The Bodnar Brothers: Early to Arrive, Early to Depart — Part 1

“Over the hill came two people on an Allis-Chalmers tractor … ”

Photo courtesy of the Mullen Family Collection via the Kenai Peninsula College historical photo repository
In the early 1950s, the Marge and Frank Mullen family were offered a chance to stay in the Marcus Bodnar cabin, which was much more spacious than their own. The Bodnar brothers had decided to move to Anchorage to earn some wages. Here, Eileen (L) and Peggy Mullen pose with their goats outside Marcus’s cabin in about 1951.

Photo courtesy of the Mullen Family Collection via the Kenai Peninsula College historical photo repository In the early 1950s, the Marge and Frank Mullen family were offered a chance to stay in the Marcus Bodnar cabin, which was much more spacious than their own. The Bodnar brothers had decided to move to Anchorage to earn some wages. Here, Eileen (L) and Peggy Mullen pose with their goats outside Marcus’s cabin in about 1951.

It’s summer 1947, the year of the immense Kenai Burn: Marge and Frank Mullen are sitting at the mouth of Soldotna Creek, enjoying a rainbow trout for lunch. Through a still smoldering countryside, they have just completed a 60-mile trek, with full backpacks, from Moose Pass on the rough dirt swath that will one day be known as the Sterling Highway.

The Mullens are among the earliest people to settle in this area since it was opened to homesteading, but they aren’t the first. A handful of other men have already arrived, and the Mullens are about to meet a pair of them….

“Over the hill came two people on an Allis-Chalmers tractor,” Marge, now 103, recalled in a 2021 interview with Carmen Stephl of the Soldotna Historical Society. “We met two fine gentlemen, the brothers Alex and Marcus Bodnar.”

The Bodnars had freighted their tools, a few household items and their tractor from Anchorage to the beach in Kenai and then traveled the muddy path to Soldotna. They wanted land, and they informed the Mullens of their intention to homestead all of the road frontage between Big Eddy on the Kenai River and the site of the Kenai River bridge due for construction the following year.

The Mullens told them their idea was “impossible,” according to Marge. They encouraged the brothers to hurry to the Land Office in Anchorage and determine what they would actually be allowed to do and what the requirements were.

The following spring, the Mullens and their two children moved onto their own homestead near the highway’s junction with the Kenai Spur Road. The Bodnars, having learned the homesteading rules for anyone who had not served in the U.S. military, had greatly downgraded their initial, ambitious plans. But they had also accomplished a great deal in the intervening time.

On Oct. 1, 1947, each of the brothers had filed on a parcel of land: Alex on 33.46 acres at Big Eddy, and Marcus on 23.97 acres near the bridge site. By the time, the Mullens moved to the area, the Bodnars were living in a log cabin they had constructed on Marcus’s land and had begun clearing land. Soon, they would also build a cabin on Alex’s land and work to clear the required acreage there as well.

Before settling on the Kenai, the Bodnars had been working as civilian employees of the U.S. Army at Fort Richardson, according to Mullen. By 1950, they had decided to return to the military to grow their savings.

By the time of the Bodnars’ departure, Marge Mullen was expecting her third child, and the brothers came to her with an offer: Would she and Frank like to rent Marcus’s cabin near the bridge?

“I was delighted,” said Marge. “Our 14-by-16 cabin would not accommodate another child!”

She estimated that Marcus’s kitchen alone was not much smaller than the entire Mullen homestead cabin. Then there was a large multipurpose room that had been added on to the main structure, which sat perpendicular to the river. The kitchen featured two windows and a door with another window. The larger room had three more windows. In the middle of the kitchen floor was a water well with a hand pump.

Indoor stairs led to a loft where the Mullens’ daughters could sleep. A wood-burning cookstove stood in the kitchen, and a second woodstove stood in the large room. Beyond the main cabin, the brothers had also constructed an 8×10-foot chicken house, a woodshed and an outhouse.

“I was thrilled,” said Marge.

It had been common practice for the Bodnars, when they had both lived in Marcus’s cabin, for one brother to cook dinner while the other brother read aloud from classic literature. To facilitate this practice, they had constructed a reading chair with a book rest built into the right-hand arm.

By 1950, they had cleared all the required land for both homesteads and had built a cabin on each of parcel.

“They were very ambitious men,” Marge said.

Mixed Origins

Oleksa “Alexander” Bodnar was born March 27, 1898, in what is now part of western Ukraine to Petro “Peter” and Parascevies “Pearl” Bodnar. It appears that in 1899, the Bodnar family left Europe and emigrated to Manitoba, Canada.

On Jan. 27, 1901, Alex’s sister Anna became the first of the Bodnar siblings to be born in Canada. Another son, Misha “Michael” Bodnar, was born Nov. 10, 1903, in Pleasant Home, Manitoba, followed by Dmytro “Demetrius” Marcus Bodnar, the baby of the family, on Oct. 3, 1906, in Winnipeg.

Three other, older Bodnar children appeared in the 1901 Census of Canada: Wasyl, called “William,” age 10; Ivan, called “John,” age 7; and Marie, age 6. It appears that Marie died within a year of this census count; William did not appear with the family in the 1911 census, although John did.

According to Jennifer Abramshe, a great-great-granddaughter of Peter and Pearl Bodnar, few specifics are known about the three older offspring. “I have heard,” she said, “that the oldest children were from a previous marriage of Peter’s — so half-siblings.”

When the Bodnar parents posed for a family portrait at Christmastime in 1930, only their four youngest children — plus Michael’s wife Jessie (nee Tekla Batryn) and their three daughters — were on hand. Although Anna was also married and had children at this time, neither her husband George Bandura nor their offspring appear in the photograph. Both Alex and Marcus were bachelors.

By the time this photograph was taken, three of these four siblings were already living in the United States. Alex Bodnar had emigrated via railroad from Quebec to New York in May 1923. He had found work as a garage attendant in New York City.

Michael and Marcus had left Canada in 1927, entering the United States in Minnesota. In early 1929, both of them had declared their intention to become U.S. citizens. By June 1930, Marcus and Michael and his family were all living in New York City. Their sister Anna, it appears, remained a Canadian citizen for the rest of her life.

Michael, a truck driver with a growing family, and Marcus, a single man and a garage attendant like Alex, filed official petitions for citizenship in New York City in April 1933. Marcus became a citizen four months later. Alex, also single, appears to have waited several years before applying for citizenship in Clark County, Washington.

According to margin notes on Alex and Marcus’s military draft-registration cards, signed around 1941-42 in New York City, the brothers both soon moved into the Hudson House residential complex in Vancouver, Washington.

Hudson House, according to a 2017 article in the online newspaper The Columbian, was “a sprawling cluster of more than a dozen two-story buildings” located close to the Kaiser shipyard just south of state Highway 14.

Jennifer Abramshe said Vancouver during World War II attracted thousands of people who wanted to work in the shipyard. The Hudson House provided the main housing for shipyard workers like Marcus and Alex Bodnar. “Perhaps,” Abramshe added, “that’s where they headed to Alaska from.”

TO BE CONTINUED….

Wikipedia image
Alex and Marcus Bodnar came to the Kenai Peninsula with an Allis-Chalmers Model C tractor like this one in 1947. They used the tractor for transportation, to help their clear homestead land and to haul logs for cabin building.

Wikipedia image Alex and Marcus Bodnar came to the Kenai Peninsula with an Allis-Chalmers Model C tractor like this one in 1947. They used the tractor for transportation, to help their clear homestead land and to haul logs for cabin building.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection
Seen here in the late 1940s is Alex Bodnar, who, along with his brother Marcus, was among the first individuals to settle in what is today Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection Seen here in the late 1940s is Alex Bodnar, who, along with his brother Marcus, was among the first individuals to settle in what is today Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection
Seen here in probably the late 1930s or early 1940s is Marcus Bodnar, younger brother to Alex. They were among the first individuals to settle in what is today Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection Seen here in probably the late 1930s or early 1940s is Marcus Bodnar, younger brother to Alex. They were among the first individuals to settle in what is today Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection
Peter and Pearl Bodnar (front, center) pose for a 1930 Christmas portrait with much of their family, probably in Manitoba, Canada. Pictured are: (back row, L-R) Alex, sister Anna (Bodnar) Bandura, brother Michael holding daughter Pearl next to his wife Jessie, and Marcus. In the front row are: Michael’s eldest daughter Olga, parents Parascevies “Pearl” and Peter Bodnar, and Michael’s middle daughter Marion.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection Peter and Pearl Bodnar (front, center) pose for a 1930 Christmas portrait with much of their family, probably in Manitoba, Canada. Pictured are: (back row, L-R) Alex, sister Anna (Bodnar) Bandura, brother Michael holding daughter Pearl next to his wife Jessie, and Marcus. In the front row are: Michael’s eldest daughter Olga, parents Parascevies “Pearl” and Peter Bodnar, and Michael’s middle daughter Marion.

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