Long-time residents from across the Kenai Peninsula gathered Thursday for the annual Old Timers Luncheon at the Kenai Senior Center.
Hearing the names of those in attendance is like hearing a who’s who of the modern history of the Kenai Peninsula. More than 150 people were at this year’s Old Timer’s Luncheon, most of them truly old timers, lots of homesteaders, which is impressive given that most of that generation are well into their 80’s or even 90’s.
Peggy Arness, who was born in Seldovia and has lived her whole life on the Kenai, heads up the event each year. This was somewhere around the 17th annual luncheon, though, unofficially, it goes back further.
“You can tell it’s not very organized,” Arness said with a laugh after the luncheon. She’s part of a regular lunch group of eight, but one time each year, they do it this way. Complete with prizes like homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and farm-fresh eggs.
Placed on each table were home photographs that Arness pulled out of old photo albums. Adorning the table I was at was an old picture of mail, and a prisoner, being delivered by dogsled. The man in the photo, Paul WIlson, was Linda Ross’ uncle.
“My older sister could probably tell you better than I could, but that’s my uncle Paul,” said Ross, who was born in Kenai. The house she grew up in still stands next to the bluff near Kenai Bible Church.
I had lunch next to Gary and Dee Timlin. They came up in 1970 so Gary could take a job. That was supposed to last just a few years, but, eventually this became home. In those 40 plus years, I had to ask, what’s the biggest change?
“There were no stoplights, but probably the biggest change is the Kenai River,” Gary said of the once docile fishing spot.
Dee Timlin tells me when they were netting king salmon in those days, it was busy if they saw three or four boats on the river.
I asked several people what the biggest change has been over the decades, and the answer was pretty much the same from everyone. There are a lot more people. I didn’t hear that it was a good or bad thing, simply the reality.
Leading off the program, Peggy’s son Joe read the names of longtime residents who have passed over the last year, but that list pales in comparison to how many old timers are left. Perhaps the best marker for the kind of people who have helped make the Kenai what it is today.