Rex Edwards, 1973 yearbook.

Rex Edwards, 1973 yearbook.

First in the Pool — Part 2

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part story about former teachers Rex and Beverly Edwards and the advent of a swimming pool in Seldovia in the early 1970s. The story first appeared in a slightly modified form in the Redoubt Reporter in 2012.

Bear with Me

Taking a rare sick day from her teaching job, Bev Edwards was at home alone and feeling miserable when she began hearing what sounded like people walking around on her back porch. “I just thought I was very ill or feverish,” she said.

Sometime later, about 200 yards down the road, Bev’s husband, Rex, began walking home for lunch from the Susan B. English School in Seldovia.

Back inside the Edwards home, Bev continued to feel lousy, and time seemed a fuzzy concept. “And then I heard Rex banging on the door, and I kept saying, ‘I’m sick! Go around!’ I didn’t want to get up and open the door, and I thought, ‘What’s wrong with him?’”

She thought she could see someone outside the window, but she felt so addled that what she saw didn’t make sense. Rex, meanwhile, continued to bang on the door and holler to Bev to let him in. “I thought he was really rude, seeing that I was sick,” she said.

Back at the school, when the bell rang to start classes again, Mr. Edwards hadn’t returned from lunch, some of his students alerted Principal Tom Overman, who hurried into the parking lot, hopped into his jeep and roared up the road, fearful that something might be wrong.

In her house, Bev rose wearily and trudged to the window to see why Rex was causing such a ruckus. She arrived at the glass just a few moments before Overman’s jeep zoomed into view. On the porch she saw their old washing machine. On one side of the machine was Rex—hunching, pushing and darting back and forth. On the other side was a small black bear. “It was snapping its jaws,” Bev said, “and Rex was dodging the bear.”

The Edwards home sat on a rise just above the road. When Overman pulled up, he may have been unable to clearly see what was taking place.

“What are you doing?” he called. Rex waved and hollered, “There’s a bear!” And Overman, who had seen the wave but failed to distinguish Rex’s words, waved in response and promptly drove back to the school.

“I think he thought Rex said, ‘I’m okay,’” said Bev, who finally let her husband into the house.

Attracted by what Bev termed “a few cooking disasters” in her garbage on the back porch, the bear hung around for another day or two, luring curious students and neighbors, including a woman with two German shepherds who she incorrectly believed could scare off the pesky bruin.

Finally, Alaska Department of Fish & Game officers arrived to tranquilize the bear, and a fisherman named Grady was sent up the road in his Subaru to pick up the animal and relocate it out of town.


Such was life in Seldovia at times for the Edwardses, transplanted Kansans who had come to the village in 1972 to teach in the new K-12 school with its three-lane pool, the first public swimming pool on the Kenai Peninsula. Rex was a P.E. teacher and swimming instructor, while Bev was an elementary school teacher, but in truth they were both jacks of all trades.

In the 1974 yearbook for the Seldovia Otters, Rex was listed as a coach for basketball, track and wrestling; he was also an eighth-grade adviser, and he trained lifeguards and taught water-safety classes.

Bev was the sponsor for the cheerleading squad and a co-sponsor for the drill team, and she also instructed at the pool. Like other members of the school staff, they helped enthusiastically wherever they could and constantly sought new ideas.

During the 1973-74 school year, Rex introduced his students to fencing. He purchased the foils and other equipment and brought in Kenai’s Walter Ward, who had formerly taught fencing at Kenai Peninsula Community College, to put on a demonstration with an epée.

Rex also introduced some of the older boys to the game of football. He contacted Coach Ray Tinjum at Kenai Central High School and asked to borrow some old equipment. Soon, a large package of pads and pants, jerseys and helmets was trucked to Homer and then sent by boat over to Seldovia.

The Seldovia boys, Rex said, had no idea how to arrange the pads and get into their gear. He remembered that one boy tried to place the tailbone pad down the front of his pants for protection in that direction.

“The only place we had to play was the outside beach,” Rex said. “So I took them out there, and we were playing in the sand.” Dubbed the “Seldovia Retreaters,” the football players were photographed for the 1974 yearbook. The image depicts 11 mostly skinny teenage boys on the gradual slope of the outer beach, most of them standing in full gridiron regalia, with the ocean behind them to the right and snow above the tide line behind them to the left.

In the pool, Rex taught his swimmers how to do flip turns. Then, a couple of years later when Homer was able to field its first swim team and visit Seldovia for a meet, the Otters’ flip turns gave them an advantage. “But the next time they came over,” Rex said, “(the Mariners) were doing them, so my edge was gone.”

For her part, Bev remembers learning some valuable pool-related lessons about teaching as she provided community members with CPR training. In the days before “Resusci Annie” reached Seldovia, the trainees practiced on each other:

“I guess I failed to say, ‘Don’t really put your mouth on your partner’s mouth,’” Bev said. “I had Judy Johnson who was down on the deck as a victim, and this other lady just went full-mouth right down on Judy. Judy’s eyes went big. And I learned to explain things better.”

Of course, not all school- and pool-related adventures were confined to Seldovia itself. Living in an isolated community required frequent, and sometimes inconvenient, travel. If Seldovia basketball teams were playing in Homer, for instance, Bev might teach all day and then catch a flight across Kachemak Bay to supervise her cheerleaders before returning home that night. “It wasn’t any big whoop,” she said. “It was just what you did.”

When Rex had first come to the peninsula in 1970 to teach at Kenai Elementary School, he paid $2,500 (on $99 monthly payments) for a dark-green Volkswagen Beetle from Bill Ischi’s VW business in Soldotna. When he and Bev moved to Seldovia, he kept the car in Homer for their use on the road system—and for the use of friends or colleagues who might need a vehicle when they crossed the bay. Because of this widespread use, surprises sometimes arose.

One such surprise occurred when Rex was driving his six-man wrestling team to a meet at Service High School in Anchorage. One wrestler sat in the front passenger seat, while the other five sat in the back, three on the seat and the other two on their laps. “It was like a clown car,” said Bev. “You didn’t worry about seat belts and liability.”

Rex did start to worry, however, when he was pulled over by an Anchorage police officer, who told Rex that the vehicle was “a little overloaded.” The officer appeared ready to let them go when a wrestler named Dan Gilbert reached under the driver’s seat and extracted a .22-caliber pistol. “Is this yours?” he asked his coach.

“I’ve never seen that pistol before in my life,” Rex told the officer, who seemed unconcerned and allowed them to cram themselves back into the vehicle and drive away. “I never found out who owned that pistol. Never did,” Rex said. “And the cop didn’t say anything. I thought I’d be in the slammer.”

“Times have changed,” Bev said.

And they continued to change for the Edwards family. After more than a decade in Seldovia, they had built a house and produced three young children and, although they loved the community and the adventure of living across the bay, they were ready to return to conveniences of the road system.

In their early years in Seldovia, they had found all the travel and isolation thrilling, but finally the “charm” of all those trips by air and sea began to wear thin, Bev said, and seem more dangerous. When Kalifornsky Beach Elementary opened in the fall of 1983, she applied and was hired to become part of the first staff. She worked there until she retired in 2002. Then she began working as a Special Services aide at Skyview High School in 2005.

Meanwhile, health concerns kept Rex out of teaching after their return to the central peninsula. He had spent several of his Seldovia summers working on crabbing boats in Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea. After 1983, he worked mainly in construction and on a variety of other manual-labor jobs, mostly on a seasonal or part-time basis.

“It was fun,” said Rex of their time in Seldovia. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was kind of different, unique, and innocent a little bit.”

“And the best friends,” Bev added. “I mean, we were all kind of the same age (on the school staff). We had to catch the ferry and plan ahead, and there was no store and no doctor. We had to order our groceries when we first got there. We’d get the Homer News and the weekly ads, and we’d go through it and call in our order. And we’d all get together and take big trips to Homer.

“We loved it. It still seems like home.”

Beverly Edwards, 1973 yearbook.

Beverly Edwards, 1973 yearbook.

This brief history of Seldovia’s new school appeared in its 1973 yearbook.

This brief history of Seldovia’s new school appeared in its 1973 yearbook.

This is the Susan B. English School in Seldovia as it appeared in 2010.

This is the Susan B. English School in Seldovia as it appeared in 2010.

Rex Edwards experimented with many activities, including fencing, for the students at the school in Seldovia. In the 1973-74 school year, he even attempted to coach football, even though the only “field” available was the beach. Here are the “Seldovia Retreaters” as they appeared in the school’s 1974 yearbook.

Rex Edwards experimented with many activities, including fencing, for the students at the school in Seldovia. In the 1973-74 school year, he even attempted to coach football, even though the only “field” available was the beach. Here are the “Seldovia Retreaters” as they appeared in the school’s 1974 yearbook.

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