It was the draw of opportunities to raise their family in a close knit town and succeed at whatever they wanted to try that brought Pat and Myrna Cowan to Soldotna.
"There were only 1,300 people when we arrived and very few paved streets. It was the people that I liked. The people were wonderful," Pat said, his eyes misting a bit. "They were and are the most important thing. We are really just small town people."
The couple, longtime residents and owners of the Birch Ridge Golf Course, can add grand parade marshalls for the 49th annual Soldotna Progress Days parade, to their list of accomplishments in the community. Shocked at first to hear of the honor, the couple was all smiles and delighted to be a part of a tradition of a town they both love.
"It is an absolute honor. We are humbled," said Myrna. "I was very surprised though."
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Director Michelle Glaves was not surprised.
"It was a group decision by the board. Several names came up and when it came to a vote, the Cowans' service to the community, their dedication to the chamber and involvement in the city made them a perfect choice," said Glaves.
The couples list of service work is extensive, from the charitable work for their church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Hospice of the Central Peninsula to hosting numerous golfing tournaments for organizations from all over the Kenai Peninsula.
Pat's involvement in the city includes stints as chamber president, city councilman and founding member of several benevolent organizations. He is currently on the statewide advisory board for Wells Fargo and adviser for area Wells Fargo branches, vice president and a board member of the Central Peninsula Health Foundation, and helping the local economy with the start of several successful businesses -- Cowan and Cowan Inc. insurance agency and owners of the state's first regulation and privately owned golf course.
He also has garnered many awards including the being recognized for outstanding community service in several states including the 2001 Pioneer Award for 30 years of outstanding community service to Soldotna. Humbled by the nod from the chamber, Pat was quick to credit his wife for any success he has achieved.
"The Pioneer Award should have been given to her too," he said. "We have been very fortunate, we had a very successful banking career. When I say we, I mean Myrna too. She has always been my right hand and my partner. Whatever it was I needed, whether taking care of the books or entertaining, she did it. And she did a great job raising our kids."
The Cowans, who have been married 47 years, raised four children in Soldotna, Michelle Toohey, who works for soon-to-be Alaska Governor Sean Parnell; Kelly Vasilie, a teacher in Soldotna; Tim Cowan, who works for Chevron Alaska in Nikiski; and Johni Blankenship, who works as the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk.
The couple also has 13 grandchildren and the newest arrival of their 2-week-old great-granddaughter. Comforted with the closeness of most of their brood that including extended family members number a total of 65, who also chose to stay in the area, Pat and Myrna reminisced about the first glimpse of the town that would claim their hearts and some of the progress they have witnessed.
"Well, the minute we came over the rise that comes down in to Soldotna about 41 years ago, Pat said, 'This is my town.' We love it and he still says that every time we drive in," Myrna said smiling. "It was an instant feeling we got that this was the place to be."
The town has changed dramatically from their first glimpse of it, as have the influx of people and activities the town hosts to bring together its citizens. Where there is Progress Days now there once were other occasions to "draw people out of the woodwork," as Myrna described it.
"We used to have fly-in breakfast, hosted, I think, by the FAA and the chamber, and I remember Doc Issacs flying around in that crazy plane of his, upside down and sideways," said Pat. "They used to also have break-up party at Thompsons Log. You knew everybody in town and it was a ball."
"Everyone looked forward to that. You got to see everybody in the spring," said Myrna. "Now we celebrate the seasons with the golfers coming back every year here at Birch Ridge."
Other changes were the ability to shop for fresh milk instead of powdered and places to buy clothes instead of ordering out of the Sears catalog for Christmas gifts.
The couple sees the progress of Soldotna as a positive and like their beloved city, the couple is also experiencing change and looking forward to what the future holds for them.
"We want to sell the golf course to someone who wants it for that purpose," said Pat.
"This golf course has been wonderful for our family," said Myrna. "It has given us an opportunity to have our grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends work for us."
The couple plans to travel but home will always be Soldotna. For now the most pressing thing is parade duties.
"We are not sure what our duties are. Just show up and smile, I guess," Myrna said.
"We are suppose to ride in a car and look pretty but unfortunately we are old," said Pat laughing. "I think how we made it is we finally lived here long enough. No, seriously, I know some of the other people who have been chosen for this honor -- Marge Mullins, Dolly Farnsworth and Cotton Moore, all kinds of really good folks. It really is an honor to just be named with that group."
You will be able to wave to this year's honored "really good folks" at the Soldotna Progress Days parade. It begins at 11 a.m. at the Soldotna High School on Marydale Ave. The route turns right onto Binkley Street past the Borough Building and then turns right onto Warehouse Street by Central Emergency Services, across from Safeway.
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