This is the sixth of nine short historical reminiscences to mark the 30th anniversary of the Homer Foundation, Alaska’s first community foundation. This series was produced by The Foundation and written by former board member Tom Kizzia. It was first published in 2021.
Alice Witte was the kind of coach who would tape inspiring hand-made posters to her athletes’ lockers on game days. She was 30 when she came to Homer in 1977 to be a girls’ PE teacher, and as the town moved into the new high school she coached softball, basketball and volleyball. She started the girls’ volleyball program, and won the state championship in 1990. A distance biker and triathalon competitor, she was known for her laugh, her ability to relate to young people, and her expression “Play like crazy!”
Witte’s death in 1994 from fast-moving breast cancer shocked the community. Parents petitioned successfully to name the new high school gym after the beloved coach. Kachemak City, where she’d served as mayor, named their playground in her honor. As the end approached, Witte and her husband set up their own legacy: a “Play Like Crazy” scholarship fund at the Homer Foundation, whose earnings would send a junior girl every summer to volleyball camp.
The Alice Witte fund was the first scholarship at the community foundation. Many more would follow. As of 2021, the Homer Foundation has awarded $370,000 to lower Kenai Peninsula youth for continuing education and travel.
Many of the endowed scholarship funds have been set up to encourage continuing education in particular fields: the arts, health care, science, the maritime trades. Some were established, like the Alice Witte fund, to honor the memory of someone beloved.
One of the newest scholarship funds, the Sutton James Miller Memorial Scholarship, was started in 2019 by Homer parents grieving the crib death of their son at the age of six months. When they endowed the fund, the parents wrote, “Sutton James’ name will forever live in the Homer community, via this scholarship, becoming an everlasting legacy where he will give a graduating senior a head start.” In May 2021, Homer senior Brianna Wise was awarded a $1,000 scholarship in Sutton James’ name.