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.THE HISTORY OF
EL NATHAN CHILDREN's HOME
LAZY MOUNTAIN CHILDREN's HOME and
VICTORY BIBLE CAMP

By
Coleen Mielke  2014

    
coleen@mtaonline.net

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector

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'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 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.


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 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).


 
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 1940,
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.

The following people (in the above photo) were identified  by Evelyn Berestoff Hart
with special thanks to her son Carl Hart
 #4  Jessie Jim
                                                                                                               #5  Freida _______ ?
                                                                                                               #9  "Aunt Esther" Boursa (worker at the home)
                                                                                                              #13  Harry Bendickson
                                                                                                              #16  Betty O'Brien
                                                                                                              #20  Bill O'Brien
                                                                                                              #21  Colleen O'Brien
                                                                                                              #25  Vosella  Hughes
                                                                                                              #26  Kenny Hughes
                                                                                                              #27  Eleanor O'Brien
                                                                                                              #28  Evelyn Mae Berestoff born 1933
                                                                               

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. 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 concrete blocks.

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.

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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The following is the text from a pamphlet that Ken and Vivian Hughes granddaughter (Yvonne Marty) sent to me:

LAZY MOUNTAIN CHILDREN'S HOME, INC.   PALMER, ALASKA  1958

FOUNDERS:

Rev. and Mrs. Kenneth R. Hughes (now engaged in missionary work)
BOARD OF TRUSTEES:
Walter T. Phillips, Director
Dale F. Bryant, Trustee
Walter J. Covich, Trustee
OTHER STAFF MEMBERS:
Mrs. Walter J. Covich, Matron
Mrs. Walter T. Phillips, R.N.
Mrs. Dale F. Bryant, Secretary Treasurer
Karl and Marion Ellis
Patricia Hockley
John and Eleanor Hurt
Sidney and Margaret Lindeke
Helen Pearson
June Radcliff
Jay and Jean Stratton

"Located five miles from the heart of Palmer, Alaska, center of the fertile Matanuska Valley, the Lazy Mountain Children's Home, Inc. is a testimonial to the faithfulness of a loving God.

Begun originally under the leadership of the Rev. and Mrs. Kenneth Hughes, in the sprint of 1947, the Home (a branch of El Nathan Children's Home in Valdez
), was incorporated separately in November of that year and the name chosen because of its location on the side of a long sprawled-out mountain that for many years has been known in this locality as 'Lazy Mountain'.

The Home is an independent missionary organization, instituted to help care for some of Alaska's needy youngsters. It is licensed to care for 53 children from the ages of 2 to 18. The prevalence of drink and disease in this Northland accounts for many broken homes.

Children from all over Alaska come to us - some Indian, Eskimo, Aleut and White. Few are full orphans; all are in need of a home.  Some are placed with us by the Alaska Native Service or Department of Public Welfare from which we receive partial support.  Some are placed by a living relative who helps with the child's support if he is able.  Some are placed through missionaries in lonely villages where they find pitiful conditions existing with neglected children, we receive no promise of support.

Originally housed in temporary quonset hut quarters, the completely modern 42 room Home seemed a regular "mansion" to the boys and girls who watched it being built.  Only volunteer work has gone into the construction of our fine 90' x 43' cement block building, two and a half stories high with full basement.  Within these walls, children receive good care and Christian training. A varied program is offered them including performance of household tasks, sports such as skating, basketball, sledding, skiing, swimming, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, training in 4-H projects including gardening, cooking, baking sewing, yard improvement, hobbies such as stamp collecting and crafts."  


"In the summers children help to pick berries which we store away in our freezer to enjoy during the year. A large cold storage plant cares for salmon which we catch in season, moose meat donated by the Fish and Wildlife commission, our own beef and pork and vegetables. A buried quonset hut serves as a root cellar where an abundant supply of potatoes, carrots, etc. helps to provide good food for our growing boys and girls. We have a grade A dairy to provide us with fresh milk.

Located on a tract of land donated by a well known farmer in the Valley, the Home has acquired additional land until our acreage at present is 279. Much clearing needs to be done in order to meet the needs of our growing dairy herd. The dairy provides good training for older boys who help our farmers with the work.

School age children are transported by bus to Palmer, five miles away, where their academic needs are cared for in the two grade schools, Junior High and accredited High School."


Information Sources:

Spokane Daily chronicle 1937
Daily Sitka Sentinel 1947
Valdez News 1950
Matanuska Valley Record 1951
Anchorage Times 1961 and 2005
Valdez Cemetery
Billy Graham Archives
House Bill  H.R. 1558
A is for Teacher by Naomi Gaede-Penner
U.S. Census 1940
Vosella Hughes Heaton
Kenny Hughes
Keith Rupp
Barney Furman
Jim Fox
Mary Jane Phelps
Stefan and Yvonne Marty
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