Preface

 

The following pages contain my version of Presbyterian work on St. Lawrence Island, in the Arctic, the Interior, the Valley, the Railbelt, and the urban areas that make up the Presbytery of the Yukon, Alaska.

An academic will immediately note that there are no footnotes to the text. For this, I suppose, I should apologize. However, my written sources are contained in two major depositories: first, the Alaska and Polar Regions Department of the Elmer Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and second, the minutes of the Presbytery of Yukon, 1899 to the present, located as the presbytery office, 610 West Tenth Avenue, Anchorage.

The records at the library, labeled "Presbytery of Yukon Collection", are at the moment kept in approximately ten boxes of uncatalogued reports, correspondence and clippings preserved by various presbytery historians over the years. Future researchers will find the material described and catalogued in an entirely different form than it is found in today.

I have tried to "give credit where credit is due" throughout these pages, but the formal footnoting process became impossible. A bibliography of resources consulted in addition to the above material is provided at the close of this work.

As the historian for the Presbytery of Yukon during the last decade of the century, I have concentrated my efforts on collecting and consolidating these materials and on interviewing persons alive today who can provide an historical perspective on the most recent, say, 30 to 50 years of our work.

My appointment as historian came after working for several months with the late Ellen Rohwer, the then current historian. Ellen had been extremely active in the Presbytery and had boxes upon boxes of materials that she and the historian just prior to her - Norma Hoyt -- had accumulated. Without the records saved by these two women and the material compiled by Mabel P. Bingle covering 1899 to 1950, there would be little from which to write a history.

Our first project was to clean out and organize the boxes of materials. There was so much to do with the dusty files that we engaged a room at Providence Alaska Medical Center where we could lay the stuff out, leave it safely, and continue to work for a couple of weeks. Jessie DeVries came in from Palmer to help us on several occasions.

Once the materials were in some semblance of order, they were stored in my closet at home.

At the next Presbytery meeting, it was announced that I was to be the next Historian and that I was interested in meeting people who wanted to help with a Centennial Celebration -- about three and a half years hence. Several people responded -- including Mary Ann Larson, an elder at University Community Presbyterian Church in Fairbanks and an archivist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Mary Ann had some contacts. Plus, both she and her associates knew the value of records. An agreement was drawn up between the Alaska and Polar Regions Department and a grant application was prepared. In August of 1995, it was reported that the $6,095 inter-library cooperation grant from the Alaska State Library had been approved.

The library agreement provided a safe place to house the multitude boxes of photo albums, scrapbooks, newsletters, historical sketches, and other Presbytery files stored in my closet -- and the grant was to provide funds and personnel for the microfiching of all the birth, marriage, death, baptism and church membership records we could find throughout the Presbytery. Each church was to bring in their records; the UAF would microfiche them; and the originals were to be returned to their churches.

In the process, we learned two things - the two Koreans churches had not been keeping such records and they were not available. The second was that the Anaktuvuk Pass records had apparently been destroyed in the fire that took the manse a couple years previously.

It was two years later that these records were found by Chaplain David Teranoni of Eielsen Air Force Base. As a member of a Presbytery committee visiting Anaktuvuk, he wandered into the burned out manse only to see a book sitting on the one piece of furniture left in the house. Charred around the edges, the book was the Presbytery record book for Anaktuvuk. Teranoni quickly made arrangements to take the book to Fairbanks to be microfiched and then returned to the community.

Copies of the microfiched records are now at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, at the Loussac Library in Anchorage, the Fairbanks public library, the Yukon Presbytery office, and at the University of Alaska, Anchorage library as well as the University of Alaska, Fairbanks library.

While Mary Ann was overseeing this operation, I loaded up the record boxes in the back of my van and drove them from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The feeling at leaving the boxes off at the university library was closely akin to sending one's child off to college - not knowing exactly when you will see her again. I wanted to see the room in which the boxes would be staying; I wanted to meet the people who would be caring for them; I was comforted to know that the place was climate controlled and had fire protection.

Flipping through the manila folders one more time, I patted the file boxes, shook hands with Mary Ann, and sadly left the campus to begin the long drive home.

About this time, Edith Ewing of First Presbyterian in Anchorage offered to assist with the Centennial Celebration planning and also with a videotaping project. We would select prominent Presbyterians; she would interview them; and I would catch the interviews on videotape.

We have made four such tapes - one with Jessie DeVries in Palmer, another with Nick Brewer in Wasilla, one with the Rev. Mable Rasmussen in Fairbanks, and another with the Rev. William Wartes, former pastor at Barrow visiting his son in Fairbanks.

Since these tapes were made, I have interviewed several more persons -- this time using the old-fashioned pen and paper, as well as the new fangled e-mail.

A trip to Goleta, California, (next door to Santa Barbara), brought not only an interview with the Rev. Gordon Corbett - but also another large box of records and hundreds of 35 mm slides taking while he was Presbytery executive.

The Rev. Neil Munro, currently retired in Spokane, was conducted by both e-mail and in person while he was visiting family in Anchorage. In Anchorage, I was privileged to interview the Rev. Alice Green, the Rev. David Dobler, and Mrs. John (Della) Waghiyi.

The Revs. John Chambers of California (formerly of the Arctic) and Dick Madden of Arizona (formerly of Immanuel in Anchorage) both sent written comments as a result of telephone conversations.

Focus groups were conducted during presbytery meetings as well as in Anchorage and Fairbanks between meetings. Several ideas began to emerge concerning the people's desires for the 1999 celebration.

First, the church at Barrow wished to host the spring 1999 meeting of Presbytery in that it corresponded with its own 100th anniversary as a congregation. The request was approved in October of 1995.

Both Anchorage and Fairbanks wished to celebrate the occasion with picnics and liturgies near the actual organization date in the summer -- July 26, 1899.

A Centennial Website was developed by the Historian and unveiled during the spring 1998 meeting of Presbytery, and commemorative jackets, banners and souvenir booklets were discussed and commissioned.

It began to be fun. More and more people became involved, but no one learned as much or had as much fun as the Historian herself. As this book goes to press, all she can say is "Thank you." The whole project has been an inspiration and a joy.

God bless.

Dianne O'Connell

Anchorage, Alaska