Facial hair of different colors and lengths — some real, some store-bought and others homemade — adorned the faces of staff and clients alike Friday afternoon at Birchwood Center in Soldotna.
The beard party, complete with live music, pizza and root beer floats, celebrated Jerry Terp’s first place win in the colonist category at this year’s Alaska State Fair Great Alaska Beard Contest in Palmer.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said about the event. “I haven’t had nobody do something like this.”
The 59 year old’s long, gray beard is the product of four years of dedication following an early morning house fire in October 2010 in which Terp was badly burned losing his hair and beard.
Now Terp’s beard is back. While it may not be as long as it was before the fire, it did win him a blue ribbon and a photo opportunity with the cast of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty.”
Terp hitchhiked his way to the fair, which he said took about seven hours. A couple in a motor home was particularly helpful, Terp said. They took him to the fair, paid his gate fee and gave him an extra $20 for food.
“A lot of people don’t do that,” he said, who had brought about $40 with him to get into the fair and buy a meal.
Terp’s first beard competition was in 2009 at the State Fair before the fire took his facial hair.
The fire put Terp in the burn center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for more than a month. He got skin grafts on his hands, arms, feet and face. He still feels the affects the fire had on his body; Terp has trouble walking and has to wear gloves to protect his hands on sunny days.
While Terp had gotten himself and his longtime girlfriend out of the house safely during the October 2010 fire, he went back into the house to try to call 911. The phone didn’t work so he woke up his neighbors and used their phone to make the call.
Terp was trying to move the vehicles in the driveway to make room for the fire department when responders arrived. The crews took him out of the truck he was in, carried him to the ambulance and cut off his clothes. The next thing he knew he was in Seattle wearing new skin, he said
The fire destroyed the home, which was under his longtime girlfriend’s name. While in Seattle, Terp said he found out his partner was leaving him. He said she took out a restraining order against him to keep him off the property and to keep him from collecting his things.
“I went from something to nothing,” he said.
For two years Terp said he was homeless. Birchwood Center, where Peninsula Community Health Services of Alaska offers adult services, and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation helped him with housing in Kenai.
“It’s no fun here on the street in winter time,” Terp said.
The staff at Birchwood helps him not only with medical care, but also with coping with the psychological remnants of the fire. Even four years later, Terp wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the wall on fire, he said.
Terp currently holds a presidential position among his peers at Birchwood where his gets to act as a sort of spokesperson listening to the group and suggesting events to the staff. He said taking on that leadership role at Birchwood has helped him in beard competitions to be less nervous. Earlier this year he competed in the Mr. Fur Face Contest at the Miners and Trappers Charity Ball during Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage.
While Terp didn’t place in last year’s Mr. Fur Face, Terp plans to make an appearance at the 2015 Mr. Fur Face Contest and hopes that another year of facial hair growth will put him on the podium.
“A lot of competitors go to beauty parlors,” said Terp, who just trims and combs his beard. “I’m just natural.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at email@example.com