Better health has led to levity and longevity in Kasilof. Consequently, ever more people are waiting till after their 90th birthday to cast their lot with the folks at Spruce Grove Memorial Park. But longer life isn’t the only factor in this trend. Population is another. The 1960 U.S. census estimated 9,053 Kenai Peninsula residents out of 226,167 Alaskans. The 2000 census lists those respective numbers as 49,601 and 626,932.
Last month this column wondered why Pappy Walker wasn’t beside his wife, Amanda, who was featured then in our over-90 club. Amanda’s great-niece, Elizabeth Scarlet, was good enough to contact me with the answer. Pappy died while in Arkansas visiting his son.
Vera Franklin Howarth (1908-2002) was among those who were instrumental in starting the cemetery and who dressed her decades to the nines before burial. She came to Kasilof in the fall of 1948 with her husband, Walt Franklin, and three children; John Paul, 6, Judy, 3, and Jewel, 2. They stayed first with Clayton and Lucy Pollard. Then they spent the winter by the river near the “watchman’s cabin.”
In 1949 they moved up from the river. The Franklins were a boon for Kasilof because their son was needed. The Territorial School had closed in the spring of 1942 when the Weiler family left with their six children. Good-bye to Weilers dipped enrollment below the level necessary for a school. That loss precipitated several other families fleeing to more scholarly areas. In 1948 or ‘49 the school reopened with the help of Vera and John Paul. Vera became the janitor at the school. By 1950 the Franklins bought five acres from Ed Lovedahl near Coal Creek and built a house.
The cemetery moved in beside them and got its first customer in 1954. One day Vera saw a sales opportunity in a magazine. She bought their stationary and began selling it out of her home or car. Later she added a line of Alaska Native handicrafts. Walt bought the Lovedahls fish site and the children fished with him, but not Vera. About 1958 Vera and the kids fished for John “Frenchy” Cannon on Kalifornsky Beach. The Franklin marriage was struggling and in 1958 Vera left Walt and moved to Soldotna with the girls. John Paul joined them later.
Vera went on to open a variety store and join in a happy marriage with Bill Howarth. She became one of Soldotna’s outstanding citizens, but in 1968 disaster struck and bounced. In May, ex-Marine John Paul had a boat fire at Scout Lake. He tried to swim ashore with a 3-year-old boy, but both drowned.
In November, Petrolane Alaska Gas Services Co. burned in what was probably the biggest inferno in Soldotna history. Unfortunately, heavier-than-air propane flooded toward Vera’s store and then exploded, badly burning Vera and next-door neighbor, Verona Wilson. The women were flown to Anchorage with third-degree burns and later had to have skin grafts. Regardless, Vera overcame this ordeal and Bill’s death in 1974. She lived to be 93.
This column was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society. Sources: Judy Franklin Mueller; Jewel Franklin Jones; Dolly Christl; Lyle Cole; Herman Hermansen; Clayton Pollard; Nancy Savage West, and Elizabeth Scarlet. Population: Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan, 2005 & http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02000.html, updated 1-12-2007. Ruralite 11-77 (courtesy of Dave Letzring). Cemetery Inscriptions ... Kenai Peninsula 2004, Cheechako News 11-27-68, Alaska’s Heroes, p81-87 Ferrell, Alaska Northwest Books 2002. Once Upon the Kenai, p152-154 Kenai Historical Society 1985. VCR taped interview of Vera Howarth by Gary Titus and Dolly Christl 1999.
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