Editor’s note: This article has been updated to show that Central Peninsula Hospital opened in 1971.
Though the main room at Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center was packed with people, most of them migrating toward Dr. Peter Hansen at the center of the crowd, he took the time to shake each of their hands and listen carefully to what they had to say.
Many of them thanked him for his 51 years as a community doctor. Others wished him well in future endeavors. Still others shared memories of times he treated them or family members — everything from delivering babies to broken wrists.
Since 1967, Hansen has practiced family medicine in the Kenai area. For part of that time, he was the only doctor in the area. That meant some middle-of-the-night phone calls and emergency visits to a clinic not designed to be an emergency room, as Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna didn’t open until 1971.
Hansen recalled delivering one of the first babies born in his new clinic — after a hurried assembly of a delivery table that had just arrived. The call came in around 3 a.m. and he rushed over to the clinic to meet the patients — nevermind that he still had to assemble the delivery table before he could deliver a baby on it.
“There were a lot of exciting nights,” he said. “I look at life in a positive way.”
Hansen’s career is dotted with such memories. His wife, Karolee, who is also nurse and worked with him, remembered an instance of calling in a friend to watch their three young children while she ran down to the clinic in the middle of the night to help Hansen with a procedure.
Hansen has practiced medicine in a private clinic at Central Peninsula Hospital and at Peninsula Community Health Services. But after 51 years, Hansen is planning to step back from medicine. On Thursday, Peninsula Community Health Services hosted a retirement party for him at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the community.
On the back table, standing above a litany of awards and commendations, a tall painting depicted dogsled team waiting beneath the Northern Lights as a parka-clad doctor made his way toward a snowbound cabin. The painting hung in Hansen’s office from the 1970s after homesteader Cotton Moore gave it to him until about 15 years ago.
“We’d been out in Nikiski, the two of us, and on the way back in, he was accompanying me and telling me about how he loved to paint and had a little painting studio,” he said. “This was in the middle of winter. And I said, ‘You know, I’ve got a place at the end of the hall … and I’d like to have a painting of some sort of a doctor making a house call on a dog sled.’ And he said, ‘Let me work on it.’ And about three weeks later, on a busy afternoon, here comes Cotton saying, ‘I’ve got a picture out here for you!’ … It’s very special.”
Former patients and colleagues shared memories at the party, thanking Hansen for his dedication to his patients over the years, both professionally and personally. Hansen was also instrumental in the founding of Central Peninsula Hospital. But medicine is far from Hansen’s only occupation over the years. The Boy Scouts have also been a lifelong occupation for him, leading him to earn his own Eagle Scout rank and a National Outstanding Eagle Scout Award, attending both national and world Jamboree events with the scouts.
He also organized the first Kenai River Marathon, an annual run each September that many runners use as a qualifier for major marathons like the Boston Marathon. He still serves on the organizing committee through the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.
Two of the parks in the city of Kenai also bear his family’s names — Erik Hansen Scout Park and Leif Hansen Park, each named after one of his sons. Hansen has also been active in trying to establish a developed park in the large empty field near the Senior Center, an area the city of Kenai has been calling “Millennium Square” and hopes to turn into an entertainment venue.
At the retirement party Thursday, Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel presented Hansen with a proclamation thanking him for his service.
“It’s heartwarming to see the folks that have shown up here to show their appreciation for Dr. Hansen and his wife,” he said. “They’ve certainly made many lives better here.”
Hansen said he plans to stick around Kenai and work on a book about his experiences and working with the Kenai Historical Society to establish a doctors’ cabin in the Kenai Historical Cabins park in Old Town Kenai.
“We’re not going away, we’re not leaving town,” he said. “We’ve got too many other things to do yet.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.