UAF’s first lady devoted to students, snowboarding

Kara Perkins/Sun Star Reporter
Sept. 27, 2011

Sherry Modrow has always felt a strong connection to Alaska. As a teen, she recalls feeling “displaced” when her family moved to the Lower 48. The day after Modrow’s 18th birthday, she returned to Alaska where she worked as a maid at the old Mt. McKinley Lodge in Denali National Park.

Years later, Modrow is deeply involved with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) as Chancellor Brian Rogers’s wife.

Overall, Rogers said, “our life partnership and professional partnership blended so well.”

Though she isn’t technically employed at UAF, Modrow’s role as the chancellor’s wife keeps her very involved. Modrow embraces this. “I have a deep loyalty to this university; I am 100 percent committed,” she said.

Modrow’s involvement includes organizing and hosting various events.  The couple works together: when the schedule gets busy, they will share duties, splitting up and covering separate events that occur on the same day .  “We agreed to be a team at functions and social events at UAF,” said Modrow.

“She has learned to embrace the whole campus as surrogate children,” said Chris Rogers, her son. “She really cares about the students,” he added.

Being back in Alaska, surrounded by its beauty, taught Modrow about herself. “This is where I belong,” she said.

Longtime friend Mary Zalar agrees, describing Modrow as a “down-to-earth, strong, Alaskan woman.”

Sherry Modrow met her future husband in the mid-70s while volunteering for a group they started, The Solstice Festival, a non-profit organization supporting live music in Fairbanks. “There was a group of musicians, artists, and creative folks around town that started putting on a music festival in 1975,” Modrow said. She eventually became president of the festival. 

Rogers and Modrow didn’t immediately start dating. “He went to Juneau,” she said, “and we weren’t in touch again until I started volunteering for his campaign for State House in summer 1978.”

“We got to be friends and then – well, we’ve been together ever since,” she said. They decided to get married in 1979 during a canoe trip from Dawson, Yukon Territory, to Circle, Alaska.

Born in Nome, she was the first in her family to attend college. Modrow majored in French at UAF. She earned both her bachelor’s and her master’s degree from the university.

In 1996, Rogers and Modrow started Information Insights, a project-consulting firm, along with business partner Ellen Ganley. Modrow remains a vice president and senior consultant at the firm.

Rogers became interim chancellor in 2008. This assignment required Rogers and Modrow to leave their home of 30 years and move onto campus. Leaving their home was an adjustment, and Modrow said there was a “sudden change” from working together all the time, as they did over the past decade at Information Insights. The new position meant new and different responsibilities.

Rogers shed his interim status to accept full chancellorship in 2009. He describes the couple’s position at the university as a “blending of public and private space.“ The couple is accustomed to traffic in and out of their home, hosting and juggling numerous events.

With such a busy schedule, Rogers and Modrow often don’t have time to sit at the dinner table and chat, but Modrow said she and Rogers are “best friends” who will spend time to check in with each other to ask “what’s up.” They coordinate schedules and travel plans, talk about the university and discuss what is new in their sons’ “fascinating lives,” as Modrow put it.

Married for 32 years, the couple has two sons, Tracy Rogers, 27 and Chris Rogers, 30, both UAF alumni.  While Tracy recently earned his master’s degree studying sea ice, Chris and his wife now teach snowboarding in Colorado. Eventually, Modrow decided to learn how to snowboard from her son and daughter-in-law.

“It’s been a passion in my life for so long it’s bound to be a little bit contagious,” Chris Rogers said. From the time her sons were young, Modrow had the desire to learn. This adventurous side of Modrow did not come as a shock. One of Modrow’s favorite places to be is at fish camp on the Yukon River, where she has a commercial license.

“I am fortunate to feel that every place is my favorite place to be,” Modrow said. She added, “there is something to celebrate every day.”

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