NINILCHIK -- A page of history turned in Ninilchik Thursday, when newcomer Bob Welch picked up the reins at the community's post office.
Settled in the mid-1800s by pensioners of the Russian American Company and their families, the community of some 500 permanent residents has only had three U.S. postmasters. Welch brings the total to four.
The former Delta Junction resident replaced Lynda Kvasnikoff, who served as Ninilchik postmaster since 1978. Her predecessors were the late Harry Leman, who distributed mail from the village's first post office on the bank of the Ninilchik River, and Ernie Tiemann, who took over the postal duties at a newer location next to Ninilchik School.
Welch's headquarters are a 764-mailbox facility on Kingsley Road. He arrives with an employment history that includes 12 years with the Delta Junction post office, six of those as the postmaster.
The Ninilchik newcomer was first attracted to the Kenai Peninsula community because of temperatures and land availability.
"My wife said she wanted someplace warmer. She was thinking Arizona or New Mexico," said Welch, of wife Julie. "I was thinking Ninilchik."
Is she disappointed by her husband's definition of warmer?
"In Delta Junction, the Kenai Peninsula is considered the 'banana belt,'" Julie said.
Offering a warm community welcome on Thursday, Ninilchik residents crowded into the post office for cake and coffee. Introducing themselves, locals were quick to tell the newcomers that recent temperatures aren't the norm.
"I love it," Julie said, of the peninsula's unseasonable temperatures and unusual lack of snow.
Former postal employee Ida Chenier, who worked under postmaster Kvasnikoff from 1978 through 1989, had words of advice for Welch.
"I told him the other day that he picked a good time to move into Ninilchik," Chenier said. "This way he'll get to meet the local people before all the summer tourists come. There's a big difference."
In a community where the daily highlight is picking up mail and catching up on community events posted on the post office's entryway bulletin board, Chenier said Welch seemed to be a good fit.
"He seems very, very nice. I like his attitude," she said.
That good attitude also will be important in the New Year, according to Chenier.
"He'll get a lot of guff when (the cost of) postage stamps go up in January," she said.
Christy Drake, who has been employed at Ninilchik's post office since 1991 and has been filling in as postmaster since Kvasnikoff's retirement in May, welcomed Welch as her new boss.
"The job was offered to me, but I chose not to apply," Drake said. "I have a life and a family and a husband that likes me at home sometimes."
Drake's home and husband, Ray, are in Anchor Point. Besides doing paper work for Ray's construction company, Drake also has animals, a garden and family to tend to.
"I've been the officer in charge (at the post office) for the last six months, during the summer," Drake said. "It was hard. I didn't even get to go fishing."
Drake described her new boss as "wonderful."
"He's the best boss I've ever had," she said. "He's just a real asset to the community."
On Thursday, Dan Peterson, a hydrometeorological technician with the U.S. Weather Service in Anchorage, confirmed the Welches had indeed found the banana belt. Temperatures in Delta Junction hovered at 2 degrees above zero. Ninilchik was enjoying the balmy mid-20s.
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