Monthly Archives: December 2010

From Kenai to Kenya — Montessori school takes a page from missionaries’ generosity

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

To Americans doing missionary work in Kenya — at an orphanage for kids left parentless by the AIDS epidemic, at a school in one of Africa’s largest slums, and at a preschool in the rural outback that serves as the one neutral location in an otherwise war-torn region — it isn’t hard to find striking examples of the disparity between the rich, safe, comfortable life in the United States and what Kenyans endure.

It also isn’t hard to find ways to help. When people have next to nothing, it doesn’t take much to make an immense improvement.

In the seven years that Charlie and Cathie Schmelzenbach, of Soldotna, have been doing missionary work in Kenya, they’ve seen needs that dwarf any contribution they could ever hope to make, yet they’ve also found never-ending ways in which even seemingly small efforts — by American standards — have a large impact.

“When we first found these kids they were sleeping on a dirt floor. They were walking a mile to get water. They had no electricity, no water. Some of them had beds, some of them didn’t. You just can’t walk away from something like that,” Cathie said.

On a photo safari trip in northern Kenya, they visited Archer’s Point, a point where travelers need to stop and join with an armed guard before venturing into the aptly named badlands. There they visited a preschool, which serves as a regional meeting place and agreed-upon neutral ground safe from the intertribal violence that is endemic in the area.

The school has a dirt floor, no electricity and relies on light coming in through an open window and slats between wallboards. Cathie, a retired computer specialist in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, is particularly touched by the challenges schools in Kenya face.

“They knew I was a teacher and so the kids said, ‘Oh, come with us, teacher,’” Cathie said. “So they took me into their classroom and this one girl went over to the bookshelf and got their one book, and held it over their heads so nobody could touch it, and she laid it on the table and said, ‘Look what we have.’”

One book for an entire school, and they felt blessed to have even that. Continue reading

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Say it with sugar — ‘Goodie’ ways to say thanks this season

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sheilah-Margaret Pothast, of Soldotna, packages homemade goodies — caramel corn, pizelle cookies, ginger cookies and fudge, which she delivers to various offices, agencies and friends around town.

Redoubt Reporter

There’s a special kind of magic infusing kitchens this time of year, bestowing the power of speech upon various combinations of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, spices and flavorings.

What goes in the mixing bowl may be any old recipe for cookies or candy, but what comes out of the oven, gets packaged into brightly colored tins and delivered to various friends, family and acquaintances becomes a way to say, “You are appreciated.”

“As we start getting close to Thanksgiving you kind of get more in a mindset of really thinking about the things you’re grateful for and the people you’re thankful for in your life — whether it’s every day or just a couple times a year. You just start thinking about that stuff. If a plate of cookies is something I can do to say, ‘Thank you,’ then that’s what we do,” said Sheilah-Margaret Pothast, of Soldotna.

Pothast has a lot to say. Combine a teacher’s inherent friendliness, a mom’s genuine interest in your health and a personality that tends toward being effervescently chatty and you’ve got a woman who will greet you warmly, inquire sincerely about your well-being and offer attempts to make you more comfortable within the first few seconds of meeting her.

Mix that personality with a family tradition that food equals love and you’ve got a baker who produces a steady stream of goodie packages over the holidays, the sheer volume of which seems disproportionate to the amount of time and energy you’d expect a working wife and mother of two active teenagers to have.

“I basically start in late November and just keep on going,” she said. “I don’t even know (how much time I spend). I can’t even put my brain around that. Last week I took my son to school, came home and hammered it for two hours and got out three batches of various things before I went in to work, so it just happens in pieces. It’s a lot of a little at a time. Sometimes the dough gets made the night before and then I bake the next day.” Continue reading

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Goodnight moon…

Central Kenai Peninsula residents got a good view of the full lunar eclipse Monday night. Photos courtesy of Charlotte Zumbuhl.



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Science of the Seasons: Bird count offers special sight

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. A Townsend’s solitaire is seen sitting on top of a spruce tree in Soldotna during the annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday.

This weekend was the 111th Christmas Bird Count, and a local group of hardy birders headed out Saturday morning to assigned areas around Soldotna. The assignment is to spot, identify and count as many birds as we can within the designated area.

While I have been doing these bird counts for many years and I know most of the common local birds, I am in no way an expert on birds. I enjoy the company of fellow bird watchers and any excuse to be outside is good enough for me.

The area I have been scoping out during each count for the past several years is within the main business and residential areas of Soldotna. I drive around various neighborhoods as unobtrusively as possible, looking for birds at feeders or those that might be sitting on a tree. I don’t often get to see the unusual birds or the more glitzy birds, like hawks, owls or grouse. I usually see lots of ravens, Northwestern crows and, sometimes, bohemian waxwings.

This year things were little different. Continue reading

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Almanac: Mounting a Redoubt rescue effort

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about the attempted rescue of two World War II bomber pilots who were injured when their plane crashed high in the mountains across Cook Inlet. Part one follows the rescue team traveling on foot toward the crash site, and part two will follow the team as it attempts to recover the wounded men and return safely. Most of the information for this story comes from a 1943 Saturday Evening Post article written by one of the rescuers — Anchor Point’s Milo Fritz, who later gained renown for his medical work throughout the state and for his three terms in the Alaska House of Representatives.

By Clark Fair

Photo reproduced from Saturday Evening Post. Major Milo Fritz, a surgeon for the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army Air Forces, posed for this photo in 1943, the year his article, “Ambulance Case on Mount Redoubt,” appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

Redoubt Reporter

When U.S. Army Air Forces Sgts. Don Harris and Charles Michaelis arrived in a fishing boat in the port of Anchorage at two o’clock in the morning on June 17, 1942, their appearance created an immediate stir among the military.

The two enlisted men, comprising half of the crew of a bomber bound for Anchorage, had been missing for more than two weeks. The aircraft’s last known location had been in a mountainous region west of the Redoubt volcano — a region on aeronautical maps of the time left blank except for the word “UNSURVEYED.” An extensive aerial search of the general area at the time of the disappearance had turned up no sign of the bomber.

In 1942, which was 17 years before Alaska became a state, information and population in the Cook Inlet region was considerably sparser. The 10,197-foot Mount Redoubt was not yet arrayed with sophisticated seismic and photographic equipment. Across the inlet, Kenai and Ninilchik were mere fishing villages, many of the residents of Kasilof were still farming foxes, and homesteading was five years away in the areas that would become known as Soldotna, Nikiski and Sterling.

Harris and Michaelis informed the authorities that on June 1 their plane had crashed into the side of a volcano they believed was Mount Redoubt, and that both their pilot and co-pilot had been injured too badly to leave the plane. The pilot, Lt. Edward Clark, had either broken or badly sprained one of his ankles, and the co-pilot, Lt. Joe Donaldson, had suffered a compound fracture of his lower left leg and had “something wrong with his eyes.” Continue reading

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To the dogs — Ski event shines on skijorers

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Joe Mooney, of Sterling, leaves the starting chute with his dog, Nika, Saturday during the five-kilometer skijor race of the T-200 Winter Solstice Cross Country Ski Event.

Redoubt Reporter

Being tethered to a dog may sound like an easy way to get around on skis — especially up hills — but it’s not as low-energy for the skier as it may seem.

“You actively work, too. It’s a joint effort,” said Robyn Sullens, of Soldotna, who competed in the T-200 Winter Solstice Cross Country Ski Event at Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday with her boxer, named Chivo.

The event features a five-kilometer ski race, as well as five-kilometer and 10-kilometer skijor races on the trails system behind Skyview High School, which is usually off limits to dogs during the winter.

“It’s a special day,” said Tami Murray, T-200 executive director and the organizer of the skiing and skijoring event, which raises money to be split between the T-200 and the Tsalteshi Trails Association. “Dogs normally aren’t allowed on these trails in winter, so this gives Tsalteshi members a chance to come out with their dogs. This also serves as an opportunity to introduce people to what skijoring is and how to do it.” Continue reading

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Filed under outdoors, pets, skiing, sports, Tsalteshi Trails

New devices prevent fires — Safe-T Sake Systems born from ashes of house blaze

By Alida Dunning

Photos by Alida Dunning, Homer Tribune. The Hot Shot mounts in the wall next to high-risk electric outlets. It is much less expensive to install than centralized electrical fire prevention systems, and can fit into existing construction.

Homer Tribune

In January 2005, Lyle Chesley and his family came home from a daylong outing to find their house burned to ashes from a fire caused by an overloaded circuit breaker box.

Chesley had been out shopping when his neighbor called to tell him his house was on fire. He thought the neighbor must be mistaken until he got home to see that the fire had completely consumed his house. The fire was caused by a type of meter base that has since been outlawed. Chesley immediately suspected the meter base as the cause, since he had previously replaced one after it caught fire.

A favorite quotation for Chesley goes like this: “If need was the mother of invention, then devastation must surely be the father.” Continue reading

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Epic opportunity — Concert gives teens safe way to celebrate New Year’s Eve

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Manafest. The Lower 48 band Manifest will headline the all-ages New Year’s Eve concert.

Redoubt Reporter

“There’s never anything to do in this town.”

What parent hasn’t heard that before from their teenage offspring? This New Year’s Eve, the Kenai Peninsula Youth Workers Network is organizing a party to give kids a way to ring in the new year, and they believe it’s going to be epic.

“For years there’s been a need on the peninsula to do something for people under 21,” said Jeremy Norton, of Peninsula Grace Youth Center and one of the organizers of the 2011 Epic Win. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Anderson the picture of arts appreciation

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Zirrus VanDevere. “Tap Dancing on Water” by Celia Anderson. Anderson, chair of the art department at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus, often takes on topical or political themes in her work. This piece references the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

For Celia Anderson, art appreciation when she was growing up was like breathing, but more exciting. She was fortunate enough to have parents who understood the value of visual aesthetics and were inclined to pass along some of the joy in the discovery of it.

When her father told stories of being in Vietnam (he was a career officer and a photo interpreter in the Air Force), they were never about bombs and blood, but about the beautiful temples, the intriguing culture and the amazing people; and he had the photos to share with his enthusiasm. He was also an excellent wood craftsman.

Anderson remembers painting with her mother at an early age, and the watercolors she made when she was 9 were actually stolen by one of the movers carrying their cargo to a new home in St. Louis. Her mother’s work, and some other valuables were also stolen, and suddenly Anderson had this amazing realization that what they were creating was valuable enough to steal! Continue reading

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Plugged In: Camera reviews are in, just in time for shopping

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Later in this week’s column, I’ll look at hardware upgrades and free programs that improve your computer’s performance, but first, let’s patriotically stimulate the economy.

As regular readers may recall, after the big Photokina 2010 trade show ended in late September, the Redoubt Reporter discussed many of the top new cameras and made some Christmas purchasing recommendations.

Since then,, a serious camera review website, polled sophisticated photographers for their opinions about the best new cameras in each major category. Here’s how a national sampling of serious and professional photographers rated the new cameras. Continue reading

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Gases to gases — Meeting EPA fuel toxin reductions comes at a cost

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Erik Massey, Tesoro Alaska. A new, 200-foot tower used to reduce the amount of benzene in gasoline stands above the Tesoro Alaska refinery in Nikiski. Tesoro invested $70 million to upgrade its Nikiski facility in order to meet new EPA regulations limiting the percentage of benzene in gasoline.

Redoubt Reporter

Any time the price at the pump takes a hike skyward, the decibel level of motorists’ grumbling tends to trend upward, as well, as consumers pay a penny or more increase for each gallon they slosh into their tanks.

Oil-refining companies like Tesoro Corp., occasionally the target of some of that grumbling, aren’t as unsympathetic to being subject to uncontrollable hikes in costs as motorists may think.

Drivers might find their gasoline or diesel bill fives or tens of dollars more costly, depending on fuel prices. About three years ago, Tesoro’s refinery in Nikiski found it $45 million more expensive to refine diesel fuel. And, due to new regulations going into effect Jan. 1, 2011, it became $70 million more expensive to produce gasoline, with more costs yet to come as the refinery finishes another phase of upgrades.

“That’s just to remain in the gasoline business,” said Kip Knudson, manager of external affairs for Tesoro Alaska.

“A lot of people in Alaska are just completely befuddled when I say this, but the refining sector has been in exceptional doldrums since 2008. Capital money is extremely tight. All you have to do is look up our stock ticker on a stock-tracking mechanism, TSO. The stock price will give you an indication of how well we’re doing. We haven’t been doing well,” Knudson said.

Regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency have necessitated expensive upgrades at the facility so it can produce fuels that meet stricter requirements limiting harmful toxins in fuel. In 2007, Tesoro Alaska estimated spending $45 million to install a Distillation Desulfurization Unit to produce ultralow-sulfur diesel to be in line with EPA regulations that started phasing into effect that year.

In February 2007, EPA regulations were passed that require a reduction in the amount of cancer-causing benzene in gasoline, with the first lower benchmark going into effect in 2011. By Jan. 1, refining companies must produce gasoline with no more than 0.62 percent benzene as a companywide average, meaning one refinery may produce gasoline that’s over the 0.62 percent cap, as long as the gasoline output of the company from all its refineries averages out to be under the new limit. In 2013 the next benchmark goes into effect, requiring all individual refineries to produce gas with no more than 1.3 percent benzene.

Benzene occurs naturally in crude oil and is increased through the refining process to boost gasoline’s octane level. Among air pollutants, benzene poses the second-biggest cancer risk to Americans, after diesel emissions, according to the EPA.

The stricter diesel sulfur dioxide and benzene in gasoline restrictions are meant to benefit health and safety through reducing exposure to cancer-causing toxins. Those benefits come at a cost to the financial health of refineries like Tesoro.

“EPA has regulated the sulfur dioxide emissions coming off automotive and other vehicles and they’ve looked at benzene content. So these benefit the health and safety of our citizens. But in terms of its economic benefit, it’s a cost just to stay in business,” said Vern Miller, manager of technical services at the Kenai Tesoro Alaska refinery. Continue reading

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Once upon a long walk home — GPS cautionary tale, by way of Michigan, Tustumena Lake

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Dr. David Wartinbee. Phil Banycky and Mike Zwack got momentarily lost in the area around Nikolai Creek on the south shore of Tustumena Lake this fall during a moose hunt. Without properly functioning navigational aides, this area of marshy, wooded backcountry can become disorienting.

Redoubt Reporter

As the night wore on, it became increasingly difficult to ignore the mounting evidence that Phil Banycky and his hunting buddy were lost.

There was the time. They’d left their hunting camp on the southern shore of Tustumena Lake around dusk, about 8 p.m. Sept. 20, and hiked for about an hour and a half south before turning around to return to camp. They’d since been walking “back to camp” for two and a half hours.

There was the terrain. Especially in the deepening darkness, it all seemed maddeningly similar, yet not similar enough to indicate they were retracing their route back to camp.

“We’re going up and down through these hills, through these swamps, and I went, ‘We did not go through this stuff, I’m telling you right now,’” Banycky said.

There was the directional discrepancy. Banycky, who had just moved to Kasilof from Michigan with his wife and son, had brought a compass and map of the Tustumena Lake area for his first excursion into “wild country,” he said. In Michigan, he lived about 35 miles north of Detroit.

“Our ‘big woods’ is 80 acres around there,” he said.

He was tagging along on a moose-hunting trip with Mike Zwack, another Michigan resident who previously moved to Kasilof and convinced the Banycky family to come up, as well. Zwack was navigating with a GPS unit. Banycky, being new to Alaska, much less the Tustumena Lake area, wasn’t going to gainsay Zwack’s directions. But something seemed amiss.

“I believe in my compass. A friend in Michigan, he’s a military man, and he always relied on his compass,” Banycky said. “I was sitting on a hill and it was plain as day on the map. I knew what direction we came from. You could definitely see the contour of the land with the map. I lay my compass down, it’s got a little glow-in-the-dark thing, where if I kept them things lined up, I’d be going in the right direction. But he keeps dragging me that a-way, dragging me that a-way.”

The final straw was when Zwack started shaking the GPS unit and gave it a few smacks with his hand.

“He goes, ‘Man, I don’t know about this thing.’ And I’m saying, ‘Well, you picked a hell of a time to say something, after a couple hours of walking,’” Banycky said. Continue reading


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