Almanac: Famed names — Pioneers may have left, but impacts remain

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Editor’s note: Time is a great shuffler of faces and names. Over time, some individuals, through their own actions or the vibrant memories of friends and relatives, rise to the top when histories are penned, while others fade like old photographs. Here are some brief bios of a few of the people who once lived on the central Kenai Peninsula but may have dropped from view.

  • Image courtesy of the Sterling Community Club. Cover of the winter 1953 Alaskan Agriculturist magazine.

    Image courtesy of the Sterling Community Club. Cover of the winter 1953 Alaskan Agriculturist magazine.

    LAURA TYSON: Born and raised in Minnesota, Laura Tyson moved to Alaska in 1945 with her first husband, Walt Keller, and a few years later became the second postmaster of the community of Naptowne, now known as Sterling. She remained postmaster until 1958, when she resigned and recommended her successor, Gloria McNutt, for the job. While married to her second husband, Walt Pedersen, she started a small grocery store and tackle shop, which she operated at first out of her home. She also acted as a barber and had clients come all the way from Kenai to get their hair cut. For a while, she authored a column called “The Homesteader’s Wife” in The Alaskan Agriculturist, and she ran the Moose River Resort for many years.

  • LUCY CASEY: In the fall of 1964, Lucy Casey became interested in art and enrolled in classes at the fledgling Kenai (Peninsula) Community College. She said she struggled with her paintings for about three years but was continually encouraged by her instructors. Eventually, she won awards for her paintings and in 1970 had her work displayed in the Grant Hall gallery on the campus of Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

“People say you have talent, but you really have to study,” she said in “Narratives on the Kenai-Soldotna Community.” She said that she studied long hours every day and tried to paint a picture a week for constructive criticism.

Born as Chinitka “Lucy” Kawaglek in Akiak (near Bethel), she attended school in Eklutna and lived in Palmer before moving to Anchorage, where she married Alden Casey. She moved to Kenai in 1959 and homesteaded in the Nikiski area.

“Hardest part was packing supplies on my back and building my cabin,” she wrote in “Once Upon the Kenai.” “The windows were Visqueen and the shelves were Blazo boxes — lights were Coleman lantern. I trapped in the winter and fished commercially in summer.”

  • Photo courtesy of the Soldotna Historical Society. Paul Nestor and his family pose for a photo in 1968 in front of the Quonset hut that once housed Nestor’s business in Soldotna.

    Photo courtesy of the Soldotna Historical Society. Paul Nestor and his family pose for a photo in 1968 in front of the Quonset hut that once housed Nestor’s business in Soldotna.

    PAUL NESTOR: One of many individuals to purchase a chunk of Howard Binkley’s homestead land in Soldotna, Paul Nestor started Soldotna’s first sawmill and planing mill. In 1948, he created Nestor Concrete Products in Soldotna, operating at first out of a Quonset hut and supplying concrete blocks to Wildwood Station and many other buildings in the area until 1967.

The Soldotna Store, the community’s first grocery (owned and operated by Don and Verona Wilson), was erected by mason Jim Porter from blocks supplied by Nestor’s business.

A native New Yorker, Nestor moved to Alaska in 1940 and began working for the Alaska Road Commission in 1945. He was involved in some of the early work on the Sterling Highway before moving on to businesses of his own.

Nestor also owned Soldotna Sand and Gravel and the Soldotna Texaco station before he moved to Missouri in the late 1960s.

  • ARTHUR “SWEDE” FOSS: Despite his nickname of “Swede,” Arthur Foss was actually one of 10 children of Norwegian immigrants, Peter and Anna Foss, who raised their large brood on a farm in rural North Dakota.

By the 1940s, after serving in the Army at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, the colorful Swede Foss was a commercial fisherman in the Kasilof area and may have been the owner and operator of the Porcupine fish trap. He sold his fishing site to Herman Hermansen and spent the remainder of his life involved in various jobs in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

He ferried passengers in his skiff around Cook Inlet and was known for not always picking them up when he had promised, sometimes forcing them to wait for hours or even days, or perhaps find other means to get home.

Foss also owned a single-engine aircraft for a while, and his record for prompt pickups remained intact.

Acknowledged as a skilled builder with logs, he aided in numerous construction and restoration projects. He was praised by some for his ingenuity, and he once reportedly crafted a gasket from birch bark when he had trouble with his outboard engine while motoring up a remote stream.
Foss was also involved in at least two area bars, serving as both part owner and bartender for each. And in Kenai in 1967 he and his accordion-playing wife, Dottie, took part in the notoriously drunken funeral for George Dudley.

  • PAUL WILSON: Born in Kenai in the early 1870s, Paul Wilson was an early mail carrier. On occasion, Wilson was accompanied by his son, Alex, who later became a carrier on his own peninsula route.

On Aug. 11, 1961, under the headline “Mail by Dog Team,” the Cheechako News published an article about Wilson’s work on the mail route. Here are a few excerpts:

“Every morning except Sunday Alexander W. ‘Alex’ Wilson picks up mail sacks at the Kenai Post Office for Soldatna, Sterling, Kasilof, Cohoe and Clam Gulch. Four hours and 20 minutes and 134 miles later he is back in Kenai. Alex uses an automobile and a big part of his route is over asphalt pavement.

“Thirty-eight years ago Paul Wilson Sr. picked up mail at the Kenai Post Office for Cooper Landing and the railroad depot at Moose Pass. Two weeks and 196 miles later he was back in Kenai with the monthly mail.

“Transportation was by dog team during the period from December to April, and the trail was often unbroken snow. Many times Paul had to break trail both ways.

“Frequently in these first years the monthly mail for Kenai would weigh as much as 1,200 pounds and required double-tripping, since 600 pounds was about maximum load over the long and rough trail. When double-tripping was necessary, Paul needed all of the 14 days allowed, to relay up part of the load, unloaded it and go back and relay up the rest.

“The route followed reads like the history of the Kenai Peninsula. From Kenai the trail went to Philips Cabin, Moose River, Millers Cabin and then to Middle Cabin, from there to Jean Lake and then to Cooper Landing and Lawing. Last stop and turnaround point was the railroad depot.”

Paul Wilson was known for getting the mail where it was supposed to be and on time. He delivered the mail on this route for nine years, making his final trip in 1934.

2 Comments

Filed under Almanac, homesteaders

2 responses to “Almanac: Famed names — Pioneers may have left, but impacts remain

  1. Sharon (Place) Hamer Alexandria, VA

    My grandmother was Lucy Casey, who had a daughter Carol Casey. I am one of four children Carol Casey birthed. I am lucky to have several of Lucy’s paintings and ceramic art pieces. I never had a chance to meet Lucy, and to hope one day visit Alaska.

    • Sharon Kator

      My parents met Lucy Casey at the 8th Annual Art show In Kenai. They purchased two of her paintings “Denali in Winter” and “A Deserted Camp”. Those paintings are now hanging in my living room and have held a special place in my parent’s and my heart for many years. I would love to know more about Lucy.
      Thank you
      Sharon Kator

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