Landmark work reissued

Kenai history book returns

Posted: Friday, July 07, 2000

The books are back.

After years out of print, "Once Upon the Kenai" is being reissued. Five hundred copies arrived at the Kenai Post Office late Wednesday and will be available to the public next week.

"It's a great little book," said Peggy Mullen, owner of River City Books in Soldotna.

"Ever since I've opened, I've had people coming in who want that book. Some were frantic, because they had loaned out copies and not gotten them back."

The volume, subtitled "Stories from the People," contains more than 250 historical reminiscences by central Kenai Peninsula pioneers and more than 450 photographs. The new edition, published by the Kenai Historical Society, is a replica of the 1984 original. The only difference is that the new copies are paperback, and the information on the original dust cover has been updated.

In the early 1980s, a committee of the historical society, led by Jetret "Jettie" Stryker Petersen, spent three years compiling and perfecting the book. Anyone living in the area from Nikiski to Ninilchik to Sterling prior to 1962 was invited to contribute.

The first edition made a splash.

Of the 1,000 in the first printing, 600 were sold in advance. The book was reprinted twice.

In 1985, the city of Kenai gave the historical society a proclamation of appreciation for the book.

In an editorial that year the Peninsula Clarion referred to it as an "already treasured volume."

"... It seems that the book is accomplishing much more than merely chronicling a time that is passing away," the newspaper said. "It has enhanced the sense of community on the central peninsula ... "

However, over the years since, all 3,000 copies sold and many of the storytellers passed away. Petersen died in 1992 at the age of 96. The book became a sought-after rarity.

Mary Ford, Elsie Seaman and Gini Poore worked on the 2000 reissue starting in about February. Ford had been an editor on the original project; Seaman had written sections in the back of the book; and Poore had contributed her family's story.

Their inspiration, they said, was requests from people like Mullen and staff at the Kenai Community Library.

"I think the book is certainly an asset," said Emilie DeForest, former director of the library. "It tells a lot about early-day Kenai."

In response to questions from library patrons, DeForest contacted sellers of rare and out-of-print books a couple years ago inquiring about "Once Upon the Kenai." They told her it was difficult to find and estimated the cost at $135 a copy, she said.

Ford had the original paste-ups from the earlier project, but the photos had been removed and returned to their owners.

"There was no way we could round up the pictures," she said.

The women contacted the original publisher, Walsworth Publications in Missouri. They learned that it routinely destroys printing negatives after five years. But with new publishing technology, the company could recreate the book from a copy.

They contacted Roger Meeks, who, along with his late wife, Frances, had organized the distribution and sales of the earlier editions.

"Roger and Frances Meeks were very devoted in handling the book over the years," Seaman said.

Roger Meeks found a few archival copies in the bottom of a box.

One was sacrificed for the cause. It was sent off to Missouri to be taken apart and duplicated.

The historical society used some funding left from the sales of the older editions to make the down payment for the new print run, which cost about $9,500 for 500 copies.

"We have the last payment to make," said Poore, who is serving as the president of the historical society.

Proceeds from sales of the book will pay off the balance, but as of Thursday, the historical society had not set the retail price.

The women had a busy day lining up trucks and friends to help transport 26 cases of books from the Kenai Post Office to the old city library, now home to the Kenai Cooperative Preschool, where the society is headquartered. They planned to distribute copies to vendors within the next few days so people can begin buying them next week.

Copies will be on sale at the Kenai library, Soldotna Public Library, Kenai Senior Center, Nikiski Senior Center, Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, River City Books in Soldotna and Cook Inlet Book Company in Anchorage. Other outlets are being arranged.

Anyone who wants to order copies or arrange to sell them should call Elsie Seaman at 283-8476.

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