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Daisy Lee Bitter celebrates her 90th birthday

February 1st 1:48 pm | Christina Whiting Print this article   Email this article  

Daisy Lee Andersen Bitter recently celebrated her 90th birthday, surrounded by friends, family, coworkers, community members and former students — from Homer, throughout Alaska and the Lower 48.

Dedicated and passionate about being involved in her community, she has received many awards, including the Homer Public Library's Lifelong Learner Award, the Governor's 8 Stars of Gold Award, an Excellence in Education Award and awards from the Alaska Conservation Society. She taped two television series - Alaska Ecology and First Alaskans, which won the Alaska Press Club award. In 1986, she was named Homer's Citizen of the Year, was Grand Marshall of the Fourth of July parade in 2014, and in 2015, she was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame.

"I was brought up that if you are willing to get in there and do the work yourself, then other people will do it along with you," she said. "Homer has lots of these kinds of people around. The natural beauty is wonderful, but it's the people that make a community."

Well known for her lifelong advocacy for the natural environment, Bitter was inspired early on by an uncle who shared with her his interest in geology and botany. While working as a principal in Anchorage, Bitter chartered Halibut Cove resident, Marion Beck and her boat, the Danny J to take students on field trips across Kachemak Bay.

"I wanted the students to see a woman doing what Marion does," she said. "I knew that lesson had worked when I overheard kids whispering, "did you see that's a woman driving the boat and she's wearing high heels."

Bitter was appointed to the first advisory board of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and over the years, took many students, teachers and community members on field trips across Kachemak Bay.

She was also instrumental in creating the local Coastwalk program, where citizen volunteers adopt a section of shoreline and walk it annually, noting changes, collecting data on marine life and human impacts and cleaning litter and marine debris.

Bitter helped to create Kachemak Heritage Land Trust and has chaired the annual Marine Educators conference and field trips. She is well known in the community as the voice of the weekly radio program, Kachemak Currents, which she has been hosting for the past 32 years.

Born in California in 1928, during the Great Depression, Bitter's family traded homemade bread for milk with neighbors and she was taught to care for her brothers and sisters.

One of her jobs on the farm was to drive the family's noisy tractor, which she began doing when she was 5 years old, and which contributed to her hearing loss 50 years later.

When she was 18 years old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She began taking insulin and hid her diagnosis from everyone, except her family and closest friends.

"Back then, they had very archaic ideas about diabetes and, as a teacher, I was worried parents might not want their kids to go on a field trip with me," she said.

Today, she is a staunch advocate for people not being labeled by their diseases.

"I don't like to be referred to as a diabetic," she said. "I am a person with diabetes. We don't call people with cancer, cancerics or people with high blood pressure, hypertensivics. We are people, not walking diseases."

Bitter and her husband, Conrad were married for 50 years when he passed away in 1999. He had proposed while she was still in high school, but she insisted on waiting.

"I knew that if I got married and started having a family, I wouldn't be able to go to college," she shared.

In college, she studied for her bachelor's and played baseball and basketball, representing her school during a time when women were fighting for sports rights in schools.

She got her degree in 1948 and began teaching at schools in California. In 1954, she and Conrad married and the couple decided to move to Alaska, inspired by stories of the state's natural beauty. They set out in July of that year, five years before statehood, driving a 1-ton pickup truck and pulling a 30-foot house trailer up the Alaska Highway.

Unable to carry her babies to full term, due to her diabetes, the couple adopted their son, Tim, in 1960. She taught at various schools around Anchorage, then worked as a principal and was the first director of the Indian Education program.

In 1983, she retired from a 35-year teaching career and the family moved to Homer. Here, she volunteer-taught local teachers and volunteers, as well as biology teachers from around the state. In order to try to teach a meaningful class to all her students, she ordered 81 pounds of shrimp from local fishermen and told the teachers they would be teaching a lesson on shrimp.

"When they said they didn't know that much about shrimp, I told them that by tomorrow they would know a lot," she said.

The next year, she did the same thing, but with Dungeness crab.

Looking back at her 90 years, she shared that of all that she has accomplished, she is the most proud of her teaching career and the relationships she had with her students.

"They told me I was the fairest teacher they had and I worked hard at being a good teacher, so I'm glad they saw that," she said. "Being the best teacher I could be is very important to me."

 

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