Runnels brings ‘Gulf Coast’ tenacity to new position as Holy Name principal

By Nicole Miller and Mary Stone

Holy Name parish in Ketchikan is pleased to announce that Mrs. Vicki Runnels will be joining the Holy Name community as their new school principal. Mrs. Runnels, a life-long Catholic from the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi, brings to Holy Name many years of experience in Catholic education and an energy and passion for educating youth. Past-principal Connie Wingren retired in May of this year.

Runnels served as an elementary school teacher for over fourteen years, and as a director of religious education for three years. She worked closely with teachers and school leaders to design units of study focused on fostering student critical thinking, collaboration, and inquiry. She also served as the coordinator of after school enrichment programs for grades three through six. Holy Name in Ketchikan is her first position as school principal since receiving her administration credentials.

Mrs. Vicki Runnels
Mrs. Vicki Runnels

As a former classroom teacher, Mrs. Runnels expresses a deep appreciation for students’ cognitive and social-emotional development and is eager to support teachers as they collaborate with each other to prepare students for their future endeavors. Additionally, having endured the hardships of a devastated community after Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mrs. Runnels knows the importance of making the best use of limited resources, and appreciates the creativity and ingenuity that often accompanies a unique demographic, such as that found in the communities of Southeast Alaska.

Mrs. Runnels holds a BS in Education/Early Childhood from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma and a Masters degree in Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. She enjoys reading, sewing, weaving, creating pottery and especially cooking. Her favorite pastime, however, is spending time with her husband, Joseph, and their three sons, Ian, 24, Austin, 22, and their late in life surprise, Trevor, 13. They have long loved Alaska, and feel very blessed that God has called them to make Ketchikan their home.

After a recent visit to Ketchikan, Mrs. Runnels shared, “Everyone was warm and friendly. The citizens of Ketchikan put the hospitality state to shame. The community is charming and the scenery gorgeous (glad I could bring the sunshine). Alaska has been on my mind for years. When I was a child one of my favorite aunts went on a visit to Alaska and never returned! She fell in love with your state and made it her home for the last forty years of her life. She often urged me to come to Alaska, and I am so glad that I did. I’m excited about moving to Ketchikan and joining the wonderful staff at Holy Name School and the parish.”

Vicki, the oldest of 6 children from a deeply Catholic family, was raised in a Gulf Coast, Mississippi community where, she relates, “It was hard to stand anywhere and not see a Catholic Church.” Her parents were committed to their Catholic faith, and that continues in Vicki’s own family. She and her husband Joseph, a Catholic convert, made the decision even before parenthood that their children would attend Catholic schools. Mrs. Runnels’ single year of Catholic school as a child made such an impression that she always knew this would be the choice for her own children. Recently relocated from Pass Christian, Mississippi—an area where she has lived most of her life—Vicki admits that the one drawback to moving to Southeast Alaska is that her youngest son will need to attend public middle school. The Runnels’ older sons are attending college in the lower 48.

Runnels’ parents lost everything in 1969 when Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast region, and she remembers the hardships of her community again in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she admits. Although her own home was not terribly damaged, the majority of her neighbors’ homes and the community were. The hurricane hit only one week after school had started, and the Catholic school at which she was teaching at the time was rendered unusable —although they were able to salvage some materials and furniture from the second floor. The C.B.s (Construction Battalion of the Navy) and the Knights of Columbus worked to convert a skating rink — one of the largest intact buildings left in the area—for use as a school. Teaching in a modified skating rink had its disadvantages, one being the unstable power situation. Vicki laughs, “If the toaster and the microwave were on at the same time, we blew a fuse and all the lights went out. It was pitch black!” She relates that she taught her preschoolers to respond to the power outages by immediately sitting on the floor and singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… ,” just so she could keep track of their whereabouts. Later that year they were able to move the preschool program to trailers outside the building, and the following year students were moved to a new school. Runnels echoes profound appreciation for the National Guard, the power companies, and the many volunteers who were so quick to respond to the Gulf Coast crisis.

Over the years her husband, Joseph, an attorney for the State of Mississippi, occasionally applied for jobs in the Alaska but to no avail. When Vicki completed her administration degree and began looking for principal positions, Alaska was definitely on the radar for their family. Vicki has always been drawn to Alaska, ever since her great Aunt brought photos back home to Mississippi of her exciting Alaskan life and encouraged them to visit. Years ago, Vicki had considered college and rural teaching in Alaska, but at the time got ‘cold feet.’ Today, her husband’s inclination to adventure is part of the picture. This spring, upon seeing the Ketchikan job opening listed on Catholicjobs.com, Vicki’s husband encouraged her, “This is a huge leap of faith. Let’s take it!”

And the ‘how are you with rain’ question? Runnels explains that weather in coastal Mississippi is unbearably humid and often keeps them indoors, describing it as “liquid air.” She’s cautiously optimistic and isn’t expecting a major change of lifestyle in that regard. “We love to stay indoors and play games and do things as a family.”

Classes begin at Holy Name School in Ketchikan on September 2nd. Welcome and blessings to Principal Runnels and the Runnels family!

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