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Emilie Springer: Old School Homer - Literally

This week Don Bellamy shares his story of early Homer schools.

I went back to the Pratt museum archives to remind myself (and listeners) what it’s like to be the basement here surrounded by Homer and Kachemak Bay history: all around me are skeletons, preserved birds, cultural cabinets, charts, artifacts of all kinds: boots, cook books, paintings, furs, boxes of collections. I choose a file at very back of the bottom drawer of a file cabinet labeled “Homer People: M thru Z.”

The file isn’t in any particular order, it’s basically a file of various characters from Homer history, mostly post-mortem. The farthest back is from a photocopy in the Homer News, 1968.

I settled on a chapter photocopied from the book, Teachers in the Alaska Wilderness by Elizabeth Richardson Childs, self-published by the author in 1976. The story caught my attention because it’s kind of a mysterious print: photocopied in poor ink quality, recomposed partially by hand in cursive writing that’s difficult to read and taken from the middle of a publication, that doesn’t tell me who the characters are.

There is an image at the top of 10 children on skis and a teacher and it’s labeled “Chapter 9: Homer Heights.” The museum chapter gives me very little background on the woman named, “Margaret.” Thankfully, the Homer Public Library has a full copy of the book.

This particular school, really a small log cabin, was located at Bridge Creek at what is now the reservoir. I wanted to see if I could find someone who had attended and with help of some long-term Homer folks I was able to contact and have a conversation with Don Bellamy. It turns out he attended a similar territorial school, but slightly later. The photo he showed me, also in the Alaska digital archives collection, is from 1949 and this cabin school was located closer to Olson Mountain.

On February 22, I headed over to his home and he had the photo pulled out and ready to tell me who the 8 students are, standing outside of a small log cabin. The teacher in the background was a woman named Margaret Meade.

Springer: So what was it like to go to school in a cabin?

Bellamy: You know, we didn't mind it too much, because we never see anything else. But it was pretty dark and, but it was all right. We had to walk, I had to walk almost three miles to get there and by myself, I was in the first grade, you know, so we were a little tougher in them days. Nobody dressed up too much.

The size of the school buildings accounted for a lot of transferring to different locations. Bellamy tells me he spent two years in this cabin, moved somewhere a little closer to town for 3rd and 4th grade and then “somewhere up by the fairgrounds,” by the description this is now Karen Hornaday Park. And, this is the first example in this conversation that leads to a big tangent in recording, we talk about the big carnivals that use to come to the community.

Bellamy: It's up there where the fairgrounds, I guess it's a campground now, Fairview. Used to have big fairs here, We had jumpers, parachute were jumping in. The first fair I remember, it was right behind where the Methodist church is, where the ball field there is.

What he eventually clarifies for me, the structures used as “schools” were scattered around various areas of the community depending on where the children lived. There wasn’t a fully accessible road to get to a single, industrial school building at that time. He tells me there were two in town, one down by where AJ’s is now located and an old wooden building on the corner of Pioneer and the Sterling Highway that is also where the first more standardized construction was built (the building that is still there today).

Springer: So, where did you go to high school?

Bellamy: I went to high school right here, well, the school's still there, but it's not a school no more, It's like this side of the middle school. That school there, Had a gymnasium, Yeah they, they built that when I was a freshman. I went sophomore, junior and senior in that school.

He mentions some other teacher’s names that people will recognize: RW Tyler, Dave Schroer and some stories to go along with them.

Bellamy: Tyler was a art teacher, Day show, Shore was my sisky teacher, and he's still alive, he's getting old though. Well, you know, Tyler, RW Tire is his name, he hated it when we call him Toby Tyler because we started that, and he got mad. He was a real tenderhearted guy, you know, he couldn't, but us kids were mean, you know how that is. One Halloween, he had a little car, first little car, come to Homer. And he parked, he lived up there, it was on the hill and he had his car parked by the road, you know, and he lived back in his house. So we drove up, acting, we all got up to turn his car sideways and the driveway, big difficulty. We get all done, we're looking at getting ready to head out and this voice come out of the dark, You guys must be tired, you better come in for a hot chocolate.

And, this was only about a quarter of the material he shared, the rest of it has to do with how the harbor and spit road were constructed, various fishing boats he worked on, work on seismograph ships and tug boats for Crowley.

This is Emilie Springer