There once was a little Presbyterian church founded on Cape Prince of Wales, north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula, pointing toward Big and Little Diomede Islands. Frederick Thornton was the first missionary to Wales. He was buried there in 1893. Many of the people in the little community were committed Christians, but the church itself had laid dormant for eight years until it was officially re-organized in 1921.
(Prince of Wales Native. Ann Bannon collection)
In 1920, at the age of 52, Dr. Henry W. Griest answered the Board of National Missions' call to go to Cape Prince of Wales. He took with him medicines, surgical instruments, Bibles, his wife and small son. He reorganized the little church serving the Yup’ik Eskimo community and, in 1921, transferred to Barrow. Where he served until 1943.
Emma M. Stauffer, RN
We pick up our history of Wales with the 1940-1941 annual report filed by the supply pastor assigned to Wales, Miss Emma M. Stauffer.
Thornton Memorial Presbyterian
Church, Wales, Alaska.
Miss Emma M. Stauffer, stated supply
Dwight Tevuk, clerk of session
Membership: 41 profession,
24 suspended, 3 deceased.
Net total of communicants 114
Sunday school members, teachers, etc. 180; baptisms on confession, 6; and infant baptisms, 13
Miss Emma M. Stauffer
Dwight Tevuk, clerk.
Dated: March 31, 1941.
By 1946, the records show that the church was being served by a Native pastor from Barrow, Percy Ipalook. Pastor Ipalook was to become not only a pastor but also a territorial legislator from his area. We can learn much from the reports and letters filed by Ipalook.
Ruling Elders in February 1946:
Dwight Tevuk, clerk
Charles K. Oxereok
Percy Ipalook, minister.
The files contain a series of communications from Rev. Ipalook to the Presbyterian mission board concerning assessments and church Benevolent Quotas and the like. Subscribers from the area for the Presbyterian Life magazine were Bob Tokienna, Robert Mayokok, Dwight Tevuk, Louis Tungwenuk, Lloyd Natungok, Charles K. Oxereok, McKenna Wemark, and Percy Ipalook. Others were expected to send in their contributions later.
March 6, 1946, a brief summary of benevolences, obligations and special offerings thus far submitted from Wales Church:
Easter offering, $12.63
Christmas offering, 5.00
Benevolent quota (partial payment) $25.00
War-Time Service Commission, 1.50
Lincoln Day offering, 3.00
General Assembly tax, 14.40
Benevolent quota (balance) 30.00
Plus the twenty dollars for the above Presbyterian Life subscriptions.
...(Signed) Percy Ipalook.
In January of 1947, Ipalook writes Rev. Rolland Armstrong of First Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, asking to be excused from attending the upcoming meeting of the Yukon Presbytery.
"Just now the good wife is at Nome, has been since the 7th of December, and the seventh child for us arrived on the 31st. There is no telling just when she will be back to us, and although we are given the word that all is well, I also know the winter flying conditions of our areas. The other obstacle is finance. This church is just able to make weekly contributions to meet whatever obligations are required of us....
“Sometime ago I may have mentioned the fact that the village of Wales is decreasing right along in years. This also means that our Church membership has been decreasing along with population of the village. In 1934 when I was placed here as a probationer we had a population of over two hundred. Last year about Christmas time there were 172. This Christmas it was just 145. The reason is many families find it easier to live elsewhere (many at Nome) and therefore have made the move. Last spring four families moved down to Sinrock, 25 miles west of Nome.
“By next spring there is at last one family in prospect to make the similar move to Sinrock. It is my pet theory that then years from now there will hardly be any people in Wales and many of the elsewhere, perhaps many at Sinrock. The point is this. Since a good many of Sinrock people will have been from Wales it would be well for our Church and our Presbytery to keep an eye on the spot. This word I pass on knowing as other Brethren may know of the various denominations now engaged at Nome. To my understanding the Alaska Native Service is also interested in setting a school at Sinrock as soon as "25" can be enrolled. This Service also has the hopes of seeing some Nome Natives make the move there and would do everything in encouraging them as to housing, etc....
"We are well, but I am a bit tired of "housekeeping" and anticipate the homecoming of Esther which I hope will be this next week. “
...(signed) Percy Ipalook
In March 1947, Ipalook writes the Rev. Victor I. Alfsen in Palmer, AK, declining the honor of attending General Assembly.
"My work seems to be constantly interrupted the past several months due to ailments in the family. Just now I am in Nome -- have been for a week now -- with my five-year-old boy with an abscess on the side of his neck.”
In February 1947, Ipalook writes Alfsen explaining that he, Ipalook, had just returned from Nome where he had been hospitalized for a few days.
“The Presbytery might be wondering about the membership status of Wales Church as designated in the last two annual reports. We have not had any new additions due to the fact that my predecessor (Emma Stauffer) appar-ently made every effort to build up the membership before she left. The consequence was all youngsters eligible were admitted, and others I feel are not quite up to par to be admitted as yet. However, I have a few prospects to be ready for admittance by Easter this year.
“Due to abnormal circumstances our active membership has dwindled down to 69 at present. We have 117 listed. The balance from 117 has moved away from Wales the past two and three years, and some permanently.
“Coming back to my own personal difficulty. Rev. Armstrong will recall has visit to Wainwright with Dr. King the summer of 1941. Then I was struck with a strange malady that forced Dr. Ing to interrupt his visit and the chartered plane to take me to Barrow hospital. The same malady struck me the 15th of January (1948) and proved to be extremely painful.
“We called for a plane from Nome to take me to a doctor there and it was four days after a way was clear for me to get there. Then I was able to get on my feet but wanted to see the doctor all about the trouble. The illness proved to be a rheumatic attack on my joints and muscles and he (the doctor) widely hinted it was a good thing the attack was not on the heart. ....
“While in Nome, as I was able to get around, I filed for the coming election for Republican Representative in the House from this Division. For sometime I felt this thing coming but I had swerved it aside till I received a letter from one Otto Geist in Fairbanks. Of all others who urged me on this respect he was aggressive for my entering. Apparently, some one had mentioned this matter to Dr. Jackman in one of his visits to Alaska, and according to Geist's letter "Dr. Jackman would approve such a move, and was in complete favor of your entering any time you wanted to."
“Besides that incentive, there was the Arctic Native Brotherhood in Nome who had asked me to enter and entering are now sponsoring my campaign and encouragement. Now, I do not know what attitude the Presbytery would have on this matter, but whatever discouragement they might give on it will have been late, I fear.
“Time was pressing and I could not inquire in time before the deadline, which was the first of this month. Some way or the other Governor Gruening has a hand on my getting in to the "politics". Personally, as I see it, this is one chance of my service for the 15,000 Eskimos along with the 120 Natives we have in Wales at present. To me, it is a challenge rather than anything else connected with such. If and when, there is the health problem for the Eskimo; elevation of education, generally; and on the sly, the liquor traffic, which to be will have become a big factor, should I have the privilege of getting to Juneau.
“Having lived all the way down from Barrow to St. Lawrence Island, I feel rather confident that the largest Voting Precincts such as those two places will support me. Kotzebue area will help because of my acquaintance with those people. Esther is from Kotzebue and we get our month off in Kotzebue.
“.... My usual greetings to the Brethren and a usual request for an excuse from attending (the presbytery meeting). The reason: cannot meet the travel expense locally.”
(signed) Percy Ipalook
December 2, 1948: Check for the amount of $2.50 for a Restoration Fund payment from Wales Church, a dollar more than the previous year. "The village is also supplied with a couple of teachers which to us was a pleasant surprise. He has a brother in Palmer who homesteads down there and knows Vic Alfsen.”
December 30, 1948: Percy reports the death of elder Charles K. Oxereok, August 13, 1948 in Teller, AK. "I hope to be leaving for Juneau very shortly and trust I can stop long enough either in Fairbanks or Anchorage to see some of you men in the Presbytery -- either on the way down or back."
...(signed) Percy Ipalook.
December 31, 1948: “A little tyke weighing exactly ten pounds made his appearance to our family group the late evening of the 29th -- the birthday of his own mother. The name: Frederick Thornton Ipalook, after the first missionary to Wales and buried locally in 1893. Seventh boy and eighth child in the family. Mother and son doing well.”
“A special session for Territorial legislature has been called for the 6th of January. Consequently, I will have to be leaving here much sooner than I had anticipated. The family will have to do the best it can while daddy is away, and probably makes its way to Kotzebue in the interim. The main reason for this move is to provide the older children an unbroken period of school attendance as well as to be near a center where medical assistance can be had.”
Emma Stauffer Returns as Pastor
February 14, 1951: First letter of that date from Emma M. Stauffer, RN to Alfsen:
Dear Mr. Alfsen:
The church reports are enclosed herein; and they will be a surprise to you. Because you may think I have left off the names of many folks; until the total is very small compared to what it used to be.
But I have given you the names of those who are no longer here and you may do about them as you wish; but I am not a person to begin to "set a hound" on the trail of folks who do not value being a church-member enough to have that membership where they are within reach of the church and attend regular meetings there at.
Enclosed you will find the amount at the rate per Head; figuring total of statement you sent me of 114 membership, bill for $21.66 comes to 19 cents per head and we have only 64 total members; so herein you will find the check for $12.16; as your Presbytery ecclesiastical expense apportionate for the church for year to date.
Am sorry we will not be sending any Delegates to Presbytery but if you folks only had the forethought to realize the difficulty in getting over Alaska in such a remote section of God's universe as this place is, you surely would as soon ask us to send a delegate to Russia and I am certain we would come as near getting there, or maybe nearer, and on time, too, as we could ever expect to do toward attending Presbytery in Palmer in March 1951.
But we all wish you a most profitable and beneficial session and hope that some time later we may appear in person and give you our Report.
We have recently held our Annual Congregational meeting and election of officers, and it would have done your soul good to have been here and seen the results which turned out very good. I say in answer to prayer for so long church affairs seem here to have drifted on the spiritual influence of the Eskimo until I feared what the result would be. But as it takes so much PATIENCE, it was best spent in prayer and I am happy to say our people make very good choice for future church officers here.
So though I cannot attend Presbytery, I am very content to be here with my Eskimo, who I am certain, send you their grateful appreciation of a person to be here with them now.
I solicit your prayerful help for our church and congregation here. I am indeed,
...(signed) Emma M. Stauffer, RN
February 14, 1951: Second letter of that date from Emma Stauffer to Alfsen:
Here is a letter telling about some folks who have moved away from Wales, and whose names are on that list of not now church members here.
First, Robert Mayokok; a victim of tuberculosis; spent from about 1945 to 46 in the TB sanitarium at Seward (Bartlett) AAA; was expected to die but did not; in the meantime his wife and family of four children went from here, his demand, to Jessie Lee Home, Seward, one child to TB sanitarium...
(Letter contains additional personal information regarding families whose descendants may still live in the area. Comments show Emma's personal concern for the people in her area, such as "So I have not the audacity to write and tell her she should pay her church dues when she don't even have one cent, nor is she able to earn one for herself.")
Now I know you will wish I had never gotten back into Wales because when you see our Yearly Report, it will shock you. But there is no need to keep names of people on this membership roll who have moved away from here. Some of them many years ago.
Some come back for a few weeks visit during the summer or for work on some old friend's "Tin Claims" back inland from here, or for work on some government project in vicinity, but even then they are gone from here as they cannot come back ten or more miles for church or mid-week services, so they take the whole family, dogs and all, and Camp away all summer.
So I hope you will take time to read between the lines and realize this is still a "pioneer church" and far from being an organized Sabbath School, as you know them in your more modern places.
If you don't understand all this come up during the summer and have a look, just while the plane will wait for you. Better travel from Nome by the Munz, or else the Wein Airways, as they do try to "deliver the goods" once they start out, if possible to do so.
...(signed) Emma M. Stauffer, RN
May 1952: Excerpts from letter from Emma Stauffer, apologizing for using a typewriter, but her handwriting, she explains, is not very steady (neither is her typewriter):
"Oh yes, my clock," she says, "I purchased when home in 1941, still keeps me company; and in the long dark days; and often wakeful nights; it seems almost like a "personage" in my little house; it is COMPANY for sure.
I had the surprise of the winter yesterday: a young man who had once been here in government service met me in 1948 someplace came to chat for a while; left his wife in Fairbanks with a new baby. She is part Eskimo. But oh, just to meet some one of my own race to talk with is a relief from the monotony of the isolation of a village like this...
Well, we have just held funeral services for a young girl; who, when I was here before, was one of my leading girls in everything. But as often happens, she was sent out to school at White Mountain for three years and came home, at last, pregnant, and developed tuberculosis. So now the child is left with its grandparents, a beautiful child, looks as it its father had been a white man. Such things are very hard for me to bear.
Now we have another girl who is scholastically eligible to go out to Mt. Edgecumbe School this autumn; but I dread to see her go, for chances are like too many other Eskimo girls, she will get blinded by the false love of some man, and come home in the same condition. I call such things the result of the idea of white men folks still all too often have that Eskimo women are nothing but "chattels" and our girls don't seem to ever let what I have always taught them to register in their minds. They just can't see why all white folks don't always be helping them, instead of wronging them. Now we have some of Uncle Sam's men folks not far from us, so can you imagine what the future here will be like?
Well, I have just heard the overhead "roar" of a plane; so may we are getting mail, if so this will be the first for over two weeks tie. Very soon, the landing field on Bering Sea ice will break up and then we may not get ail for a month or longer, because our Beach is soft and plane wheels sink in too deep for safety, so here we are almost cut off from any connection with the outside world, except from our government weather station, quite often.
But on the whole we have had a good winter together. I carry on m religious activities as much as possible all through the winter season...Yes, I would have enjoyed the meetings of Presbytery, etc., but if you can have a "chat" with Rev. Armstrong, likely you will understand why I very seldom get out of here once I get in here.
I myself cannot bet far in my aims in plans for the future, as I have a very different set of people to deal with now compared to what was here years ago. I left here in October 1944 and folks began moving out in less than two years afterward. I lost the last "good supporter: for any Christian activities last autumn. ...But I do not like to see this village without anyone here...I keep on hoping that the mission will soon locate some one for to take my place....
...(signed) Emma Stauffer
Emma Becomes Ill; No Replacement in Sight; Exploration of “Trade”
August 18, 1953: J. Earl Jackman, Secretary, Department of Work in Alaska, Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, to Mrs. Margaret Miller, Anchorage.
A letter has just come from the Rev. Ralph P. Hanson of the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church stating that he has made a summer trip to Alaska with a visit to Yakutat and an attempted visit to Wales. He finds that their people in Yakutat are in favor of transferring that mission to the Presbyterians and their people in Nome are in favor of receiving our mission in Wales in exchange. In as much as these are organized churches any such exchange needs the action of the two presbyteries involved. Yakutat would be considered by Alaska Presbytery and the release of Wales should be considered by Yukon Presbytery. We understand that this latter consideration would be taken up at a summer meeting of Yukon Presbytery, which probably would be held in a summer meeting of Yukon Presbytery, which probably would be held in August. Has this been done? If so, what action has been taken?
We seem to need a little haste on this because word has just been received that Emma Stauffer has had a thorough check-up by the doctor in the Methodist hospital at Nome, which seems to confirm his suspicion that she may have cancer of the throat. She had planned to remain on through this year but now has asked to be released by August 31st. We have written her that she should leave the field as she has suggested.
We do not have a replacement for her. If we were to transfer this field to the Mission Covenant Church, we would not attempt to find a replacement but if Presbytery should decide that we should keep it, then we must hurry to find a replacement. An early report would be helpful.
August 27, 1953: In response to the letter from Dr. Jackman ...in regard to the releasing of the church at Wales to the Swedish Covenant Church, Mr. Walkup telephoned today, saying he had talked with the men of this area, and they had all agreed that it would be a wise move. He had also talked with Mrs. Hoyt, who has recently visited Wales, and she was of the same opinion. He as planning to call the Fairbanks men to get their reaction.
Since we did not meet as planned, during August, we wish to meet in September to ratify action on the Wales situation, and some other matters...Mrs. Miller to "my dear Rolland."
September 11, 1953: Rolland Armstrong to Miss Emma Stauffer, Derry, Pennsylvania.
It just doesn't see right to be thinking of the north country knowing that you are not there....
Let me express the sentiment of every worker in Alaska, when I say thank you for your grand service to the King. Your life of complete devotion has been a constant inspiration to me. All of us know the hardship of isolation that you went through, and never once did you complain, because you were with your won chosen people.
We would not want this great mission career to close without thanking God for his love shown through you. Be sure that we shall keep you close to our hearts and thoughts as you take up other fields of service.... Keep us in your prayers. The work must go on.
...(signed) R. Rolland Armstrong, Juneau, AK.
October 6, 1953: Frank J. Walkup First Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, to Dr. Herman N. Morse, Board of National Missions, New York.
At our recent meeting of Yukon Presbytery at Tok Junction ...the transfer of the mission at Wales to the Mission Covenant Church took place.
The presbytery voted with considerable reluctance to concur in the matter.... In support of this transfer it was brought to our attention that there is not ample money in the Alaska budget to put a missionary couple on the field, and there is no one in sight who might replace Miss Emma Stauffer recently retired. ....
Even as we met, we were told that the Adventists have building materials on the docks in Seattle, which they want to send to Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. As we learned of this conflict with our work on the island, we were aware that Miss Alice Green goes out next spring, and there is no immediate prospect of a replacement for her. Can you understand why we feel that our Church is slowly giving up its work with the Eskimos, and that the eagerness of other denominations to supply and minister to these people is in sharp contrast to our budget current and occasional retrenchment?
At present it does look as tough the mission Covenant Church is in better position to supply the Wales mission, but we feel that the understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry of Presbyterian missionaries is ore pertinent than any other. Why must we give up this place and that place, when historically we have pledged ourselves to minister to them?
William Wartes, missionary at Barrow, brought us word of the vast economic changes talking place on the Arctic slope, and particularly at Barrow. We will have to put thousands of more dollars into Barrow to hold things even there. In the face of a cut in budget for 1954, we fear we must begin to retrench, while we feel we should reach out and minister to small communities of Eskimo folk within a short plane trip of Barrow.
Presbytery has requested me, as Chairman of our committee of national missions, to express our sincere concern that our Church seems no longer to be going out "conquering and to conquer" in this land, and is content just to hold on where we can with a small band. These are days of changes for the Eskimo people. The defense of America finds them in a most strategic spot. The American military man has moved in as his neighbor in many places, and uses the Eskimo and exploits him. It should be a day of increased evangelism and Christian fellowship. We need to do more and not less.
At this same meeting of Yukon presbytery, one of our two Eskimo pastors asked to have his name dropped from the roll of ministers. This will leave us only Roy Ahmaogak, serving at Wainwright. Already he is talking of how soon he will retire. We have no Eskimo replacement for Roy in Training.
If all we can do is hold on feebly, should we not in Christian fairness sand compassion ask some other denomination to come in and take over our work while it is still alive and hopeful, rather than to let it degenerate slowly, so that whoever comes after us will have to build his work with discouraged or indifferent folk?
We would like to hear that our Church is dedicated to an expanded missionary program with these people. We would like to know that our work in the Eskimo villages will be continued and undergirded. It would cheer us to learn that a ministry to Eskimos in the inland towns and cities is possible soon...
February 3, 1954:
Dear Rev. Alfsen:
Never heard from any of you, what is plan for us nor get any instructions. I am enclosing via registered letter the sum of $14.08 for the last years Benevolence. I paid this from my pocket but if we get enough collections I will be reimbursed.
...I am only one try to carry out the Sunday Schools and Church Services now. Still looking forward God will send some Mission worker here.
Dwight Tevuk, clerk
Thornton Memorial Chapel, Presbyterian Mission, Wales, Alaska.
1950 -- The Rev. Percy Ipalook reports food is scarce, hunting is poor, and the population is dwindling. Ill health in the family and the need for more adequate schooling has made it imperative to move them to Kotzebue.
Dr. Earl Jackman and the Rev. R.R. Armstrong asked to investigate the proposed trade of our work at Wales with the Mission Covenant work at Yakutat and report to Presbytery. The Stated Clerk is instructed to write the adjutant of the Alaska National Guard in Juneau giving him Presbytery's recommendation of Rev. Percy Ipalook for a commission as chaplain. Ipalook receives appointment.
Emma Stauffer is still at Wales in 1952. Miss Stauffer is not a commissioned lay worker, but a lay missionary. Commissioned lay workers have no ecclesiastical relationship with the Board of National Missions. The board appoints the worker, but the worker's responsibility is to the General Assembly and the Presbytery. The Board has the authority to send a worker, but the Presbytery has all ecclesiastical authority over its area.
Discussion of the problem of Yakutat has been reopened. The possibility of a trade of the church of Wales and the Church of the Covenant at Yakutat has been mentioned. Also, an outright purchase of the church at Yakutat.
1953 -- A wire from Percy Ipalook: "Regarding letter of the 14th. Under present domestic situation feel Presbytery consider removal my membership from roll. With security uncertain, might take secular job that could terminate legislative participation, and resigning chaplaincy. This in no way deviates my interest in Presbyterianism. Request excuse from meeting and greetings to Presbyters." The chairman of the Ministerial Relations Committee was asked to write to Mr. Ipalook telling him of our spiritual concern for him, with a special explanation of church law concerning reinstatement. In compliance with Mr. Ipalook's wishes, his name was removed from the rolls of Presbytery.
1954 -- Following a discussion of the history of the work of Percy Ipalook and his ministry, especially in connection with his work with the National Guard as chaplain, a motion carried to NOT accept his request to be removed from the rolls of Presbytery. This action automatically endorses him to the Armed Forces Chaplains' Committee.
1953 -- a statement from Dr. Armstrong on the history of the work in Wales showed the practicality of transferring the mission at Wales to the Swedish Covenant Church. It was recommended there be an exchange of churches at Wales and Yakutat with the Swedish Covenant Mission, and that any negotiations be left to the discretion of the Secretary of Work in Alaska for the Board of National Missions. The basis for the decision stemmed from the difficulties encountered in extending a continued ministry to the congregation at Wales. Regret was expressed for the Presbyterian Church's “retreat” from the work in the Arctic.
1956 -- Rev. Ipalook is shown on the rolls as Chaplain, National Guard, Kotzebue.
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