Healing Hand Foundation Honors the Legacy of Dr. Walter Soboleff

When the Healing Hand Foundation was established, it was designed to fill gaps in the medical and health-care services available to beneficiaries of Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and to veterans.

At the time, that might mean providing travel assistance so Elders could have a companion travel with them to out-of-town medical appointments, or to fund a replacement pair of eyeglasses for a veteran whose Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coverage wouldn’t provide another. This spring, Healing Hand offered COVID-19 mini-grants to those impacted by the pandemic.

The foundation’s work is very much in keeping with that of Dr. Walter Soboleff, whose legacy inspired the creation of Healing Hand Foundation’s endowment, and whose life will be celebrated across Alaska this Saturday, Nov. 14 on Dr. Walter Soboleff Day. His lifetime of service to Alaska included two terms as a Sealaska board member, from 1980-1988.

“I think the basis for my pitch was that Sealaska needed to do something to honor (Soboleff) for all he had done for our people,” said Joe Kahklen, who approached the Sealaska board of directors with a funding request to establish the endowment. Kahklen is the former chair of the Healing Hand Foundation board, and was the founding CEO of Goldbelt, Inc.

In 2011, the Sealaska board pledged $1 million to establish an endowment fund for Healing Hand. The board allocated $100,000 per year for five years as a gift and set up the Sealaska/Soboleff Legacy Trust to provide another $500,000 in matching funds. The final matching donation came in 2018.

With earnings from its endowment, Healing Hand now provides mostly “durable medical goods” (things like wheelchairs, dentures, eyeglasses, walkers, colostomy supplies and orthodontics), pharmaceuticals not available in SEARHC pharmacies (certain specialized cancer, diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure medications), and travel related to medical treatment. 

“As anyone who’s been around a nonprofit knows, an endowment goes a long way to make sure it lives on, so as long as Healing Hand is here, Dr. Soboleff’s name can be attached to it and we can continue to honor his legacy,” Kahklen said.

Soboleff was a Presbyterian minister of Tlingit and Russian-German descent who was born in Killisnoo on Admiralty Island in 1908. After receiving his master of divinity degree from the University of Dubuque in 1940, he returned to Juneau to lead Memorial Presbyterian Church and became a familiar voice in the community through his services and news reports, delivered in Lingít and broadcast on KTOO. He went on to serve as an itinerant minister at Presbyterian churches throughout Southeast Alaska before moving to Fairbanks in 1970 to become the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ first director of Alaska Native Studies.

Soboleff died in 2011 at the age of 102, and in 2014, former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell officially named Nov. 14 as Dr. Walter Soboleff Day in Alaska. In 2015, Sealaska Heritage Institute opened its new building in downtown Juneau and named it after Soboleff. On Saturday, Nov. 14, SHI is hosting a webcast on its YouTube channel at noon Alaska Standard Time to celebrate Soboleff.