Photo of the Day – Tales From the IAF

Veteran IAF pilot Joe Pendergrass holds a cap with the official IAF logo he designed

The Iditarod race has many great stories to tell by the many men and women who help plan it, and travel the trail to help make it successful.  Joe Pendergrass is one of the many people who make The Last Great Race on Earth® what it is.  Joe is a member of a very special family; he is a veteran pilot volunteer for the Iditarod Air Force (IAF).  Within the inner workings of the race are the 28-30 volunteer pilots that are essential to its success.

Joe and a volunteer at Finger Lake 2007

They are a quiet group of folks who prefer to work inconspicuously in the background delivering the food bags in pre-race set, flying dogs safely back to Anchorage during the race and delivering veterinarians and essential volunteers to the different checkpoints along with anything else that can fit into their 4-seater airplanes with specially adapted skis.

Joe is a reserved, quiet man, unassuming and remarkable.  He talked to me a little about how it always amazes him that stranger will sit in his airplane with complete trust in him.  He felt that was a huge responsibility.  He wears his IAF cap with a lot of pride, and I asked him about the husky logo.  To my surprise he told me that he had designed it himself!  I asked him if the logo was available on other memorabilia.  He told me the fascinating story behind the patch and why it’s reserved just for the family of pilots who risk a lot and give up a lot to support the Iditarod behind the scenes.  Each IAF volunteer pilot is given the logo to use and a decal for the plane and even a special commemorative pilot handbook with a picture of their personal airplane on the cover.  It’s a special tradition.

IAF Logo – husky by Jon VanZyle photo from Iditarod .com

Here’s Joe’s accounting of the history of the design of the patch for the IAF.  “The patch, which is now the official logo for the Iditarod Air Force was originally the brain child of IAF pilot John Norris  It began as a design for a lapel pin in 2001.  John and I were co-Chief Pilots at the time for the IAF.  He explained to me what he had in mind and I designed the first draft, with the circle along with the words inscribed around it and the wings protruding from each side, it was obvious that I needed help in drawing the husky.  I took it to artist, John Van Zyle, who agreed to draw what we wanted on the condition that it would be four our own use and that we didn’t “sell” any of the pins.  He drew the husky with the goggle and scarf which were common for pilots to wear in the early days of flying in an open cockpit airplane.  I then gave it to my nine your old grand daughter, Jessica Parker, who filled in the appropriate colors.  We then sent it to a pin make and New York.  After a couple of proofs were sent back and forth, we got our pins and gave on to each pilot.  They were an instant hit.  A former IAF pilot, the late Bert Novak, took the design to a sign shop and had some “peel and stick” decals made.  They were also an immediate hit and they too were distributed to each of the pilots for identifying the planes that are part of the Iditarod Air Force.  At some point later, chief Pilot Bert Hanson had the design transferred to a cloth patch to be place on the hats and jackets of the members of the IAF.  It was at that time it became the new official logo for the Iditarod Air Force.” 

51DWHsqdvEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Want to know more?  Check out the wonderful book, Adventures of the Iditarod Air Force; True Stories about the Pilots Who Fly the Alaska’s Famous Sled Dog Race by Ted Mattson.  Its 29 chapters are full of the sometimes famously funny and sometimes daring acts of courage by the IAF pilots from its first year to the early 1990s.

I asked Joe about giving the Iditarod Air Force more attention for all the hard work they put into The Last Great Race® to recognize their dedication.  He simply shrugged it off saying, “Nope it’s about the mushers and the dogs.”  The Iditarod Air Force is a close-knit family that prefers to work behind-the-scenes and they like it that way.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

Tales from the Trail: Signing at the Start

We have been learning about the many, many volunteers who help the Iditarod run like a well-oiled machine – or should I say sled?  Volunteer responsibilities

With Kathy Cappa at the Volunteer Picnic

With Kathy Cappa at the Volunteer Picnic

range from making foot ointment for the dogs, to selling merchandise, to loading and unloading trucks, to working with communications, to being out on the trail, to just about anything and everything you could imagine.  You can see a list of all the opportunities for volunteers on the Volunteer section of the main Iditarod website.

We recently learned about a volunteer job we had never even considered before:  Race Start Sign Language Interpreter!  This was something that the students had never considered, but once the realized this job existed they thought it was a great idea to have this position!

I met Kathy Cappa this summer as we counted the ballots for the Iditarod Trail Committee before the Volunteer Picnic.  The boys recently sent her some interview questions and she graciously answered them all!

You can see the interview here:  February Interview with Kathy Cappa

Setting the Table

The students of 3A have a seat at the table at the Mushers’ Banquet!

Actually they have a seat ON the table….

Okay, actually, their artwork has a seat on the tables!

We have shipped our centerpieces to Alaska!


Every year, the Iditarod Education Department hosts a contest for school kids to design centerpieces for the Mushers’ Banquet. The banquet is held in Anchorage on the Thursday night before the race start. The main event of the banquet is the drawing that determines the starting order for the race.  The banquet is held in the convention center and upon entering, seems like a sea of round banquet tables!

Each table features several unique, original, and completely kid made centerpieces!  It’s such a treat to watch the mushers , fans, and guests carefully examine each creation and ooh and ahh over each!

For our project this year, we spent some time looking at both the science and artistry behind the Northern Lights.  Here are some great videos I found to share with your kids:  Northern Lights Videos

To create our Northern Lights backgrounds, the boys used a very wet watercolor application to a 4×6 watercolor postcard.  Before the paint dried, they quickly sprinkled Kosher salt over the paint and then let the watercolors dry.  Once everything was super dry, we brushed the salt off and were left with some really neat textures.  Then we used permanent Staz-On ink pads in black to stamp the sled dogs and in silver to stamp snowflakes on.  We mounted the artwork on a slightly larger piece of scrapbooking paper and added an easel to the back.

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I’m super excited to see all of this year’s designs!  This a great project to keep in mind for next year!  Designs are usually due in mid-November, winners are announced in December, and then the winning schools need to ship their centerpieces to Alaska around the end of January or beginning of February.  You can find the details on the Teacher Portal: