History of Past Borough Mayors

Leading a Borough banner

Leading a Borough: Stories from FNSB Mayors takes a historical look back at important moments in our borough mayors’ administrations…. through their own eyes and in their own words or the words and memories of their loved ones. These short video interviews look at the highlights, challenges, and major events that shaped their time in office.

Mayor Bill Allen, 1982-1985

“As a leader in the community, the word ‘I’ should not be mentioned… because you can’t do it by yourself. It’s hard work and it takes a lot of time, tears, and sweat… in the end, you look back and say ‘I did my best, but I had a great team behind me. It wasn’t I––it was We.’” - Bill Allen

Billy Bob "Bill" Allen (born 1942) has had a long career in public service. After graduating from Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Allen earned a degree from the University of Washington Pacific Coast Banking School. He worked in the banking industry in Fairbanks, Alaska starting in early adulthood and became heavily involved in youth sporting programs there. President George W. Bush appointed Allen to be the Alaska State Director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Allen was also commissioner for Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond's administration.

In 1982, he was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, defeating 14-year incumbent John A. Carlson. He served one term as mayor from 1982-1985.

Allen later moved to Palmer, Alaska, where he was the top Alaska-based official of the United States Department of Agriculture and served on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough assembly.

Today, Allen and his wife, Sharon Allen, live in Palmer. They have eight children.

Mayor Juanita Helms, 1985-1991

"One of the things that's often said about her is that even the people who believed differently than her really respected her, which was huge.” - quote from Karisse Ackerman about Juanita Helms

Juanita Helms (born 1941) had a long career in public service. She graduated from Lathrop High School in Fairbanks and went on to devote her life to her family and her community. She was a dedicated citizen and served in numerous volunteer positions.  She was sincere and fair and could separate the issues from the person in front of her and gathered input from all viewpoints.  She loved and wanted to serve. Juanita's political career spanned a decade and carried her from Borough Assembly to two terms as Borough Mayor, inspiring many along the way.

One of the greatest joys of her life was her role as a loving, committed grandmother who faithfully attended events no matter how she was feeling or how small the event seemed.  

Juanita passed away on Nov. 7, 2009.

Mayor Jim Sampson, 1991-1997

"If you asked me, 'Where was your interest?" I would say that I just enjoyed building things. Starting something, and finishing something." - Jim Sampson

Jim Sampson (born 1951) arrived in Alaska as a young boy from Maine. He put himself through college by working on the newly-discovered oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. After earning an associate degree in police administration from UAF in 1973, he began working with the Laborers Local 942. His success in union work eventually led Gov. Steve Cowper to name him commissioner of labor in 1986.

Returning to Fairbanks after four years in the Cowper administration, Sampson was encouraged by friends to run for borough mayor and won an eight-way race in 1991. He was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough twice, from 1991-1997. During his term, he oversaw creation of the FNSB Regional Solid Waste Plan, which would subsequently be used for 30+ years. The Juanita Helms Administration Center was also paid off during his tenure as mayor.

In the late 1990s, after Sampson left the mayor’s office, Gov. Tony Knowles named him to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board. He served until 2002, including as board chair for his last two years. In 2003, Sampson took over presidency of the AFL-CIO as a temporary job but ended up staying through February 2007.

“I’m going to retire and enjoy life,” he said after leaving the union position. “I expect I’ll be busy, but not as engaged in big public policy issues. It’s time to let others do that.”

Today, Jim lives in Fairbanks with his wife Beth. They enjoy spending time with their now six grandkids, attending hockey games and swimming events.

Mayor Hank Hove, 1997-2000

Hank Hove, (born 1938) moved to Fairbanks in 1972 with his wife, Fran, where he worked as chief engineer for KTVF, KCBF and KXLR, part of the Northern Television Corp. He later became station manager and then chief executive officer of the statewide corporation.  He was a member of the Fairbanks Rotary, where he was a Paul Harris Fellow, served on the board of directors of the Midnight Sun Council of the Boy Scouts of America and served as president of the Alaska Broadcasters Association for several years.

Hank became involved in local politics and served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, serving as presiding officer for several years. He was elected to the office of borough mayor in 1997, where he served until his retirement in 2000. While mayor, he traveled extensively throughout the states and the Far East promoting the formation of an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “He listens. He's positive. He’s experienced." was his campaign slogan.  Hank opted to not run for a second term.

After retiring, Hank moved to Nevada with his wife and then Washington.  

Hank passed away in Yakima, WA on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008.

Mayor Rhonda Boyles, 2000-2003

“Good mayors go to work and solve the problem. With that comes responsibilities––it's not about you. It's about what we are all doing to make this a better place to live, so that 25 years from now, the next mayor can say 'Today it's better than it was.'’” - Rhonda Boyles, FNSB Mayor from 2000-2003

Rhonda Boyles is a longtime resident of Fairbanks. Rhonda is a retired restaurant owner who has held many leadership positions in the Fairbanks business community, and who served as the Mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough from 2000-2003.

Once honored as Fairbanks Business Person of the Year, Rhonda has served on many boards and commissions, including as chair of the University’s Statewide Vocational Education Advisory Board and board chair for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Later in life, Rhonda worked for the Alaska Pioneer Homes and most recently as a caregiver for her late husband, Vern, who suffered from Diffuse Lewy body disease and its associated dementia. Rhonda currently resides in Anchorage.

Mayor Jim Whitaker, 2003-2009

“Alaska is isolated, it’s cold, it’s dark but yes, it’s beautiful, yes it’s majestic, all of those things. But it was the people that pulled me back, why I wanted to go back there.  So that’s what Alaska is, Alaska is its people.”

 Jim Whitaker (born 1950) moved around a lot in his formative years due to his father’s profession.  One of those stops was Fairbanks where Jim attended Lathrop High School and became fond of Fairbanks and its people.  The people brought Jim back to Fairbanks, where he met his wife Patricia “Jinx,” and they built a life in Fairbanks.

Jim was an entrepreneur, was heavily involved in the local business community, and served through state and local political offices.  He ran for a city office after a coin toss with a friend and then spent 3 terms in the state house of representatives before becoming borough mayor.

During his two terms as borough mayor, he was known for supporting quality of life services like parks and recreation and he was an integral part of keeping operations going at Eielson Air Force Base.

 “It was a real highlight of my life to be the mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.” -Jim Whitaker

Leading a Borough: Mayor Luke Hopkins (2009-2012 and 2012-2015)

Mayor Karl Kassel, 2015-2018

“I tell folks all the time that I'm not a politician and don't feel like one. I'm an administrator. I'm good at managing projects and listening to people––pulling people together and finding common ground to work on a project together." - Karl Kassel, FNSB Mayor from 2015-2018

Karl W. Kassel was born in 1952 in Rochester, New York. After graduating from the State University of New York at Brockport with a degree in physical education and a minor in recreation, he moved to Alaska.

Kassel lives "off-the-grid" in a rural corner of the FNSB near the former Murphy Dome Air Force Station. His house, built in 2009 and occupied by Kassel and his family beginning early the following year, was noted for a combination of window placement, solar panels and a heat exchange system, which resulted in little usage of fossil fuel oils to heat the home.

Kassel worked as the FNSB Parks Superintendent from 1988 to 2002 and worked as the FNSB Director of Parks and Recreation from 2002 until he retired in 2008. He was on the FNSB Assembly from 2010 until he became mayor of the borough in 2015. Kassel also has a long history with dog mushing in Fairbanks. He served as the president of the Alaska Dog Mushers Association and the Yukon Quest and even worked as the lead trail breaker one year on the 1,000-mile trail from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon. Since 1980 he has been announcing for the Open North American Championships at the Jeff Studdert Race Grounds.

Karl continues to reside in Fairbanks with his wife, Billie, and they enjoy exploring new rivers in Alaska by canoe.