Peninsula Reflections

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2006

Spruce Grove Memorial Park has more known graves than any other cemetery on the Kenai Peninsula.

Each of those graves is a memorial with a story to tell. The following article is the first in a series about Spruce Grove residents who achieved 90 or more birthdays.

According to limited records, the interred soul with the greatest longevity is Cassie Gann (Sep. 22, 1900 through Jan. 5, 2000). Cassie’s maiden name was Coffey and her parents were West Texas homesteaders. Her husband’s parents also were homesteaders there and the families settled about two miles apart, near the confluence of the Colorado and Concho Rivers.

As new generations came, Gann’s son, Don, went to work in the oil industry and moved to Saudi Arabia. In 1967 he came to Alaska’s oil patch. Cassie began visiting Don here in 1968, about the time her husband died. She moved in with Don and his wife, Suzanne, in Sterling in 1984 and enjoyed 99 birthdays before passing away.

A single family contributed four members to the 90s club. James Stryker is the head of the family and one of only four men to qualify. Born in Illinois, he married Bertha Smith, who was born (1869) in Ohio.

They eventually took up residence in Washington where daughters Jetret “Jettie” (1895) and Enid (1896) were born. Jettie spent the winter of 1915-16 in Seldovia with Juanita Anderson, a childhood friend who began teaching there that year. Jettie taught school in Seldovia most of the years between 1918 and 1933.

This is where she met Allan Petersen and they were married in 1920 on board the SS Yukon in port at Cordova. Enid taught in Ninilchik for school years 1920-22, then married Archie McLane and moved to Kasilof.

They homesteaded along Coal Creek on what is now Ariels Lane. Enid started Kasilof’s first school in 1933 and was the head of the school until after statehood. She also was a founder of Kasilof Library. The Petersens joined the McLanes in Kasilof briefly in the 1920s, as both families farmed foxes.

Meanwhile, Bertha took over the teaching job in Ninilchik for the year 1922-23, then taught in Portlock (south of Seldovia) for about 10 years. The Petersens moved to Unga Island in 1934, where Jettie again taught school and Allan was the marshal.

In 1947 they moved to Kenai, keeping the same occupations. Jettie was instrumental in starting the Kenai Community Library and retired from teaching in 1951.

The Strykers had moved back to Washington, where James died in 1945 at age 93. Soon after Bertha returned to Alaska and stayed mostly with the McLanes in Kasilof.

When Bertha passed away in 1965 at the age of 97, her husband’s ashes were shipped to Spruce Grove to rest beside her. His birth date (1852), seems to be the earliest in the cemetery, superceding Elizabeth Fellers (1869) to whom I last month erroneously gave this honor.

Enid died in 1989 at the age of 93, Jettie passed away in 1992 at age 97.

To be continued ... .

This column was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society with information obtained from the Totem Tracers Genealogical Society book “Cemetery Inscriptions and Area Memorials in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Borough.”

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