The Kenai Senior Center hosted an early Thanksgiving potluck “dinner” Thursday morning. Locals who attended have been celebrating the fall holiday on the central peninsula for decades.
At a table within earshot of the kitchen, where clinks and clangs sounded regularly, sat two of the area’s original homesteaders. Jim Evenson and Nedra Evenson have observed the traditional meal in Kenai for more than 55 years, Nedra Evenson said.
To their right were Phil Nash and Peggy Nash, who moved to Nikiski in 1975, and were attending the potluck for the first time.
“Isn’t this a better idea than standing around the kitchen cooking?” Peggy Nash said.
Nedra Evenson said when she and her husband moved into the Nikiski area on their first 160-acre homestead, they lived 8 miles from the nearest road. A trail led to their remote cabin, which they traveled in an army ambulance from the Korean War refigured as a flatbed truck, she said.
On their first Thanksgiving they purchased their turkey from a grocery store in Kenai, but upon returning home, came to the stark realization they had no turkey roaster, Nedra Evenson said. A pressure cooker had to suffice, she said laughing.
“The poor turkey was stuffed head down in the cooker,” Nedra Evenson said.
The cabin they built for themselves was “comfortable and primitive,” Nedra Evenson said. But they invited all of their neighbors, including the ones that helped them build their home, and it became known as “the party house.”
Jim Evenson said he deferred to Nedra Evenson for recalling those first few years in Kenai. He said he couldn’t recall exactly how long the senior center had been hosting the potluck.
“All I can tell ya is year and years,” Jim Evenson said. “A long, long time.”
Nedra Evenson clarified for him, and said the couple have been attending the center’s annual potluck on and off for fifteen years.
Jim Evenson was a teacher when the couple first moved to the area, and stayed in town during the weekdays. He would travel back to the homestead on the weekends to cut firewood for Nedra Evenson.
“The rules of the homestead were: where the wife resided was the official residence,” Jim Everson said.
On Thanksgiving Nedra Evenson would bake pies in their old oven. She gathered wild Lingonberries, which she would grind up with oranges for their “cranberry sauce.”
Peggy Nash said her son was floating down the Colorado River on Thanksgiving, and her daughter was on the east coast. After “dinner” she said she would head home to put a turkey in the oven, that “may be ready by midnight,” she said, laughing.
Peggy Nash said there had been many developments since she and Phil Nash first moved to Kenai.
Jim Evenson said the diversity of businesses is much improved.
When he had to get a tooth fixed in 1956, he had to drive to Seward, where the nearest dentist was located at the time.
While waiting for the dinner to officially begin, the two couples said their friends Lee and Dee Cassell were surprisingly late to the gathering.
Two empty chairs sat at the table that was covered in a white cloth and turkey themed decorations.
After arriving Lee Cassell said he had come to the dinner to see his friends and enjoy the homey atmosphere with them on the holiday.
“And we only had to make one dish,” Nedra Evenson said. “My compliments to all the chefs on the peninsula.”
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