Getting ready for prom can be a time-consuming process, and finding the right dress isn’t easy, especially when you live in rural Alaska. At Sitka’s Mt. Edgecumbe High — the state-run boarding school — students got special treatment recently from a group of volunteers, most of whom work for Alaska Airlines.
When Terri Bogren first came to Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka six years ago, she didn’t know how much of an impact the experience would have on her life.“One of my nieces went to school here,” said Bogren, “and some of the girls weren’t going because they didn’t have dresses and stuff.”
She helped a few girls get ready the best she could, but she saw a need that wasn’t being met: Girls and boys who wanted to go to prom didn’t, because they had a hard time finding outfits that worked for them and that they could afford.
Shortly after, Bogren got a job with Alaska Airlines in Seattle. It was just after the company’s 75th Anniversary ball. “I knew that a lot of people had dresses, and most people buy formal dresses and wear them only once.”
So, Bogren had them dry cleaned and brought them with her to Mt. Edgecumbe’s next prom. “Their families are all not here,” said Bogren. “So, we’re kind of like their fairy godmothers coming in to help them make sure they have everything they need to have the opportunity to go to the prom.”
She calls it the “prom princess” program. It started out with just five of Bogren’s friends, working on alterations, hair, and makeup. Now in its fifth year, there are more than 40 volunteers, most of whom are Alaska Airlines or Horizon employees, who donate their time and resources.
It’s a few hours before prom, and around one-hundred students wait in lines at different stations in the main girls dorm. Auna Springer is a junior at Mt. Edgecumbe. This is her third year going to prom, and she has a lot of admirers.
“Ooohhhh!” says a crowd of people. “You look so beautiful. Look at you. Look at your shoes!” She steps onto a table to show off her dress to a roomful of people, who take photos of her outfit.
It’s a strapless dress that stretches down to her silver, sparkly, five-inch heels. Springer tells her friends that, of course, she’s wearing the dress to dinner. “Do you actually think I’m going change into different clothes, then come back here and change BACK into this dress? NO.”
There are women painting nails under bright lights, curling hair and applying makeup. There’s a flower station where people are putting together boutonnieres and corsages, and a photographer taking their photos after they’re all dressed up and ready to go.
Debbie Eggemeyer owns Deb’s Nails and Tans in Kodiak. She closed her business for the weekend, so she could come to Sitka and join in the effort. “I brought gel polish, so the shellac, and it’ll stay on from 7 to 10 days. They don’t have to worry about messing it up. I brought a lot of polish, so they have a lot to choose from.”
Mandy Odenheimer is a station manager for Alaska Airlines in Sitka. She’s been a seamstress for this event for the past three years. She soon convinced her friend Janet Warner, a retired Alaska Airlines employee and former tailor for Nordstrom, to join her. The women make alterations to more than 130 dresses before the prom.
Odenheimer and Warner talk to each other, as they make last-minute changes to a student’s dress. “Don’t you think that’ll look nice? Doesn’t it soften the other beads? Because she said the beads just look so cheap. You should have seen the other dress she was willing to wear because she wouldn’t take this one. It broke my heart. It was just sad.”
The Men’s Warehouse provides tuxes for half the regular rental price, and many Alaska Airlines employees sponsor students, so the guys can have a tux for free, and hundreds of dresses are donated from all over the country.
Bogren says getting ready for the dance may now be the highlight of the event. “One of the girls came back early last year, and when we asked her why, she said that it was kind of boring. And that getting ready for the prom was the best part.”
But still, the students are excited for the main event. At the prom, girls and a handful of guys are huddled in big groups, dancing to a song by Rhianna. Strings of people walk in, show their tickets, and trail each other to a seating area in the back.
It feels like most high school dances, except everyone is exceptionally…you guessed it, well-dressed. Sequins shimmers and flowing bright, fabrics light up the dark room. So, even if prom is just one night, for Mt. Edgecumbe’s students, it’s one classy night to remember.