ew who met Ivonna Anderson would’ve guessed the long,
dangerous path she traveled to arrive at Puget Sound in
But the late Ilse Flannigan ’62 knew. During World
War II, the Latvian girls met in a German refugee camp,
where their parents fell in love and made a plan to leave
with the help of sponsors in the U.S.
Ivonna was only 5 when she began the journey that
brought her to the City of Destiny. Fleeing Latvia with her
mother and grandmother, they wandered the countryside
seeking shelter and eventually landed in the camp, where
they lived for six years. She was 11 when the three boarded a ship bound for
Ellis Island. Two weeks of domestic work in New York earned her mother
enough money to buy train tickets to Tacoma.
I brought a small doll in a metal baby buggy. I still have it,” she said.
Ilse and her father, whose sponsors had arranged separate travel, greeted
them when their train pulled into Union Station on a September morn-
ing in 1950. That very afternoon, Ivonna’s mother enrolled her in school.
Ivonna’s and Ilse’s families stayed for a few weeks at the Lutheran Hospice
on Pacific Avenue (where Pacific Grill is now located) until they could find
housing and work.
I think our parents got married at the hospice!” Ivonna said.
Navigating a challenging background created a drive to succeed. The
girl who repeated fifth grade because she didn’t yet speak English excelled in
biology and chemistry at Puget Sound, studying with Professor of Biology
Gordon Alcorn ’30.
I was in awe and a little intimidated by him at first,” she said. “But,
after taking many classes—botany and field biology—with Gordon, I got to
know him very well. He encouraged me to get my master’s degree when there
weren’t many women in science programs. He said, ‘You have an inquisitive
mind. It’d be a shame if you didn’t continue.’”
He had a way of instilling in his students a love of nature, according to
Ivonna, whose voice caught as she remembered her mentor.
He’d point out things most wouldn’t see. He’d lift up a leaf, show us a
small, wild orchid underneath, and say, ‘Isn’t this beautiful!’”
Alcorn offered her a two-year teaching assistant position, which launched
her career in education. She went on to become a professor of biology and
chemistry and dean of sciences and mathematics at Tacoma Community
College, retiring in 1998 after 29 years of service.
Ivonna and classmate Larry Heggerness ’60 found a way to pay a lasting
tribute to their professor by working with the university to designate the
campus the Gordon Dee Alcorn Arboretum. They persuaded Howard Irwin
president of The New York Botanical Garden and a former student of
Alcorn’s, to speak at the 1976 dedication ceremony. Irwin presented Alcorn
with the arboretum’s first gift, seeds from The New York Botanical Garden.
We wanted to do something that would be meaningful for him. With
the help of his wife, Rowena, the dedication was a surprise for Gordon. He
looked around the chapel and saw it filled with his students through the
years, colleagues, and family. It was a favorite event of my life.”
Ivonna has guided many events as a leader in the Pi Beta Phi fraternity, on
the Puget Sound Alumni Council, the Northwest Trek Planning Committee,
and the Tacoma Yacht Club Women’s Auxiliary, to name a few.
She has returned to Latvia twice but says Tacoma is home.
Sandra Sarr
Ivonna Peterson
Long way