Old-timers to gather in Soldotna

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2003

The skating rink at the Soldotna Sports Center was removed this week in order for the building to become the state's largest temporary "igloo."

That's because the Pioneers of Alaska which refers to its member chapters as "igloos" is holding its annual Grand Convention this week at the center. Approximately 400 members of the statewide "old-timers" group will be in town for the convention, which includes the group's annual business meetings, guest speakers, entertainment and installation of new officers.

According to Kenai Igloo President Ozzie Osborne, the convention will bring together Pioneers members from just about every corner of the state.

"From Nome to Wrangell to Ketchikan to Fairbanks," Osborne said Wednesday during registration for the convention.

Osborne said he's expecting around 300 Pioneers to attend the business meetings, with maybe 400 at the grand banquet Saturday night.

The yearly convention is the largest event of the year for the Pioneers, which was founded in 1907 as a way for longtime Alaskans to keep in touch with one another. Today, the group concentrates its activities on preserving Alaska's history, honoring past Alaskans and working to ensure older Alaskans have access to proper health care and housing.

There are more than 8,000 members statewide, and Osborne said the convention is a big deal to a lot of members.

"We've been working on (the convention) for quite a while," he said. "We're ready."

Also ready for the conference is the newly refurbished Soldotna Sports Center. The center's conference area has recently undergone significant improvements, including new carpeting, expanded meeting facilities and renovated bathrooms.

According to Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael, the convention is a large one for the center, but well within the facility's capabilities.

"It's on the upper end for us," Carmichael said Wednesday.

Carmichael said the center handles several single-day events that bring in as many as 300 or 400 people, but the Pioneers event is one of the largest multi-day events the center has seen. Still, he said the conference will be no problem for the center or its staff.

"Everything's good," he said. "It's going very smooth."

Carmichael said the center's skating ice was removed temporarily to make way for the convention, but that things will be back to normal by the middle of next week.

"The crew does so many events, they don't have a problem with anything we do here," he said.

The convention runs today through Saturday evening, culminating with the grand banquet and a keynote address from former Gov. Jay Hammond.

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