EL NATHAN CHILDREN's HOME
LAZY MOUNTAIN CHILDREN's HOME and VICTORY
Coleen Mielke 2013
This story is about El Nathan Children's
Home (in Valdez), Lazy Mountain Children's Home (near Palmer)
and Victory Bible Camp (at mile 94 Glenn Highway). Little
did I know, when I started this research, that all three of these
Alaska institutions were historically linked to each other; not only
by their founders, but by their shared missionaries and their nearly
In 1934, Rev. Ken Hughes and his wife Vivian worked as missionaries
(in Wrangell) with Salvation Army's Major Carruthers. During that year,
Ken and Vivian realized how much they enjoyed working with the Native population
of Alaska; it was a vocation they embraced for the rest of their lives.
In 1935, the young couple left Wrangell and moved to the Matanuska
Valley where they lived in the tent city of Palmer and ministered to the
Colonist's. Ken found work as a finish carpenter for the ARRC Colony Project
during the summer of 1935 through the winter of 1936.
In 1936, while on a trip to Seattle, Rev. Hughes' boat stopped
in Valdez. There he met Blanche Nason, a missionary who had been working
with the prisoners at the Valdez jail since the early 1930's and had
recently opened an orphanage. Over coffee, Blanche told Rev. Hughes, that
in 1934 the Valdez Marshal brought her a young Native boy to care for.
The child had been abandoned on the trail that winter and was quite ill;
it took her several months to nurse him back to health.
The Marshal continued to bring Blanche other orphans to care
for and in 1935, the former home of Anthony J. Dimond was donated for
use as an orphanage; Blanche called it El Nathan Children's Home;
it housed a dozen orphans when Rev. Hughes visited Valdez
"Nana" Nason, as she was affectionately known, died suddenly
on 11/13/1936, just weeks after Rev. Hughes met her; she was 43
years old. The next spring, the El Nathan Children's Home was legally
incorporated and Evelyn Komedal, of Seattle, was sent to temporarily
In 1937, Louise Johnson, a missionary from Minnesota became
the director of El Nathan and she sent a letter to Rev. Hughes asking
for his help at the orphanage. Ken and Vivian liked the idea and moved
their young family to Valdez in 1938. Rev. Hughes helped with various
construction projects and general maintenance for the orphanage. He also
conducted church services and worked with the older boys, teaching them
the life skills that they would need as adults.
Ken and Vivian Hughes
Family at Valdez in 1939
Photo shared by Ken and Vivian's granddaughter Yvonne Marty
The orphanage continued to expand; a 2nd house was
donated and became the nursery; a 3rd house was donated by Dr.
Charles E. Bunnell (Valdez lawyer and later the 1st president of
U of A); two more houses were donated and they became a dispensary
and a boys dormitory. The staff of El Nathan was growing as well. Louise
Johnson, married Rev. Arthur H. Segerquist (a widower) and they adopted
Children were placed in El Nathan for a variety
of reasons; some came through the welfare system; some were orphaned
when their parents became ill (or died) from tuberculosis and some
children were simply dropped off in Valdez when their families
disintegrated due to hard times; all were welcome, regardless of
financial support (or lack of it).
This photo is from
the Hughes Family Estate
Photo shared by Ken and Vivian Hughes granddaughter Yvonne Marty
On the back of the photo, Vivian Hughes wrote: "El Nathan Home in Valdez
Vossie and Kenny at front left corner, we are in the back right side."
Note from Coleen: I have numbered
the people in the photo;
if you know any names, please contact me.
By the fall of 1946,
the population of El Nathan had grown to nearly 100. That winter,
(February 2, 1947), the furnace in the Community Hospital (next door)
exploded and burned down the three story hospital building as well
as the orphanage nursery and dispensary. A third El Nathan building
(the boys dormitory) was leveled with dynamite by the fire department
in order to create a firebreak. One elderly man (Edward Edgerton), a hospital
patient, perished in the fire as did a fireman (Jack Crawford) who
died from a heart attack.
After the fire, children were packed into El
Nathan's two remaining buildings and the infants were settled
into a small home donated (temporarily) by a Valdez bachelor;
other children and staff were housed in a partially empty hotel
and the older boys were housed in an empty garage owned by Anthony
Rev. Hughes dreamed of starting another branch of El Nathan in
a more rural farm setting; an idea he had discussed, at length, with Max
Sherrod, a friend back in Palmer. In 1946, Mr. Sherrod donated
40 acres of land, on Lazy Mountain, to the El Nathan Children's Home
through Rev. Hughes.
The next spring (1947) Rev.
Hughes took a few of the oldest El Nathan boys to the new Lazy Mountain
property to put in a road and do some basic land clearing. Fort
Richardson Army Base heard about the ambitious project and offered
them several quonset huts (if Rev. Hughes could come and get them).
It took the group weeks to dismantle, transport and reassemble the
quonset huts on the building site. Max Sherrod was so pleased with their
progress that he donated an additional 20 acres to the project.
By July of 1947, a small house had been built on
the land and the quonset huts were attached to it like wings.
As soon as the structure was habitable, 36 of the older El Nathan
children (and a group of workers to care for them) were transferred
to Lazy Mountain to live. The Rural Electric Association installed
electricity that December and a variety of chickens, pigs and a couple
of cows joined the new farm in the spring of 1948. The orphanage, with
a rural farm setting that Rev. Hughes had envisioned, was now a reality;
he called it Lazy Mountain Children's Home.
Because of the fire tragedy at El Nathan, Rev. Hughes
wanted to build a fire proof dormitory at Lazy Mountain. In the
summer of 1949, a water well was dug, a 90' x 50' concrete footing was
poured and the first blocks laid. Over the next three summers, Rev. Hughes,
Walter Phillips and a few Ft. Richardson Army soldiers (who volunteered
on the weekends) built a 2½ story (45 room) structure.
The El Nathan and Lazy Mountain orphanages
were funded by stateside churches as well as income from the Alaska
welfare system and B.I.A. The missionaries at the orphanages received
no salaries, but were supported financially by their own hometown churches.
Generous Alaskan's also donated to the orphanages, like Florence Barnes,
who owned the Copper Center Roadhouse. When she died, in 1948,
she left her entire estate to the El Nathan Children's Home in Valdez.
The proceeds from "Ma" Barnes estate was divided between the two
orphanages; El Nathan used their half to build an addition to one
of their buildings and Lazy Mountain used their half to purchase
Because funding for Lazy Mountain was variable,
much of the food that the orphanage needed was acquired on a
subsistence level. Each summer the staff and older children processed
enough wild berries, salmon, moose meat (donated by the game warden)
and summer vegetables (they had large gardens) to last the winter; they
canned some and kept the rest in a commercial cold storage locker in Palmer.
In 1947, a group of independent missionaries decided
to build a remote Bible camp where missionaries and children, from
all over Alaska, could join each other for an annual conference. The
director of the group was Rev. John Gillespie, the pastor of Church
of the Open Door in Anchorage. Another member of the group was Rev.
Ken Hughes of Lazy Mountain Children's Home; the two men
had worked together at El Nathan's Children's Home in
John and Ken decided to build the Bible camp on a 40 acre parcel
of land that overlooked Index Lake in the Talkeetna Mountains, 53
miles north of Palmer. The land was not
immediately available for purchase because it was Federal land;
it took (literally) an Act of Congress to purchase it. On 7/11/1952,
a bill (H.R. 1558 Private Law 840 Chapter 697) was passed by Congress
to allow Victory Bible Camp Inc. to apply for a patent for the NW ¼
of SW ¼ of Section 23, Township 20N Range 8E Seward Meridian;
the price was $10 per acre. It was the first of many parcels that Victory
Bible Camp would purchase over the years.
After his 1958 retirement from Lazy Mountain, Rev. and
Mrs. Hughes moved to Big Lake where Ken flew airplanes for Arctic
Missions Inc., ferrying whatever was needed to missionaries in remote
parts of Alaska. Mrs. Hughes volunteered as a cook at Victory Bible
The Lazy Mountain Children's Home burned
down on 12/8/1960; only the block basement survived.
All but ten of the children were at school in Palmer when the fire
broke out; the nine pre-school children (and one older child that was
home with the mumps) were rescued by orphanage staff.
Generous people immediately stepped up to help the
orphanage. The children were housed in private homes at first, but
later, the Civil Defense arranged for the them to stay at the Wasilla
Youth Camp. Clothing, food, bedding and money was collected for
the children by Anchorage fire stations, schools, gas stations and the
Rev. Hughes returned to Lazy Mountain to help rebuild the orphanage
on a smaller scale; they built a one story structure on top of
the old basement and several small houses instead of one large dormitory.
About the same time as the Lazy Mountain fire, the El Nathan
Children's Home in Valdez, began to struggle. The number
of children residing there was down because many of them had grown
up and moved away. Additionally, new rules introduced when Alaska became
a state, required the orphanage to hire a full time nurse and psychologist
which was an expense the home could not afford. When El Nathan closed
its doors in 1962, Louise Johnson Segerquist (orphanage director and now
a widow) retired and moved to Lazy Mountain.
Lazy Mountain Children's Home closed
in 1972. The few young children that were still living at the
orphanage were taken into the private homes of the staff. That
same year, the property was taken over by the Arctic Bible Institute
and Multi-Media Productions. Today, it is the Alaska headquarters for
the Oregon based InterAct Ministries.
Victory Bible Camp, which started out with a tiny log chapel
and a few army tents grew over the years under the watchful eye of John
and Nadine Gillespie and Arctic Missions Inc.; it even had a christian
boarding school from 1959 to 1982. Today, the camp is a multi-million
dollar, 389 acre institution owned by Victory Ministries of Alaska. It
hosts missionary conferences and church camps for all ages, complete with
riding stables, a shooting range and a 1,700' runway.
The Hughes legacy continued with Ken and Vivian's son, Ken Hughes Jr.
Ken Jr. and his wife Jennette built a small church in the Athabascan village
of Grayling in 1966 and ministered there for many years. After they had five
children, they moved to Big Lake where Ken took over his fathers flying job
with Arctic Missions, and Jennette taught Bible studies. In 1977, they started
a church in their home; today it is called Wasilla Bible Church and has
900 members. Ken Jr. and Jennette retired in 2006 after 40 years of service.
Rev. Ken Hughes Sr. passed away in 1980 and his wife passed
away in 2001; they are both buried at the Valley Memorial Park
Cemetery at the Butte; their children Ken and Vosella still live
in the Matanuska Valley. Louise Johnson Segerquist died in 1987 and
is buried in Palmer. Rev. John Gillespie passed away in 2005.
Spokane Daily chronicle 1937
Daily Sitka Sentinel 1947
Valdez News 1950
Matanuska Valley Record 1951
Anchorage Times 1961 and 2005
Billy Graham Archives
House Bill H.R. 1558
A is for Teacher by Naomi Gaede-Penner
U.S. Census 1940
Vosella Hughes Heaton
Mary Jane Phelps
You are welcome share the link to
this web page, however, please
do not re-post this information without written permission.