Copper River Nouveau weekend a hit

Prince William Sound Science Center pulls off 17th annual gala fundraising event

What does a community get when they mix up copious amounts of Copper River Sockeye Salmon, Alaskan ingenuity and a flair for good taste and style – just a tad on the wild side, patrons who return yearly to empty their pockets of hard-earned cash, and big-hearted volunteers who give up their Saturday nights to wait tables for their friends and neighbors, a U.S. Senator, the Alaska Lt. Governor, a few PhDs and Cordova mayors?

You get the Copper River Nouveau, of course – the Prince William Sound Science Center’s 17th annual, sold-out, benefit gala celebration and fundraiser. The event was June 18 in the atrium of the Cordova Center.

The weekend officially began Friday night, June 17, with Gallery Night, a meet and greet get-together at the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, where folks gathered to visit, listen to live music by Marian Call and Seth Boyer, enjoy beverages and light desserts, and peruse the array of auction items which would go to the highest bidder at the end of dinner the following evening.

Meetings, Awards and Benefits

The PWSSC board meeting was held during the first half of the day on Saturday, June 18.
By 5 p.m., excitement was definitely in the air, as more than 150 people, including U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski; Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and wife Toni Mallott, Rep. Louise Stutes, Independent U.S. Senate candidate Margaret Stock, Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin and his wife Lila Koplin, former Cordova Mayor Margy Johnson, the PWSSC board members, and many well-wishers congregated dockside at the science center for the presentation of the Fisheries Achievement Award.

This year’s recipient, Rhey Velasco, is the first Filipino-American to receive the award, which was presented by Sen. Murkowski, Lt.

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Governor Mallott, and PWSSC President and CEO Katrina Hoffman.
After the award presentation, guests headed to the Cordova Center, to the next event on the weekend’s schedule.

Dinner to Die For

“This weekend we celebrate something that every Alaskan has the right to be proud of: the ecosystems that surround and support our communities. Tonight, you are each a partner in the Science Center’s mission to improve the understanding and sustainable use of the ecosystems of the northern Gulf of Alaska,” Hoffman wrote to the evening’s guests, inside the Copper River Nouveau program.

Musicians Call and Boyer once again provided evening entertainment as people came into the center and registered, mingled, and found their table assignments.
Cordova’s own Rachel Kallander performed the Alaska State Flag Song. Her rendition was stirring and emotional, and guests were visibly moved as they stood up from their chairs as she sang, showing respect for Alaska’s Blue and Gold.

After warm, welcoming speeches and praise for the Science Center, it was time for dinner – and the Copper River Nouveau dinner extravaganza is one raved about long after the gastronomical delight is over.

This year was no exception.

Rock star guest Chef Shana Whitlock, of Torchon Bistro in Anchorage, prepared a gourmet, five-course meal, featuring wild Copper River salmon in various creative combinations. Whitlock was assisted by Haleena Hanson. Different wines complimented each of the dishes and guests’ glasses were never empty.

“I think this is at least my 10th or 12th time attending Copper River Nouveau,” said Sen. Murkowski, in an interview with The Cordova Times before dinner. “I won’t miss it if I can help it. I love this town. I find Cordova, and the people here, so warm, so rich and vibrant, and open. I love spending time here. It reminds me of where I grew up when I was young, in Wrangell. I love the smell of the air.”

Murkowski said standing in the Cordova Center caused her do a double-take.
“Are we really in Cordova? The Cordova Center is a culmination of the dreams of a community,” Murkowski said.

It was, indeed, a night to remember, thanks to the volunteers, and while it may not have taken an army to pull it off, the Science Center came close, considering the amount of time and effort put into making Nouveau happen so smoothly.

“We have an amazing staff here tonight and I want to pay respects for all of their hard work and dedication,” Hoffman said just prior to the dinner.

“We start planning in the fall. PWSSC staff, plus volunteers, usually amount to about 60-65 people. Auction solicitors, planning committees, set-up, wait staff, kitchen help, clean-up. It takes a lot of people to pull it off,” said PWSSC Communications and Development Specialist Signe Fritsch.

This year PWSSC saw an increase in ticket sales, primarily because they were in a larger venue at the Cordova Center, where the event could accommodate 144 guests. In previous years, the organization hosted about 124 guests when Nouveau was held at Orca Adventure Lodge. Tickets went for $125 per member and $150 per non-member.

$25,000 Grant for PWSSC

Judith Crotty, Wells Fargo Vice President/Community Development Manager, took to the stage during Nouveau to present PWSSC’s Hoffman and Lauren Bien with a hefty educational grant.

“Wells Fargo is pleased to announce PWSSC as a $25,000 recipient of the 2016 Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program. Thank you, PWSCC, for your stewardship in placed-based science and education in the world’s richest waters,” Crotty said.

Wells Fargo has awarded PWSSC with the $25,000 grant to help fund a Copper River Delta restoration project at Snag Lake.

Youth volunteers will participate in a 10-day learning camp, helping restore a beaver dam, create juvenile fish refuges, and re-vegetate stream crossings at Snag Lake. The activities will take place this summer and next summer in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Caring for customers and communities is embedded in our culture. We strive to create positive, lasting impact — socially, economically, and environmentally, through our operations, business practices, philanthropy and community engagement,” Crotty said.

“Since the 1940’s, Wells Fargo, formerly known as National Bank of Alaska, has been serving the financial needs of Cordova residents.  It is our corporate social responsibility to invest in the communities we serve.”

Highest Bidder, Please

The auction is one of the most exciting parts of Copper River Nouveau. It benefits both the Science Center’s supporters and the center itself. This year’s auctioneer, April Powers, often played with the crowd, encouraging bidding wars and playful banter, as items were sold for high price tags and for a good cause. Powers was assisted by Cordova’s delightful RJ Kopchak, who was Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

A wide variety of auction items were donated for the fundraiser, including vacation and dinner packages, local art and handicrafts, airline tickets, chocolate truffles, apparel, salmon packages, a tour of the Copper River Flats, flight-seeing with a local guide service, beauty and boutique items, jewelry, specialty clothing and footwear, Alaskan beadwork, fine art photographic prints from local photographers and numerous other unique packages.

The average net amount raised from the evening is approximately $75,000, according to Fritsch.
“A good chunk goes directly to our education department, some is used for outreach materials and programs, and also general fund operations and research planning – things that aren’t generally covered by grants. These might include pilot research projects, and planning meetings,” Fritsch said.

Unfailing Appreciation
“We believe in our vision of socioeconomically resilient communities among healthy ecosystems. It’s something everybody can get behind. Thank you for playing a role in ensuring that future comes to fruition,” Hoffman said in the program.
“Everyone makes such an impact on this event’s success. Everyone deserves kudos for their contributions,” Fritsch said.
The PWSSC Board of Directors consists of: Mike Mahoney, Chair; Angela Butler, First Vice-Chair; Andrew Smallwood, Second Vice-Chair; Don Moore, Treasurer; Chuck Meacham, Secretary; Doug Causey, PhD; Katrina Hoffman; Laura Meadors; Margaret Stock; Clarence Pautzke, PhD; Caryn Rea; Seth Walker; and Jeff Welker, PhD.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson
Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.