Category Archives: Soldotna

Almanac: Stamp of approval — 1st postmaster fondly recalls Soldotna life

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about two of Soldotna’s earliest settlers — Howard and Maxine Lee. Last week, Part One followed the Lees from their World War II naval involvement to their earliest homesteading efforts in the first half of 1948. Part Two begins later in 1948 and reveals how the Lees integrated into fledgling Soldotna society, and how their adventure in Alaska abruptly ended. The documents used for the Lees’ quotes in this story were provided by the Soldotna Historical Society.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Although much of early homesteading life required more sweat equity than capital, most residents near the highway junction that would later be called Soldotna sought ways to bring in extra income. The Lancashire family raised chickens and began clearing land for farming. The Mullen family also raised chickens and created a large garden so they could sell vegetables. Many locals tried their hand at commercial fishing.

In 1948, Howard and Maxine Lee opened a general store in the back of their 60-by-30-foot Quonset hut on their Soldotna homestead.

“My childhood was involved to a large extent in my family’s grocery business,” Howard said. “I wrote a wholesaler in Seattle and put in an order.”

He erected shelves in the back half of the Quonset and found a trucker in Seward who would haul his first load of merchandise to Soldotna.

“We marked prices very low since we had no overhead and we were ignorant,” said Maxine, who was pregnant at the time with their son, Michael. “We sold out in no time, so we reordered. This time there was a huge storm and the barge sank.”

The merchandise had been insured, but they had to pay new shipping costs when they reordered. Later, the wholesaler informed the Lees that they needed a business license, which could not be acquired locally. Almost as quickly as they had begun, the Lees were out of the grocery business.

They stayed plenty busy, however.

Most days, Howard walked two miles to the Lancashire homestead to work with Larry on his portable sawmill, trimming local timber for house logs, first to replace the Lancashires’ wall tent and then the Lees’ Quonset hut.

In 1949, as Howard and Maxine’s new home neared completion, the Lees dug their own well. As usual, their memoirs vary on the details.

Maxine remembered the effort this way:

“Howard dug a well. It was either 18 or 20 feet deep — I forget. After it was about six feet deep, he rigged up a pulley system. He filled a bucket with dirt and gravel, yelled at me, then raised it up. I got it and dumped it around new cabin to serve as ground insulation. We were finally emancipated (from hauling water) when the well pump arrived from Seward and we pumped up real water from our own well.”

Howard recalled it differently:

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Almanac: Lees leave a postmark — Homesteaders have big impact in short time in Soldotna

Photo courtesy of Michael Lee. Newlyweds Howard and Maxine Lee pose, in uniform, after their 1945 marriage in a chapel in Vero Beach, Florida.

Photo courtesy of Michael Lee. Newlyweds Howard and Maxine Lee pose, in uniform, after their 1945 marriage in a chapel in Vero Beach, Florida.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about two of Soldotna’s earliest settlers — Howard and Maxine Lee. Next week, Part Two will reveal how the Lees integrated into fledgling Soldotna society, and how their time in Alaska abruptly ended. The documents used for the Lees’ quotes in this story were provided by the Soldotna Historical Society.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

In 1945, Irvin Howard Lee and Thelma Maxine McLaughlin pledged their undying love to each other in holy matrimony. Six years later, despite those vows and the romance of an Alaska adventure together, their love had expired.

Early in 1951, Maxine quit her job, packed up her two children and left Howard alone on their Soldotna homestead. She bolted from Alaska, returned to college, earned a teaching certificate, filed for divorce, split the Soldotna property with Howard and eventually entered into a second, happier and much longer-lasting marriage.

Howard, meanwhile, tried to tough it out in Soldotna, but his interest soon shifted elsewhere. By November, he had left Alaska and began working construction in various parts of the country. In March 1952, the lure of further adventure inspired him to re-enlist in the military and accept deployment in Korea.

Originally from San Francisco, Howard died at age 75 in 1999. Maxine, who hailed from Pocatello, Idaho, died last month, just one week shy of her 95th birthday.

Although their physical presence in Soldotna was fleeting, both Howard and Maxine helped shape the community, and their legacy lives on in the land and the home they left behind.

Decades after their departure from Soldotna, Howard and Maxine wrote brief but colorful memoirs of their time together in Alaska. Howard’s undated writing — in which he never mentions Maxine by name, referring to her only as “my wife” — is titled “Reminiscent Ramblings of Early Soldatna.” Maxine’s untitled writing is dated Sept. 7, 2003. Perhaps like Howard and Maxine themselves, those reminiscences do not always agree.

Both Maxine and Howard served with the U.S. Navy in World War II. An aviator and later an experimental night fighter pilot instructor, Howard was stationed at Vero Beach, Florida, when he wed Maxine, a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), which was at that time the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

After their daughter, Karen, was born, the Lees were becoming “increasingly disenchanted with the regimental life in the Navy” and were seeking some form of escape, according to Maxine. Howard also recalled “very trying circumstances,” but he recounted them with greater clarity.

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Giving a hand — Soldotna chamber recognizes those who give back

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Suzanne Evans' Mountain Mama Originals was chosen as Small Business of the Year.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Suzanne Evans’ Mountain Mama Originals was chosen as Small Business of the Year.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Ten award recipients were thanked for their contributions to the community at the annual Soldotna Chamber of Commerce awards Jan. 12, yet the recipients took the opportunity to thank Soldotna right back for being a welcoming and supportive place to live and do business.

Suzanne Evans had her Mountain Mamma Originals recognized as Small Business of the Year.

“I love what I do and I love our community. I’ve been here since ’06. … I do recognize a lot of people and I feel really close. When I go to the store I get hugs, and it’s nice to be able to feel like you’re a part of something, and you’re appreciated,” Evans said.

The Commitment to Customer Service Award winner, Lambert Lavea, of Printer’s Ink, gave especially high praise for his adopted home, having moved from a place where many like to travel.

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Soldotna approves pot moratorium

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The city of Soldotna is taking a wait-and-see approach to commercial marijuana activity.

The city council voted Wednesday to enact a two-year moratorium on the production, testing and sale of marijuana. Council member Regina Daniels submitted the ordinance. Those in support said there are just too many unknowns.

“I just don’t think we’d ready for it in town at this time. I think it will end up costing more. And I know it’s still here, I know it’s going to be here, people are going to smoke it,” said council member Linda Murphy. “I don’t want to criminalize marijuana. But I think in a couple of years we’ll see how it plays out in Kenai, we’ll see how it plays out in Anchorage.”

A few members of the public spoke in favor of the ordinance, some against marijuana in general, others in favor of taking a cautious approach.

“Right now the (state) Marijuana Control Board, in my opinion, is more of a work in progress,” said Barbara Jewell, of Soldotna. “This is new to the state of Alaska, and I think we could learn from other states, as well as cities, from the mistakes or whatever they fumble through what’s happened now.”

Many more people testified against the ordinance. Joyce Cox, of Soldotna, said a moratorium doesn’t make sense financially.

“We’re going to lose out,” she said. “We need to be aware of the declining state budgets. This is revenue that we are going to be losing. And I believe that the revenues from the sales of marijuana — and I need to tell you, I am not a user — but I do think we need that revenue for the city.”

Patricia Patterson, who owns Lucky Raven Tobacco in Soldotna, said banning commercial marijuana won’t do anything to stop marijuana from being used and distributed in the city.

“Marijuana is being sold today, it’s being smoked today. All this is doing is saying, ‘I don’t want to see it.’ That’s all this is,” Patterson said.

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Almanac: Short-timer, long legacy — Howard Binkley has joking title of area’s 1st realtor

Photo by Ray Sandstrom, courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository. Howard J. Binkley poses in 1952 in front of a log house on his homestead property in Soldotna. The two-story structure had a propane cookstove complemented by a good woodpile. Early in the 21st century, this structure was moved to a location off East Redoubt Avenue and was nicely restored. Binkley spent only a handful of years in this home before returning to his native Pennsylvania.

Photo by Ray Sandstrom, courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository. Howard J. Binkley poses in 1952 in front of a log house on his homestead property in Soldotna. The two-story structure had a propane cookstove complemented by a good woodpile. Early in the 21st century, this structure was moved to a location off East Redoubt Avenue and was nicely restored. Binkley spent only a handful of years in this home before returning to his native Pennsylvania.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Author’s note: Sometimes tracking down local history is akin to prospecting with a gold pan — many attempts may yield only a few flakes. Occasionally, though, a small nugget appears. Tracking down the nuggets in this story would have been impossible without the generosity of many individuals, particularly Al Hershberger, Barbara Jewell and Brent Johnson.

In May 1947, when 40-year-old Howard Binkley first arrived in what would someday be called Soldotna, one of his primary concerns was safety. “I built a cache first and slept on it. Was afraid of bears,” he recalled in a 1964 letter. “It’s a wonder I never fell off.”

Fortunately, Binkley kept his balance, even as he slumbered, and was able to stake the very first 160-acre Soldotna parcel — a move that would benefit settlers and commercial enterprises for decades to come.

Intent on homesteading, Binkley had traveled from Anchorage. After a railroad ride to Moose Pass he likely came on foot, over a muddy, earth-scraped path destined to become the Sterling Highway. He discovered that two men had beaten him to the area, brothers Marcus and Alexander Bodnar, by a matter of a few weeks. Alex was staking a tract of land at Big Eddy on the Kenai River, while Marcus had selected a riverside property adjacent to the spot where the Alaska Road Commission would erect a bridge the following summer.

The land Binkley selected straddled the new highway. South of the highway today, Binkley’s homestead encompasses everything from the western edge of Soldotna Creek Park to the David Douthit Memorial Bridge, including the present-day sites of Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Blazy Mall, Riverside House, Johnson Tire, Hooligans, Odie’s Deli and First National Bank of Alaska.

North of the highway, the homestead’s roughly L-shaped perimeter includes the current sites of Soldotna United Methodist Church, Safeway, McDonald’s, the Peninsula Center Mall, Kaladi Brothers, the police and fire departments, Wells Fargo and the Maverick Bar.

One of the first homesteaders to receive patent to his land, Binkley also became the first to subdivide. He was particularly generous to nonhomesteading families, and he simplified the real estate process for them.

“Since there were no surveyors in the area, Binkley told prospective buyers to just go select a piece and mark it with tape on the trees,” wrote longtime Soldotna resident Marge Mullen for the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository.

When Binkley left Alaska in the mid- to late 1950s, he sold off all his remaining lots. The original homestead he left behind now consists of more than 150 individual parcels, including several (with improvements) valued at more than a million dollars. Small wonder that he is sometimes referred to jokingly as “Soldotna’s first realtor.”

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Almanac: Hello again, Dolly —  Book recalls life, voice of pioneering homesteader

dolly Immigrant's Daughter coverBy Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Dolly Farnsworth was, in her own words, “in a blind fury.” Grabbing a rifle, she headed for the door.

It was the summer of 1954 in Soldotna. While husband, Jack, worked nearby at the site of their Y Service Station, Dolly was inside their home, tending to their infant twin daughters when she heard a vehicle crunching along the graveled and seldom-traveled Sterling Highway. Wondering if it might be someone she knew, she turned away from the girls and toward the window.

About 200 feet away, a car she did not recognize pulled up next to the station, where Jack had been piling tools and equipment he hoped to salvage after a recent fire. Dolly was perplexed to see four men emerge from the car, open their trunk, and begin filling it with Jack’s salvage items.

The next thing she noticed was Jack approaching the men suddenly, a large bung wrench dangling from one hand.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Jack yelled.

The men continued filling their trunk. One of them took a step toward Jack.

And inside Dolly, a switch flipped.

She was already angry about the fire, an act of arson that had burned to the ground Soldotna’s first gas station and destroyed a $6,000 Farnsworth investment. That someone would then steal from the ruins and threaten her husband brought her simmering anger rapidly to a boil.

Leaving the babies on the bed, her hands suddenly wielding a Remington 30.06, she raced outside.

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ARTSpace making new spaces for local art — Park installation part of community public art initiative

Photo courtesy of Joe Kashi, ARTSpace, Inc. The new Art Park installation at Soldotna Creek Park opened with a ribbon cutting Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Joe Kashi, ARTSpace, Inc. The new Art Park installation at Soldotna Creek Park opened with a ribbon cutting Saturday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A painting is the interplay of individual brushstrokes. A photo is the composition of gradations of highlight and shadow, hue and saturation, tint and shade. The art is the sum of its parts, but the rendering of subject matter through context and perspective creates meaning greater than its components.

The new art display installation at Soldotna Creek Park does that, as well. Its parts are two wood-framed, glassed-in panels on which photo prints, paintings, drawings and other two-dimensional artwork can be exhibited out of the elements yet amid Soldotna’s busiest park, smack in the middle of downtown.

And the Soldotna Art Park itself is a component of a larger public art initiative being implemented by ARTSpace, Inc., the Rotary Club of Soldotna, city of Soldotna, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.

“The idea is a long-term approach to community beautification and public art where all parts fit together as a whole and don’t cost a lot of money to implement or maintain in the long term,” said Joe Kashi, president of the nonprofit ARTSpace organization. “The community has to look nice and be attractive to people to attract better-paid people to come work here. So it’s one part of a larger economic development aspect for the Soldotna community. But in and of itself, the idea of community beautification and public art makes it a nicer place for everybody.”

Photo courtesy of Mark Dixson, city of Soldotna. Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague, left, presents a plaque to Kelly Keating and Geri Litzenberger at the ribbon-cutting for the new Soldotna Art Park, in appreciation of their contributions to the construction and design of the installation.

Photo courtesy of Mark Dixson, city of Soldotna. Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague, left, presents a plaque to Kelly Keating and Geri Litzenberger at the ribbon-cutting for the new Soldotna Art Park, in appreciation of their contributions to the construction and design of the installation.

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