After many hours of annual business meetings, the attendants of the Pioneers of Alaska Grand Convention finally found time for a little fun and entertainment Saturday night.
The ice rink at the Soldotna Sports Center was converted into a giant dining hall to accommodate the more than 400 members who were on hand to celebrate the grand banquet.
They raffled and auctioned off numerous items, ate from the salmon and prime rib buffet and enjoyed cocktails from the bar.
Former Gov. Jay Hammond, also known as Alaska's bush rat governor, was the guest of honor during the final night's festivities, and he spoke to the large crowd on a myriad of subjects for more than an hour.
"Why say in 10 words, what you can say in 10,000," joked Hammond. "That's something I learned while in politics."
He continued to warm up the crowd with anecdotal tales of the many unusual awards he's won over the years and how life changes as you get older.
"It's not that I can't hear as well, it's just that a few years ago, everyone around me started to mumble," he said.
Despite the humor strung through much of his speech, Hammond also touched on many serious issues. Being an ardent supporter of protecting the state's oil-wealth savings account, he chiefly discussed the Alaska Permanent Fund and bringing back the Longevity Bonus.
"The oil wealth belongs to the people of this state," Hammond said in regard to the permanent fund. "Some within the current administration may say it's a rainy day account that's there as a reserve. But I was there when it was made, and I don't remember hearing that. That's why we named it the permanent fund!"
Hammond said he believed something meaningful had to be done to bridge the fiscal gap. To that end, he said the endowment approach was the most likely to be done and that it could help protect the dividend program in the long term.
Hammond also spoke his mind about the Longevity Bonus, which recently was nixed by the Murkowski administration.
"The folks here prior to statehood should get the bonus they were promised," Hammond said. "The old-timers were promised they would receive the Longevity Bonus for the rest of their days. They got the rug pulled out from under them. It shouldn't have been eliminated."
Many of the Pioneers seemed to agree with Hammond, particularly the politic aspects.
"I enjoyed his speech, especially what he said about the Longevity Bonus," said Mary Lewis of Juneau. "A lot of people really need that money. There were people relying on it and 'poof,' it was gone overnight. It needs to be reinstated."
Shirley McAllister, a Pioneer from Ketchikan, also liked what Hammond said in regard to the bonus.
"We were here before statehood, and we've lost our money, but people move up here and stay a year and get money -- that's wrong! The bonus needs to come back to the way it was," McAllister said.
"I support what he said," said Pioneer Frosty Walters of Kenai. "The legislators should keep their hands off the permanent fund and give the money back to the people. The seniors should have the longevity back."
Not all of Hammond's speech was about politics, however. He also had much to say in regard to living life in the "golden years."
He was keen to discuss an alternative treatment known as chelation prolotherapy -- a medical treatment that claims to improve metabolic function and blood flow through blocked arteries throughout the body by administering an amino acid, ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetic acid (EDTA), through intravenous infusion.
"For those of you who know how to use the Internet, it's worth checking it out," Hammond said. "For those of you who don't know how, get your grandkids to show you."
He also spoke on Z-coils -- orthopedic shoes that can prevent falls in the elderly -- and he touched on the joys of grandchildren.
"When one of my grandkids hugs my old carcass ... 80 years slough off," he said.
Overall, the gathering was a success, said Kenai Igloo President Ozzie Osborne.
"We had a great time, and everything ran very smoothly," he said. "Having Gov. Hammond here was a high point, and everyone enjoyed it."
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