Soldotna seeking cemetery

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The desire to keep deceased loved ones close to home is behind the latest drive by the Soldotna Historical Society to build a cemetery in or near Soldotna.

Currently, Soldotna residents who die have to be buried in nearby Kenai or Kasilof. The society points out that Soldotna is the only major city on the peninsula that does not have its own cemetery.

"Grave markers traditionally create a permanent record of a community's founders and those who have built the community and called it home," reads a letter by the society's Barbara Jewell to the Soldotna City Council. "Soldotna has a wonderful and unique history (and) a cemetery will help to preserve this history for posterity," she added.

"We have so many old timers and we feel so bad when they take them down to Kasilof," said society member Katherine Parker, whose husband, Charlie, recently died.

Society member Joanne Odom agreed.

"It's not that the Kasilof cemetery is not beautiful, because it is. But anymore, I've got more friends down there than up here," she said.

Burial in a Soldotna cemetery would surely be the preference of many residents and their loved ones, Jewell wrote.

Odom said that when she first moved to Soldotna, her mother had some concerns.

"My mother said 'You can't live in a town without a cemetery.' Well, I still am," she said.

"I do think we need one. It's part of a community," said Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Pete Sprague, who represents Soldotna. "Death is an unfortunate part of living, and a funeral ceremony is very important, just as it is to have loved ones, even deceased loved ones, nearby. It's an important part of a community and the continuity of life."

City cemeteries also are important for genealogists and as an attraction for visitors.

People who guide tours say the town cemetery is an important historic stop, Jewell wrote in her letter.

Sprague said he's spoken with Borough Mayor Dale Bagley about a site south of Soldotna, across from the borough landfill.

"It's a beautiful spot," he said.

The land, about 200 acres, was bought by the borough as a buffer between homes and the landfill when the landfill was built.

Kathy Mayer, the borough's solid waste coordinator, said the borough is open to different uses.

"A cemetery could potentially be a use that I think would work on that property," she said.

Borough land manager Roy Dudley said there would have to be a technical analysis of the land before any move toward building a cemetery can be made. He said the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has very specific requirements for cemeteries.

Odom said the society hopes the borough would sell some of the land to the city at a reasonable price, do a land swap or even donate it.

Other parcels suggested by the society include land near the end of the Soldotna Municipal Airport and near the end of West Redoubt Avenue. Odom said University of Alaska land near the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is also desirable.

Why Soldotna doesn't have a cemetery is somewhat of a mystery. It has been talked about for years, said City Clerk Patricia Burdick.

"When Ken Lancaster was mayor, he was very much in favor of a local cemetery," she said. "We did do some research on it. It would be very costly for the city to do it. We'd have to hire someone to handle the records and take care of it."

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