PWSSC 19th annual Copper River Nouveau

Scallop and halibut ceviche and salmon croquettes resting on silver trays bounced quickly from group to group, as hors d’oeuvres were snarfed down.

Sunlight pierced through the tall windows at the Cordova Center on Saturday, June 9 during the Prince William Sound Science Center’s 19th annual Copper River Nouveau benefit gala.

PWSSC co-founder R.J. Kopchak walked down the long staircase, sunbeams highlighting his salmon tie.

And applause, shouts, whistles and laugher pierced the air as former Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt recounted her first taste of Copper River king salmon nearly 14 years ago.

“I was at the table by myself,” she said. “I kind of looked around the restaurant and everybody was busy talking, looking out the windows, I licked my plate.

“I never did tell my mother about that one,” she said smiling.

Marquardt, now executive director of the Alaska Marine Highway System, spoke on behalf of Gov. Bill Walker, who was unable to attend this year’s Nouveau.

“I know what it’s like to live in a fisheries dependent, coastal community that’s not on the road system,” she began, drawing thunderous applause from Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and the rest of the audience.

Marquardt, who served as mayor of Unalaska for many years, said she understands the hardships and challenges facing rural Alaskans.

“When you’re not on the road system, that’s a whole other ball game,” she said. “And even with all of the challenges and frustrations that it brings, I think we all know there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.”

“This is a very, very special place,” she said of her first-time visit. “This place has got so much heart and soul and determination.”

Marquardt closed her speech with words of encouragement for the community and science center.

“What you’ve done here and what you’ve done with the PWSSC, thank goodness you’re doing that,” Marquardt said. “Because so many other communities, they’re not. It just takes continuous, continuous work, so don’t ever give up. Don’t ever think that any job is too big or that any problem is too large.”

The feast prepared under the direction of SALT Chef Lionel Uddipa, featured hors d’oeuvres, roasted summer squash soup, local butter leaf salad, Mediterranean-rubbed sockeye salmon and mixed berry champagne cake.

Items up for the silent auction, including artwork, clothing and collectables, were placed on tables in North Star Theatre where people frequented, checking on their bids.

Many in the audience rose to join in, some teary eyed, as Rachel Kallander strummed her guitar and sang the Alaska Flag song, the state’s beloved anthem.

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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at emesner@thecordovatimes.com. Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.