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Governor to Highlight Six Inspirational Alaskans in Tonight’s State of the State Address

Jan 30, 2024

Governor Mike Dunleavy and First Lady Rose Dunleavy are elated to announce the six Alaskans who will be featured in his sixth State of the State Address this evening in Juneau. These six Alaskans represent the heart and soul of Alaska.

Alaska State Trooper Investigator Kristen Benge chose what can only be described as one of the toughest jobs imaginable. After patrol posts in the Mat-Su Valley and Nome, she is now an investigator in the Child Abuse Investigations Unit in Palmer. Through her work, she stops abusers from harming children and sees that they are called to account for their horrible crimes. Her work doesn’t stop at the courtroom, Trooper Benge also plays a part in the healing process for victims and families as they recover from their trauma.

A new study out of Harvard University found that Alaska’s charter schools are the best in the nation, and Alaskans like Sheila Sweetsir are a big reason why. Sheila Sweetsir is the principal and co-founder of the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in Anchorage, which has been operating since 2007. Her leadership and dedication to nurturing and educating children with a combination of sound curriculum and indigenous knowledge show how outstanding educational outcomes can be achieved in Alaska with the right environment and approach to learning.

Sara Titus is representing classroom teachers across Alaska. She teaches preschool and elementary students in Ruby for the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, where she has worked for eight years, and she is also a reading interventionist. With a degree in elementary teaching from University of Alaska Fairbanks, she’s also taught in Huslia and Nulato, and is an example of the great teachers Alaska must recruit and retain to give students in every part of the state an opportunity to succeed.

Tarn Coffey developed his love for farming growing up on a small family farm near Talkeetna, and he’s one of the newest Alaskans working to build food security for Alaska at the Nenana-Totchaket project. Tarn acquired 225 acres in the 2022 land offering, and planted his first crops last spring, including the sweet corn he grew in his backyard in Nenana for a dozen years. He believes in the future of the Alaska agriculture industry, and he represents the pioneering farmers of all sizes needed to build food security and independence for Alaska.

On the evening of November 20, 2023, a hillside neighborhood in Wrangell was struck by a landslide that crushed homes, infrastructure and tragically claimed the lives of six Alaskans. First responders and volunteers from the community immediately began search and rescue efforts, even if it put them in harm’s way, and helped rescue Christina Florshutz the following day. Mayor Patty Gilbert is representing the spirit of Wrangell, and the closeknit community that is now in the rebuilding, healing, and recovery process.

Born and raised in Anchorage, Jenna Marshall manages an Anchorage Subway location and is representing the hundreds of thousands of hardworking Alaskans like her who don’t have the ability to be in Juneau to follow or influence policy decisions during the legislative session. In addition to her busy job, she is raising two sons and wants to see Alaska become a better and more affordable place to have and raise families.