Perry T. Mendenhall
Perry Thomas Mendenhall was born August 5, 1946 in Nome to Dolly Mendenhall of Kotzebue and William Sheldon Sr. of Noorvik. He passed away in Nome on March 30, 2022 of diabetic complications and COVID 19, leaving a history of long service to the town, region and state as an educator and dedicated board member for Alaska Native Corporations, non-profits and other public service groups.
Perry’s mother had come to Nome to work in restaurants and cook in mining camps. Her mother Grace, a widow, also came to care for baby Perry. Dolly married Thomas Prout in 1948. They moved to Idaho and Perry welcomed a brother Robert and sister Linda Prout. When Dolly divorced she returned with her children to Nome, again to work, Perry once more spending much time with his grandma Grace. Starting as soon as enough snow was gone they were out in the hills trapping squirrels, living in a tent. In summer, they were at her camp at Fort Davis for purse seining and drying salmon, then on to more tenting and camping behind Cape Nome for berries and bird hunting. When Perry grew older she would give her .22 and a handful of bullets and tell him to go hunt. And, of course, he packed many gallons of berries. He said an important lesson from her was to always put away enough of everything for two years for “we never know what’s coming.” From his grandmother Perry learned to love the subsistence way of life and later was able to build his own camps, and until he had poor health he and his partners got a moose almost every year. His main sea mammal hunting partner for years became Charlie Johnson.
Perry’s mother continued working in Nome and when Perry was in Jr. High School he became active in the Assemblies of God church and helped to build a youth group. Dolly married James Spencer, a technician working at the new White Alice site and then Tin City.
Perry often continued living with his grandmother and other relatives, and would welcome three more siblings: Virginia, Victor and James Jr. Spencer. He graduated from high school at Glenallen, where Dolly and Jim had moved to, and decided he would attend Central Bible School in Missouri. In 1968 he was awarded a degree in Bible/Theology. But when he was an interning pastor at Valdez, he decided to become a teacher instead. He joined the Rural Teacher Training (X-CED) program through UAF and graduated in 1973 with a BA in Elementary Education, going to Teller for his first teaching job. Teller people remember how much they liked him as their teacher. But that year he got another challenging call and joined Tim Towarak at Nome for the work of starting up the regional non-profit Kawerak. As part of that he managed the boarding home program for the new combined Nome-Beltz High School that served students of the entire region.
In 1974, he married Nancy Thomas, another educator, a divorcee with four children, and took another teaching role. The next summer they and three kids went on a backpacking trip through Europe – this time they were all students.
In 1976, they were blessed with son Eli Sigvan.
Perry earned a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Oregon in 1980 and returned to Nome Schools as a federal programs coordinator. During these same years he also had developed a strong interest in the work of the growing Native Corporations and non-profits of the region and state. For the next 40 years he served on boards for various time lengths at Bering Straits Native Corp., Sitnasuak Native Corp., Kawerak, Nome Eskimo Community, Northwest Community College, ICC, Northern Norton Sound Fish Advisory Board, Arctic Native Brotherhood, RurAL Cap and various AFN and state committees.
From 1983-1993 Perry was X-CED faculty at Northwest Campus/UAF in Nome, preparing rural students to become teachers. When that program was closed down he taught elementary school at Gambell. During a year teaching at Stevens Village, he suffered a stroke and his doctor advised retirement, for which he had enough years in the system. Retirement gave him the opportunity to do much more hunting, providing a camp for fishermen, berry pickers and now grandchildren playing on the beach. He was salmon gillnetting every summer, usually with smoking and drying. He and his wife and son also had small-scale gold camps at Darling and Milroy Creeks for several years. He took special pleasure in his grandson Vincent Henry Mendenhall, Eli’s boy, who mainly lived with him.
His last public service was on the Elders Committee at Sitnasuak.
Perry was preceded in death by his grandparents, mother and father, and half-sibling Robert Prout. His half-siblings through William Sheldon Sr. were and are: Vera, Donald, Allen, William, Linda Sampson, Norma Jones, Velma Rutland, Maggie Thrasher and Nita Towarak.
Surviving are his wife Nancy, half-siblings Linda Kline (Prout), Virginia Wise (Spencer), Victor Spencer and James Spencer Jr.
Surviving him also are his son Eli Mendenhall, grandson Vincent Henry Mendenhall, stepchildren Dan Thomas, Rob Thomas, Lesley Thomas, Frank McFarland and step-grandchildren Torvald Thomas, Nicole Thomas-LaBombarda, Scott Aningayou, Chris Aningayou, Melissa Aningayou, Shannon Lin, Colin McFarland, Braedan McFarland and Yuka LaBombarda.
The family plans to have a celebration of Perry’s life in the latter part of June, some or all of it at his camp.