NIKOLAEVSK -- Babushkas and babies, children of all sizes dressed in everything from Old World embroidered sarafan dresses to "Amerikansky" blue jeans, teachers and guests all filed into the gymnasium at Nikolaevsk School on Thursday afternoon for a special occasion.
They sat on the bleachers to watch officials from the Kenai Peninsula Borough hand over a book to the school. The ceremony was simple and brief, but its significance is profound.
The unique book contains official correspondence and other documentation of the village's founding. It will stay in the school library.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Bill Popp explained to the assembled students why the guests had come.
"The reason we are here is to share the history of where you came from," he said. "This tells you who you are."
Borough Clerk Linda Murphy had been cleaning out old files and found a box of documents about Nikolaevsk. Realizing what they were, she saved them from destruction and worked with others at the borough to get them to the village, Popp said.
The book contains original papers, preserved in archival plastic sheets. All are bound together in a large, hardcover book titled "History of the Founding of Nikolaevsk" by the Kenai Peninsula Borough -- Alaska. The handsome volume was constructed by Brown's River Records Preservation Services in Vermont.
Most of the papers are typed correspondence from the late 1960s and early 1970s between borough officials and the Tolstoy Foundation, a philanthropic organization for Russian exiles that sponsored the families who came to Alaska.
The Church of St. Nikolas stands at the heart of Nikolaevsk.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Also included are newspaper and magazine articles describing the early history of the settlement.
"It has been a really interesting thing for me to read through," Popp told the village children.
The village founders came to Nikolaevsk in 1968 after living briefly in Oregon.
They were Old Believers, an ultra-conservative religious group that split from Russian Orthodoxy in the Middle Ages and preserves traditions dating back centuries. Persecuted under the czars, their lot became even worse under the Communists. During Stalin's regime, many left Russia and lived as refugees in far-flung corners of the globe.
President John Kennedy invited them to come to America, where they could practice their religion in peace.
Some who did so worried about their children assimilating into the secular American culture. They sought a new home where they could balance supporting their families with sufficient isolation to preserve the old ways.
Ten adults, 12 children, eight cows and four calves started Nikolaevsk, Popp said. The adults purchased 640 acres east of Anchor Point with the help of the Tolstoy Foundation and began building their little town.
It grew rapidly. Russian Old Believers from China, Brazil, Iran, Turkey, Australia and other parts of the United States moved to Nikolaevsk. In 1975, 59 villagers became the first of many to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Now the village has about 490 residents, a school, church, post office and two stores.
Nikolaevsk School Principal Carlton Kuhns cited several people present who had played important roles in the village's history. They included Solomia Kalugin and Tatiana Martushev, who had been among the first settlers; school library aide Catherine Hanenberger, who is a second-generation Nikolaevsk resident and Bob Moore, who served as the school's first principal for 23 years.
Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, assembly member Drew Scalzi, schools' Superintendent Donna Peterson, Murphy and Popp represented the borough.
Peterson also gave the school a check to help purchase Russian language books for the library.
It was a festive occasion.
Students in Nina Fefelov's third-grade Russian class entertained the audience with a bilingual dramatization of the Russian folk tale "The Speckled Hen."
The school had arts and crafts on display and traditional foods for the guests. Moore showed his collection of slides on the history of the school.
The book was an instant hit. People leafing through it were delighted to chance upon old pictures of friends and relatives.
Moore said he would like to help the villagers collect and preserve more of their history and saw the book as a good starting point.
"I am thrilled that someone in the borough found this and saw the value of it," he said.
His successor agreed.
"This is going to be a wonderful asset for our school library," Kuhns said.
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