Memories returning for Manila native Kathy Brady Smith

Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Kathy Brady Smith with souvenirs from the years she spent teaching in Alaska.

Kathy Brady Smith has had quite an adventure since graduating from Manila High School and college at Arkansas State University.

Raised in Manila, she is the daughter of the late Donald and Theo Brady.

Her travels took her to the Lower Kuskokwim School District in Alaska where she taught special education and later traveled across the district and became a multi-disability specialist serving 21 schools.

When the ice got thick Kathy said they could just drive across the river to the neighboring villages.

She and her husband James Smith now reside in Jonesboro.

Memories have become a happy event for her as she is recovering from an ordeal that almost took her life. Almost seven years ago she suffered a broken arm that caused complications which put her in the hospital for months. She could not walk, was on oxygen 24/7, and answered most questions with only a yes or no.

She started getting better in 2013 and a little over a year ago her long term and short term memory began to return.

This was the way Kathy traveled as she went from school to school in the Lower Kuskokwim School District visiting 21 schools.

Smith has been on dialysis since 2010 and is on the list for a kidney.

She said the good Lord sent James her way as he has been there beside her through it all.

Kathy is happy to be able to remember the years she spent in Alaska, the years she lived at Ozark Acres, and her growing up years in Manila.

She was in her 30s when she went to college to earn a teaching degree. She taught school in Batesville for one year and started on her masters degree in multi-disabilities.

She heard about opportunities for teachers in the Alaska schools and decided that's what she wanted to do.

She and daughter Summer, who was entering the 10th grade, made the decision to make their home in Alaska.

Smith recalls their first day: They left the Memphis Airport at 6 a.m. arriving at at Atmautluak at 9 p.m. They got off a small plane and there was a dirt road to the village, about a half mile walk.

"A teacher and two students were standing with a wheel barrow and two dollies," she said. "They said 'this is your welcome wagon.' We walked down the road to the school. I remember a lot of dogs and little houses between the airport and the school."

Her first teaching job in Alaska was k-12 special education. They lived on campus. It was nice weather when she arrived in August but the winter was yet to come. The temperatures would reach 40 below and but it occasionally dipped to 70 below.

"It was never totally dark," Smith said. "We had more daylight during the summer months and about six hours during the winter."

During her first years her son and only granddaughter at that time came to visit. They picked them up in a snow machine but on the return trip to her home they got off the trail and ended up stranded in the deep snow for 15 hours. It was quite an experience. They were rescued by village people who knew they were on their way home and came out to find them.

Smith fell in love with Alaska, finished her master's degree and took a position in the district office moving about 15 miles south to Bethel. The district was about the size of Ohio and she traveled among 21 schools working with students with multi-disabilities. She traveled in small planes and would sometimes sleep in a sleeping bag in the school while there. She traveled with a team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and vision specialists. Smith worked the traveling position for five years.

She went back to Bethel and taught K-3 until 2002. She came home, worked in Arkansas for a year and met her future husband, James.

The couple decided to go back to Bethel and she taught and he worked at the school as a teacher's aide. They spent two years there before returning to Arkansas.

Smith said she enjoyed her years in Alaska and the learning experience she received.

"I have eaten moose, caribou, halibut, bear and Eskimo ice cream made with Crisco, powdered sugar and berries," she said. "Where we lived we had seven miles of black topped roads and the others were dirt. When ice got four feet thick, the grader would grade the water and we could drive to the neighboring villages across the ice. I enjoyed living in the small areas but I also enjoyed visiting the cities."

Smith is glad her memory is returning. She made very good friends during her years in Alaska and said if she had it to do all over again, she would.

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