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Pamela F. Oldow.

Employing skills of narrator and navigator, Pamela Oldow has built a thriving enterprise as high-seas hostess and self-appointed curator of the Kenai Fords National Park. Her uncontainable enthusiasm for the area's wildlife and scenic splendor has infected thousands of travellers.

Boat tours piloted by Alaska's first licensed female skipper have churned up new opportunities in Seward's visitor industry, creating employment and increasing the demand for accommodations and other visitor services. Oldow is gratified to have found herself at the helm of companies that allow her to meet so many people and to enjoy the park's panoramas. I'm doing the most rewarding thing any one person can do, she says.

Seward residents were skeptical about the prospects for nautical tours of the Kenai Fords National Park. But Oldow and friend Sheila Scoby recognized the need for a way to transport tourists to the area. Says Oldow, We saw a real need to get people out there and to keep the cost affordable.' Co-owners of Kenai Fjord Tours with their husbands, Don Oldow and Jack Scoby, the wives were entrusted with operating the enterprise when it was launched in 1982.

Recalls Sheila Scoby, "The business got off the ground so quickly, the fellows had to retire to help us. We put them to work. " In 1985, lack Scoby left his job with NC Machinery. Don Oldow, who piloted the first supertanker to ply Alaska waters, was one of the first members of the Southwest Alaska Pilots Association, from which he retired in 1987

The Oldows also own and operate Resurrection Bay Tours, a business they founded in 1968 to offer fishing charters. When Pam Oldow received her ocean operator license in 1977, she became one of about 10 women in the world and the first in Alaska to earn the certification. In 1982, she received approval to captain larger, 100-gross-ton vessels.

Because Don Oldow was frequently away from home, Pam usually captained the boat. She recalls when large groups of men from companies such as Baugh Construction or Union Oil realized their fishing charter skipper was a woman, their first reaction often was Whoops!' But always before the trip was over, they'd be teasing the fun-loving Oldow.

Dennis Brandon, vice president of marketing for Westmark Hotels, also ran fishing charters out of Seward in the 70s. He says he's learned Oldow doesn't understand the words 'can not' on a business or personal level. She's always been gutsy enough to try things,' he notes.

Brandon says Oldow put in long hours and never promised more than she could deliver. He credits her business success to her pleasant personality. "People want to do business with her," he adds.

The National Park Service contracted with Resurrection Bay Tours to take planners and researchers to the Kenai Fjords area, which was being considered for national park status in 1977 Recalls Oldow, "Sometimes we'd be gone for six weeks at a time. It was like school for me. Pretty soon I was in love with the birds and other animals.'

Other passengers included several congressmen and Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus. The Kenai Fjords National Monument was created in 1978, and became a national park in December 1980. Kenai Fjords National Park encompasses 560,000 acres, including the Harding Icefield and numerous radiating glaciers that extend to tidewater. The area is home to numerous species of wildlife, such as puffins, eagles, sea lions, otters and seals.

Dave Moore, the first superintendent of Kenai Fjords National Park, says he chartered a three-day trip with Oldow for his first tour of the area. He was impressed by her knowledge of the park and its wildlife and by her skills as a vessel operator. She's really skipper of that ship and nobody better step on her toes," he adds.

Oldow initiated scheduled tours of the new park in 1980. To handle the growing tourism trade, the Scoby's were brought in as partners and a new company, Kenai Fjords Tours, was created in 1982. The business leased the Oldow's Shaman and the Scobys' vessel, Foxy Lady, and had a new boat - the 65-foot, 57-passenger Spirit - built in 1983.

Pam Oldow and Sheila Scoby travelled to trade shows promoting their business. Recalls Moore, "Pam worked like a dog. She went to boat shows and travel shows. A lot of people take others out to the park today as a result of work she did. She was our best salesperson."

Sheila Scoby recalls that she and Pam with deckhand jason Moore, Dave Moore's son, hosted 3,000 passengers in 1984. Intent on further growth, the business owners ordered still another vessel - the 75-foot, 90-passenger Kenai Fjords entered service in 1986.

Last year, 15,000 passengers sailed with the two tour firms. Resurrection Bay Tours operates half-day tours, and Kenai Fjord Tours takes visitors to the national park. The companies sell tickets from a glass-walled office in their own waterfront Seward building, The Landing. Also operated as part of Kenai Fjords Tours is one of six other retail businesses in the facility, the gift store Admiral's Buttons.

The most aggressive expansion yet for the company is the order of a new vessel, the 86-foot, 150-passenger Fjordland expected to be delivered in june 1990. It will offer more weather-protected viewing area than do other Kenai Fjords' boats.

Says Oldow, "We didn't want to give up the outdoors experience. But with more older people taking our trips and those who are more dressed up, we need to be able to offer more comfort." All company vessels have been built with outdoor steering stations so that Oldow and other captains can enjoy the outdoors and be more responsive to passengers on board.

Oldow's positive attitude keeps her from agonizing over the new investment and demands of growth. Says the skipper, We've had rapid growth the last two years. Ifs incredible; ifs awesome." She notes proudly that the owners have succeeded in holding ticket costs down. Prices will not increase from the $70 full-day tickets the company has sold since 1987 Half-day tours of Resurrection Bay with Resurrection Bay Tours are $45.

But Oldow admits there's a drawback to the business' success: Administrative duties are cutting into the time she can spend at sea. She adds, though, "I'm always going to go out. I'm never going to give up the boats."

Don Oldow and Jack Scoby also captain boats for the tour companies, as do son Richard Oldow and Eric Olsen, husband of daughter Linda Olsen, the firm's office manager. Sheila Scoby runs the gift shop. About 20 employees round out the company's crews.

Pam and Don Oldow have six children. They were married and made their home in Seward in 1967 A U.S. citizen since May 12, 1972, Pam Oldow was born in 1932 in Victoria, British Columbia. She graduated from a business college and was secretary of a school there. After moving to Seward, she held secretary positions for a law firm and the elementary school.

In the 1970s, Oldow served on the Seward city council and its Planning and Zoning Committee, the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly and the boards of the Seward Chamber of Commerce and Seward General Hospital. Although her businesses leave her little time for such activities any more, Oldow is vice president of the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the Alaska Visitors Association. Says Kathy Scott, president of the chapter and executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce "She has wonderful energy and has always been somebody willing to help out."

Among people Oldow has personally assisted with their tourism enterprises are bed and breakfast operators Joyce Simpson and Bob McCabe. Simpson launched her Joyce's Cinnamon House after Oldow prodded her into action five years ago. Oldow told Simpson the community needed someone to offer bed and breakfast accommodations. Says Simpson, who also took a previous job as an aid at the school with Oldow's encouragement, "She likes to draw people out and help them to discover talents."

Oldow named McCabe's Puffin's Roost Bed and Breakfast. He recalls phoning her to see if shed have any objections to his adopting the name Kenai Fjords Bed and Breakfast: "She told me I didn't have my thinking cap on when I called her up at 10: 30 one night. A half hour later she called back with 15 names, all better than mine. She's a pretty creative person."

McCabe's children have worked for the tour companies. "As a parent, I was delighted to have them see Pam's positive energy. She was always willing to talk about how the business worked and share ideas about other possible businesses," he says.

Says Oldow, "I want everyone who leaves Seward to have had a wonderful time." That's why she has helped her competitor's crews to learn to identify wildlife. Also, Kenai Fjord Tours captains keep a log of wildlife and fauna identifications to assist the National Park Service.

Pam and Don Oldow have become avid birdwatchers and spend winters camping in other national parks. Pam Oldow notes they've recorded sightings of more than 600 birds in places as far away as Australia.

Among birdwatchers, the Kenai Fjords tours are recognized as Class A birdwatching trips. Although the boats log whale sightings 85 percent of the time, Oldow says she's careful not to let the tour become known as a whalewatching trip. "I don't want to disappoint people. If they came out just to see whales, it would be such a shame. "

Oldow's passion for the Kenai Fjords National Park shows no signs of dimming. "Every time I see something different. Ifs so beautiful," says the Seward skipper and naturalist, "sometimes I cry."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Griffin, Judith Fuerst
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Kenneth C. Eichner.
Next Article:Lowell A. Wakefield.

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