By Sherri Coner
Southsider Voice correspondent
Moving from Indiana to Alaska required an adventurous spirit and a good sense of humor.
Thankfully, former Southsider Kathy Jones, possesses both traits.
“It is definitely an adjustment from city life,” said Jones of her new venture.“Sitka is a small fishing village on an island. You can either fly in via Alaska Airlines or get here by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway.”
With a population of 8,600, Sitka boasts only one main road and two stoplights, no chain stores, no fancy restaurants and a handful of hole-in-the-wall bars. So Jones orders a lot of what she needs through Amazon.
“Everyone here still has a landline phone,” Jones said. “And sometimes, I feel like I am living in the 1980s.”
The whirlwind from Hoosiers to Northern Exposure came so fast that Jones barely had time to talk herself out of the trip.
Less than a month after a job interview on the phone, Jones found herself knee-deep in her new experience. On May 1, 2013, she hit the ground running as executive chef for the Totem Square Hotel and Westmark Hotel. Her first glimpse of employment in Alaska also paralleled with peak season for tourism. From May through September, 300,000 guests crowded the island. A few of them were even celebrities, such as Kevin Cosner, who brought his fishing gear to the island and his appetite to Jones.
Jones takes all of the stress in stride. That calm confidence might be directly related to the fact that she is living her passion.
Since the age of 5, this easygoing adventurer has been in love with all things culinary. Her first job entailed washing dishes at a restaurant. And Jones worked her way up, owning a couple of eateries, managing others and then working for five years as executive chef for Iozzo’s Garden of Italy Restaurant on the Southside.
“To prepare a dish for someone and see their enjoyment and excitement is awesome,” she said. “There are very few jobs that you can get instant gratification like that.”
Now that tourism season has ended, Jones is adjusting to the winter months, primarily spent in the dark. An 8:40 a.m. sunrise and a 3:30 p.m. sunset is a difficult adjustment. “I have increased my daily dosage of Vitamin A.”
Since Jones spent her childhood in southwest Florida, she appreciates island life and has purchased two small boats.
“Every chance I get, I’m out on the water,” she said. Sitka is in the southeast area of Alaska, so we are actually in a rain forest. The temperature here is mild compared to Indiana this time of year. It only drops below freezing for maybe 18 days a year. But it’s hard to get used to the rain.”
In her free time, Jones tools around in her boat and volunteers at the Fortress of the Bears, a rescue center. “I donate my food scraps to the bears. And my time, too, when I can. It’s always fun to watch the bears eat and play.”
Preparing for the new challenge required Jones to sell nearly everything she owned. And that was not an easy task. But being so far away from loved ones is the most challenging part.
Her address in Alaska won’t be permanent, though. This wanderer has another plan under her chef hat.
“Our plan is to stay in Sitka for five years,” Jones said. “Then we are off to Florida. I love the nature here, but I have discovered that I am an ocean-blue person, not rain-forest green.
Even with the lack of sunshine, the long flights back to Indiana for short visits and those grueling workdays during tourist season, Jones is still OK with her decision.
“I have been blessed with the guts to just pick up and do these crazy things,” she said. “But I am more blessed that I have the most wonderful lifetime partner in the world. Holly has been the most supportive person. And I have a lot of cool friends who help me get through. Life is good!”