The line for fresh barbecued salmon snaked out the cafeteria door and down the brightly decorated hallway of Heritage Place in Soldotna on Friday.
The assisted living center’s residents along with friends, family, staff and community volunteers were eagerly awaiting an elaborate spread cooked up for this year’s Return of the Salmon Celebration. Now in its 15th year, Return of the Salmon serves up a reason for the community at large to visit Heritage Place residents.
“You know how fishing kind of connects everyone,” said Audrey Wahback, activities coordinator at the assisted living center. “So in that way it’s like the celebration of … how eating and fishing and all that brings all of our community together.”
Since those who live at Heritage Place can’t all go out on trips at once, it’s nice to be able to bring their friends, family and the public to them once a year, Wahback said.
“It’s really important because here with the residents, we can bring that celebration part of it here when they can’t go out,” she said. “We can’t get everybody out. We do field trips … but we only get six in (the vehicle) at a time, and so this is a way we can open up our home and be hospitable and have everyone come here, and really be a part of the community like they always have been.”
Other senior centers in the area are also invited to the celebration, Wahback said. Coordinated in part by the Soldotna Rotary Club and its volunteers, the event also features face paining, a meal including barbecued salmon and other fish, and a large wheel detailing the life cycle of salmon from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, she said.
The residents worked for several weeks to make the colorful fish that lined Heritage Place’s walls, as well as the jams and hand-made wreaths they contributed to a silent auction, Wahback said. The auction will raise funds to help support those with Alzheimer’s disease, she said.
Sandi Crawford, administrator and director of nursing for Heritage Place, said the event is pretty traditional and has maintained its staple features for years. One of those features is live music by Susan Biggs and Jack Wills, who entertained throughout the shared meal.
“It’s just a community gathering and I think the history of it was just, you know, the fish come in and the people come into town, and it’s kind of symbolic of that,” Crawford said.