By Brent Johnson
For the Redoubt Reporter
At 9:30 p.m. Aug. 23, 1920, Capt. Myers anchored his gas boat Solo off Ninilchik. Enid Stryker, 23 at the time, wrote in her diary: “Heavy Sea. I was put in a ‘dinky’ … taken to Pool Hall. Met Mike Oskolkoff where we climbed to heights of schoolhouse — cold, desolate, clammy, so wait a’till midnight when some men could unpack my trunk and bring up a quilt. Thus I slept my first night.”
A year before, Stryker had been teaching school in Washington, and had just come from Seldovia where she “left her friends.” Stryker was to be Ninilchik’s second schoolteacher, and a portion of her adventure is preserved by her diary, made available by her daughter, Joan McLane Lahndt, of Kasilof; Peggy Petersen Arness, of North Kenai, the daughter of Stryker’s sister, Jettie; and Linda McLane, who transcribed the diary.
What Stryker records in her diary might be typical thoughts for young women who ventured to remote villages to teach school during territorial days. And the names of the people she encountered are gems for anyone interested in local history. For instance, Mike Oskolkoff was Grassim and Nastashia Oskolkoff’s 24-year-old son. This text contains a few edits to make it easy for the reader.
“August 24. Awakened at 6 a.m. Where am I? What shall I do? Lost! Help — no one here that I know. Dressed, ate 2 crackers and piece of cheese. Waited till 9:30, went down to see where my things were. Standing on top of hill, gazed to a most desolate spot below. Grey-blue-red huts. Six, no, 12. Russian Church my nearest neighbor. Queer indeed — one store. Pool Hall. Found solo high and dry on beach waiting for tide.
“12 a.m., behold — hospitality. All men assisted school mar’m in taking her things to house. Did I say, ‘little boys?’ Eek! That’s your new school mar’m. Had busy p.m. fixing up.
“August 25. Started in early. Hung curtains, touches of home life. … Ninilchik’s ‘Belles’ came to give me the once over. Conversation — Catch many fish here? Answer, ‘No.’ Any berries here? ‘Yes.’ Lots of snow? ‘Yes.’ Wind? ‘Yes.’ Horrors! (Why don’t you talk? I’ve run out of fish and weather.) What were their impressions? That’s best to leave out — also mine.
“Little Alek my right-hand chap, carry all my water from creek. My little ‘savior,’ to those who know this hill.”
From her entries we can see Stryker lived in the schoolhouse, near the Russian Orthodox Church. It might be useful for the reader to remember that the village of Ninilchik spoke a Russian dialect that was mingled with Native words, or parts of words. While Stryker was teaching the 10th year of an American school in Ninilchik, English had not yet been adopted in the homes.
“August 26. My house in pretty good straights. Washed, scrubbed house. Coal dust — terrible dusting all the time. A.M., three Ninilchiks, promising young sons, arrived to see school mar’m. When shall I get my work done? Callers — never so popular in my life. Kind. Those that look and don’t talk. Ah, that ‘look.’
“Those church bells, 6:30 p.m.
“August 27. Started on School House. Assisted by John Kvasnikoff, his ‘Old Woman’ and daughter, Nastia. Washed windows, cleaned room — blackened boards — scrubbed floor. Checked off books — found material shy. No ‘Report B.’ Lost again. Where shall I find school particulars? No school board here.”
According to the June 1920 census, John Kvasnikoff was a 30-year-old salmon fisherman. His wife was 28-year-old Theressie and their daughter, 13-year-old Nastia, was one of their four children. We can see from the diary that Stryker was struggling to find the records and books related to the school.
“August 28. Russian holiday. Church 6:30 a.m. Everybody climbs hill to the Church. More bells out at 10 a.m. More school cleaning. Checking books, placing them. Putting up pictures — dust, inches thick. Materials since 1916. Books every which way. I’ll say it’s a good thing I came up a week early. Packed water to take my ‘Spit’ — a bath. How shall I manage? Heated water in washtub. Jump in and out — done. Set up in bed, made curtains for schoolroom. Late, I’ll say it was, when I slept that night.
“August 29. Put up curtains. School room all OK. Now for schoolwork. Plan five grades at once … . What shall I do with first grade? How shall I teach them to read? To keep them busy? Just at this point callers.
“Later — at night still school work — Oh those dogs … and the sea.
“12 p.m. Everything ready for the daybreak tomorrow.
“August 30. Dolled up in my ‘prettiest’ to make a good impression. I faced 24 faces. What kind? How shall I explain their look.? Will they like teacher? Shy. … Found some dears.
“Oh, their reading — such a monotone. Such lip noise when studying. Will I ever break this habit? Can I ever make them understand English, not Russian? Alas. They say no when yes is meant. I shall have to make a study of Russian art! 4 p.m., collapsed on bed.
“August 31. Oh, the cooking, housekeeping and teaching. Will I live thru it till mother comes? Meals at all hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The Ridiculous: 1. Squeaky school bell. 2. Five-pound lard pail — wooden handle plus iron nail for school bell at recess. 3. Cows going across stream where I get drinking water. 4. Fish traps in stream, oh the waters good! 5. John Kvasnikhoff brought me a piece of moose meat enough for six. 6. School better today.”
Amid Stryker’s struggles in the first few days is that Ninilchik people had cows, drank water from the Ninilchik River, had not yet moved fish traps out of the river, and successfully hunted moose.
Would Stryker survive such —to her, curiosities — and settle in for the winter? We will find out in our next story.
Brent Johnson, of Clam Gulch, is a former president of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Association.