Editor’s note: As modern global elites champion powerful and defiant women, this series features Alaskan women who leavening the world with that particular love unique to the “genius of women.” Click the links to read parts one and two and three and four.

Shirley Piaskowski was an Alaskan homesteader whose resilient spirit, love for God, and dedication to family were fondly recalled during her funeral Mass at St. Benedict Church earlier this month. Shirley (nee Mortensen) met Bob Piaskowski after traveling to Alaska from Chicago by way of California. Bob hailed from Wisconsin and belonged to one of the original colony families who moved to Palmer in 1935 through a government program to settle the state.

On Christmas Eve in 1941, Shirley and Bob were married on the porch of the only Catholic parish in Anchorage, Holy Family Cathedral. They moved into a homestead off Dowling and Old Seward which was mostly undeveloped swamp land, making it necessary to park their car four blocks from their house. On Sunday mornings Bob and Shirley could be seen, hip waders over their Sunday best, with dress shoes and small children in arms, slogging through the swamp so they could drive to Mass.

Shirley’s faith animated her life and gave her the strength and courage to accept numerous children from God joyfully throughout her married life. Living on their homestead for 10 years, Bob and Shirley welcomed six children into the world. When they were able to acquire a homesite, they worked together with Bob’s family to build a new home, wherein five more children were added to the family. Raising 11 children on a single income was not always easy, but the couple’s deference to God and his providence was unyielding.

“We didn’t have much,” Shirley was fond of recalling, “but our children were our luxury.” 

The firm conviction that children are a gift from God to be prized above material goods made a notable impact on Shirley’s daughter, Shirleen Rannals, who has devoted her life to carrying on her mother’s legacy.

“Motherhood is the most important role in life,” Rannals said. “My mom inspired me with her dedication and perseverance. She worked hard every day and taught us to earn our way.”

Rannals has been a pro-life sidewalk counselor for 32 years, courageously stepping forward to offer love, support, and encouragement to women visiting Planned Parenthood, often marked by fear and desperation. She began sidewalk counseling as an assignment in the faith-based Legion of Mary organization, and sees every person who crosses her path as a soul in need of prayer.

From left, Shirley Piaskowski joins her daughter, Shirleen Rannals, in this undated photo.

She relies on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give her the right words to say, and joyfully recalls a young woman some years ago who arrived at Planned Parenthood but agreed to speak with her, revealing that she was there because she was embarrassed to be carrying her cousin’s baby. Rannals said she quietly prayed to the Holy Spirit before responding with compassion, “Honey, your embarrassment will go away, but your baby’s memory will not. You will regret this for the rest of your life.”

“The young woman burst into tears,” Rannals recalled. “I asked her to call her parents. Her father answered the phone and told her to just come home and they would work it all out. We cried together and hugged. It was a beautiful memory and my happiest day sidewalk counseling.”

Rannals has been married for 52 years and is the beaming mother of five children and six grandchildren. She continues to follow her mother’s example of maintaining an active prayer life, works of mercy with the Legion of Mary, and joyful involvement in the lives of her children and grandchildren.

“Thinking back on our marriage, I would say that increasing holiness is what sustains us through the good and the bad that life throws at us,” she said. “Also, following God’s will for your family through Natural Family Planning develops true love, respect, and a sense of dignity in sacrificial love. Every day we need to be willing to count on Our Lord and Our Lady to guide us. This also requires us to slow down and take time to pray and meditate and listen to God’s plan for us.”

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Alaska Women: Pro-life sidewalk counselor inspired by her homesteading mom’s profound openness to life

Theresa Bird
Theresa Bird is a wife and homeschooling mother of eight. She earned her BA in Philosophy at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. She lives in Anchorage.


  • Friend of Humanity says:

    What an encouraging story! Thank you for sharing this. We need to keep working on bringing this goodness back into our world.

  • Kasey says:

    It would be neat to have more encouraging stories like this in the future as you hear about them.