By Joseph Robertia
As voters hit the poles last week for the Oct. 1 municipal elections, those casting a ballot in Kasilof would have noticed many familiar things — poll workers ready to look up names, sign in voters and hand them a ballot, the booths in which to cast their votes, the machine in which to feed the cast ballot, and the “I voted” stickers to attest to the whole affair.
But one staple of voting day particular to Kasilof was not present — Louise Hann.
Hann was known as many things. More officially, she was the chairperson for elections in District 7. Perhaps more widely, she was the cookie woman, always bringing in sweet treats for voters to nibble while waiting to enter the ballot booth. And still to others, she was simply known as the kind old gal who always had her dogs with her, a Chihuahua named Scout and a dachshund named Lou.
Hann was noticeably absent from her post during the election, having died earlier this year, at 83.
“I miss her a lot,” said her daughter, Patti Hann, 57, also of Kasilof. She said that many of her memories about her mom are of her working elections or volunteering in other ways.
“She was here close to 30 years, and she is missed. People have come in looking for her and asking where she and the dogs are,” Patti said.
Louise’s story in Alaska is a familiar one. Patti came with her husband, who found work here. Louise and her husband came for a visit from California a few years later, when Patti had her first child.
“They fell in love with the place during the visit,” Patti said.
Before long, Louise and her husband moved north, themselves, building a small cabin on South Cohoe Loop.
Louise was active in volunteerism in the Lower 48, and Patti said that this zest for serving others came north with her mom.
“She was always interested in service projects and doing her civic duty. She was a member of the (Order of the) Eastern Stars, and rolled bandages for cancer patients. She was active on the (Kasilof Public) Library board, and she always liked helping with elections since I was a little girl,” Patti said.
Coming from such a large voter precinct in California, Louise had experience with working a lot of ballots, so when she began in the much smaller burg of Kasilof, she was able to offer ideas to streamline the process.
“She brought a lot of experience with her from when she started in California,” Patti said. “She made notes and suggestions, and they used many of them.”
Linda Wright, a fellow election officer who served the last eight years with Louise, spoke to Louise’s experience.
“She knew it backward and forward, and was very dedicated to everyone having their vote,” Wright said.
Without Louise there this year, helping organize and tally, Wright said, “We muddled through it, but it wasn’t the same.”
Jodi Toombs worked with Louise for 15 years of elections.
“She taught me a lot and we had a fine connection. There were times when I could just look at her when there was a problem and she’d look in a certain direction and I just knew what was wrong,” she said.
Toombs said that many missed Louise this election.
“I think a lot of people were sad when they realized she wasn’t there. She was always professional, made everyone feel welcome, and made it a happy place,” she said.
Working an election wasn’t wholly a selfless good deed though, as Louise got something out of it, too. According to Patti, her mother enjoyed the opportunity to connect with her friends and Kasilof neighbors.
“She liked to stay busy, but she also knew how much fun this is. She liked that this was one of the few opportunities to see and talk to everyone in the neighborhood you don’t see the rest of the year,” she said.
Patti helped her mother along the way — assisting people in registering to vote, counting absentee ballots and all the other election-related duties. Somewhere along the line Patti became interested in the process in her own right. And now she, along with the cookies and her dog, a Jack Russell mix named Lily, has assumed her mother’s role, serving as the District 7 chair.
“She got me into it, and I got my three kids into it. In 2008, we had three generations here working the election. It was a real special moment for our family,” she said.
Patti said that assuming her mother’s position was bittersweet. But she hopes, like her mother, to do her civic duty for as many years as she is able.
“I’m proud to fill my mom’s spot,” she said, “and I look forward to future elections. I have (multiple sclerosis), so as long as my health holds, I’ll go as long as I can.”