LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Gerda Kosbruk

Position: School Board President
School: Lake and Peninsula School District
School District: Lake and Peninsula School District
City, State: King Salmon, AK

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Gerda Kosbruk was nominated by her superintendent, Ty Mase.

"At this time last year, I had a phone conversation with Gerda," said Mase. "My conversation centered on the fundamental question of Gerda’s board participation due to her beginning a battle with cancer. When I asked if she wanted some time to recover and for the Vice President to take over, her response was, 'There is too much going on that I care about to step aside right now.' I had to chuckle, as I have had this conversation with Gerda several times before, with similar responses.  This woman is an absolute rock, and in many ways, she is one of the most impressive leaders I have ever worked with."

In the spring of 2017, Ms. Kosbruk was on a flight to her home village of Port Heiden, when severe icing caused the plane to lose power and crash. At 30 degrees below zero, with a pilot who had broken his back and a compound fracture in her left arm, Ms. Kosbruk sent out communications, activated the ELT, and single-handedly saved the life of herself and her pilot. 

"When she was released from the hospital, I asked her about flying to the next board meeting in Newhalen, and if she would like some time off before jumping back into board business and, of course, flying again," said Mase. "Her response? She felt that if we were asking students, staff and the rest of the board to fly, she had to get back on a plane and be there. The board meeting centered around a district-wide student summit, and Gerda asked to address the student body to speak about air travel and safety. With several plane crashes and deaths in our district that spring, it was a powerful talk and one that many of us will never forget."

The following spring, Ms. Kosbruk was on another flight when the pilot knocked the landing gear off of their airplane in Pilot Point. The flight was approaching King Salmon and prepared for yet another crash landing.  With the landing gear and wing severely damaged and a fuel tank draining fuel, they managed a successful crash landing with no casualties or injuries, though the plane was totaled.  Although understandably shaken, Ms. Kosbruk again refused to step aside and was soon back in the air tending to district business. She knew the district was watching and air travel was starting to be feared.

"There are no roads between our villages and school sites, so air travel is a part of our daily lives," said Mase. "Gerda knew, as a leader in Lake and Pen, that she needed to get back in an airplane and show students, staff and communities that it is simply what we do."

"This is just a brief recap of the last several whirlwind years for Ms. Kosbruk. For the past 18 years, she has been a pillar of the Lake and Peninsula School Board," said Mase. "She has been the board president for the better part of a decade, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Gerda’s support, advice, direction, and life lessons. Her understanding of our region and how it ticks is unsurpassed, and she has calmly helped me, and the rest of the board, maneuver the ups and downs of our region and school district.  She is our voice of reason, our calm, and our strength. While soft-spoken, she is a force to be dealt with and is respected across our region."

Ms. Kosbruk runs the board efficiently with a never-ending focus on students. The board discusses and listens to each other, and when it comes to vote, they vote together. During her tenure as Board President, she hasn’t had a single “no” vote on any action item. It's rare for a leader to bring people together like Ms. Kosbruk does. She keeps everyone on the same page and focused on kids.

Ms. Kosbruk is a hands-on board president who is grinding it out in bush Alaska with very little fanfare. She’s a caring mom, an active member in her community, village administrator of Port Heiden, a regional leader and, of course, board president. 

To close, here are some words from people around Alaska who know and have worked with Gerda in the past:

“Gerda has carried the LPSD family through a lot over her time, from budget cuts, standards based system and our latest, our subsistence calendar, with the state watching. It has been an honor serving alongside her and no one deserves this award more than her.”  - Austin Shangin, LPSD Board Vice President

“I’ve known Gerda for years. Her commitment to excellence in education is virtually unparalleled. I am thrilled that she is being considered for the award.” - Bryce Edgmon, Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives

“I am pleased to support the nomination of Gerda Kosbruk for this award. I view Gerda as the ideal board member who is supportive, trusting and willing to ask the difficult questions. Her forthright approach to her board member role always helped the group see the full picture and in turn, make informed decisions. I have a deep respect for Gerda as both a board member and person and know that she is deserving of this award.” ~ Steve Atwater, Executive Dean, Alaska College of Education

“Gerda has always been the strongest boots on the ground supporter for Meshik School in Port Heiden. It has been invaluable to have Gerda as a mentor, sounding board, and strength for our entire student body as we've moved through challenges and hardships in our small communities. Gerda is an amazing, even keeled leader and woman. She is very deserving of the LifeChanger of the Year Award.”  ~ Kasie Luke, Former Port Heiden Principal / HR Director

Comments (36)

Nate Davis Posted over a year ago

Gerda is the calm in the midst of the storm. She leads with wisdom and grace and is admired by all. Her perseverance is surpassed only by her togetherness. She has the gift, demonstrated with quietness and kindness, of pulling people together and heading down the right path. Lake and Pen and all of Alaska is all the better for Gerda Kosbruk.

Adrianne Christensen Posted over a year ago

Gerda is an amazing leader for our people. She is a guiding light for all the lives she touches. Her strength and resiliency are unsurpassed. She demonstrates our way of life in all that she does. Her work in developing the economy in Port Heiden has shown her innovative spirit and ability to adapt to a changing world. Her advocacy for our students and people through her work, stories, presentations, and photos clearly demonstrates the relational accountability she honors. I’m proud to call her my Auntie and I feel so blessed to be able to work and learn with her.

Kariana Welch Posted over a year ago

I love Gerda. I am grateful that my family and I live in Port Heiden with her. She is an amazing person, mother, teacher, leader and role model. She lives a great life with high morals. She leads by example though her love and kindness. She is a strong woman and I hope to be like her when I grow up. She has been a huge blessing in my life.

Hannah Middleton Posted over a year ago

Gerda is such an inspirational and hard-working leader in the LPSD family. She is dedicated to making our school district a wonderful place, and we are lucky to have her!

Alex Sipherd Posted over a year ago

Gerda is an example of how humans should behave. She diligently strives to set her community up for success. I have had the opportunity of teaching her son for two years and her values are evident in the way he behaves. She teaches respect, kindness, and perseverance. She actively is changing the lives of so many people through her efforts and example.

Rebekah ridley Posted over a year ago

Gerda is so strong. I’ve enjoyed praying for her over the last year and seeing how far she’s come.

Heather O’Domin Posted over a year ago

Good luck Gerda!

Christina Salmon Posted over a year ago

Gerda has always been someone I’ve looked up to and appreciated. Her hard work and nonstop support for our students is inspiring!

Laura Hylton Posted over a year ago

Gerda is an inspiration to us all, her calm caring way benefits all she meets. She continues undaunted by whatever comes her way, she is an amazing lady.

Racquel Posted over a year ago

Gerda is a wonderful leader and even more wonderful person. She knows what’s good for others and makes sure positive changes are happening. She’s a pillar in the area she serves and works. Things wouldn’t be what they are without her.

Bill Hill Posted over a year ago

Gerda Kosburk is the epitome of selfless, servant leadership; she sets an example that all our leaders should hold up as a standard to measure themselves against. Gerda represents her family, community, and region with a firm grasp of her own identity and a quiet strength that has an impact wherever she is. I personally look up to Gerda as she has had a profound, positive effect on her community and region while bearing the personal cost to herself and her family in a humble, stoic manner. Gerda is well-deserving of many awards but a "Life Changer" award suits her to a "T." Thank you, Gerda, for all you have done for the people of the Bristol Bay Region.

BARBARA O'DOMIN Posted over a year ago

I am so supportive of Gerda as this years Life Changer of the Year honoree. Her heart and compassion has proven time & time again she is and will always be committed to her village and its people.

Anna Jones Posted over a year ago

Ms.Gerda has always been someone I looked up to and aspired to be like. If anyone of us was have any problems we could always go to her and could trust it would be taken seriously and be dealt with effectively. She never made you feel less then you where she always lifted you up and wanted nothing but the best from EVERY student in LPSD. I know every student is lucky and proud to have you as there school board president. So if anyone deserves this award it’s her.

George Posted over a year ago

Gerda is a smart lady, she always knows what needs to be done to get a population moving in the right direction.

Jenny Myhand Posted over a year ago

Thank you, Gerda, for all you do for your village and our school district! Thank you for the example you set! I so appreciate and admire you!

Janessa Posted over a year ago

Gerda Kosbruk is a wonderful person. She works hard. She is good to the people she is with in any moment. I just love her.

Wanda Petitt Posted over a year ago

I’ve known Gerda almost all my life, she has always been a great role model, leader, amazing mom! She goes above and beyond to help people and does whatever it takes to keep our village going! Words can’t express how big of a heart she has, but she deserves this!

Jaclyn Christensen Posted over a year ago

Gerda Kosbruk is so important to us in our village not just for what she does but for her vision for her home town. She is not only reaching for her success she helps others realize their potential for success as well. Or maybe even a pep talk about how things need to change in order to move forward she’s always open to communication with people because her policy is to help the tribe thrive and continue to the path of sustainability for our region. Her matriarchal upbringing has taught her to see the family ties that build people up with a healthy dose of culture and career readiness she helps build business skills, economic and agricultural development to create food security that meats the needs of the village and opens doors for new possibilities, but we don’t stop their her responsibilities grown from tribal placement to full on tribal court development. No obstacle was too great for Gerda to conquer, she survived two plane crashes, and breast cancer but those are never excuses for her lack of involvement she was always willing to still have a presence even in her fight for her life she always stayed connected to her people and now she will continue and I do believe she’s gaining ground for the fullest potential for her community and I am so proud to call her family, she’s an inspiration and a friend. Thank you LPSD for honoring such a great woman, Matriarch of Meshik

Carol Wren Posted over a year ago

Gerda is an amazing human being, a survivor with a heart of gold. She cares so much for others and is a leader, role model and friend and family to many! I have spent time with her in the work of opioid prevention. She wants better for our people and is doing the work to help people get there!

Tisha Kalmakoff Posted over a year ago

My Aunty Gerda has helped raise me, she has helped me become the person I am today. She has taught me how to be a Volunteer, an EMS provider, a parent, and a freind. But most importantly she has taught me how to be a leader. Her strength and courage is proof that Gods plan for us, isnt always for ourselves but for all those around us.

Audrey Posted over a year ago

We love you so!

Random Reamey Posted over a year ago

Love you Gerda! I appreciate all that you do!

Kirsten Buckmaster Posted over a year ago

I have been fortunate enough to have received mentorship and guidance from Gerda during my time in Port Heiden. She is a pillar in the community and helped me to learn and grow with her example of patience and fortitude. I am thankful for her influence in my life.

Edna Posted over a year ago

Gerda exemplifies "Life Changer of the Year" She shows how strong she is by not letting anything or anyone stop her from working for her village and family! I love her tenacity!

Nana Kalmakoff Posted over a year ago

Gerda is a very good role model for her community being involved in all that she does. She has served on the school board for years ,done a great job being President. Gerda cares for the people in her region and you can see it in her work.

Rylee Manning Posted over a year ago

I first met Gerda because my parents were educators in Port Heiden, but she quickly grew to be one of my biggest supporters both academically and all other aspects of my life. She is a force for good, and has become one of my top role models the longer I have known her. She is one of the most kind hearted people I know, and I can think of no one more deserving of this award.

Bill Cornell Posted over a year ago

As educational leaders, we often look to other leaders we wish to emulate, and although it has mostly been during our interactions at school board meetings, I have to say that Gerda has made an impact on the way I try to approach leadership: with a clear understanding of vision, a grounding in reality, a big heart, calmness when it is needed most, and a determination to do what is right. Thank you, Gerda, for the lives you have changed without even necessarily knowing!

Debra Fortune Posted over a year ago

I had the good Fortune of meeting Gerda in her home Village of Port Heiden when I was employed as a speech and language consultant in the LPSD. It was apparent that she was all about her people and especially the young children of the school district. To me she is the perfect candidate for this award and I applaud her vision, perseverance and dedication. Debra Fortune Speech/Language Consultant

Bill Cornell, LPSD Curriculum Director Posted over a year ago

As educational leaders, we often look to other leaders we wish to emulate, and although it has mostly been during our interactions at school board meetings, I have to say that Gerda has made an impact on the way I try to approach leadership: with a clear understanding of vision, a grounding in reality, a big heart, calmness when it is needed most, and a determination to do what is right. Thank you, Gerda, for the lives you have changed without even necessarily knowing!

Tim McDermott Posted over a year ago

Gerda is the embodiment and expression of the best of values and strength. From a solid Alaska native upbringing and a unique character that can only be described as one of a kind, Gerda's wisdom, confidence, and decision making establish her as an authority and a leader in every socio-economic category of the region, from being a daughter, mother, (and soon to be grandmother) in the the family group of her village to the regional representation on the board she serves. There is no one that has more of my respect and admiration than Gerda for her selfless courage and leadership. She lives by example. Her voice is one that is heard. - Tim McDermott, LPSD Facilities and Maintenance Coordinator

Rene kosbruk Posted over a year ago

Gerda is one of the strongest persons I know. She does everything she can to help people. She has a huge heart. She deserves this award 100%!

Lance Blackwood Posted over a year ago

I'm a former teacher with Lake & Pen.Schoo District--(1977-97). I do. remember the name Gerda Kosbruk. She was probably a young child when I was teaching there. It does my heart good to hear how such people grow up to be responsible, caring & dedicated citizens to there communities and their District. Congratulations Gerda for all you do !!!!!!

Paulene Manning Posted over a year ago

Gerda is an inspiration to folks of all ages. Her commitment to integrity and excellence is demonstrated in every aspect of her life, especially when facing trials and hardships. Gerda always pushes through -- an inspiration of true dedication. She is a remarkable leader not only in our school district but also in her community as she diligently encourages growth, peace, and progress. She is a LifeChanger who leads by example and the rest of us have confidence following.

Jack Walsh Posted over a year ago

Gerda Kosbruk has been a valued member of the Port Heiden community for many years and someone who has helped our community in so many ways. Gerda has served on the school board for the Lake and Peninsula School District for two decades and has helped ensure that the needs of students, staff, and community are always the priority for the district. Gerda is a very positive influence and a role model for so many. After surviving a plane crash, she made it her mission to share her experience with students and community members in the hopes it could help them be better prepared should a similar event involve them. As a cancer survivor she has also chosen to stay positive and to show others the difference your attitude can make when these challenges come our way. Gerda Kosbruk is a Life Changer and someone very deserving of this honor and recognition.

Katie Zimmerman Posted over a year ago

Gerda has been a strong presence ever since I came to Port Heiden. Her sage advice and sense of humor has always been appreciated. I can't imagine Meshik School without her!

Kate Cornell Posted over a year ago

Gerda has been a rock for the district as a school board member, parent, community member, and mentor for so many people. Her ability to remain strong and calm in the middle of any storm is something I aspire to. Gerda is so very deserving of this award!