Local woman finds a community, self in Homer
In 2012, Joell Slade was new to Homer, newly divorced and new to making decisions on her own.
"I was in my 40s doing what a lot of people do in their 20s — living by myself, making decisions about my life by myself and just really trying to figure out who I was," she said.
Slade and her former husband had been living in Hawaii since 1993 and visiting his family in Alaska every year since 1998.
"I always loved visiting Alaska," she said. "Winter is my favorite season and you just don't get that in Hawaii."
When the couple had the opportunity to move, they sold a lot of their belongings, packed up others and headed north to Homer.
In Homer, Slade set out to meet people and make friends, joining the Women's Nordic Ski Club. While learning to ski, she met Barb Hrenchir who shared that she worked at one of the local galleries and that they were looking to fill a part-time position. Joell shared that she had retail experience and that she was now looking for work. Within a week, Slade had interviewed and was working alongside Karin Marks, owner of the Art Shop Gallery.
When she was not working, Slade skied and eventually, got into marathon running.
"I ran in Hawaii, but never more than five miles," she said. "I didn't think I could run longer distances, but when I moved to Homer, I met amazing, athletic women who inspired and challenged me."
In 2013, she ran a 10-mile race in Kenai and a half marathon in Anchorage. Since then, she has been participating in races in Anchorage every summer.
In 2014, Slade went back to school and got her associates degree. She was considering working toward a degree in business, when Marks said that was ready to retire.
"At that point in my life, I needed something solid to keep me in Homer," she said. "I was on my own, not making a lot of money and needed a change. I loved working at the gallery and buying it was exactly what I needed to solidify that Homer was truly my home."
Instead of getting a business degree, Slade bought a business, taking ownership of the Art Shop Gallery in January 2016. Today, she has four part-time employees, three who were originally her coworkers.
"I was so excited that they wanted to stay on," she said. "Elise was one of Karin's first employees back in the early 1990s and Wendy has been with the gallery for over 15 years."
Slade said that she is grateful for how supportive the staff and community have been.
"These people have been like my family," she said. "With Karin's help, I have been able to continue the business model she started. Through the gallery, I've also developed a lot of relationships and gotten to know a lot of people."
Slade shared that she has been inspired by the women in her life.
"Growing up, my grandma was the one I always looked up to because she was strong, loving and supportive and provided stability in my life," she said. "And I wouldn't be where I am today without Linda Engebretsen, who gave me a lot financial advice and support. She has been a wonderful mentor and friend through this season of my life. Karin is also a huge reason for my success, because she taught me a lot about the gallery, supported my going back to school and was right there with me through the transition."
Last year, Slade married Mark Restad and is step mom to his three teenagers.
"Mark is wonderful and his kids are pretty amazing, smart and talented," she said. "Being a stepmom has made me want to be the best person I can be."
When she is not working, Slade enjoys spending time with her family, which includes Mark and the children, as well as a dog, two cats, a horse and several chickens, ducks, turkeys and goats.
In the summer months, she likes to hike and garden and she has learned to hunt and fish.
"Our freezer is full of caribou, salmon and moose, and I love having fresh food that we gathered," she said. "I dipnetted for the first time this summer and I was with Mark and the kids when we got our caribou this year. I am learning to live the Alaskan way and loving it."
Slade is grateful to have found herself in a community that she loves, with people she admires.
"When I moved here five years ago, I was uptight and scared and everything was new and different," she said. "Today, I'm a new wife and a stepmom and the whole situation is different, challenging, tough and absolutely wonderful. I feel free, happy, lighthearted and thankful."
Slade's goal is to retire owning the gallery.
"I want to live in Homer and be a small business owner here for as long as I'm able to," she said. "From day one, people here have been great to me."