Eva. She loved to feed people and her family and visitors were treated not only to good food but unforgettable stories as well.
In 2012, the twenty-seventh Alaska State Legislature honored both Wilfred Ryan Sr. and Eva Ryan in recognition of their contributions to air transportation and the Alaskan Aviation community. Wilfred and Eva Ryan, Alaska Native aviation pioneers, were inducted into the Alaska Aviation Museum’s Hall of Fame on March 22, 2012.
Throughout her life, Eva spent her days being productive, and depending on the season, she was busy with her subsistence lifestyle. Springtime found her joining family on annual outings to collect herring eggs on kelp, seal hunting, and “heading down the coast” to gather bird eggs. From June until September, she would dry and smoke salmon. Berry picking was one of her favorite pastimes; Eva would spend the entire day picking, not returning until her buckets were full. She also worked hard gathering drift logs for firewood. Her woodpile was the envy of every homeowner who owned woodstoves in town. Chances were great, that if you saw Eva using her chainsaw, she would have a cigarette in her mouth. It was a rare day when Eva’s four-wheeler wasn’t spotted somewhere on the beach or road. Early fall brought the opening of moose hunting season and Eva would head upriver to her cabin to hunt, usually with family members joining her. It was unusual if she came back from any hunt empty-handed. In the winter months, Eva loved ice fishing. She was a familiar sight on her snowmachine, heading upriver for the day. Eva was proud of her tools, and would tuuk holes in the ice by herself, and return home after dark with burlap bags full of trout. When the caribou returned to the area, she was usually the first to head out of town, eager to fill the freezer with more fresh meat. Bad weather days and evenings were a time to focus on crafts and hobbies. Every one of Eva’s offspring, their spouses, and grandchildren were recipients of her beloved knit socks. She sewed fur hats, mittens, parkas, quilts, embroidered pillowcases and doilies. She also taught herself how to weave grass, making beautiful baskets, dance fans, and plates as gifts for her family.
Eva Ryan was a strong, hard-working and independent woman whom many admired, respected and loved. Her kindness, generosity, and compassion will be greatly missed.
Eva is survived by her children Sue (John) Eckels, Linda (Clarence Jr.) Towarak, Wilfred (Victoria) Ryan Jr., Glenda (Jake) Sherman, Adrian (Amy) Ryan, Pauline Nicoll, Dennis Ryan, Ferno (Jim) Tweto, and Stephanie (Craig McConnell) Ryan; 28 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren; brother Larry (Maggie) Ivanoff; and many nephews, nieces and friends.
Eva was preceded in death by her husband Wilfred and infant son Dean; parents Paul and May Ivanoff; siblings Clarence Towarak Sr., Ralph Ivanoff, Myrtle Garrison, Johnny Ivanoff, Emma Moses, Paul Ivanoff II, Henrietta Hansen, Fina Bunch, Laurina Ryan and Glenn Ivanoff.