By Clark Fair
Arthur C. “Art” Frisbie liked telling stories, and he occasionally liked to startle his listeners by stretching the facts, but the truth is that he did live a long life full of adventure, such as the time he accidentally shot himself in the hand or the time he accidentally shot himself through the armpit when he set down his hair-trigger rifle butt-first and it went off.
Frisbie was also at one time the only law officer in Seward. He served in the military near the end of World War II. He worked as a watchman on a fish trap in Southeast Alaska. He trapped during one winter on the Sheenjek River south of the Brooks Range. And he helped fight the massive 1947 Kenai Burn.
An early settler on Skilak Lake — after acquiring George Nelson’s cabin at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek — Frisbie also became one of Soldotna’s earliest residents when he bought 10 acres of Howard Binkley’s property and moved into town. As such, he has earned a place on the pioneers’ Memorial Wall planned by the Soldotna Historical Society at the Soldotna Community Memorial Park.
The wall, according to city of Soldotna documents, “was designed as a way to celebrate the lives of past citizens of the Soldotna area who have been interred in other locations. For those whose hearts will always be in Soldotna, their memory can be brought back home to our community.”
So far, the historical society has a list of more than 70 names of individuals, now deceased, who moved to the Soldotna area after homesteading opened in 1947 and prior to 1955. An additional and much shorter list includes the names of some individuals who are still living but meet the other criteria. The historical society decided on the cutoff date of 1954 in order to control the number of names and ensure that space would be available on the Memorial Wall.
According to historical society treasurer Barbara Jewell, the names will be placed on 3-by-8-inch gunmetal-gray aluminum plaques and affixed to a railing at the Memorial Wall site. In raised Avant Garde lettering, each name will be accompanied by a birth and death date and an occupational descriptor, such as “Homesteader,” “Postmaster” or “Alaska Road Commission.” Jewell said she hopes that the project will be completed by the end of August or early September.
At the historical society’s annual meeting in February, Jewel asked the assembled members to approve the idea of the society researching Soldotna’s earliest settlers and helping to create a Memorial Wall display.
She also asked them to designate $2,000 of historical society funds for that effort. Her recommendations were approved unanimously.
In the information-gathering stage, Jewell consulted with longtime Soldotna residents Al Hershberger, Marge Mullen and Dolly Farnsworth, among others. The bulk of the research — gathering birth and death dates and determining when certain individuals took up residence in the area — was conducted by Hershberger, Farnsworth and historical society board member Donna VanLone.
Among the individuals to be included on the memorial are:
- Jack and Margaret Irons: The Ironses came to Alaska from Redlands, Calif., in 1947, and they homesteaded at the base of Pickle Hill in the area that later became known as Ridgeway. For a short time, however, Jack Irons referred to the area as “Ironsville.” They fished commercially and established the Irons Café, which evolved later into the restaurant/bar known as 4 Royle Parkers. After Jack developed a medical condition that made it difficult for him to tolerate cold weather, he and Margaret became part-time Alaska residents, spending the winter months in the Lower 48.
- Bettie Lande: With her husband, Clarence Lande, she arrived in Alaska from Oregon in 1952 to work on the construction of the Wildwood military station. After she and Clarence divorced, he moved out of state, but she stayed on. She worked for Kenai Packers, then for Penrod Buchanan at Penn’s Hardware, and then for Kenai Packers again. During her time at the hardware store, she wed Buchanan, but they remained married only briefly. Many years later, she lived in the Heritage Place, and died last year.
- Richard M. “Dick” Gerhart: He came to Alaska first as an Army payroll clerk,
stationed on the Aleutian Islands during the end of World War II. After his military service, he homesteaded 160 acres in Soldotna and, with the help of his brother, Bob, built a one-room cabin on his property. His cabin can still be seen on the grounds of the Soldotna Historical Society’s Homestead Museum.
A “Euc skinner” by trade — meaning that he operated one of the large, belly-dumping Euclid earth-moving machines — he worked summers for the Alaska Road Commission.
In a 1995 interview, excerpted in the local history book “The Road We’ve Traveled,” Gerhart described his earliest times in Soldotna: “I moved down in September 1948 and built a little soddy on the property. This was a little spruce pole lean-to with boughs over it. I bought a tarp at Kenai Commercial Company and placed it over all, making it somewhat rainproof. I worked out of that till it got pretty cold.
“Then Loren Stewart (who started the Cheechako News in 1959) came along. He cautioned me about freezing in that flimsy shelter. Well, I was young enough to think I could do it. After all, I was sleeping with my dog, a big malamute named Freak because he had no tail. About November, Stewart and I moved into a cabin of Bob Murray’s where we at least were warm in what proved to be a record-breaking cold winter.”
- Russell and Mildred Bagley: The Bagleys moved from Wyoming to Alaska in 1941, and they came to Kenai-Soldotna area in 1952 when Russell’s job as a parts man with the Alaska Road Commission brought him to the Kenai Peninsula. The Bagleys were very involved in each community in which they lived. In Soldotna, they helped organize the Methodist Church, the Girl Scouts, and the Homemakers Club and were involved in numerous other activities.
- Alfred Trettevick: Al Hershberger remembers Trettevick as the bushy-bearded older man who made a lot of home brew, and liked to call him “Mister Mooseburger.” Trettevick was a Norwegian bachelor who lived with his dog in a cabin near the current location of Arby’s restaurant. An old-time woodsman, he moved to Soldotna and worked as an axman for the road commission. He built a cabin near the Kenai River bridge for Alex Bodnar.
- Alex and Marcus Bodnar: Along with Howard Binkley, the Bodnar brothers were two of the first settlers in the Soldotna area. Alex lived in a two-story cabin where the Kenai River Lodge now stands, and Marcus had his own place downriver at Big Eddy.
Each plaque for the Memorial Wall will cost $100, and Jewell said that the historical society is hoping to raise the funds necessary for the 70-plus names by the third week of June so that the full set of plaques can be ordered by the end of that month.
In addition to the $2,000 from the historical society, the fundraising effort will be aided by $2,000 from the city of Soldotna and the contributions of family members of the pioneers.
Anyone interested in contributing to the Memorial Wall fund or in suggesting a name for the memorial should call either Jewell at 262-4157 or Mullen at 262-4646.