Susanna Henry moved to Dillingham in 2013 from Arizona. While she's happy to retire, saying goodbye to her home comes with mixed feelings.
Susanna Henry is officially retiring after six years of living and working as the manager of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Her career spans over 30 years with the federal government. She spent 14 years with the Bureau of Land Management before joining the fish and wildlife services.
"I really wanted to hit a sweet spot," Henry told me when I asked her how she knew it was time to retire. "My husband retired in 2013. We’re both still in really good health, [we] can still do some travelling and have some fun with our grandkids. That was really it."
While the timing may be right for Susanna Henry to retire as manager of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, she said it will be hard to leave her home.
“The people of Dillingham I’m going to miss tremendously," Henry said. "There’s just so many people who are extremely friendly, resourceful, helpful in so many ways. I can’t expect that in the future. I leave with mixed feelings in that regard. They’re just a whole suite of very impressive folks.”
Henry moved to Dillingham in 2013. She came from Arizona, where she managed the Kofa Wildlife Refuge after 14 years with the Bureau of Land Management.
Henry received a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State and went on to get her masters in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Arizona. Her love for the natural world stems from childhood.
“Some of the things that really sparked my interest as a young person was excellent teachers including my fifth grade teacher who encouraged me in science and math – Mrs. Sharp," she said. "And also trips with the family to national parks, monuments and national forests.”
Henry said wildlife refuges weren’t really on her radar as a kid. She first explored public lands during her stint at Colorado State. Her visit to Monte Vista Refuge in Colorado as an undergrad was unforgettable.
“What a fascinating place that was, just loaded with water fowl," she said. "We students stayed on the floor in the refuge manager’s office this tiny little office they had there in our sleeping bags. It was very cold. That’s a very cold valley it just drains down in there. I remember going out on a very cold morning and looking at all the ducks and geese on the ponds there what a fascinating place.”
Still, Henry said the first time she flew over the Togiak Refuge, she was especially captivated.
“I flew across the refuge in a refuge airplane flown by our pilot," Henry said. "I could not believe that one river after another is completely natural – undammed, no channelization, no diversions. They are allowed to do whatever they want. And I would say, ‘Which river is this, is this the Togiak River?’ They would say, ‘No, this is Ungalikthluk or Negukthlik.’ I was lost out there in this sea of green and beautiful lakes everywhere.”
With a long career and her time in Bristol Bay behind her, Henry and her husband Bob are moving to Southeastern Arizona to be near family. But she might volunteer at some local parks and museums after they settle in.
“I think I could help them, as a volunteer naturalist," Henry said. "I’m not sure I want anything much to do with paperwork. I don’t think I want to do any budgets for them. I’m not sure I want to do any hiring or disciplinary actions again. But I will do work in the outdoors and I don't mind working with people."
Now, it’s time to put a life of leisure ahead of her.
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