Peter Stortz

Peter Stortz, seen here at the Palmer Train Depot, is the sixth Alaskan to be named to the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

PALMER — Palmer resident and longtime 4-H agent Peter Stortz recently flew down to Chevy Chase, Maryland, to be inducted in the National 4-H Hall of Fame. Stortz is the sixth Alaskan to receive this recognition.

“I have to say that I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to many of the people that have nurtured me, encouraged me…” Stortz said recently.

On Oct. 11, Stortz and 15 others was inducted into the Hall of Fame to honor their various contributions that made a significant impact at the local, state or national level.

“In his nominating letter, Southeast Extension agent Darren Snyder said Stortz is known nationally for his innovative approach to teaching math and science in culturally relevant ways,” stated in a recent press release.

Stortz is a professor emeritus with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When he retired from 4-H, he left a far reaching legacy that impacted countless Alaskans, particularly the youth across the state.

His lengthy career with Alaska youth started in 1978 as the director of a Youth Conservation Corps camp near Juneau.

He served as the director of a 4-H environmental education center in Wisconsin until the call to the Last Frontier brought him back in 1989. When he returned, he became the 4-H director of the Mat-Su/Copper River District for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

In 1994, he became the statewide 4-H fisheries and natural resource specialist. In that role, he ran a salmon incubation and fisheries education project with participating youth from 10 Central Yukon communities. Numerous teens in the project were paid for counting salmon for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Stortz also trained educators to run classes on salmon incubation. With his help, the project grew exponentially, reaching over 100 communities across the state.

“I like to provoke people to think,” Stortz said.

Stortz was very active with 4-H and his contributions spanned over a spectrum of avenues. He coordinated a 4-H teen leadership experience and regularly shared information about his programs at the regional and national level.

4-H is the largest youth organization in the nation, according to the Alaska 4-H website. It has an 89-year history with the state. While many people may think of the livestock entries at the Alaska State Fair, 4-H is way more than that.

The program’s main goal is to empower youth by challenging them to work hard, gain valuable knowledge and skills, take on leadership roles, and engage with their respective communities. It’s open to grades K-12.

From science education and culinary arts to crafts and computers, there is a plethora of programs and activities designed to help kids reach their “full potential” and grow into productive members of society.

Stortz said that as he travelled around the state, going from one rural community to the other, one of his primary goals was to blend Western science with traditional knowledge from Alaskan Native cultures.

He said that he wanted to make the material “culturally relevant” to the participating youth and this approach was an effective means of engaging the various Alaskan Native children.

“Different people learn in different ways,” Stortz said.

Salmon is a major part of many Alaska Native group’s lifestyle and history. Stortz made a point to coordinate with elders to help blend the traditional knowledge systems with salmon biology. He said those two “streams” of thought worked well together and formed a symbiotic relationship.

Stortz spent many years learning the ways of different communities while lending his scientific perspective. Looking back at his lengthy history with 4-H, he said that he’s thankful for having the opportunity to widen his world view and make meaningful connections with people all over the state.

“I’ve been a student as much as an educator,” Stortz said.

Stortz said going over the bullet points that made up his career which ultimately led to his induction may be nostalgic but he also joked that it felt like an “obituary.” He said that his mind is always running and he has an insatiable appetite to keep going, to keep learning, sharing and connecting with people

“I don’t want it to be the end… I’m looking at a new chapter in my life, maybe a new book,” Stortz said.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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