Kathy & Ollie Walker
Walker - Chugiak Pioneer Passes Away
Walker, 86, died March 23, 2007 (of Alzheimer's complications) in Long Beach,
California. He was born on April 28, 1920 in Eureka, South Dakota. He was
drafted into the Army in 1942 and stationed at Bassingbourn, England as a
telephone operator for the Mighty Eighth Air Force during WWII. While in
England, he met and married a Cambridge girl named Kathleen Furness. Ollie and
Kathy came to Alaska in 1950, homesteading near Fire Lake. They were founding
members of the Chugiak Dog Mushers Club, the Chugiak Benefit Association and the
Birchwood Baptist Church. Ollie worked as an auto-body repairman on Fort
Richardson from 1950 until 1975. After retirement, he worked on the North Slope
as a welder for 10 years. Ollie competed in dog races at the Tozier Track, in
Fairbanks, at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous and at Pipple's Field. He made all of
his own dog sleds and harnesses and kept a dog lot of about 40 dogs. He also
experimented with breeding a greyhound line for a number of years. His dogs won
several first place trophies in Fur Rendezvous weight-pull contests in the late
1950's. In 1968, the Walker's became "snowbirds" and lived in Texas in
the winter and Alaska during the summers. Preceding him in death is his wife
Kathy, of 45 years (1992), a son David Oliver (1947), and 10 siblings. Surviving
him is his second wife Julie and his children, Coleen Mielke of Wasilla, Debbie
Childress of Ohio, Terry Walker of Peters Creek, Sherrie Walker of Chugiak, nine
grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Here is a great must read from Coleen
Coleen's South Central Alaska Website
Up On The Old Glenn Highway
or go to her website here
Coleen (Walker) Mielke 2008
I recently re-discovered an
interview I did with my father in 1985. It reminded me that it was time to
record my own memories of Chugiak during the 1950’s & 1960’s.
All of the businesses, mentioned in this story, thrived during my
childhood but no longer exist…the people I mention, were all Chugiak
homesteaders who were family friends. Keep in mind that this account is written
through the eyes of my youth, and may not be exactly correct; however, it is how
I remember it.
My father, Ollie Walker, was
the son of Jacob and Rosina Walker of Eureka, South Dakota. My mother, Kathy (Furness)
Walker, was the daughter of Thomas and Kate Furness of
Cambridge, England. They met while dad was stationed in England during
World War II. Immediately after getting married (in England) they moved back to
North Dakota where dad attended vocational school and learned how to do
auto-body repair work.
In March of 1950, my parents
moved to Alaska. They rented a tiny house behind the Stop & Shop Grocery in
Mt. View. The “house” was actually a large wooden packing crate, from the
military base, which had been converted into an apartment because of a serious
housing shortage in Anchorage. Dad found temporary work as a laborer on
Elmendorf Air Force Base and a had second job as a pinsetter at a Mt. View
bowling alley at nights. I was born in 1950, Debbie was born in 1952, Terry was
born in 1955 and Sherrie was born in 1957. We were all born in the old
Providence Hospital at Ninth & L Street in Anchorage.
In the early spring of 1950,
my parents bought half an acre of land (mile 18½ of the Old Glenn Highway) near
Gib & Eileen Reid. Life in the new community of Chugiak was primitive but
they liked the area which was sparsely populated and open to homesteading. That
summer dad secured a Civil Service Job on Fort Richardson Army Base, a job he
would keep until his retirement in 1975.
In May of 1950, they filed
an application with the Land Office for a 160-acre homestead at mile 17½ on the
Old Glenn Highway. The Government’s main requirement, before
granting a homestead patent, was that the applicant had to live on and
farm the land for five years. After filing their application, mom and
dad sold their little cabin and bought a bulldozer to clear their prospective
homestead. They moved an old building onto the property, moved into it and grew
potatoes and chickens, all in accordance with the homestead plan. To make a
little extra money on the weekends, dad cleared land for people with his dozer.
The first five years of my
baby book (1950-55) read like an early Chugiak telephone directory (except there
were no telephones in early Chugiak). Gifts came from the families of:
Roger & Millie Ball and
children Timmy and Ronnie
Jim & Marie McDowell
Paul & Margaret Swanson
and children Martha and Steven
Les & Dottie Fetrow and children Sandy, Larry and Carla
The Sehm Family
The Hatcher’s with
children Bobby & Shirley
Simon & Bobbie Media and
children Simon, David and Paul
Pat & Micky Earles
The Curry’s and children
Corky and Stevie
Gib & Eileen Reid
The Gibsons with daughters
Michael & Gale
The Frary’s with daughters
Maureen & Star
Allen & Rose Pearce and
Aden & Jo Cates and
children Kenneth, Pat, and Denise
Robert & Susie Aubrey
and children Robyn, Audrey and Rhonda
Velda, Vesta and Bobby Land
Jess & Doris Straight
and children Linda, Ryan (also known as Stubby) and Candy
The Gunnell’s and son
I started first grade, in
1956, at Chugiak Elementary on the Old Glenn Highway. The first day of school,
we were all lined up and given DPT shots. Several of us had serious reactions
and Mrs. Emmert (the principal’s wife) decided it was because the nurse had
used the same syringe for everyone…times have certainly changed. Starting in
the third grade, if you helped wash dishes in the school kitchen (in the days
before automatic dishwashers), you got a free hot lunch. A popular lunch was
moose meat stew (schools received road killed moose in those days) and homemade
bread made by a wonderful cook named Penn Lee who was Paul Swanson’s sister.
Paul Swanson ran the Post Office across the street from the school. Every
day, his Collie dog came over to the playground during noon recess, and every
day, Mr. Swanson came over to scold the dog and chase him home with a
board. I don’t know which was worse for Mr. Swanson, the humiliation of a
misbehaving dog or the jeering kids on the playground (we all wanted the dog to
stay and play).
By 1956, Chugiak Elementary
was very crowded. Overflow classes were held in surplus Army buildings and
Quonset huts. My first grade teacher was Miss Noland (later Mrs. Waterman); my
second grade class was held in the church across the street from the school; my
third grade teacher was Mrs. May; my fourth grade teacher was Miss Eggleston
(later Mrs. Aske); my fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Golden Pettit and my sixth
grade teacher was Mr. Kerr.
In 1962, they changed the
school boundaries and I attended 7th and 8th grade in
Eagle River. My teachers were Mr. Rouse, Mrs. Carole Connell and Mrs. Golden
Pettit (again). I attended Chugiak High School the first year it opened,1964,
and graduated in 1968; we were the first class to attend grades 1-12
in Chugiak/Eagle River. Prior to 1964, all high school students attended
East High School, in Anchorage.
Before “real” telephones
found their way to the homestead, dad and three other neighbors established a
do-it-yourself phone system. They strung surplus Army wire between the
homesteads and hooked up World War II, EE-8 Army field phones. The field phone
had a standard receiver, that hung from the side of a ten-pound canvas-covered
battery pack base, and a hand crank that powered a 100-volt ringing generator.
One full revolution of the hand crank (which was very hard to turn) meant
everyone on the system would hear one full ring in their home. Supposedly, each
family had its own designated number of rings but realistically, any time the
phone rang, everyone answered it and listened in. The other three
families connected to our phone system were the Robert Schoonmaker’s, the
Robert Aubrey’s and the Hank Aust’s.
Mom was very homesick for
England and nurtured friendships with other war brides in the area such as Jo
Cates, Daphne Monroe, Eileen Reid, Violet Hall, Edna Seabolt, Dorothy Liska, and
other names lost in time. Many afternoons were spent with these English friends
chatting and reminiscing over tea and biscuits.
In the spring of 1954,
thinking they were well on their way to completing their homestead requirements,
mom and dad had their land surveyed and submitted the final homestead
application papers. That’s when they learned they had made a critical error
that would cost them the majority of their homestead. The Homestead Act allowed
people to file on a single piece of property. The land my parents
staked was technically two pieces of property since the Old Glenn
Highway ran through one side of it. The Government made them
choose which side of the highway they wanted to apply for. After much thought,
they decided to file for the smaller parcel (that lay up against the mountains)
because their home was on it and because it included Fire Creek. They released
their claim to the 100 acres that lay on the west side of the highway and were
granted a U. S. Patent No. 1152305 to the remaining 58.62 acres at mile 17½ of
the Old Glenn Highway in 1955.
In 1958, my parents
inadvertently went into pig farming when JoAnn Vanover gave mom a baby pig that
was destined to be destroyed because of a crippled back leg. Before long, mom
went back to Vanover’s and got another pig; two summers later, our pigs had 11
piglets of their own. They grew quickly, and that fall dad hired a fellow dog
musher named Joe Traversie to slaughter and dress the pigs. Joe was a Sioux
Indian and his wife Gladys was an Eskimo. She was an excellent skin sewer and
made dad a beautiful pair of mukluks with moose-hide soles and intricate seal
and caribou fur trim. She had a son (my age) named Eddie Serrin (not sure of
that spelling). Joe Traversie was a custodian at Chugiak High School when it
opened in 1964.
Our homestead fronted the
Old Glenn Highway, from the northern tip of Upper Fire Lake, to (today’s)
Del’s Lane. Besides our house, we had a Jamesway hut, a large barn, a small
travel trailer and the obligatory outhouse. The Jamesway hut was a
16’x32’surplus military building (canvas skin over wood ribs) where dad
stored bales of hay and 50 lb. bags of oats for his dog team. The travel trailer
was used to store dog harnesses, rigging and extra chain. The pole barn was made
of spruce poles, covered with corrugated aluminum and must have been about
15’x30’. It was primarily for dry storage, but occasionally locals who were
down on their luck, or families burned out of their homes lived in our barn.
Besides the pigs, we had six
goats, dozens of guinea hens (for the eggs), rabbits, a cow, and forty sled
dogs. The dogs were Dad’s passion and he made his own dog harnesses as well as
his own freight and race sleds. In the winter, the dogs were fed a cooked
mixture of meat, tallow scraps and oats. Dad got the meat trimmings and tallow,
for free, from a (dog friendly) butcher at the Piggly Wiggly store in Mt. View.
The ingredients were then cooked in a huge pot, over an outdoor burner to form
an easily digestible meal for the dogs.
Mom and dad were charter
members of the Chugiak Dog Mushing Club. Dad
raced dogs in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous and at the Tozier Track on Tudor
Road. He also raced dogs, most weekends, on Walt & Melva Pippel’s 90-acre
vegetable farm, in downtown Eagle River. Today “Pippel’s field” is covered
with a variety of businesses, including the Carr’s grocery store.
Although Dad had little
success in racing dogs, he won first and second place trophies in the Fur
Rendezvous weight-pull competition two years in a row in the late 1950’s. His
lead dog, Yukon, won first place for pulling over 1,200 pounds and in the
three-dog class, his team pulled 2,350 pounds.
When mom and dad originally
staked the homestead, we had zero neighbors, however people moved into the area
quickly. Robert & Lillian Schoonmaker moved in on the hill at mile 18 (their
house was later purchased by the William & Phyllis Watkins family). Across
the Old Glenn Highway from our house, lived Barry and Creatus Darby, Jerry &
Leona Setters, the Gardners, Denzel & Daisey Schetzel, Burrell & Louise
Frary and Charlie & Jeanie Crane. They all lived on the same street (today
it is called Darby Rd.). Three of these families had close ties (Frary, Setters
and Crane). Burrell and Louise Frary’s son (“Sonny”) married Jerry and
Leona Setters daughter (Wilma), and Burrell Frary and Charlie Crane grew up
together in Montana and were life long friends.
Just north of Darby Rd., was
the log home of James and Janell Lamay. James was accidentally shot to death
while he was putting a rifle into the gun rack of his truck (1960?). Today,
Dorothy Liska lives in that house.
Just north of the Lamay/Liska
house is Athanasius Street where the St. John Orthodox Church is. When I was
growing up, that road had no name. The only people who lived on it were the
Cremin’s, the Radiskie’s and the Despain’s (the road dead-ended just past
the Despain’s house). The Cremin’s had two school age sons who were
notorious for their violence in the neighborhood.
Some of my parent’s
more colorful friends deserve mention in this story. In no particular order, I
start with Nora Collett. The first time I met Nora, she was selling small bags
of delicious coconut brittle and divinity, for 50¢, at the bingo concession
stand in the Chugiak VFW Hall. She also had a small candy shop in the Tommy
Slanker building near Eagle River Elementary. After school, kids walked over to
her shop and bought broken candies at a discount price. If you made a lot of
noise in the shop, or if you were less than respectful, she would give you a
tongue-lashing and banish you from the store. Nora was famous for closing her
candy store, on a sunny day, and putting up a hand lettered sign that said,
“gone fishing…you should too!”
person was Dotty Cochran. Dottie’s husband’s name was Corky Cochran and dad
did a lot of land clearing on their homestead in the early years. Dotty went to
jail for shooting a man that she said was attacking her in her house. However,
when the police arrived, the dead man was still sitting upright,
in a chair, with his legs crossed at the knees and his cigarette was still
between his fingers. Dotty was a character, she always dressed in mens Hawaiian
shirts…combed her greased hair straight back, jokingly threatened to steal
everyone’s husband and swore like a sailor.
Fred Bustrin, known as
Chief Chugiak, rented some land from my father and opened a jewelry shop on the
north end of our homestead. He was a giant, diabetic bachelor who told the
tourists he was from the village of Egegik but in reality, he was from the East
Coast. He made gold nugget jewelry and a variety of other items, with
forget-me-nots, cast in resin. Fred paid local kids 50¢ a coffee can for moose
nuggets in perfect condition. He used the droppings to make novelty earrings and
necklaces as well as a very popular item called a “moosequito”. A
“moosequito” was an oversized mosquito made out of moose droppings and
porcupine quills; he sold hundreds of them, to tourists, every summer. His
partner was Fred Buske, a dog musher; the two were locally known as Big Fred and
In 1952, dad sold five
acres on the south end of the homestead to Bob & Susie Aubrey. Bob was in
the military and had a shop in his basement where he sold eyeglasses. He and his
family spent several years in Okinawa so Bob’s shop was decorated with
Japanese souvenirs and dried, inflated puffer fish hanging on strings from the
ceiling. Their son Robyn was killed in a fire at the University of Alaska in
Fairbanks in 1968.
In the mid 1950’s,
dad sold five acres, on the north end of the homestead, to Hank and Pat Aust.
Today, their driveway is a street called Del’s Lane. In 1960, a neighbor,
Jerry Setters, who lived in a swampy area of Darby Road, bought 2½ acres from
dad, just south of our house. As part of that sale, dad created a road easement
between the homestead and the land he sold to Setters. He named it New Market
Road, after the street in Cambridge, England where my mother was born.
1960, two Native girls moved into the neighborhood; their last name was
Mosquito. Their mother was an excellent skin sewer and made beautifully beaded
miniature mukluks that she turned into zipper pulls; her daughters sold them at
my school for 50¢. They lived deep in the woods across the street from my house
(off of today’s Darby Road). Their “house” was like nothing I had ever
seen before or since. It was just a dirt cave deep in the side of a hill. The
hole was obviously hand dug because the moss, plants and trees that grew on top
of the cave were totally undisturbed. The entrance to their “house” was
about 5’ tall and covered with a tarp. The interior walls were covered with
old gray boards and their floor was smooth dirt. I don’t recall a stove of any
kind although there must have been one because the girls’ clothes smelled like
a wood fire. Mrs. Mosquito was a short, sturdy woman who was all business and
said very little. She and her two daughters lived in that dirt house for about
18 months. I have no idea where they came from or where they went when they
left…one day they were just gone.
than a quarter mile north of our driveway was Del’s Drive Inn, or I should
say, the empty shell of Del’s Drive Inn. Originally owned by Sareefa Wright,
it was a 6’ x 8’ abandoned
sandwich stand on the right side of the highway at mile 17¾. In 1958, the
“building” was still in good shape and had a plywood counter, a couple of
papered shelves and a wire dish drainer. Neighborhood kids used it as a
At mile 18 was a small
restaurant called the Wheeler Inn. It was next to Ralph Anderson’s gas station
on the left side of the Old Glenn Highway near (today’s) Division Street.
Anderson’s gas station no longer exists and the Wheeler Inn is now a private
small green house sits just south of today’s old Fuji Gift shop. It was a bath
house for many years and was owned by Einar & Inez Huseby, former Matanuska
Colonists. They were great people and had a variety of exotic birds.
In the early 1950’s,
we got our mail from Moose Horn Lodge at mile 18½. The lodge was owned by Jim
& Marie McDowell. Marie ran a (horseshoe shaped) café counter and hot
showers; Jim ran the gas pump and tow truck. The McDowell’s made everyone feel
welcome and the lodge always smelled like good food and strong coffee. Long
after they were gone, Moose Horn became a bus garage for the Anchorage School
District and later yet it was turned into apartments.
It burned to the ground in 2007.
stones throw north of Moose Horn was a small log coffee shop, on a little hill
right beside the road, owned by Cloyce and Justine Parks. Today, that location
is part of the Klondike Concrete Co. driveway. As I remember it, the little
diner had the only neon sign north of Anchorage. Everyone
got their water from Parks Creek near the diner. It was fairly common for there
to be a line of cars waiting (at the creek) to fill their water cans.
At mile 20, sits a
tiny, dark log house on the right side of the Old Glenn Highway. Years ago, we
all knew it as the Spring Creek Lodge. Obviously, my memory has faded, because I
remember it as being a large building. My family ate at there on very
special occasions only. It had red plaid tablecloths and the best banana cream
pie in the world.
The Chugiak VFW Hall
(at about mile 21) was a military surplus building that housed bingo games and
dances; the huge Chugiak Senior Center and apartments are built in that location
today. Just north of the VFW Hall, was the location for the Chugiak Benefit
Associations annual spring carnival. People came from as far away as Anchorage
to attend three days of motorcycle races, games, food booths, beauty contests
and of course, Les Fetrow as the carnival clown.
the North Birchwood Loop overpass was built, the north end of the Birchwood Loop
left the Old Glenn at mile 21. Today,
mile 21 would be where the rear parking lot of the new Chugiak Elementary School
is. From there, the old Loop followed a sharp ridge back towards the Loop we are
all familiar with, except it ran behind (today’s) Circle S Grocery building,
instead of in front of it. On that ridge, was the Birchwood Loop dump.
Paralleling the old Loop, it was a crude 400’ open dumpsite, which had no
fees, no regulation and minimal maintenance. People dumped everything imaginable
there. Bigger items like vehicles, old appliances and dead animals, were pushed
over the ridge, but most of the household garbage was just tossed onto a heap
beside the road. Occasionally, when the garbage started to spill out onto the
Loop road, someone would bulldozer it back towards the ridge and set it on fire.
The dump was so large that it could be seen, cascading down the bluff, as you
drove south towards the Peters Creek Bridge on the Old Glenn Highway. My husband
John remembers a whale that was dumped there in 1962. Evidently, it died while
it was being prepared for shipment to a lower 48 aquatic zoo, and for unknown
reasons, it ended up at the Birchwood Loop dump; you can imagine the smell.
Just past the Old
Glenn Highway-Birchwood Loop intersection, on the right, was a long uphill
driveway (today it’s called Lace Street). At the end of that driveway was the
First Baptist Church of Birchwood, which my parents were charter members of. It
was housed in a WWII surplus building and had a membership of about 45 people.
When the church moved to its present day location on the Birchwood Loop, it sold
the old church building to Ted Sadler who used it as his first Alaska furniture
Reece & Gracie
Tatro had a hamburger and ice cream shop in Peters Creek at about mile 22. They
called it the Dairy Delight and it was a popular “Sunday drive” destination
for many people. Today, the Dairy Delight has morphed into Bella Vista Pizza.
the Dairy Delight, still heading north on the Old Glenn Highway, there was a
store called Allen’s Grocery owned by George Allen. It was built on a ridge,
on the left side of the highway, just north of (today’s) Mt. Eklutna Drive.
Allen’s Grocery was tiny, but invaluable, since it was the only grocery store
for miles around…and because it let people carry a tab until payday.
That is about as far
north as my memories take me. Now, I’ll list the people and businesses I was
familiar with, heading south, towards Eagle River, from our homestead.
there is an old dilapidated building sitting at the mile 17 summit of the Old
Glenn Highway (½ mile south of our driveway). In it’s heyday, it was the Fire
Lake Lodge, owned by Jim & Lillian Polyefko and was a favorite “watering
hole” for locals and military bachelors until it burned down in 1954. The
lodge was rebuilt, but by 1960, it was a private residence (the Bruton family
lived there). Later yet, it was a Jehovah Witness Church. Just south of the
lodge was Ralph Rollins’ gas station…his eccentric wife kept a skunk and a
raven in her office.
mom used to have coffee and chat with friends at a little used furniture shop on
the north end of Eagle River. It was called the “Swap & Shop” and was
owned by Melba Charles and her sister-in-law, Floss Charles (their husbands Tony
& Willie were brothers).The shop sat next to Jesse & Nella Wooten’s
Tasty Freeze (remnants of Wooten’s stand still exist). Both Charles families,
lived where Cronquist Corners Ski Doo shop is today. Another business in that
area (across from today’s McDonalds) was the Lamp Post Inn, an upscale, family
style hotel, run by the Bowen family.
the heart of Eagle River was the Market Basket grocery store in the Eagle River
Shopping Center. In 1960, it was the only store, between Anchorage and Palmer to
have a full service meat counter. When the Market Basket store closed, it was
replaced by Value City Grocery, and after that it was a Carr’s Grocery.
Decades later, Carr’s Grocery built a big store on Pippel’s field in Eagle
south of the Market Basket, and a
stones throw north of Monte Rd., was McGann’ Grocery. It was a very small
wooden structure that looked more like a house than a store. The store had two
entrances, one for basic groceries like bread and canned goods and the other
entrance was a liquor store. The little store was popular with Eagle River kids
because it had an excellent penny candy counter. The McGann family lived in the
back of the store and you often had to knock on their door (which was next to
the bread shelf) and ask them if you could pay for something.
Before the existence
of today’s divided four-lane highway that bypasses Eagle River and Chugiak,
the Old Glenn Highway used to be a narrow two lane road that ran right through
the heart of Eagle River, Chugiak, Peters Creek and up against the edge of
Mirror Lake. I do not recall a single stop light or stop sign on the main
highway that ran through Eagle River.
The north and south
approaches to the Eagle River Bridge were very steep, narrow and unlit. When the
roads were particularly icy, traffic would come to a full stop at the top of the
hill. Vehicles waited for the car in front of them to get over the bridge and
back up the other side before they made their own bonsai attempt. This practice
began out of necessity, because some people didn’t make it up the other side
on their first try and had to back down the treacherous grade, it was
There wasn’t a lot
for teenagers to do in Eagle River in the mid-1960’s. A favorite place for
teens with cars, was the parking lot in front of the Eagle River Shopping
Center. Most of us just sat in our cars and watched the impromptu tire squealing
contests and listened to the ensuing rpm flexing. One summer, someone tried to
organize street dances in the parking lot, but they didn’t go over very well.
Eagle River only had one Alaska State Trooper, in the mid-1960’s… Trooper
Dubber, who lived in the trailer court on the hill behind the Eagle River
Shopping Center. The teenagers kept him pretty busy with traffic tickets, etc.,
although I don’t remember a lot of other crime during that time.
favorite sledding hill was Monte Rd., next to the Eagle River Baptist Church. We
called it “suicide hill” for obvious reasons. When traffic was light, kids
would sled down the steep road, and (hopefully) stop before a car came. Half way
up “suicide hill” was the Eagle River Bowling Alley. My mother had a snack
bar there from 1962-1964. Floyd Smith was the manager of the bowling alley,
Phyllis Stewart was the secretary, Denny Marquis was the custodian and Frank
Ryan owned the bar/lounge.
On March 27, 1964, I
was helping mom at the snack bar when the big earthquake hit. At first, I
wasn’t sure what was happening. I could hear/feel a deep rumble that sounded
like an earth excavator pushing against the building. Within seconds, all of the
snack bar salt and pepper shakers bounced off the shelf and landed in the deep
fryer, causing a huge boil over. Stacks of glass dinner plates crashed to the
floor and the bowling pins in all ten lanes fell over, causing the big orange
Brunswick Crown logo’s (that indicated a strike) to simultaneously light up
over every bowling lane. The next heave knocked all of the bowling balls off
their storage racks; that’s when everyone decided we might be safer outside.
As we ran out of the building, I saw Mr. Ryan, through the large plate glass
windows that divided his lounge from the main bowling alley. He had both arms
stretched out, valiantly trying to stop dozens of liquor bottles from sliding
off his counters; his eyes were as big as saucers. Once outdoors, the first
thing I noticed was the absence of everyday noise…no cars, no machinery, no
construction, no dogs barking or people noises. All I could hear was the deep
rumble coming from the earth and the sound of overhead electrical lines making a
zinging noise as the power poles caused the lines to alternate from very slack
to very taut. The earth was moving so violently, that it was nearly impossible
to stand up, so we steadied ourselves by standing with our feet far apart; it
seemed like the shaking would never stop. After a couple of minutes, Mr. Ryan
gave up the fight to save his liquor bottles, and tried to exit the big glass
bowling alley doors. The shifting building had jammed the doors shut, leaving
him banging on the glass with his fists…reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in the
Graduate. Fifteen seconds later, the building shifted again and the big doors
sprung open and released him. The earthquake lasted for nearly five minutes.
After the earthquake,
the bowling alley was set up as a refuge for people that needed a place to stay.
Since the electricity and telephones were out, mom sent me down to the grocery
store to ask the manager if they could help feed those who were gathering. The
store was a mess; the isles were completely blocked by fallen merchandise that
was at least two feet deep. The store smelled like broken pickle jars and was
dark and very quiet. The manager generously donated lunchmeat, bread, chips,
milk, soda, ice and anything else that he could not keep without refrigeration.
Mom and friend, Yadie Hutchison,
used the facilities at the snack bar to make hundreds of sandwiches for people
who were camping out on the floor of Mr. Ryan’s lounge over the next three
Our house didn’t
suffer very much damage during the earthquake, just a few broken dishes and a
gold fish that sloshed out of its bowl. We had countless earth tremors over the
next week. Our whole dog team seemed to sense when a shake was approaching and
howled in unison before each sizeable tremor. The gymnasium walls of Eagle River
Elementary School collapsed during the earthquake, as did many chimneys. All in
all, Chugiak and Eagle River were very lucky.
In 1968, my parents
sold their old house, at mile 17½, to Jimmie & Joyce Connell and moved to
Anchorage. Like everyone else in early Chugiak, they worked hard,
packed water, battled the elements, lived paycheck to paycheck, pitched in when
a neighbor needed a hand, broke fish & game laws (when it was necessary) and
participated in a lot of “firsts” for Chugiak. In their “golden years”,
they spent their winters in Texas and summers in a small house they built on a
reserved piece of the old homestead (across the highway from the Liska family).
Mom died in 1992 and dad died in 2007.
Coleen (Walker) Mielke
8485 North Wasilla Fishhook
Wasilla, Alaska 99654
These photos & comments copied from Coleen Walker with permission. Thanks Coleen...
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Walker and Kathleen Furness right after they married in Cambridge, England 1947.
My mother was a
wonderful person. Born in Cambridge, England, she came to America as a young
WWII bride. She & dad moved to Alaska in the spring of 1950 and lived in a
tiny log cabin with wood heat and no electricity or running water. She was a
strong adventurous woman with a huge heart and a big laugh.
Raising four children on the homestead, so far away from England, could not have been easy, but she did it well. She instilled in us a sense of humor, a love for life and a love of family. I miss you mom and I love you more every day. Happy Mothers Day♥ ♥ May 8, 2010