By Clark Fair
Two relative newcomers to the local crime-fighting scene needed less than an hour to nab a pair of burglars who hit one Kenai and three Soldotna businesses in one night and hardly came away with a big haul.
It was early Sunday, Jan. 7, 1962, and Jerry Hobart — recently hired as a night officer to assist Kenai Police Chief “Red” Peavley throughout the Christmas and New Year’s seasons — was on late-night patrol, making the rounds of local business establishments, checking to make sure they were secure. When he reached George’s Coffee Shop, he encountered a problem.
At 2:29 a.m., he discovered that the front door of the café had been pried open since his previous check on the eatery at 2 a.m. He entered the building and found that the door connecting the coffee shop to Kenai Pharmacy had been kicked open.
Hobart hurried quietly to his vehicle and radioed his findings to State Trooper Wayne Hagerty, who had been assigned to the peninsula only a month earlier and had been stationed in Soldotna because Trooper Wayne Morgan was already stationed in Kenai. Hobart issued Hagerty a description of a Volkswagen sedan parked nearby.
The details of the vehicle matched a description that had earlier aroused the suspicions of the Kenai Police, so Hagerty, acting on a hunch, decided to set up a roadblock at the Y intersection in Soldotna. (In those days, Bridge Access Road did not exist, and neither did many of the back roads in Soldotna. In fact, both Kenai and Soldotna had incorporated as cities only two years earlier.)
At 2:43 a.m., the Volkswagen passed through town, just as Hagerty had suspected it would. At the Y, he made the stop.
Inside the vehicle were David Eugene Gibson, 23, and Larry Dean Puddiecombe, 24, both of whom gave their address as Arctic Trailer Court in Anchorage. A search of the car yielded nine new wristwatches, three boxes of coins and a new Polaroid camera with a flash attachment.
Gibson and Puddiecombe were placed under arrest and became the first residents of the recently finished new Kenai Jail.
Further investigation revealed the scope of the two men’s questionably successful criminal escapade. On the night of Saturday, Jan. 6, and the early morning of Sunday, Jan. 7, Kenai Pharmacy and three businesses in Soldotna — the Sky Bowl, the National Bank of Alaska and Lou’s Market — had been broken into.
From the pharmacy, they had made their only decent haul: the wristwatches, the camera and some cash. From the bank — obviously the location with the most money — Gibson and Puddiecombe had taken nothing. From the Sky Bowl, they had pilfered coins from pinball and vending machines. And from Lou’s Market they had come away with nothing but a single quarter, which had been the only coin in the container used to raise funds for the Alaska Crippled Children’s Association.
Authorities estimated the total value of their loot to be $1,000, and as a reward for their efforts, Gibson and Puddiecombe — who were suspected of having participated in a number of other burglaries in Palmer, Anchorage, Seward and Soldotna — were arraigned quickly by Deputy Magistrate Jess Nicholas and hauled to the federal jail in Anchorage on Monday, Jan. 8. Their bail was set at $10,000 apiece.
Mixing with the regular folks again
Don Sutton, who starred prominently on the pitcher’s mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s and ’70s, also showed up in Kenai one winter during that time to help the city celebrate a sports triumph of its own.
Sutton, who was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 after a 23-year career in the big leagues, arrived in Kenai in January 1970 to take part in what city Mayor Eugene Morin had proclaimed as Alaska Little League Champions Day on Jan. 24.
The proclamation was the culmination of an exciting year for Kenai Little League Baseball, particularly for the 1969 state champs — Michael L. Kidd, Karl E. Kjelstad, Gary C. Pickett, Michael J. McFarland, Earl D. Walton Jr., Len I. Seymour, Forrest Broussard, Jeffery D. Combs, Stephen Benner, Shawn Rutherford, Stephen Rayburn Jr., Phillip R. Morin, Terry D. Best and Victor L. Walker.
The Kenai team had been managed by Barry Peagram and coached by Ron Combs.
In a letter to the editor of The Cheechako News on Jan. 31, Combs lauded Sutton as an inspiration to area youth: “The way he walks, the way he talks, just his personal appearance, reflects what we in Little League, Babe Ruth, Youth League Football and all high school and junior high sports regard as our goal — to develop a desire with each youngster, to want to pursue the highest standard of personal performance, sense of self-discipline and self-dedication.
“Mr. Don Sutton (in his time in Kenai) was a living example of the fruits of this labor. He knew the meaning of success and failure — and wasn’t afraid of either.”
Sutton, whose photo appeared in the newspaper at least three times during his Kenai stay, was indeed indicative of the benefits of hard work and of striving in spite of difficult circumstances. Born in 1945 to sharecroppers in a tarpaper shack in Clio, Ala., he was brought up poor and developed a strong work ethic early on by watching his parents struggle make financial ends meet.
Although he had been a successful high school athlete in several sports, he was turned down in his bid to walk on as a member of the University of Florida baseball team. After he played for a summer league, however, he was able to catch the eye of a Dodgers scout, and he made his Major League debut at the age of 21 in April 1966.
At the time he retired in 1988, he had amassed 324 victories and the seventh-highest strikeout number of all time. Twenty-three years after his retirement, he still holds seven Dodgers team pitching records.
At the Little League Ball in the Kenai Airport terminal Jan. 24, the musical group the Viceroys entertained as the 150 to 175 guests feasted on a buffet dinner, listened to a prepared talk by Sutton, and then rewarded the big leaguer with a certificate of appreciation and gifts of ivory cuff links for himself and an ivory necklace for his wife.
The state of the city, early on
Eighteen months after the residents of the village of Kenai voted to become a first-class city, the city itself released a post-incorporation financial statement.
The amounts were miniscule by today’s standards, but things were definitely looking up for Kenai.
According to the January 1962 records, in the bank the city had $45,738.50. Of that amount, $20,000 was in a time deposit earning 3 percent interest.
Property taxes were $37,006.39.
Six months of sales taxes since July 1, 1961, had netted the city $21,776.66 — slightly more than half of the amount ($42,750) forecasted for the fiscal year, which would end on June 30, 1962.
City expenditures were recorded as $37,437.37.
City fixed assets — including a grader, office equipment, a police car and the old federal jail — were listed at $6,312.02. But it was noted that that amount would jump by $20,000 once the new jail was completed later that month.