Editor’s note: When histories are written, some individuals are inevitably remembered more readily than others. It is important to not lose sight of the many accomplishments of those who may be less widely known. Here are two more brief bios of people who once lived on the central Kenai Peninsula.
By Clark Fair
K. Lewis “Lew” Fields was an ambitious man who wasn’t afraid to work hard. He was a construction worker, homesteader, farmer and a strong contributor to civic affairs. He and his wife, Gladys, raised six children on their property in the Sterling area.
Lew Fields moved from Salt Lake City to Alaska in 1939 to work on the construction of the Whittier train tunnel. He became adept at operating heavy equipment and worked on the building of the Sterling Highway. During that time, he got a good look at the Sterling area that he would soon call home.
In 1955, with a family of only three kids at the time, Lew and Gladys homesteaded a patch of the 1947 Kenai burn. In “Once Upon the Kenai,” Fields described the plot of land this way: “Nothing but burned trees. No birds, no grass and no nothing except burned trees and a little shack. … In 1955, we were going to cut out a farm on the Kenai Peninsula. The craziest idea we have had yet, but it was fun and a good place to raise our family.”
The Fieldses cleared 200 acres of land. They raised barley, which grew well but lacked a substantial market to make it commercially profitable.
They also tried raising hogs. The January 1959 issue of “The Alaska Sportsman” featured a photograph of a smiling Fields, standing at a butchering station. His right hand was placed on a bled-out, 7-month-old hog suspended from a meat hook. According to the paragraph accompanying the photo, “There’s a profit in pork on the Kenai Peninsula.”
Fields raised 60 hogs in 1958 on his homestead, feeding them only a cooked potato-barley mix in addition to the roots, grass and alfalfa that the hogs foraged for themselves. The pictured hog, Fields said, dressed out at 145 pounds. At the selling price of 45 cents a pound, Fields earned enough money to make plans to raise hogs again in 1959, but eventually he abandoned farming altogether and stuck mainly to construction work on a contract basis.
By 1972, Fields was also becoming active in local politics and ran successfully for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, where he served until defeated by Merrill Sikorski in a runoff election in 1979.
In his “Once Upon the Kenai” remembrance (published in 1984), Fields recounted struggling against the weather, battling a fire on his roof and plenty of pesky and sometimes unpredictable wildlife, and the joys of working as part of a family. He ended with this comment:
“Homesteading is a hard life, and I am not sure I would want to go that route again. … This is home to our family of six children, and it was cut from a wilderness of old burned snags. It is all green now with new growth and quite pretty. Lots of birds and wildlife. We have comfortable living, and we do like it. It is home.”
Amanda “Mandy” Walker (then Kellar) was a registered nurse and hospital administrator in Tulsa, Okla., when she met the man she was going to marry — Delta Calvin “Pappy” Walker. She just wasn’t aware of it at the time.
In an account written in 2006 by Mary Ford of the Kenai Historical Society, Mandy said that Pappy, whom she referred to as “an old fossil,” had “made eyes” at her and called her “honey” and “pet” for years, but she wasn’t interested in his flirtations. Besides, he was nine years older than she, and he was already married.
Then, in 1942, he left his first wife and the state of Oklahoma and ventured to Alaska to help build an Army base at Nome. He grew fond of the Last Frontier and decided to stay, settling in Kenai and never forgetting about Mandy, despite marrying a second wife, Jessebelle.
When he became single again in 1949, he wrote to Mandy and attempted to entice her northward.
“He told me he still loved me and all that blarney,” she wrote many years later.
In other words, she recognized a line when she heard it, so she once again ignored his advances. But a year later, she received a new written message from Pappy that changed everything.
“It’s a year since I wrote you,” he penned. “It seems to me you could write and tell me to go to hell or something — Walker.”
Something about his directness appealed to her. She wrote back.
He sent her a dozen roses, and the romance began. Eventually, she succumbed and agreed in 1950 to move to Kenai to become Pappy’s third wife.
Pappy encouraged Mandy to ride the Alaska Steamship north, but she ignored his advice and insisted on driving. When she arrived in Anchorage, she learned that the Seward Highway was not yet complete, so she hurried to get her car and herself on the next train to Moose Pass, where she navigated the mostly finished Sterling Highway to Kenai.
She was dismayed at the sight of his small filthy cabin (littered with poker chips, cards, beer bottles and mud), irritated by his insistence that they get hitched right away because he needed to leave soon for four days of fish camp, and incensed by his shaggy appearance. She sent him on to fish camp without the nuptials and cleaned his place in his absence.
When he returned, she directed his renewal of personal hygiene and got him dressed in the suit she had cleaned.
Ford wrote this of the wedding itself:
“The ceremony was to be conducted by U.S. Commissioner Paul Wise in his home. A woman in a bathrobe met them at the door and told them that her husband was at Kenai Joe’s (bar). Pappy went after him and also recruited Bob Castleberry, Kenai’s attorney, to be best man. Pauline Wise, in her bathrobe, was bridesmaid.”
The marriage, which was as full of character as the participants, lasted 11 years, ending in 1961 with the death of Pappy. (The Totem Tracers’ book, “Cemetery Inscriptions and Area Memorials in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Borough,” says only that Pappy died in 1961. No month is listed, and no birthdate is mentioned. However, when Pappy and Jessebelle had a bear encounter in August 1948, the Anchorage Daily Times listed Pappy’s age then as 55. So he was likely about age 68 at his death.)
In her own version of her marriage, Mandy Walker ended with these words: “He was quite a character. God threw the mold away after he made Pappy.”
Mandy outlived Pappy by many years and remained in Kenai for the rest of her life. She claimed that her life in Alaska taught her, among other things, to operate a bulldozer, pick fish, milk cows, start a gas-powered washing machine, clean clams, can moose meat on a stove, pilot a 45-foot fishing boat and bake proper biscuits.
In her later years, she also volunteered at the Kenai Community Library, and she died in 1999 at the age of 96.