for academic rigor and a flexible joint degree program. In addition to a law degree, Brena decided to pursue a master’s in business administration. As a joint-degree student, Brena was slated to graduate in 1982, but during his second year, he returned to Skagway to plan, fund and oversee an urgently needed restoration of a 19th century building called the Pack Train (home to Alaska’s oldest saloon since 1907), where his family had operated a business since 1950. The Pack Train, now on the National Register of Historic Places within the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, had become an important part of the Brena family’s own history and provided financial stability. Letting it crumble to ruins was not an option. When Brena returned to Skagway, he served as the building’s owner-representative, which meant he not only worked closely with architects, electrical and structural engineers, but also had to raise finances for what was a major restoration. “When you go into a historic building, it’s never what you expect, no matter what you expect,” says Brena.
“The whales have got it pretty well figured out. They’ve been migrating between Alaska and Hawaii for tens of thousands of years, so maybe I ought to give it a try as well.” — ROBIN BRENA
The undertaking required money that the family simply didn’t have, so Brena pursued funding through historic grants and Alaska’s historic loan program. With no suitable contractors available in Skagway and the prospect of importing labor from outside the state prohibitively expensive, Brena was able to coax a locally renowned contractor named Oly out of retirement for the job. For the better part of a year, Brena directed the project, seeing that it was completed in a timely manner.
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