Helen Gwin is shown cooking at Gwin's Lodge in this 1956 photo.
Photo courtesy of Helen Gwin
Helen Gwin celebrates her 92nd birthday Wednesday, Sept. 6. After living in the same place since she and Pat arrived in 1946, Helen recently moved to Eagles View independent senior housing off Snug Harbor Road.
Besides being in business from the late 1940s until she sold Gwin’s Lodge in 1977, Helen found time to support her adopted home town. She was a Cooper Landing Community Club founder and early officer in 1949, and helped Carol Galbraith with the grant to build the Cooper Landing Community Library in the early 1980s. She was the Dall Homemakers treasurer for 13 years.
A charter member of the Cooper Landing Historical Society and Museum, Helen’s donation of Pat’s contents for garage sale weekends in 2000 brought in the first CLHS funds. Hemlock boards left over from community hall flooring in 1950, from the shop, were used in the old post office museum building.
Fortunately for the historical society and the community, Helen collected and saved Cooper Landing memorabilia. Her generous museum donations include Gwin’s Lodge records and menus from 1949 on, clothing and accessories shipped to Alaska from the Gwins’ former home in Colorado, records of the first Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce from more than 40 years ago, a burl table made by Arne Sundby, furs and Native-made baskets and toys and much more.
While going through Helen’s boxes of newspapers and clippings last week, I found the Seward Seaport Record’s front page story from Oct. 11, 1949: “Fire Destroys Soper’s Lodge, $85,000 Loss.” Helen was working at the lodge on Kenai Lake near Milepost 45 when it burned. “The blaze flared while cooks were preparing breakfast for guests and 24 members of the construction crew of Munter-Phillips Company, which is just completing a bridge over the Kenai River in that vicinity.”
Explosions scattered flaming gasoline and the lodge burned quickly. A large quantity of bacon being fried and the bacon grease added to the fire.
A few days later, the Seward Seaport Record carried another story: “You Can’t Get a Good Man DownEspecially Soper!” H. Martin Soper “was almost overcome by the kindness and sympathy expressed by hundreds of his friends here.”
The article goes on to say that Soper brought into Seward a number of excellent furs which were sold through the Alaska Shop. The lodge was fairly new and Soper had no insurance, I heard.
Al Hershberger remembers construction crews preferring to stay at Soper’s over Henton’s Kenai Lodge. Henton had a habit of sending sandwiches of leftover breakfast pancakes with peanut butter and jelly in the men’s lunches. They much preferred the fare received from Soper’s from cooks like Helen Gwin.
Happy birthday Helen Gwin, and many more.
This column was provided by Mona Painter with the Cooper Landing Historical Society.
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