“This has been a tremendous day,” said Joan Chitiea at NOLS’ 40th anniversary award celebration. In 1980, Chitiea became the first woman elected to the NOLS Board of Trustees. NOLS recognized the long-time supporter as a Trustee Emeritus at the anniversary gathering. “In my life, I was never able to have a title,” she continued. “This is my first title.”
Chitiea’s first experience with NOLS was in 1978. “When I took my first NOLS course, I was home. There’s magic when you are out there in the wilderness. We know millions of years have gone into what you’re seeing.”
Outdoor adventure has turned out to be a passion for the mother of four, who went on to kayak in Mexico, flyfish in Alaska, backpack in Kenya, and explore Alaska’s Brooks Range with NOLS. She also traveled on dog sled the entire 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail in 1993.
Much of Chitiea’s support of NOLS has focused on NOLS Alaska, where she led the move of a director’s house to the location in Palmer, and also donated private property nearby in 2004.
Another priority for NOLS’ first female trustee has been to advocate for women at the school. “I saw wonderful young women who didn’t have a voice,” Chitiea says of women who hadn’t been on a NOLS expedition. “And that inspired me.” Her own role as an early female leader helped break gender barriers. “As the first woman on the board, I was looked at with doubt. But everyone soon learned that my voice wasn’t loud, and I didn’t carry a big stick, but I did mean what I said.”
Today, the 78-year-old is proud of her connection to NOLS. “Every one of us wants to be part of something that matters,” says Chitiea. “We know we are involved in something that truly matters at NOLS.”