By Clark Fair
It has been said that church icons are “windows into heaven.” That they provide glimpses into the meaning of church teachings. For Kenai’s Russian Orthodox Church, two of the icons that have been a part of church history for more than 150 years are back where they belong after an extended absence.
The two icons — oil-on-canvas paintings of the archangels Michael and Gabriel — were originally given to Kenai’s first Russian Orthodox Church in 1850, shortly after the church was constructed. When the current Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church was built in the 1890s, the icons were moved into the new structure.
The paintings, which are considered rare because they were “written” — the church’s term for creating an icon — in Alaska rather than in Russia, stayed inside the church until 1995, when they were shipped off to Florida for restoration work. Before the restoration, both icons were in rough shape — dried, flaking paint and discolored from more than a century of candle smoke, according to church treasurer Dorothy Gray.
After the restoration was complete and the icons had been placed back in the church, Gray said that some of the older church members thought they were different paintings because the colors were so vibrant and the old wooden frames had been replaced with newer, gold-painted ones.
In 2001, the church loaned the icons to a display in a Russian Orthodox museum in Kansas City, Mo., and after that museum’s showing was complete, Bishop Nikolai of Anchorage arranged to have the icons placed in his newly opened Russian Orthodox Museum. There they remained until the museum’s recent closure, and all of the items displayed there were returned to churches all over the state.
After an eight-year absence, the twin paintings are once again hanging side-by-side on the north wall of the nave, the central room of the church.
The paintings, which measure approximately 21-by-27 inches, were written originally by Aleut artist Georgy Petukhov in Sitka, under the direction of Father Veniaminov, the first bishop of Sitka, who later became St. Innocent of Unalaska, famous for his Aleut translation of the Bible.
One painting depicts a white-robed Archangel Gabriel standing alone among dark clouds. His white wings are down and his right hand is up, index finger extended, as if he were about to speak. In his left hand he holds a pair of white flowers that appear to be lilies.
In the other painting, Archangel Michael, with black wings fully extended, stands on the edge of a pit of fire. Dressed in a warrior’s gold-and-green garb, he has his left foot firmly planted on the back of the devil. His left hand holds a ring of chains that is fastened to the devil himself, and his right, upraised hand holds a sword with a blood-red blade pointed directly at his foe.
Petukhov, according to church records, is also credited with another painting in the Kenai church. This painting, called “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane,” is in need of restoration and currently hangs out of public view in the altar area behind the main back wall.
The bumbling bandit
Sometimes it is painfully obvious when someone has not planned ahead. Such was the case of DeWain Roscoe Bess Jr., when he selected a cold winter night to rob the establishment in which he had been drinking.
According to state police reports, written about in The Cheechako News, Bess entered Eadie Kummert’s Last Frontier Bar in North Kenai on the night of Friday, Feb. 10, 1967, sat down and had a drink or two. He then grabbed bar employee Roberta Hopkins, took out a revolver, and held Hopkins in front of him as he demanded all the money from the cash register.
Bartender Michael Rhoads complied with Bess’ demands, and then Bess released Hopkins and told her to go out into the parking lot and start his car. Hopkins told Bess that she didn’t know how to drive, but Bess told her to go out there anyway.
Released from her burden as a hostage, Hopkins decided that freedom was more to her liking. Once she was out the door, she ran off and did not return. Eventually, Bess tired of waiting and ordered another customer to go out and check on Hopkins. The other customer left the bar and also did not return.
At this point, Bess grabbed Rhoads, and he demanded that another customer go outside and start his car. Another customer left the bar, but this one hurried to a nearby bowling alley and borrowed the telephone there to call in law enforcement. The time was 10:50 p.m.
When the police arrived a short time later, Kummert met them outside and told them that the situation was under control. Apparently, while Bess was waiting for his car to warm up, Rhoads had grabbed the robber’s gun, eventually wresting it away and then holding it on Bess until authorities arrived.
Bess was arrested, arraigned in Kenai and jailed in Anchorage. His bail was set at $5,000, and his car never did get warm.
Progress that never happened
The Kenai Peninsula might have looked a lot different if Clarence Goodrich had had his way.
Goodrich was known for his passionate dedication to the planning for peninsula roads, schools and health facilities. With his wife, Anna, he donated land to the fledgling Kenai Peninsula College in the 1960s, and ran in 1964 as a Democrat for District 10 of the state House of Representatives. In political advertisements in The Cheechako News in the summer of 1964, he outlined his objectives, based on the premise of “orderly development” of the entire peninsula.
Some of his lesser objectives were realized: restoring earthquake-damaged harbors in Homer, Seward and Seldovia; continuing the development of airports in Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward and Seldovia; improving commercial fishing conditions, especially related to local processing; and expanding Nikiski-area docking facilities.
But his most grandiose objectives never got off the drawing board. Among them were:
- Erect a causeway over Turnagain Arm to dramatically reduce travel time to and from Anchorage, especially where commerce was concerned.
- Build a shorter route between Seward and the central peninsula, via what is now the Russian Lakes Trail and the Resurrection River valley.
- Build a route to the Bradley Lake Hydro Project via a new Tustumena Road, which would begin in Kasilof and follow the Crooked Creek drainage, travel overland to the Fox River drainage, and then along Kachemak Bay to Bear Cove.
- Extend the North Road in Kenai through the Swanson River oilfield to connect to the Sterling Highway.
- Connect Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay via a road starting in the Valley of the 10,000 Smokes.
- Build a deep harbor in Kenai and create a regular ferry stop there.
Goodrich, who came to Alaska in 1956, also favored moving the state capital out of Juneau, greatly enhancing tourism opportunities in the state, and using a borough sales tax only for the support of public schools in the borough.
In the August Democratic primary, Goodrich finished fourth out of five candidates. But he never stopped pushing for progress.