What’s Up with Peg? It’s her 90th shindig with Trustees!

One of our cofounders Peg Tileston turns 90 this month and we’re throwing a party!

Join us Nov. 30 to celebrate Peg, who has been instrumental in ensuring the health and evolution of many Alaska nonprofit organizations, including Trustees.

If you’ve spent a minute with Peg, you know there’s nothing like hearing her chat about Alaska, the role of policy and the law in our communities, and the power of passion and commitment.

First, a few things you should know about Peg

She arrived in Alaska in 1972 and started helping build nonprofits right away. (She helped establish Trustees in 1974!)

Peg served as Trustees’ first board chair from 1974 to 1982 and joined again in 2015.

She’s been producing the “What’s Up” informational calendar of events, deadlines, public hearings, and opportunities related to Alaska’s lands, water, wildlife, and communities since 1999! She started doing it when the Anchorage Daily News cut back on notices of events and it has grown to over 2,500 mostly Alaskan email addresses.

She received the Alaska Conservation Achievement Award in 2004, the first of the four current Trustees’ board members in that hall of fame.

Trustees ED Vicki with Peg at the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s 2020 lifetime achievement awards.

She was inducted into the Alaska women’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

Before and after

Peg describes her life in Alaska in terms of the “before and after.” She came to Alaska when her husband Jules was assigned to make recommendations for designating Wild & Scenic Rivers. Back then, people really contributed to their communities and understood their interdependence as strength, she said.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline changed everything. Construction began in March 1975 and brought “an influx of people from Outside, from Texas, and it brought so much money.”

This surge of people created a pronounced “exploit and get out” mentality, she said.

Each legislator got a pot of money to do whatever they wanted to do in their districts, and that cultivated a way of thinking that emphasized exploitation, she said, and a value system based on the idea of, “I want to do whatever I want and not pay taxes and not have regulations getting in the way.”

Before the pipeline, the sense of social interaction, awareness and concern about people was palpable, she said, and then that sense of community waned with the oil boom’s transient population and greed. It’s hard to have consistent and effective public policy when people come and go rather than stick around and really care about the future of a place, said Peg.  

Peg, circa 1974, when she worked to establish Trustees for Alaska.

More families and retired people stay in Alaska these days, she said, and that’s a good thing. When people stay, they care more about the people around them and about the future.  

A few good people 

Early on, Peg got involved in concerns around land and water. “I’ve been involved peripherally in a lot of issues, but in terms of taking on one issue, not so much,” she said. “I’ve been more engaged in structurally building organizations.”

She’s a cofounder and current board member of Trustees, of course, and is or has been a pivotal leader with Alaska Common Ground, the Alaska Center, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Women’s Environmental Network and Alaska for Better Media.

“It’s like that Margaret Mead quote about how the only thing that has ever changed the world is a few good people getting together and making difference,” she said.

Peg believes a well-structured nonprofit is a force to be reckoned with.

Her role in co-founding Trustees proves it. Like all nonprofits, Trustees has faced hardships and challenges. Just getting it off the ground took fortitude and several fortuitous run-ins with the right people, she said.

Then there’s the need for leadership that can regenerate and renew organizations particularly when founders leave, as Peg noted, and this can be hard, consuming and even traumatic.

In the earlier years of Trustees, Peg remembers the board bringing on members from ARCO and other industry interests “and I looked around the table and thought, oh my, what have we done.”

She joined others in nudging Trustees in the right direction and supporting its work more than once, and now considers it integral to all the major land and water issues in the state.

In Peg’s words  

Advice for others?

Find something you’re passionate about and rely on that passion and be true to yourself. People who retire and say “I don’t know what I can do” need to look around. There is so much to do.

I’ve written hundreds of letters to the editor, to agency heads, to others in my head, but I don’t get them down on paper. We need to get them on paper. We spend time electing people and then don’t bother telling them what we think. We can’t expect people to not step on our toes if we don’t let them know where we stand.

Peg Tileston taking the helm in Prince William Sound.

Her pet peeve? 

Greed.

What’s your favorite Prince William Sound cove, bay, or location? 

In front of the Hidden Bay falls that I have renamed the Frank Lloyd Wright Falls because of the marvelous angles.

Who are some people who have inspired you?

Celia Hunter, Esther Wunnicke, Jay Hammond, my parents and my sister, and all the wonderful people I have worked with.

What do you think makes a community healthy? 

People who really care about what’s going on and the well-being of the residents and stay involved.

Favorite books and song?

Jennifer Winspear’s Masie Dobbs series and Miriam Grace Menfredo’s Seneca Falls Series.

Any song by Peter, Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger.