Alexandria "Sandra" Irene Kelly Wells

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

Ninilchik elder Alexandria "Sandra" Irene Kelly Wells died in Aberdeen, Wash., on Sunday, July 9, 2000. She was 95.

Mrs. Wells was the oldest surviving elder in Ninilchik.

She was born Sept. 7, 1904, in Ninilchik. She was the daughter of James Robert Kelly, pioneer and cook for Libby McNeil Cannery, and Irene Kvasnikoff, a descendent of Ninilchik's original settlers.

"Sandra will be remembered for her sense of humor and intense devotion to family, hard work and the Russian Orthodox Church. Sandra's generosity helped many children and family members with food, shelter and clothing," the family said.

"She had early memories of living in a log home with seal skin windows, sled dogs and sailboats for transportation, wearing moose hide shoes and a subsistence way of life. She often told stories of her childhood, and in her mind she was the young girl who hid in the rafters of the barn from an angry bull, picked blueberries, helped her mother cut hay with a scythe, plucked spruce hens, ate salted salmon heads, stole the elders' chickaleen (stinky fish heads) and chased moose from the doorstep."

She married Alfred Cooper Sr. of Ninilchik on Oct. 28, 1922. The couple had three children: Robert James, Eleanor Mae and Alfred Jr., all of whom preceded her in death. She moved to Anchorage and later to Seattle during World War II.

She married Homer Wells in 1949, and the couple moved to Ninilchik and later to Seward, where she worked at the Seward Sanatorium during the tuberculosis epidemic. While the couple eventually moved to Seattle, they returned each summer for several decades.

Mrs. Wells and the other original Ninilchik people residing in Seattle remained in close contact with one another, often calling each other daily, occasionally meeting together to share a meal of fish or smoked salmon and speaking the Russian language from their childhood.

Mrs. Wells worked at the University of Washington food service department for many years and served as head cook for the football team. Many Washington Husky football players of the 1960s and 70s called her "grandma."

She worked in the cannery in Ninilchik on many of her summer vacations and after retiring from the university she worked in the salmon canneries in Washington.

Later she worked at a yarn factory, only retiring in her mid 80s to care for her husband.

She and Homer moved to Aberdeen, where he died. She served as a volunteer at the veterans' hospital for one year while her husband was in the hospital. Later she moved to Hoquiam.

Mrs. Wells donated five acres from the original Kelly Homestead for the site of the present Catholic Church in Ninilchik. She was a member of the Orthodox Church in Eastlake, Wash., and the Eagles Auxiliary 172 in Ballard, a suburb of Seattle. She belonged to Cook Inlet Region Inc. and the Ninilchik Native Association.

She is survived by her brother, Victor Kelly of Homer; sister, Mary Crosley of Eugene, Ore.; grandchildren Bobbie Oskolkoff, Rodger Painter, Michael Painter, Kathleen Graves, Robert Cooper Jr., John Cooper, Angie Cooper, Tish Cooper, Alfred Cooper III, Audrey Daughtery and Sandra Chapman; and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren as well as many nieces and nephews.

Orthodox funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today in Washington, and a memorial service will be scheduled in Ninilchik.

Memorial donations may be made to the Transfiguration of Our Lord Restoration Fund in Ninilchik.

Arrangements were by Coleman Mortuary Funeral Home in Aberdeen.

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