About Edna P. McCurdy
Edna P. McCurdy, the namesake of Oualashka’s education foundation, had two identities in her life. In California, where she lived for many years, she was Edna P. McCurdy, but at home in Unalaska, she was always Pelagia.
Pelagia was born in 1909 and named after her maternal grandmother, Pelagia Shabolin Dyakanoff. The family had a home in Unalaska, and camps on Hog Island and in Ruff’s Bay. Pelagia spent most of her childhood at the Hog Island camp, learning subsistence and traditional skills from her grandparents. A favorite pastime was sailing on a small ship with her grandfather Nikifor Dyakanoff. She later shared that this was the happiest time in her life.
At age 6, Pelagia went to the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska, where she lived and attended school. Her grandparents passed away from an influenza epidemic in 1919. Little is known about what she did in the years that followed. She attended college and graduated with a teaching degree, which she wrote about in a letter to a friend. She may have spent some time working at a school in Barrow, and eventually settled in Richmond, CA, where she started a family.
In the summer of 1967, Pelagia moved to Unalaska by herself. She was home. On the island, she continued her work in education as a librarian and teacher. After ANCSA was passed in 1971, she gave up teaching and began to work at the Unalaska Aleut League – the predecessor of OC – where she labored to identify, locate and enroll OC’s original shareholders. This was a monumental effort, and Pelagia was dedicated to ensuring shareholders were enrolled so they could benefit from the new legislation.
There were other contributions to the community and the newly-formed corporation: Pelagia was an early board officer, and would encourage the rest of the board to focus on the positive. As a well-educated woman, she promoted the value of school and life-long learning, and as an Unangax, she shared with others the lessons she learned from her grandparents. She was also active in the Sisterhood of the Orthodox Church and helped establish a local health corporation.
In the late 1970s, Pelagia began to have health issues, and moved to Washington State to be closer to the care she needed; she passed away in 1985.
In the years that followed, Pelagia’s commitment to her people, the community and Ounalashka was often remembered by her friends and colleagues. These contributions were memorialized when the Edna P. McCurdy Scholarship Program was established in 1995 to help shareholders and descendants complete their post-secondary degrees.
Between 2000-2016, the Foundation awarded $2.1 million in scholarships, helping many shareholders and descendants reach their educational goals. The foundation is focused on helping recipients become leaders both at home in Unalaska and beyond – it is an investment in our future.
Pelegia would be very proud.