Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Presbytery of Yukon

 The Presbytery of Yukon was 25 years old on July 26, 1924. There appeared to be no celebration of the event in 1924, in fact, there was not even an official meeting of the Presbytery recorded.

However, the archives produced a letter written to Mrs. Patricia J. Von Bargen on June 27, 1974 which indicated otherwise. The letter was from the Rev. Robert and Mrs. Luella Marquis, then residing in Centralia, WA. Marquis had served as pastor at Nenana for four years in the 1920s. 

Marquis explained to Mrs. Von Bargen that there had been a celebration of the Presbytery’s Jubilee year both during the August 24-29 meeting of Presbytery in Fairbanks and during the General Assembly held in San Francisco that year. 

“At San Francisco, we borrowed some Chinese children and dressed them as Alaska Indians as part of the program,” Marquis recalled. “We had the help of Dr. S. Hall Young and other Alaska Commissioners. We also had a picture display.” 

‘I attended the meeting of Yukon Presbytery when we celebrated the 25th anniversary,” Marquis said, “I missed the 50th anniversary and now it is the 75th that is being observed!” 

Marquis recalled that during the winter of 1924-1925 when he and his family first arrived in Nenana, the temperatures dropped to a negative 70 degrees.

 “That was the winter of the Diphtheria Epidemic at Nome. When the vaccine arrived in Nenana by train, it was wrapped in fur robes and one of our Nenana neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Shannon started with their dogteam on the first lap of the overland trip to Nome. They lost four dogs with frozen lungs,” the pastor said.

To obtain a more detailed picture of the state of the Presbytery during this period, we turn to the minutes for the years 1923 and 1925. Thanks to the compilation work of Mabel Bingle, the editing of John C. Stokes, and the typing of Iona S. Couch, we have excerpts from presbytery minutes for these years. 

Anchorage Meeting, 1923 

The Presbytery of Yukon met in Anchorage on October 15, 1923. Present were the Revs. S. Hall Young, DD, Fred G. Scherer and James F. Vernon. Absent were the Revs. James A. Condit, James L. McBride, E.O. Campbell M.D., Henry W. Griest, M.D., Wallace S. Marple and R. S. Nickerson. Anchorage Elder James S. Truitt represented the Anchorage church. 

Highlights of the meeting included a letter received from Dr. Griest of Barrow indicating that he had organized the Olgonik Presbyterian Church at Wainwright on June 24, 1923, with 84 members. Four young men planning to study for the ministry were taken under care of Presbytery at this meeting -- Robert Ikkok, Andrew Akootchook, Percy Ipalook and Roy Ahmaogak. All four were from the Point Barrow Mission. 

General Missionary Hall Young reported on plans for a fund-raising trip Outside in conjunction with General Assembly and an extensive trip planned throughout Alaska including St. Lawrence Island, Wales, Barrow, the Bristol Bay country, Nunivak Island, and the region south of the Kuskokwim valley. He was also looking for an evangelist for Nenana “to serve along the railroad and wherever he is needed.” He also was keeping an eye on new camps and towns that might spring up within the bounds of presbytery.

Dr. Young was authorized to secure funds to purchase a dog team and an efficient motor boat for Dr. Griest in Barrow. Various policy recommendations regarding vacations/ furloughs for Alaska missionaries in the field were also discussed and adopted. 

Nenana Meeting, 1925 

The Presbytery of Yukon met in Nenana February 17, 1925. The Revs. Vernon, Scherer and Marple were present. The Revs. Campbell, McBride, Griest, Nickerson, and Frank H. Spence, M.D., were not. Excused were the Revs. Young and Condit. The Rev. R. R. Marquis was received from the Presbytery of Sheridan, June 24, 1924.

An end of an era occurred at this meeting with the official resignation of the Rev. Dr. S. Hall Young as chairman of the Committee of National Missions. Young had been one of the three ministers who organized the Presbytery of Yukon some 26 years earlier, and now he was retiring. He had already moved to Seattle sometime earlier in the year.

It was also announced during this meeting that passes had been reinstated for ministers residing along the government railroad, and the Rev. Marquis requested the assistance of presbytery in reorganizing the congregation of Grace Church at Nenana. 

A letter was received from R. S. Nickerson who was in Oakland, California, at the time. The letter told of his arrival in Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, in August 1923 from Cordova. The mission building was in a very dilapidated condition. He spent much time and effort in putting it into a livable condition before winter. While helping one of the boys haul a load of ice, he strained the muscles of his heart. He had a complete breakdown February 16. He had to remain in bed for four months with only his wife to care for him. When the government boat Boxer came in with supplies, Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson went to Nome and on to Seattle, then Oakland for medical care.

Nickerson wrote that he enjoyed his work with the people on the Island. During the absence of a missionary, the people had all neglected their religion except two women, he said. With these two women as a nucleus, he had built up an active church of over forty members. Eskimos had come over to the Island to visit from Siberia and had expressed a desire to have someone come over and teach them. 

“On the Island we were teaching, preaching, building, nursing, doctoring, directing in domestic lines, aiding in their store, leading the band, visiting, and contributing to every phase of their life,” he wrote. There had been no mail delivery between October 25, 1923 and July 23, 1924. The Nickersons planned to return to the Island, and asked that he be elected Commissioner to the General Assembly. 

A long letter was also received from Dr. Griest in Barrow. Dr. and Mrs. Griest were the only workers on the Arctic Coast at the time. They were looking forward to leaving on their much-needed furlough and had everything packed ready to go, but were disappointed since there was no replacement. They had to wait another year. He felt the need of that furlough. He had no one to talk things over with. He said he was hungry for a bit of inspiration from others. It takes nine months for a reply to one’s mail, he told his colleagues. 

Apparently Dr. Young had not been successful with his quests on Dr. Griest’s behalf the year previously, because Griest again told of his need for a good dog team to make contact with his people at the Point, down at Wainwright and to the east. He reaffirmed that during the summer he needed a boat. He felt the need of a helper or assistant, either a medical man or a minister. A nurse was needed for Wainwright, also a chapel and living quarters. On the positive side, he mentioned a new addition to the hospital to be used for surgery. 

Andrew Akootchook of Barter Island was ordained an Elder on July 6, 1924. 

More discussion about vacation policies ensued. Also the Presbytery voted to request that the Board of National Missions commission the wives of the missionaries, without salaries. Wives of missionaries, if commissioned, were granted clergy rates on the Alaska Railroad. 

Cordova Meeting, 1925 

The Presbytery met again in 1925 in Cordova on June 15. The Revs. Vernon, Scherer and Marquis, plus Elder J.C. Smith of Cordova were present.

The Committee on National Missions recommended that, for the present, the mission work among the white population be operated from the four central points already established: Fairbanks, Nenana, Anchorage and Cordova, and that the missionary at each of these centers be commissioned jointly by the two departments of Town and Country Life and of Sunday School Missions. 

Second Meeting at Anchorage, 1925 

The Presbytery met a third time in 1925 at Anchorage on November 5. Present were the Revs. Marquis and Vernon and Elder Henry Sogn of Anchorage. 

The Board of National Missions took notice of the appointment of Dr. Newhall to the hospital at Barrow. Dr. Newhall was a layman with the Methodist Church. The three men attending Presbytery endorsed the Pension Plan and commissioners were elected to General Assembly. Furthermore, the three of them passed the following resolution regarding vacancies in the field: “that it be the policy of the Board and Presbytery that men be required to remain on their fields unless providentially hindered, until others are secured to fill their places.”

Signed Rev. R. R. Marquis, Stated Clerk.

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