Photo from the Vancouver Housing Authority archives via the Columbian online newspaper
This sprawling dormitory complex in Vancouver, Washington, was known as Hudson House and was located adjacent to the Kaiser shipyard there. Marcus and Alex Bodnar moved into Hudson House sometime after 1942 and likely made their way from Vancouver to Alaska in 1947.

Photo from the Vancouver Housing Authority archives via the Columbian online newspaper This sprawling dormitory complex in Vancouver, Washington, was known as Hudson House and was located adjacent to the Kaiser shipyard there. Marcus and Alex Bodnar moved into Hudson House sometime after 1942 and likely made their way from Vancouver to Alaska in 1947.

The Bodnar Brothers: Early to Arrive, Early to Depart — Part 2

Although their time on the peninsula was brief, they made an impact

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The brothers Marcus and Alex Bodnar, sons of Ukrainian immigrants, came to the central Kenai Peninsula to homestead in 1947 and almost immediately set to work clearing land and building homes for themselves. They were among the first individuals to file homesteading claims in the Soldotna area.

Ridgeway homesteaders Rusty and Larry Lancashire met Alex and Marcus Bodnar when they moved to the Soldotna area in 1948. In a letter home to relatives Outside, Rusty described them this way: “(They) look like two little Santa Clauses without beards—and are just as charming.”

Certainly, the Bodnars, with their short stature, round faces, receding hairlines and kind smiles, could have been considered elfin in appearance. Marcus stood 5-foot-6, while older brother Alex stood only 5-foot-4.

At the time of her June 1948 letter, Rusty Lancashire also noted that while Marcus’s cabin (near the site of the new bridge being built across the Kenai River) had been completed, Alex’s cabin at Big Eddy was still a work in progress.

Rusty immediately took a liking to the Bodnar boys. “I wish I could see them oftener,” she wrote. “They tend to give you a lift because they are so patient and happy to be here.”

In fact, she seemed to like everything about them except their diet. “I went down to see them last night and it about broke my heart,” she wrote. “They work so hard, and Alex is such a terrible cook. They eat just like Larry used to—a loaf of bread (as long as their supply lasts) jelly, coffee, and beans.”

The two families helped each other out. The Bodnars let the Lancashires borrow their boat and their work trailer. Larry Lancashire picked up groceries for the brothers when he went to Seward on an errand. Rusty gathered mail for the Bodnars in Kenai and invited Marcus and Alex to meals, and they in turn shared food from their garden with Lancashires.

On the Fourth of July in 1948, the Bodnars declined an invitation to dinner but were delighted when the Lancashires later dropped off some cake to celebrate the holiday. “Gee, but they were happy to get it,” Rusty wrote.

Later in the month, one of the brothers came to Rusty for medical attention.

“Alex came walking up looking funny,” she told a relative. “He had smashed a finger or part of one and wanted me to give first aid. I couldn’t disappoint him! You know my feelings on seeing anything bloody or gory. I gave myself a quick lecture as I boiled some water, trying at the same time to seem like I knew what I was doing.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I got the finger cleaned and realized I didn’t know how to bandage it really well—so I told him I wanted Larry to look at it. I also said if any infection started, we could just squeeze it out. He seemed to feel better…. I did, too. Alex came back each night for me to look at the thing and put a fresh bandage on.”

Alex left after the initial treatment to his finger, and Rusty admitted that she got out her book on home-medicine and did some studying to prepare for Alex’s return.

Rusty, in another letter, said that the Bodnars set aside time each Sunday for a bath and a haircut. One Sunday, the Lancashires surprised the brothers just as Marcus had finished shaving Alex’s head. “They didn’t hear us coming until we were at the door,” she said, “and in their excitement of hurrying into their shirts they forgot to put on their hats—and were so embarrassed to show Alex’s bald head.”

By the time the Bodnars departed the central peninsula in 1950, the brothers had finished proving up but had not yet received patent to their homesteads. Those patents would not be issued for both of them until Aug. 14, 1958. By that time, much had changed in the Bodnars’ lives.

Unraveling

When the 1950 U.S. Census was enumerated at Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, Marcus and Alex were listed as civilian personnel—both as firemen’s helpers.

The following year, their father, Peter Bodnar, died in Canada. His wife, “Pearl,” had died in 1939, also in Canada.

By the mid-1950s, Alex and Marcus had parlayed their Eielson experience into civil service jobs with Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage. Marcus worked in the Roads and Grounds Division, while Alex was employed with the Sanitation Division on the base.

Alex also became a regular reader of the Anchorage Daily Times and fired off occasional, brief letters to the editor—about Alaska’s need for oil-producing royalties, about the proper spelling of Soldotna, and about banning “obscene and lewd literature,” among other topics.

In his letter about Soldotna, he wrote: “In October 1948, the settlers of the area were assembled at a home, and a petition for a local post office was drawn up. Soldatna was the name chosen for the new post office. The petition was passed around to those present and was signed by those interested. No one of those who signed objected to the name as named on the petition. I definitely remember the name was spelled SOLDATNA.”

After gaining title to their homesteads, Marcus and Alex, who were then living in Anchorage, decided to dispense with them, selling them to Kenai insurance and real estate salesman Leo T. Oberts.

In Anchorage, Alex and Marcus were joined by their brother Michael, his wife Jessie and their younger children. The three siblings apparently co-owned a Spenard home in which they all lived. Three black-and-white photos from the summer of 1959 show a modest log house next to which each of the brothers is posing.

They seeming smiling and content in the photos. Then came more difficult years.

Fifty-two-year-old Marcus was killed July 20, 1959, when the collapsing edge of a roadway beneath a dump truck on which he was working caused the vehicle to overturn, pinning him under the truck and killing him instantly. A lifelong bachelor, he was survived by his sister Anna, and brothers Alex and Michael.

In mid-January 1961, Michael Bodnar’s 53-year-old wife Jessie succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer and died in Providence Hospital, according to the Anchorage Daily Times.

Around 1966, Alex and Michael left Alaska—Michael’s children and their families remained in the state—and moved southeast across the continent to Florida. In Miami in 1969, Michael died at the age of 66.

In 1971, at age of 73, Alex Bodnar got married for the first time. His bride was a divorcee named Nellie Marks, another former Ukrainian who had been born Nellie Chicosky. They were married for seven years before Alex, a retired boilermaker for the U.S. government, died in Miami.

Anna Bandura, the last of the Bodnar siblings, died a year later in Ontario, Canada.

Legacy

When Alex and Marcus Bodnar left the Kenai Peninsula in 1950, they departed quietly and never returned there to live. But, although their time there was brief, they made an impact.

The northeastern end of the David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Kenai River includes a right-of-way that was part of Marcus Bodnar’s original homestead. Marcus Avenue, which connects South Kobuk Street and Riverside Drive in Soldotna, was named in Bodnar’s honor. Kenai River Lodge stands on the site of Marcus’s cabin.

Big Eddy Road in Ridgeway is based on the path into Alex Bodnar’s home beside the river.

The agriculturally minded Mullen family received the Bodnars’ Allis-Chalmers Model C tractor and put it to good use after the brothers departed for Anchorage.

Along with the Mullens, the Lancashires, Howard Binkley and Howard and Maxine Lee, the Bodnar brothers were among the earliest settlers to help put Soldotna (or Soldatna, as Alex would have insisted) on the map.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection
In about 1948, after he and brother Alex had proven up on his homestead and were in the process of proving up on Alex’s, Marcus Bodnar poses here with his cabin along the Kenai River near the site of the bridge, which was just being built at this time.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection In about 1948, after he and brother Alex had proven up on his homestead and were in the process of proving up on Alex’s, Marcus Bodnar poses here with his cabin along the Kenai River near the site of the bridge, which was just being built at this time.

Photo courtesy of the Mullen Family Collection via the Kenai Peninsula College historical photo repository
After the Bodnar brothers completed Marcus’s cabin near the bridge site in Soldotna, they completed Alex’s cabin (shown here) near Big Eddy on the Kenai River.

Photo courtesy of the Mullen Family Collection via the Kenai Peninsula College historical photo repository After the Bodnar brothers completed Marcus’s cabin near the bridge site in Soldotna, they completed Alex’s cabin (shown here) near Big Eddy on the Kenai River.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection
Shown here in 1929 is Michael Bodnar, brother of Marcus and Alex. Although Michael and his family never lived on the Kenai Peninsula, they did move to Anchorage and lived there for several years.

Photo courtesy of the Bodnar Family Collection Shown here in 1929 is Michael Bodnar, brother of Marcus and Alex. Although Michael and his family never lived on the Kenai Peninsula, they did move to Anchorage and lived there for several years.

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