Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part story about the remarkable lives of Roxy and Harold Pomeroy. Part One, this week, introduces the Pomeroys and explains how they met and came to live in Bear Cove near the head of Kachemak Bay. Next week’s story will discuss their diverse early histories. A week later, Part Three will recount their busy lives after they became married, including Harold’s service as the first chief administrator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
By Clark Fair
A 1982 color photograph of Harold and Roxy Pomeroy, smiling widely at the camera as they share a shoulder-to-shoulder embrace, reveals two people who appear to be very much in love with each other. Even their eyes are smiling past the crow’s feet at the corners, and the joy in their expressions is impossible to miss.
At the time of the photo, Harold was about 80 — he would die in his sleep the following year — and Roxy was approaching 60. They had been married since 1955, and, by any measure, they had led full and vital lives that included California politics, the anti-Nazi underground, the fledgling government of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Anchorage psychiatric establishment.
They had met nearly four decades earlier and half a world away from the smiles in this photograph.
Harold Pomeroy, a dashing — and married — lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, had been in post-World War II Vienna, acting as secretary to the American High Commissioner during the three-power occupation of Austria, when he was introduced to his new interpreter, a Ukrainian exile named Roxolana Eurydice Skobelska.
Roxy, as he came to know her, could speak five languages — English, German, French, Russian and Ukrainian — and she could adeptly translate for nearly anyone occupying the seats of power at the table during the negotiations to decide the fate of “displaced persons” living in Austria. Roxy herself was one of these displaced persons, as was her mother.
In addition to working with Harold, Roxy also assisted his wife, Floretta, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was in Vienna to aid Harold in his work. Both Pomeroys became close with Roxy, and it was Floretta who arranged for Roxy and her mother to travel to Bremen, Germany, and from there to board a ship filled with Jewish refugees bound for Boston.
Before she departed from Vienna, however, 24-year-old Roxy gave a black-and-white, head-and-shoulders photograph of herself to 46-year-old Harold. Written on the back were the words, “Remember me, please.”
Harold would spend nearly the rest of his life in her company, but in 1948 he had to say goodbye.
According to John Havelock, a former Alaska attorney general and a good friend of the Pomeroys, Roxy was the only refugee aboard the Boston-bound vessel who could speak English.
“On arrival Roxy found herself an indispensable linguist in the processing of new Americans,” Havelock wrote in a 2008 remembrance published in the Anchorage Daily News.
But after her arrival in Boston in November 1948, Roxy remained on the East Coast less than one month. As she told a local newspaper reporter, she was bound for Alaska, where she planned to “homestead with friends.”
As part of his negotiations for some of the Europeans whose homes had been taken or destroyed by the Nazis, Harold Pomeroy had sought and arranged for them to become homesteaders in the Territory of Alaska. He had flown over the Kenai Peninsula and had initially liked property he had spotted inside a broad meander of the Kenai River, but he soon learned that the property in question — now part of Soldotna — had already been claimed by Jack and Dolly Farnsworth.
So he kept looking, and from an airplane window high above the peninsula he examined a Kachemak Bay site recommended to him for its beauty and available land. Bear Cove, he decided, was perfect for his plan, and he and three partners in this endeavor arranged for the land purchases, the transfer of refugee belongings, and all the other paperwork and legwork required to create a new home.
In fact, Pomeroy liked Bear Cove so well that he decided to move there himself. And so did his son, Rodney, one of two children from Harold’s first wife, Ruby.
In 1949, Harold settled on 37 acres near an unnamed lake. Rodney and his wife claimed a 24-acre parcel nearby. Roxy garnered about 65 mostly swampy acres adjacent to these properties. Pomeroy’s partners claimed sites of their own.
But the move was not without problems.
First, of all the displaced persons scheduled to homestead in Bear Cove, only Roxy Skobelska showed up. According to Dolly Farnsworth, most of the others — including Roxy’s own mother — stayed out East, perhaps because they found relatives or encountered persons who spoke their language.
Second, Pomeroy’s wife, Floretta, chose not to join Harold in Alaska. When he drove up the Alaska Highway to start his new life, she chose to remain in Washington, D.C., and to continue her law practice. Eventually, she met an Italian count she was convinced she would marry, so she filed for a divorce from Harold — only to learn later that the count had no interest in marriage.
Third, Pomeroy’s partners did not stick around for long. Even Rodney eventually moved. Within a few years, all of them had either sold out or given up their lands. Harold, and Roxy, after their marriage, soon had claim to nearly 150 acres.
Before Roxy joined Harold and the others at Bear Cove, however, she sojourned for a while in Anchorage, the home of her sponsors — the family of realtor Ben Culver, a friend of Pomeroy’s who had purchased the site of an old Bear Cove fox farm and planned to build a lodge there. The Culvers employed Roxy as a nanny for their gaggle of small children, once even traveling for six weeks in the Lower 48 while Roxy tended to the kids.
By 1950 Roxy had made her way to Bear Cove, where Harold was living in a small cabin on his property. Roxy assisted Harold in establishing a sawmill on his property, and he in turn used some of his rough-cut lumber to assist Roxy in the construction of two large greenhouses, in which she grew a variety of vegetables, especially cucumbers and tomatoes, that she sold to customers around the bay.
Over the next few years, Roxy and Harold ran the sawmill, and Harold helped with the gardening. Roxy lived inside one of her heated greenhouses, eating meals with Rodney and his wife. Harold continued to live in his small cabin and began traveling to Juneau to work as director of Alaska Territorial Civil Defense.
By 1955, the Italian count had extracted Floretta from the equation of their intertwining lives, and Roxy and Harold were free to marry. From that point onward, despite the myriad activities in which they were involved across Alaska, they kept their Bear Cove home and traveled there again and again like two lovebirds returning to their nest.