Alaska Nellie’s pioneer spirit celebrated
Heidi Zemach | For the LOG
Ruby Hagner, 80, in Alaska Nellie garb, sits ready for her photo as Bob White assists with setting up the shot at a fundraiser Monday for Meals On Wheels at Seward Senior Center. The event celebrated Alaska Nellie’s birthday with strawberry shortcake and photos by One-Shot Photography.
Seward Senior Center filled up for two hours late Monday afternoon to celebrate the colorful and famed Seward Pioneer Alaska Nellie’s birthday party and raise money for the local Meals on Wheels program. The spirit of Alaska Nellie, who passed away in 1952, was present at the event, from the bear skin that draped the counter on the way in, to the visitors who dressed up like she did, and even a few who remembered her.
Many came to sample the homemade strawberry shortcake, look through the many historical photos of Alaska Nellie, watch a short documentary film about her, or dress up in furs, skirts, floppy hats, and pose with a rifle and teddy bear in front of a log-cabin backdrop to have their photos taken by One-Stop Photography for a small fee. The photos were patterned after one taken of her with her pet bear cub.
The tourists included Judith and Fred Ostapik, history buffs from San Francisco. Fred was celebrating his own birthday, and clearly honored to be sharing it with so colorful a character as Alaska Nellie.
Ruby Hagner, 80 of Libby, Mont ., was also there, enjoying the company. She has been coming up to Seward to work, and originally to visit her daughter every summer since 2000. She is still trying to earn enough money to fix up her home in Montana. She used to do three or four jobs at once, mostly housekeeping and janitorial jobs around town. But now, she’s down to balancing two jobs making beds at the Marina Motel, and housekeeping at Falls Inn. “I had so many keys, I thought I owned the whole town,” Hagner said. Hagner identifies with Alaska Nellie, a hard working woman right up into her old age, who like her, was still cutting logs well into her 60s.
There was also a young newcomer to Seward, who had just moved to town for a job at Spring Creek Correctional Center. He was looking to meet some local people, and check out the event. Val Anderson, 86, a longtime resident born at Dr Brockman’s hospital, vaguely remembers Alaska Nellie, whose post office was his family’s mailing address when he was a child. “She liked publicity. I remember that,” he said.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Louise Henry-Nickson with her strawberry shortcake.
Meals on Wheels serves approximately 15-20 people with disabilities, five days a week, said center Director Dana Paperman, who sported a festive old-timey red-and-white checkered apron.
“Food, utilities and fuel costs have escalated to new heights without increases in government grants that are the driving force behind this essential community service,” she said. “The center now has the obligation to increase our fundraising efforts by 100 percent this year to meet the human needs of our community members who are homebound, and in need of healthy, nutritional lunches. With the help of Seward residents, business partners and tourism, the center is encouraged to support fund raising efforts with flair, like the Alaska Nellie Birthday Party.