Duluth family dreams of life on Alaskan frontier

Sure, it would be easier to stay put. She's a successful physician. He's an established engineer. They've carved out a solid niche here in Duluth over the past 20 years.

Sure, it would be easier to stay put. She's a successful physician. He's an established engineer. They've carved out a solid niche here in Duluth over the past 20 years.

But David and Lisa Prusak are following a dream north -- to Alaska. With the same spirit of adventure that took them to Bangladesh as volunteers in 1990, the Prusaks are breaking camp in Duluth and seeking a new life in the last frontier.

David, 50, already has begun working as a consulting engineer with an Anchorage firm, spending three weeks a month in Alaska and one week back home with his family. Lisa, 47, will move up with the kids -- Joe's 14, Anna's 7 -- to join him when the school year is over. Assuming their home sells.

Some who know them say they're crazy, David said.

"My running club has been very supportive of this venture," he said. "They're my best friends. But part of [the reaction] is, 'Are you nuts? You're 50 years old.' "


The outdoors has always been a part of the Prusaks' lives. Lisa's grandfather was a sheep rancher in the mountains of Montana. She was raised in Marshall, Minn., as a hunter and angler. Dave's a hunter and fisherman, too. They met over a shotgun that David found in Lisa's apartment in college. He didn't know Lisa then. He asked whose shotgun it was. Love bloomed over a Winchester Model 12.

Married in 1986, they settled in Duluth in 1987, where Lisa did her medical residency. David became a consulting engineer before joining the city of Duluth, where he has been an engineer for the past 14 years.

After making a few trips to Alaska, mostly for David's work conferences, the couple began thinking about moving north. Well, David did.

"He said he'd really, really like to move to Alaska," Lisa recalled. "I said, 'Forget it.'"

The timing wasn't right for the kids and for Lisa's career as a family-practice physician. She has since switched to urgent care.

In 2005, David began checking out employment in Anchorage. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and Lisa spent three weeks in New Orleans as part of a medical team offering aid. Alaska was put on hold.

"Then, just out of the blue, in August, I got a phone call from the company I'd been talking to in 2005," David said. He had a job offer. And another.

"It was serendipity," Lisa said.


Lisa and Joe traveled to Alaska in August to check out schools. They also checked out some silver salmon, and Joe hooked six of them himself.

David and Lisa decided to make the move. David resigned as the city's chief engineer of utilities in November and began work in Anchorage in December.

The Prusaks aren't approaching this naively. They know what they're giving up in Duluth. But they both remember their year as volunteers in Bangladesh in 1990 and traveling in Asia afterward. They want their children to see something of the world they know.

"It's a dream, and it's an adventure," David said. "There's nothing wrong with not allowing yourself to get too complacent."

Granted, there are some drawbacks to the timing. It's hard for David being away from his family for three weeks every month. Lisa has her hands full here: Her parents have come to live with them in Duluth. And this may not be the best time to sell a home.

"It's like having a baby," Lisa said. "There's never a good time."

Certainly, she's concerned about keeping close ties with her parents and her sister.

Meanwhile, they're letting their lives unfold. David is home this week, and life is good. Joe, a freshman in high school, is cross-country skiing, and the school he'll attend in Anchorage has a good ski team, too. Anna is oblivious, but has assured her folks she would be happy even moving to Lakeside.


In Alaska, David already is fulfilling part of his dream. He's helping engineer a new water and sewer system for an Inuit community north of the Arctic Circle. He's guessing that someday, he may have the opportunity to help engineer a natural-gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea to Canada.

In the meantime, he's exploring cross-country ski trails in Anchorage, where, the other day, he encountered a one-antlered moose.

Back in Duluth, the Prusaks' home is for sale, and they've already dropped the price.

"If we don't sell our house, I'll stay here, and we'll go to Plan B," Lisa said.

All dreams need a Plan B.

For now, the Prusaks are still on Plan A, for Alaska. They're trying to let the move unfold.

"The important thing is just to let it do its own thing and not worry about it," Lisa said.

And one day next summer, if all goes well, they'll all be together again where moose walk through town and the salmon come home to spawn. David can't wait.


"Hopefully, they'll be up there before the reds run," he said.

What To Read Next
Get Local