Charles Bunnell studied Greek and Latin in school, won awards for his oratory, and became a teacher, attorney and judge. His boyhood chores, though, were milking cows, chopping firewood and cutting acres of grain with a scythe on his family’s Pennsylvania farm. This training in both intellectual endeavors and hard physical labor would serve him well as president of Alaska’s first institution of higher education.
Bunnell and his wife, Mary Ann, arrived as teachers in Kodiak at the turn of the century. They soon moved to Valdez, where Bunnell studied law until passing the bar exam. He also got into business and politics. After losing the 1914 territorial delegate election to James Wickersham, he moved to Fairbanks to take a federal judgeship. When a change in the national administration relieved him of that job, the trustees of the newly formed Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines hired him as president in 1921.
For the next 27 years, he held that title but also served in capacities ranging from chief recruiter to ditch digger. The job was all-consuming. Mary Ann left Alaska in summer 1929 and never came back. Their daughter Jean also left for college outside that year but returned often. Bunnell retired in 1949 and died in Burlingame, California, on Nov. 1, 1956.
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