Almanac: Harken back to Hollier times

Editor’s note: When histories are written, some individuals are inevitably remembered more readily than others. However, it is important to never lose sight of the many accomplishments of those who may be less widely known. Here are three more brief bios of people who once lived on the central Kenai Peninsula.

By Clark Fair

For the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Peggy Arness. A photo of Joanna and Ed Hollier, likely taken in the1970s.

Photo courtesy of Peggy Arness. A photo of Joanna and Ed Hollier, likely taken in the1970s.

Ed Hollier’s predecessor as general foreman for the highway department, Ralph Soberg, once called Hollier “one of the best dozer operators” he’d ever worked with. More than that, Soberg said, Hollier “was one hell of a good man.”

Many people on the central Kenai Peninsula agreed. Hollier served on the original Kenai school board and remained on the board after the Kenai Peninsula Borough was formed in 1964. He continued to serve on the school board until 1975.

“He was very vocal about keeping extra-curricular activities in the schools,” wrote his wife of 41 years, Joanna, in Hollier’s 1989 obituary. “In ’69 we had the same kind of economic crunch as we have now and there was the same talk of cutting out activity programs. He was concerned about keeping the activities in the schools.”

Hollier also promoted youth activities outside of the schools. He supported the Boy Scouts and Little League baseball programs and helped establish the Babe Ruth League in the Kenai area. He also aided in the construction of the first football field for Kenai Central High School, and the field was later named in his honor.

Hollier was born on July 5, 1917, in Borden, Saskatchewan, Canada, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1932. Before moving from Washington to Alaska in 1938 to work on road-building projects, he served for three years in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Once he moved to Alaska, he left only to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After his discharge as a sergeant, he returned to the state, where he met and married Joanna. They homesteaded off Beaver Loop Road and had three children.

In addition to his school board affiliation, Hollier was active in the Methodist Church in Kenai and spent more than 30 years building roads in Alaska. Named “Highway Man of the Year” in 1977, he retired from the Department of Transportation in 1984.

  • Wilma Thompson: Since former U.S. Commissioner and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Stan Thompson had been a lawman and a lawmaker, he had to grow a thick skin and become accustomed to having people dislike him or disagree with his politics.

But no one had an unkind word to say about his mother.
When she died at age 92 in 1988, the beloved Wilma Thompson, who taught elementary school until she was 65, who was active for decades in her church, and who was renowned for all the cookies she dispersed to youngsters in Thompson Park, was known generally as “Granny” or “Grandma.”

Born Wilma Freeland on Nov. 16, 1895, in Columbus Junction, Iowa, she married attorney Jasper “J.W.” Thompson on Thanksgiving Day in 1919. At the time, only Wilma had an Alaska connection — her grandfather had been in Nome during the gold-mining era — but after 25 more years in Iowa, both Thompsons were ready for a change and a shift northward.

In 1944, they packed their bags and moved to Nenana, where J.W. became the school superintendent and Wilma a teacher. A year later, they traveled by boat from Nenana to Unalakleet and then flew on to Nome, where they worked in the school for a year before moving again, this time to Seldovia. After three years there, J.W. was ready to return to the practice of law, so the Thompsons moved north to Fairbanks. In 1954, they made their final move — to Kenai.

They homesteaded in the area now known as Thompson Park near Beaver Creek, and Wilma returned to teaching — first as a substitute at the Kenai School, then as a regular teacher. When forced into retirement in 1961, she created a private kindergarten, which she operated for several years.

Meanwhile, as their four children grew up, graduated from college and started families and businesses of their own, Wilma and J.W. were subdividing and selling off chunks of their homestead and marveling at the changes being wrought around them by the discovery of oil near Swanson River.

J.W.’s heart problems led to his death in 1977, but Wilma continued to live in her Thompson Park home for many more years before moving to the Anchorage Pioneer Home, living near her longtime friend and former teacher, Jetret “Jettie” Petersen.

  • Victor Antone Jr.: It’s not all that unusual these days to find someone who was born in Kenai. A few decades back, that was more of a rarity.

Victor Antone was born in Kenai in August 1922, and his mother was born in Kenai, too.

An Athabascan Native, Antone was born in a log cabin, and at a very young age he was going out with his father to work the traplines and learn the trapper’s trade. In interviews he gave in the 1970s and ‘80s, he recalled catching fish in the Nikiski-area lakes to feed to his father’s dog team, and salmon from the ocean to help feed his family. He said they liked eating porcupine and grouse when they could get them, along with ducks and geese, beluga and bear and moose.

When Antone was a teenager — after three or four years of schooling in Kenai — he was sent away to Sheldon Jackson boarding school in Sitka, but he hated the strictness of the regimen there and so he ran away by hopping on the back of a garbage truck and slowly working his way back to Kenai.

He worked the cannery circuit for a while, and then, during World War II, he worked on the railroad until he went out to the Aleutians as a civilian employee of the military. He remembered the mud and the rain and the bombing raids out on Attu.

After the war, he returned to cannery work and continued to trap in the winters.

In an interview published in 1983, he explained his fondness for the outdoors: “I still like the wood a lot. I could live out there now. I’m still trapping.

“That’s what keeps me going. I set snares for wolves and mink and muskrats. If I lay around too much, my legs get stiff and I get restless. Sometime I walk around, cross the lake, or hunt for rabbits just to get out, for the fun of it. No matter how old I get, I’ll be doing the same thing, trapping and hunting.

“That’s the way my dad taught me, and I can’t change it. I tried to, but I can’t.”
Antone died at age 74 in September 1996.

1 Comment

Filed under Almanac, homesteaders

One response to “Almanac: Harken back to Hollier times

  1. Kathleen Graves Wilson

    It sure was good to see an article about Ed Hollier. He was like a father to my dad, Donald Graves. They worked together during the construction of the road from Kenai to Sterling and then Ninilchik.
    My dad has shared several respectful and affectionate memories about the Holliers. I am glad that the Church of the New Covenant was built in Kenai. Whenever I hear the bells chime it reminds me of good people and good memories in our town.
    Kathleen Graves Wilson

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