Photo provided by Mona Painter
Walter and Beverly Christensen are shown in a newspaper photo in their Clam Gulch store and post office, probably in the 1960s.

Photo provided by Mona Painter Walter and Beverly Christensen are shown in a newspaper photo in their Clam Gulch store and post office, probably in the 1960s.

From Nomadic Life to Stability

The Journey of Beverly Christensen — Part 3

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the first two installments of this story, Beverly Christensen (nee Cox, currently Sabrowski) grew up the daughter of an itinerant Idaho hard-rock miner. Following the deaths of three of her seven family members, she became an educator like her mother. Then, four days after marrying Joe Sabrowski, she moved to Kenai to teach. Her career in education was brief, as was her stint as Kenai postmaster. And at the end of Part Two, the Sabrowskis had moved to Cooper Landing to try a life of prospecting.

After moving in late 1935 into the unused half of the Kenai River cabin occupied by placer miners “Big Jim” O’Brien and “Little Jim” Dunmire, the Sabrowskis continued their life of perpetual motion.

In the spring of 1936, they settled into a cabin on lower Kenai Lake, and Joe got a job with the Bureau of Public Roads. Beverly traveled along with the road crew, once living in a Quonset-like sheepherder’s wagon near Jerome Lake, another time staying in a frame tent above Canyon Creek, near the current Hope Road junction.

When work ended in the fall, they decided to move to Moose Pass, where for $75 they purchased a house about a mile up from the railroad crossing over Upper Trail Lake. In order to keep her dogs fed while Joe was at work, Beverly plugged snowshoe hares with her .22 rifle. In mid-winter, with job prospects poor, they decided to go out of state until summertime.

They repeated this pattern in 1937, spending time in Portland with both Beverly’s mother and Joe’s extended family. While in Oregon, they decided, despite the dearth of roads in Alaska, that it would be convenient to have a vehicle to take north. They spent two years raising the purchase price of a used vehicle, and they returned to Alaska in 1939 with a 1936 Chevrolet pickup packed onto the steamship Yukon, bound for Seward.

When they arrived in Moose Pass, they found the family of a Seward schoolteacher living in their home. Rather than raise a ruckus about the intrusion, the Sabrowskis sold the house to the schoolteacher for $75 and drove on to Hope, where they found some friends willing to give them a place to stay for the summer.

They panned for gold on Bear Creek, earning another $75 for their efforts, and found that their pickup was popular with the locals. Even deliveryman Denny McCart was happy to borrow the Chevy whenever his own truck broke down.

Over the next few years, they spend most summers mining with the two Jims up on Surprise Creek. They sometimes lived in Seward, sometimes in Cooper Landing. Joe worked as a commercial fisherman, a trapper, and a longshoreman; he played his accordion at dances, mainly in Seward.

In 1940, while Joe and Little Jim were working as longshoremen in Seward, the Sabrowskis were living in a house that Beverly said she suspected had once been a brothel. Every so often, at odd hours, young men would stop by and ask after a certain madam.

In the spring of 1944, after selling their home in Seward and devoting themselves fully to prospecting, they were helping the Jims build a road to their Surprise Creek mine when 37-year-old Beverly began having physical problems. She visited a doctor and learned that she had a cervical cyst that needed to be cauterized.

Later that summer, back at the mine, she began feeling peculiar again. A second visit to the doctor brought different results: Beverly was pregnant. Their mining plans changed.

Eventually, the Sabrowskis produced two sons, Leonard (born in 1945) and James (born in 1947). After World War II ended, they settled mainly in Seward, where Joe fished commercially while Beverly tended to their house and their boys.

In May 1954, however, Joe succumbed to bone cancer and died in Portland at the age of 51. Beverly and her sons moved to Cooper Landing, mainly, she said, to escape the polio ravaging the United States, including the Seward area.

Beverly’s mother died two years later.

Accustomed to hard times because of the nomadic life and untimely deaths of her early years, Beverly Sabrowski persevered.

In 1957, she was appointed postmaster of Cooper Landing, and it was in that capacity that she met a bachelor truck driver named Walter Christensen, the member of a Homer homesteading family, a founding member of the Homer Electric Association, and a deliverer of goods and the U.S. mail between Homer and Seward.

On June 30, 1959, the nearly 52-year-old Beverly Sabrowski married the 42-year-old Christensen. After getting hitched, Beverly once again resigned from her postal duties and settled into domesticity and motherhood.

But Walt soon soured on trucking and retired from the business. Since most peninsula goods and services had begun to move through Anchorage rather than Seward, he had no desire to drive back and forth to the big city. In a 1962 career move, he purchased the Clam Gulch grocery store and service station owned by Fran and Per Osmar.

By October of that year, Beverly had been appointed acting postmaster at Clam Gulch — then postmaster in July 1963 — and under Walt’s stable influence, her years of constant wandering seemed at an end. From this point onward, in fact, their lives were almost a model of consistency.

Her obituary years later would highlight her steadiness and her tenacity: “Highly principled, she would never give up on a task, no matter how challenging it might be. She maintained a spirit of frugality all of her life and never afforded herself luxury in lifestyle.” She was active in the Ninilchik Senior Center, and she belonged to the Cook Inlet Memorial Society and the Pioneers of Alaska Women’s Auxiliary.

For 14 years in Clam Gulch — at that time, Beverly’s longest stretch in one place — Walt ran the store and service station while she ran the post office. Both were active in the local Catholic Church. Both were admired, well liked and had devoted friends.

In 1976, Beverly retired from the U.S. Postal Service, and the Christensens, then nearing 70 and 60, respectively, decided to sell their Clam Gulch enterprises.

They moved a few miles north up the Sterling Highway to the Cohoe Road near Kasilof and later moved again closer to Ninilchik, but essentially they stayed within a small area for 33 years.

Beverly died on Feb. 23, 1995. Walt died four years later and was buried near Beverly in Spruce Grove Memorial Park in Kasilof. Together for 61 years, and counting.

• By Clark Fair, For the Peninsula Clarion

Walt Christensen was laid to rest in a grave next to Beverly in Spruce Grove Memorial Park in Kasilof. (Photo by Clark Fair)

Walt Christensen was laid to rest in a grave next to Beverly in Spruce Grove Memorial Park in Kasilof. (Photo by Clark Fair)

This is the Clam Gulch Store and gas station that the Christensens owned and operated through most of the 1960s and much of the 1970s. (Photo from the Osmar family collection)

This is the Clam Gulch Store and gas station that the Christensens owned and operated through most of the 1960s and much of the 1970s. (Photo from the Osmar family collection)

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