Mariben Hulsey graduated from Brenau College with a degree in English in 1954. She taught locally for a few years, but yearned for something more.
An advertisement for teachers at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska caught her eye. After an interview, she and a friend packed up her car and set out in the fall of 1962 on the 4,400 mile journey across the U.S. and through Canada.
She packed two spare tires, but only had to use one. Bear in mind that a large portion of the highway was not paved.
I have an admiration for people who take a chance and go for life’s adventures. I know folks who have hiked the Appalachian Trail in retirement or have journeyed to every continent on the planet.
Two women in their 20s driving cross country was quite an adventure in that day. No cell phones or air conditioning, not that you needed it once you got close to Alaska.
In full disclosure, let me tell you that Mariben was my wife’s aunt. Over the years, my wife, her siblings and cousins went to visit their Alaskan aunt and her family. They all have stories of seeing the unspoiled beauty of our northernmost state, including seeing elk stroll down the streets of Anchorage. I never got to make that trip, but look forward to going in the future.
She spent most of her life in Alaska, but still had a fond place in her heart for her home state of Georgia. Every year or so, she would come and spend a few weeks enjoying Lake Lanier and the nearby mountains.
After taking time to have two daughters, she taught in the Alaska public schools, teaching literature, reading and writing. Her husband, Dennis O’Brien, died a few years ago and she continued to make her home in Alaska, where she died last month at 87.
I think that all of us, at one moment or another, have a dream of pursuing an adventure in life. Some want to be a doctor, dancer or designer. Others have a dream of visiting every National Park or every major league baseball stadium. I don’t know if Mariben had even heard of Alaska when she was growing up, first in the Airline community and later on Riverside Drive. But when the idea of moving to our 49th state presented itself, she grabbed onto the ring and took that chance for adventure.
I know a couple that took a retirement trip out west and ended up taking a seasonal job in a National Park. It may not have been on the radar screen, but they found their adventure, as well.
For others, it may be teaching citizenship classes or English to those who want to come to our country for their adventure. There is a great satisfaction when the light comes on and they begin to understand.
I have several things on my bucket list of things I want to accomplish before I finish this part of the journey. Before I absolutely rule anything out, I will think about that young woman who loaded up for a trip that would change her life forever.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.