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 parallel timelines.
In 1934, Rev. Ken Hughes and his wife Vivian worked as missionaries
(in Wrangell) with Salvation Army 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 in 1936.
"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 oversee it.
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.
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 two children.
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).
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 Dimond.
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.
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 concrete
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 1941.
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 Camp.
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 Alaska railroad.
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.
Rev. Ken Hughes passed away in 1980 and Mrs. Hughes 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
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