Archive for Sunday, June 25, 2006

Romance blooms in Alaska

June 25, 2006


Michelle Bland, 30, grew up in the Lawrence area, graduated from Lawrence High School in 1994 and went on to get a degree in education from Principia College in Elsah, Ill.

Today she lives in Bethel, Alaska, teaching fourth-graders.

Why Alaska?

"I took the first teaching job I was offered," Michelle said.

Bethel is a transient community of 8,000. It's 440 miles west of Anchorage in an area that has few trees, lots of snow and minus 35 degree weather. There are few roads, and the only way to get there is by airplane or snowmobile. The school district is the size of Ohio. The old Soviet Union isn't far, just across the nearby Bering Sea.

But everybody has to be somewhere.

About two years ago, Michelle met former U.S. Marine Ben Bruce, 40. He's bearded, ruggedly handsome and formidable, like something out of a Jack London novel.

Actually he's more like "Kindergarten Cop." He was teaching pre-schoolers when Michelle spotted him out her classroom window.

They were soon introduced by a friend.

"After I met Michelle, Ben says, "I was pretty much a goner."

On their first "date," Michelle drove a snowmobile behind Bruce's sled and the dog team he was training. They were far from town when they made camp "under the stars" in minus 25 degree weather.

After their no-frills trip, Ben knew he'd found a soulmate.

They'd dated for more than a year when Ben went looking for a ring. He found a wedding band at ID Variety, a store that sells parakeets, used clothing and a few rings.

Ben showed Michelle the ring in the Subway restaurant while they ate a sandwich.

"You like me," Michelle observed between bites. "You're going to marry me, aren't you?"

It was the first mention of marriage by either.

They were first married last December among Alaskan friends.

Michelle arrived by dogsled. "We had the wedding ceremony outside Bethel in a meadow with some trees," she said.

"It was beautiful," Ben recalled. "We roasted moose meat, baked potatoes. But in 10 degree temperatures, the champagne was more like snow cones ... but it was great."

Michelle and Ben Bruce in their own words.


The couple married again May 28 at the home of Michelle's parents, Joan and Milton Bland, in rural Eudora.

Michelle now teaches for half the school year. The other months are spent with Bruce in the wilderness, 80 miles and a five-hour snowmobile ride from Bethel. That's where Bruce works as a trapper.

They live in a tent with "a great view of the Sawtooth Mountains." There is no electricity. They carry water in 5-gallon buckets from a creek a hundred yards away. Michelle cooks on a wood-burning stove that also heats their tent.

Eighteen sled dogs keep them company and provide security.

They communicate with the outside world with a hand-held aviation radio. They call passing commercial airliner pilots, like Northwest Airlines, who in turn radio Bethel Airport, which then gives the message to a bush pilot who can fly to their area.

They also can get messages from KYUKss, a Bethel public-owned radio station.

"We're very remote," Bruce said.

"I don't regret it for a second ... the quality time, the peace and quiet and our lives are our own," Michelle added.


Kornphlake 11 years, 11 months ago

Why have there been two stories about Bethel in the last week? I said it before and I'll say it again: BETHEL, ALASKA IS THE WORST PLACE IN THE WHOLE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! Isn't there anything else to talk about? I love how romantic you make it sound though. There are three types of people who live in Bethel: 1.The Natives who are from there (They don't really like white people, they'll act friendly but behind your back they call you kossak, a term left over from russia being there.) 2. People from the rest of the world who don't realize that they are not wanted there. 3. People who are running from something in the rest of the United States. (FUGITIVES) and don't care if they're welcomed there or not. This combined with the fact that you can't afford to live there, can't just drive away(there are no roads outside of town), and you have to put up with more bad weather and wind then anywhere in Kansas, should be enough for anybody with common sense to realize that it is not a good place to be. Maybe it's just me.

dmbland 11 years, 11 months ago

If you don't like this place then dont read about it. Post your comments somewhere else Korn-loser.

sgillilan 11 years, 10 months ago

I have been in the Bethel area for going on ten years now and it is not a place for people who don't know who they are. It is a place where you make friends so great they become family, where you learn to be fulfilled by nature, relationships and adventure rather than by material things, video games and economic ventures. The culture will give to you what you are willing to take and learn and the people will embrace you if you are sincere. There is no reason to say any place is the worst place in the world. Any place is what you make it and any place can be home. There is beauty everywhere; the question is, are you complete enough to see it? Those who are not are missing out. I for one, am taking it all in and eating life. We are meant to not only take from places and experiences that which we need, but also to leave of ourselves what is missing. posted by Staci Gillilan, Bethel Alaska

BenandMichelleBruce 11 years, 10 months ago

To Kornphlake:

The proper term the natives use for outsiders is "gussak" not Kossak.

You hit the nail on the head in the last sentence of your comments, you're right it is just you.

Ben and Michelle

ShannaS 7 years, 3 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

kodiakteacher 11 years, 3 months ago

Korn -- It's just you. Alaska ROCKS!!! Get a life!

hm2flip 11 years, 3 months ago

Humm...I'm moving to Bethel in a few weeks and can't wait. I sure didn't choose to go there without understanding how remote it is but after 3 years living on an island in the remote Pacific, remote is not an issue. Personally, this is just another adventure in my life and I look forward to meeting new folks.


dbeight2 10 years, 11 months ago

Ben and Michelle Congradulations on your wedding you seem to have found your soulmate. The pictures of the wedding were beautiful. Good luck and much happiness. Your uncle David Bruce

tundratired 9 years, 6 months ago

Kornphlake is a flake for sure. Bethel is a beautiful place filled with all types of people making it one of the most interesting places in Alaska. Most are honest and caring people.... some are dishonest spoiled trash... this brings me to another person posting here... unless of course there are two sgillilan's in Bethel. I found it interesting that she writes so much about Bethel being what you make and take from it considering she was arrested for taking over $10,000. If you are interested you may want to take a look here...., and Michelle, all the happiness in the world to you and to your son .... piss on Ben. :/

Bethellife 9 years, 5 months ago

To tundratired,If you really knew anything about Michelle and Ben you wouldn't have put anything about SGillilan on this site.....Michelle and her are best friends.....

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