Pioneer Potluck: About being curious and reminiscing

Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

I came here in July 1967. Fifty years ago! I have a curiosity that always runs through my head. One is how I watched Kenai and North Kenai, now Nikiski, grow through the years. I looked up most of the information to follow as my memory is of the old nature.

1964 was the great earthquake that devastated Anchorage and some other cities in Alaska. Kenai had installed the first upgrade of the water and sewer and streets. Thankfully not much damage was done due to the earthquake.

1966: Kenai had a new airport terminal building and a paved airstrip. The terminal was some of the Wildwood army barracks.

1967: The year me and my three kids arrived on July 9th. We did not get a paved runway to land. The big old Constellation with engines and propellers on the wings stirred up billows of volcanic ash and dust. We came off the airplane in the cloud, following the other passengers into the army green terminal. The baggage attendants carried our luggage from the airplane to inside the airport terminal. We fished through the large amount of baggage for our three large suitcases. The baggage handlers were hot, sweaty and covered with dust and complaining.

My kids, thinking they were coming to the land of icebergs, igloos and Eskimos, as my Dad told us in his parting goodbyes to us in Colorado, were in complete awe. Mom dressed my son, David, in a wool suit. The girls, Gail and Susan, had warm cotton dresses and bulky sweaters. I carried the coat and sweaters as they were hot, thirsty and mystified. David was 8 years old and made the deduction: “Momma, we’s in the WRONG place!” One of the baggage handlers announced that he sure wished he could have a big ice cream cone. My kids agreed with him.

After gathering our large suitcases and looking for the father of our children and finally figuring out he was not going to pick us up, I went up to only ticket counter and asked him if he could call me a taxi. I also asked him where the hotel was. And if I could call Ken’s Auto. He looked startled, then smiled with kind eyes and said there are no taxis and the phone service to where I want to call was out of order or they did not have a phone? The place I should go to was the Harbor View Annex. Oh, was my reply. Can we walk there? Can I store my luggage?

A man standing not to far away from us offered his assistance. He would take us to the motel. We climbed into a nice large car; he introduced himself. To this day I do not remember his name.

Off we went down a dirt street creating our own dust cloud, to the Harbor View Annex. (It still stands in the same place!)

I rented the second room. The man carried our suitcases inside, shook my hand and told me good luck. I offered to pay him. He said no, he was just glad to help. He got in his car and disappeared. I never saw him again. I have often wondered who that kind gentleman was.

We all washed our faces, put on our jammies — it was about 10 at night, but not realizing it, I thought it was about 6.

We snacked on candy bars, nuts and dry fruit that all my Colorado relatives had given to us and jumped into bed.

I could NOT sleep. I wondered what I was going to do — I had $88 in my purse. We landed in Anchorage with $100 and it cost $12 to get to Kenai. Kids flew free!!

Hearing birds chirping and seeing the bright, bright sun in the west, I looked at my watch. Two o’clock in the morning and it was still light!

All of the sudden a big ruckus at the door next to us, with a big German voice screaming “You ville come out of there and give me mine propane bottle, OR I go gets the POOLICE!”

I locked my door and wondered what in the world had I gotten myself and my kids into. The POOLICE arrived, she “gots” her propane bottle back.

All was quiet, except for the fears running around in my head. Another knock on the door. Our door! I peeked out the little window. It was the kid’s dad, my husband, and I was not happy!

He had an excuse that his Jeep broke down and that he finally tracked me down. So that was the beginning of our first 48 hours in Alaska — and a week later I met the mad, loud German lady.

She became my very good friend. I rented a trailer from Helen — my own trailer — and began my life as a single mother in Alaska, again.

1967 also was Alaska’s Centennial Year. It was the year that brought the project of Fort Kenay to culmination. The present two-story log building is constructed on the Russian Orthodox Church property and reverted to their ownership at the termination of a lease with the City of Kenai.

1968-69-70: Oil companies and related companies moved into the area and platforms were being built in Cook Inlet. Along with the that came families in cars, travel trailers, families looking for houses. Families with little kids, lots of kids. There was no housing and no trailer available. Bob Penny had trailers come up by barge from California and they were NOT winter-Alaska friendly!

Two weeks later in 1967 I was working for Offshore Fabricators. I am pleased to say I saw a lot of the platform work being constructed in the shop at Arness Dock to be either flown in by helicopter or by boat to the platforms.

1971: Kenai Junior High was constructed.

1972: The Kenai Public Satey Building was constructed on Willow Street. And much to the amazement of many, a four-lane highway was built through Kenai. (Along with the statement, I might add, from the Old Timers, “If they put in a stop light, I am moving!”) Wildwood Army Base was transferred to the ownership of the Kenai Native Association.

I relocated to North Kenai in 1967 to Sleepers trailer court for one week. I left there in the old Willeys Jeep and found my own place. That is where I met Helen McGahan (who just wanted her propane tank back from a former renter). We rented a very small, very clean trailer from her.

To my delight it had a washer with a built-in dryer. After the washer stopped, it dried the clothes. I used it everyday. My kids made friends with Helen’s kids. She watched mine while I worked. We had fun and adapted to our way of life easily in Alaska. School started that fall. I worked part time as a teacher assistant to the largest growing grade school in Alaska.

We had 42 states represented in the school. We had kids that had never seen snow. We had kids that were as shocked as I was at the difference in culture and weather, especially winter. Kids that did not have enough clothes to keep warm. Kids that had never worn a pair of snow boots. We all shopped at Army-Navy in Kenai, now Paradosios.

Wally Sidback, a great, long-time teacher, undertook the task of teaching the kids how to ski. But first we had to have skis. Alice Miller located the surplus skis off the army base in Anchorage. They needed to be shortened and the layers upon layers of paint were taken off, then sanded. They were then varnished on top and layers of wax were applied to the bottom. Then the binding was screwed back on. Alice did most of the work, with my help and a few friends.

They were delivered to the school, which was a smaller version of the Nikiski Recreation Center now. Everyone was excited, including Wally. He designated me to help, along with teachers and older children, to get skis on the feet of children that hardly knew how to walk in snow, let alone ski in it.

All the skis were propped outside the door. Wally would hand them out to the little tiny second-graders, as it was suggested that first-graders and kindergartners were a bit to small. I, with other teachers help, put the skis on their boots and tightened down the bindings and held up the little guys while they tried to stand up.

This was all new to me too. Getting the kids to stand still while Wally fastened his skis on — giving instructions and helping some who had fallen down and couldn’t get up. Finally, we were off down the cross country trail that Wally had made. He insisted I put skis on also. Long years before that, I had skied once — well, I was pushed down a bunny hill in Aspen at 17 years old, screaming all the way to the bottom. I was told to take the skis off and go inside and warm up and wait.

Wally, who was always positive and always giving out compliments, never gave up on them. However, he did with me!! I walked like a duck. I crossed the skis front and back, many times. I fell many times. I took the skis off and walked the trail, helping the many little fallen soldiers of the cross country trail.

I also learned the very first hour, I should have carried a roll of toilet paper in my pocket for the snotty faces that appeared. The first day was coat sleeve wipes. From then on ski day, I was the lady with the toilet paper. Mom sent Kleenex packets by the dozens that winter. I still had to wipe noses. I look back at that time with smiles. Mom also sent coats, hats, gloves, boots and long-handled underwear to us from Colorado, because I told her I was horrified at the state of clothing from the southern states. None of it warm!! Shoes were sandals.

Wally succeeded in making a ski team and many of the kids got the Ten Mile Patch, including mine. My skiing days were over the first day!

That winter was the winter of the 12-foot snow. Snow berms everywhere. Snow machines — new ones — everywhere. I did learn to ride a snow machine. I loved it.

Ten- to 12-foot berms were piled on the side of the road. A rotary plow came through and completely cleared the road. I believe that year was the final year of the rotary snow plow. When it warmed up and thawed at Christmas, then refroze, the road became an icy highway. Some kids ice skated to school.

The road department, not having sand available, crushed shale and spread it on the road for traction. It chewed up tires! Flat tires were driven on until they could get to a place to change them, or, if they were without a spare tire, the car was parked. That was the winter of 1968 — the service station that is now Steve’s Chevron in Nikiski, was piled with cars with flat tires. The owner enlisted men with pickups just off from a week of platform work, to go to Anchorage and buy tires. Some people were too poor to buy tires. Some people refused to pay for tires, saying the road department should. It was a long time before the owner got paid for all his efforts. And some of it he never got paid for.

Through the years that followed, I remarried, relocated to Eagle River. My kids went to Chugiak High School. This is what I call my “other life.”

Back in Nikiski for the last 35 years, I am content to sit with Bob in his warm cave and look out over the lake we call “Our Lake” and be at peace with all the memories that crop up now and then. I am grateful for all my friends I have made. I am grateful my children are all around me along with the grandkids and greatgrands. I am grateful for our health. I have seen things that make me happy, I have seen things that terrified me. I have managed to live through it all. I am especially happy to be content with spending the rest of my life with Bob. He makes me smile, he makes me laugh. He brings back wonderful memories that I will write about later.



I read this about three times then it became easier to make.

1 cup warm water

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dry yeast (2 packages)

1/2 cup flour

This is called Riser. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl:

Cover and let stand in a warm place for 15 minutes.

My Note: I run hot water in the sink. Place the large bowl of riser ingredients

in the water. It will become bubbly in about 15 minutes.

The REMAINDER OF ingredients in a medium bowl:

1 1/4 cup warm milk

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons salt

3 tablespoons butter — original called for lard

About 5 cups flour

Warm milk to medium warm, to touch

Add the sugar, salt and butter. Stir to dissolve and melt butter.

Add 2 cups flour and beat at least two minutes with wooden spoon.

Add this flour mixture to the yeast riser. Stir:

Gradually stir 3 more cups of flour in, stirring after each 1 cup addition.

After stirring in the third and last addition of flour, (if its sticky — use a small amount of flour and shape with hands).

Dump out on a well-floured board and pat into a ball. Cover it with the big bowl:

Let it rest for 15 minutes. Pat into a large rectangle and with rolling pin roll out to 1/2-inch thickness.

Fold over and roll out and fold over 4 more times. Cut in half long ways. At the long end roll up jelly roll FASHION, rolling tight. Tuck in ends and place in a very well-greased loaf pans. Roll other half and do the same.

Cover and let rise in warm place. I heat 1/2 cup of water for 15 seconds in microwave. Take out water and place the loaves in warm micro. Shut door and let sit in microwave for about 45 minutes. DO NOT RUN THE MICROWAVE.

Keep an eye on the dough, take out when doubled in size.

Bake 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove from the pans immediately or they will steam and ruin your bread. Butter the top.

Let them cool on rack. Enjoy with real butter. Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on the slice like my Grandma did!

Share the other loaf with your neighbor.


Makes 6 sandwiches

6 boneless chicken breast halves. Pound flat.

Brush with olive or vegetable oil

In a small bowl combine:

1/2 teaspoon each cumin, black pepper, chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon thyme, crushed

1/8 teaspoon oregano, crushed

1/4 each lemon pepper and garlic salt

Mix well. Sprinkle on chicken and let set at room temp for 30 minutes.

Meantime: Prepare lettuce, slice tomato, slice onion and have sliced Monterrey cheese on hand. Toast buns on gill or cast iron pan. Set aside to keep warm.

Heat grill to medium hot or cast iron skillet, adding a small amount of oil to skillet. Grill or sear in pan until pink is gone from middle. Do not over cook.

Place Monterrey cheese on top and allow to melt 1 minute.

Spread mayonnaise on bun and then chicken. Top with sliced vegetables. Pass the salsa.

I love this sandwich and make it often. I put this seasoning on salmon and halibut for a fine tasting fish sandwich.


For slow cooker: In the morning prepare

1 pound beef tenderloin, cubed

1 pound boneless pork loin, cubed

1/4 cup masa harina (or corn meal)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or 1 can diced tomatoes

2 cups diced green chili peppers — large can

2 cups low sodium beef broth

1 large potato diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro or 1 dried

Dash of cayenne pepper

Garlic salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Place cubed meat in Ziploc with the masa harina — (corn meal) and shake to coat.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir the meat until browned, 10 minutes.

In a slow cooker, place all the ingredients. Cook about 8 to 10 hours on low.

Serve with warm tortillas.

By Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

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