Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part story about the remarkable lives of Roxy and Harold Pomeroy. Last week, Part One introduced the Pomeroys, explaining how they met and came to live in Bear Cove near the head of Kachemak Bay. This week discusses their diverse, early histories. Next week, 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.
Correction from Part One: According to Harold Pomeroy’s 1949 diary, Roxy was already living and working in Bear Cove by at least early July that year, not in 1950 as reported last week.
By Clark Fair
When courier Roxy Skobelska and the rest of the anti-Nazi underground in Vienna learned that the Nazis were planning to clear out the home and office of the renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, they mobilized swiftly.
According to a remembrance by longtime friend and former Alaska attorney general John Havelock, Skobelska and a group of others from the underground removed Freud’s belongings in advance and hid them beneath coal sacks in a horse-drawn coal wagon driven by Skobelska herself. “Think of that,” Havelock wrote. “If you ever see the restored office at the Vienna Freud Museum.”
A handful of years later, Skobelska, a Ukrainian-born refugee, was living on the Kenai Peninsula, growing and selling tomatoes and cucumbers out of her greenhouse-home, and intensifying a relationship with Harold Pomeroy, a man 22 years her senior and the love of her life.
The eldest child of Edward and Adele Pomeroy, Harold Edward Pomeroy was born in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 9, 1902. According to longtime friend, Dolly Farnsworth, Pomeroy was raised on a farm and was in his late teens when his mother died of cancer. While their father worked, he and his siblings had to mostly fend for themselves, and as a result Harold developed a strong sense of self-sufficiency.
Before he even met Skobelska, Pomeroy had been married twice and had had two children with his first wife, Ruby. In 1932, he was elected city mayor of South Gate in his home state, and four years later he began a three-year stint as administrator for the California State Relief Administration.
During the 1930s and early ’40s, he was also active in the League of California Municipalities, the City Housing Authority of Sacramento, the National Homes Registration Division (an advisory commission to the Council of National Defense) and the American Red Cross.
After the United States entered World War II, he joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel while serving in North Africa, Italy, England and Austria.
In fact, when Pomeroy met the slender, dark-haired refugee, he was in post-war Vienna and in the company of his second wife, Floretta, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney also serving in the interests of the Allies. Pomeroy had received a presidential appointment as an executive officer of the Austrian Planning Unit during the Allied occupation of Austria. Skobelska, who was fluent in five languages, became the interpreter for both Harold and Floretta.
Although the Pomeroys had worked hard and traveled far to serve their country, it was Skobelska who had endured the more arduous journey.
Born, according to Havelock, “in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains” on Aug. 17, 1924, Roxolana Eurydice Skobelska was the daughter and granddaughter of prominent pastors in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Eastern Rite.
When she was born, Havelock said, her father (Lev Skobelsky) was a chaplain to a cavalry regiment, and Roxy “grew up loving and riding horses, an affection that stood her in good stead later in life.” As a courier for the underground, she was often the only one familiar enough with horses to drive the wagons while transporting goods away from the enemy.
But the Russian Revolution soon uprooted her family and whirled her away from her homeland and her family’s large fruit-and-dairy farm. On forged passports, they fled across the border into Austria, the birthplace of Roxy’s mother and the home of relatives who would take them in.
In the Ukraine, they had loaded a wagon with crates of their most precious belongings, and Roxy’s mother had driven the wagon while Roxy and her father walked to the border crossing. According to his passport, Lev Skobelsky was a millworker, but his soft priest’s hands raised suspicion with the border guard when he examined their papers, said Farnsworth.
Roxy’s mother was allowed to pass, and she traveled on to Vienna, but Roxy and her father were held up temporarily and then forced to stay near the border because of her father’s failing health. Skobelsky was suffering from a heart condition and had to be hospitalized. He eventually recovered enough to continue on to Vienna, but he later died in his daughter’s arms while his wife was out trying to get food.
In Vienna, despite her family’s strife, young Roxy was able to complete her schooling — a process that had been tumultuous even in the Ukraine. Roxy’s father, who had attended secondary school in England and learned English there, had taught the language to his daughter in addition to their native Ukrainian. But he had hoped for a better education for his daughter than what Farnsworth called the “terrible” schools available in their country at the time. So Roxy’s parents sent her to Germany for her education.
“They put a tag on her and put her on a train — she was 6 years old at the time — to go to this German Catholic school,” Farnsworth said. “And she arrived there, not speaking one word of German, and was enrolled in that school. She said that she would cause problems, and they would kick her out. And they’d put her in another school.”
But in Austria, at an all-girls school in the Monastery of St. Zion, she completed her secondary education at the age of 15 and was enrolled in the University of Vienna.
The Nazi annexation of Austria occurred in March of 1938, but Roxy continued her studies, even while joining the resistance movement. She completed a degree in mining law, a skill set that would prove valuable in Alaska nearly two decades later.
Then came the close of the war and the opening of post-war negotiations. For Roxy and her widowed mother, post-war Europe labeled them “displaced persons” in need of a new home. For Harold Pomeroy, post-war Austria provided him an opportunity to do something he had been doing for most of his life, and would continue to do — help others.
In this crucible, Harold and Roxy met and mingled.
They would rarely be out of each other’s lives for the next 35 years.