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Former Rondy director Duck named top dog at Iron Dog

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published August 4, 2017

The woman credited with helping revitalize a flagging Fur Rendezvous was named executive director of the Iron Dog snowmachine race Friday.

Susan Duck, Fur Rondy's former director, replaces Kevin Kastner, who held the Iron Dog's top job for seven years.

"With her professional qualifications and record of success, we are confident that Susan is the right person to ensure that the Iron Dog organization will enjoy continued growth," said Jim Wilke, president of the Iron Dog board of directors, who declined to say what the position paid. "She's very down-to-earth and steady. Very measured. She doesn't pretend to have all the answers. She didn't come in with some grandiose plan to remake the organization."

Duck arrives not completely free of controversy. Late in 2015, Anchorage's internal auditor found nearly $100,000 in unpaid bills tied to the city's Centennial celebrations and took Centennial coordinator Duck to task for depositing public money in her private bank account without city control. The auditor said there was no indication that Duck kept any public money for herself.

At the time, Duck said the setup was aimed at bridging the transition between the administrations of outgoing Mayor Dan Sullivan and incoming Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, and that she wasn't trying to circumvent city accounting procedures with public money.

Wilke said the incident didn't concern him. "Anybody who's lived in Alaska a long time understands that there can be some sharp elbows in politics," he said.

Likewise, the Iron Dog is trying to rebound from a controversial end to last year's race that left some drivers saying they will not return. Defending champions Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson, who owned a comfortable lead, were disqualified on the home stretch. It happened after a photo surfaced showing bystanders touching the machines of the two racers during a refueling stop between Tanana and Ruby, a rule violation.

Many racers protested the ruling.

Earlier in her career, Duck helped lead Fur Rondy out a debt of more than $200,000. She helped create the popular Running of the Reindeer event that lured thousands of spectators downtown during the festival's final weekend.

She has experience in fundraising, public relations and sports, heading up the Anchorage Winter Olympic Exploratory Committee.

"I am honored to take the reins from Kevin Kastner and look forward to continuing the positive momentum and growth of the Iron Dog," Duck said in the press release announcing her appointment.

Wilke said the board of directors had more than a dozen applicants, but quickly winnowed the field to Alaskans.

"She has contacts across the state and will be very comfortable dealing with our sponsors, vendors and fans," Wilke said.

However, she's not a snowmachiner. Wilke said he'll be working on that.

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