Homer Pioneers Featured in Oral History Project

Aaron Selbig

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     An oral history project conducted in Homer 16 years ago is seeing new life on the web, thanks to the efforts of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ “Project Jukebox.” The project contains a wealth of early Homer history, told by the people who lived it.

     Leslie McCartney is the curator of UAF’s Oral History Program. She says that “Project Jukebox” was conceived back in 1988 as a means to tie together various oral history mediums – including recordings, video, maps and photographs – and make them digitally available to a wider audience.

     “Project Jukebox” is now putting online  materials that were originally recorded in 1996, when the Alaska Humanities Forum sponsored the “Communities of Memory” project.

     "There was an entire project .. that held meetings to find out what was important about that community," said McCartney.

     Other communities that were a part of the project were Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome and Unalaska. Thanks to funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Homer is the first community to have its materials presented on a user-friendly new website, available through jukebox.uaf.edu.

     The Homer recordings, including audio, video and written transcripts, were recorded at Land's End Resort in April of 1996. They feature 11 Homer speakers, including long-time Nikolaevsk teacher Bob Moore, boat-builder Dave Seaman and businesswoman Carolyn Turkington.

     Some of the speakers featured in the project – like Halibut Cove artist and Tillion family matriarch Diana Tillion – have since passed away.

     Tillion spoke of a life lived in Alaska, including living in Anchorage with her mother and step-father during World War II, a time when she says every available man in the area was put to work constructing Fort Richardson.

     "Anchorage was a dreadful place to be," said Tillion. "So my mother said she wanted to investigate Homer ... she was a free spirit and it was wonderful."

     Don Ronda was a long-time Homer educator who touched the lives of many local young people during his lengthy career. Ronda, who passed away only a couple of months ago, spoke of the first time he arrived with his wife in Homer – in the summer of 1959.

     "It was just a little small town .... dusty with just a single street," said Ronda. "The first person we met was Sam Pratt and the next person we met was Hazel Heath. I think those two people ... set the stage and we couldn't wait to get back."

     Soon after, Ronda was hired as principal of the high school and on his first day, he would meet a local character that many Homerites would recognize today.

     "This kid in a Stetson ... came riding onto the school grounds on his horse," said Ronda. "He said, 'Howdy. I'm Atz Kilcher and I'm going to school here.'"

     The recordings are viewable on the “Project Jukebox” website by speaker or by topic – including topics like “Changes In Homer,” “Cabin Life” and “Cultural Misunderstandings.”

     McCartney says UAF holds over 11,000 recordings from all over Alaska and through all points in Alaska history. She says “Project Jukebox” has continued to adapt to new technology over the years and hopes to feature new communities – including Kenai and Soldotna – in the near future.

     To see Homer’s “Communities of Memory” project for yourself, visit “Project Jukebox” at jukebox.uaf.edu.

 

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