Chris, B.Ed. ’88; Kathleen, B.Ed. ’94; Katy, B.S. Nursing ’07; Danny, B.A. Theatre ’08
Hometown: Palmer, Alaska
Fun Fact: Katy and Danny are fourth generation Alaskans through Kathleen’s side of the family.
Sitting down with the Jones family for an interview about their collective UAA experiences felt like catching up with old friends. Chris, Kathleen and Katy huddle on a couch in the waiting room of the Providence Children’s Hospital (where Katy is a nurse and is awaiting the start of her night shift) and Kathleen holds her iPhone, streaming a Skype connection with Danny on the other end in New York. There is an ease about them; you can tell they’re all very close. In fact, being near family is one of the reasons both Katy and Danny attended UAA when they did. For Chris and Kathleen, Alaska has always been home, so UAA was a natural choice.
Kathleen Belgard and Wayne “Chris” Jones met in 1976 working on Section I of the Alaska Pipeline out of Valdez. Chris was a powder monkey packing dynamite, and Kathleen was a Teamster driving busses for the labor force. Within a few years they were living in Anchorage, starting a family and thinking about going back to school.
“I took just a couple of classes at Anchorage Community College. We lived a couple of blocks from UAA, but it wasn’t until we moved to the Valley that we decided to enroll,” laughs Kathleen.
Wanting to be on the same general schedule throughout the year, Kathleen and Chris both decided to pursue education, elementary and physical education respectively. Chris enrolled in 1982 and shortly after he graduated in 1988, Kathleen enrolled. By the time Kathleen graduated in 1994 at age 41, Katy was a freshman and Danny was just finishing up fourth grade.
When Katy graduated from Colony High School in 1997, she was ready to explore outside Alaska and chose to get her first degree at Northern Arizona University in public health.
“I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that degree,” she says. “So I traveled around for a bit and ended up moving back to Alaska because my family was here. I worked in my uncle’s medical office for a while and realized how interested I was in nursing. So I applied to UAA and it was really an excellent program.”
Danny went straight to UAA for theatre when he graduated from Colony in 2002 but didn’t take school seriously at first. He took a semester off, only to discover that he really wanted more than working a day job with acting on the side. So he went back with renewed motivation.
“I did at one point question if UAA was the best school for what I wanted to do,” admits Danny, “but as I started exploring other options at highly competitive schools, I realized I had all the opportunity I needed right in front of me.”
He quickly took over the Theatre Club, became president of Theatre on the Rocks, starred in as many productions as possible, directed others and even designed shows for theatre and dance.
“I found out that UAA was perfect for me when I totally immersed myself,” he says. “I realized that for someone who can apply themselves and had good abilities, I could do almost anything I wanted here. I also got to stay in Alaska and near my family, which I’m so thankful for.”
In her role as a pediatric nurse at Providence, Katy now gets the opportunity to be a preceptor for current UAA nursing students still finishing their clinical rotations. She also sits on numerous committees at work and loves getting involved. Her plan in the future is to return to UAA for a master’s degree in education so she can eventually teach for the nursing program.
Danny earned a full-ride scholarship to Florida State University after UAA, received his master’s degree in 2011 and is now living his dream of finding acting work in New York City. In between auditions, he is launching a nonprofit theatre company, called The Night Shift (coincidentally, with a fellow UAA theatre grad).
As for Mom and Dad? Chris retired from the Mat-Su School District last year after 22 years in physical education and health at Iditarod Elementary School and Palmer Junior Middle School. Kathleen is counting down the days (not in a bad way) to her retirement from Sherrod Elementary School this spring, wrapping up 19 years as a 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade teacher (and a teacher mentor to three former student teachers in the past who were in UAA’s education program as well).
“I look back and am really glad that I did what I did, all four of us are,” says Kathleen. “We’re all really glad we’re in the places we are in our lives, and UAA has been a big part of that. I’m constantly reminded that in education, or nursing, or theatre, you’re learning all the time. As lifelong learners, UAA did us well.”
“I think for me,” says Danny, “the position that I’m in now in New York is one of really having to claw at and find different angles of opportunity. At UAA, though, you have the ability to walk into things—you could want to try something, feel an itch, and you could walk into any department at UAA and get a fair shot. UAA was definitely an outlet for opportunity.”
Katy says, “A lot of people in my nursing cohort, this is their second career or degree, and you see that a lot at UAA, a wide range of people just out of high school versus people in their 30s and 40s. That diversity is really nice, I liked that a lot about UAA.”
Chris talks fondly of his time on the first-ever UAA downhill ski team in the ’80s and being on a high latitude sports research team that conducted physical and psychology profiles of Iditarod mushers.
Danny didn’t realize his dad recently decided to start volunteering for the Mat-Su Search and Rescue team now that he has settled into retirement. Katy was excited to hear Danny had just auditioned for a Best Buy commercial. And Kathleen bragged about her daughter’s recent award, the 2012 March of Dimes Pediatric Nurse of the Year for Alaska.
This is a family that cares deeply for each other; they laugh together and learn together. After the interview wraps up, they continue to catch up with each other over the Skype connection, mirth spilling out into the hallway.