Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fairbanks; A Big Little Town on the Chena River

Creamers Field Wetlands in Winter
We dropped from the Alaska Range into the interior of Alaska on our way to Fairbanks. It is a wonderfully gritty little town with aspirations of being a bigger town. Compared to Anchorage, Fairbanks is in another world with colder colds, and hotter hots—generally a more extreme climate.
We have been trying to paint a picture of our travels that suggests we are really roughing it, rubbing sticks together to start fires and foraging for food in the wild. Well, actually it hasn’t been that bad and today, I must confess, we are living quite well. We arrived in Fairbanks and stopped at a respected RV park on the Chena River, which bisects town. Most parks, even if they were not fully open, have let us hook to power and spend the night. Not here. The owner made it clear she was not open until May 17th and we should scram, thank you very much.
We thought about the situation for seven seconds and checked into a wonderful little motel with pillow top beds and free breakfast. My how quick we gave up living the wilds. Then for dinner, at the suggestion of a shop keeper, we traveled five miles into the nearby hills for a wonderful Italian dinner at The Vallata. It was not hardtack and venison. This was a five star place for a denim clad crowd.
We have done the museums and quilt shops of Fairbanks and plan to head down the Alcan at sunrise—or sometime after sunrise. We shall see.

Phyllis in Fairbanks
The Church were Phyllis was wed, June 1940

In June of 1940 Kathy’s mother, 20 year old Phyllis Feroe, stepped off of an Army transport in Seward and into another world. Born and raised in Seattle she had previously traveled no further than California. Now she was in Alaska Territory, alone, on her way to meet her fiancĂ©, Army Lt. Marvin Walseth, and be married.
A friend of Marvin’s met her at the dock and flew her to Anchorage, for the night. It was her first small plane ride. The next day, Wednesday, she flew on to Fairbanks where she met Marvin and was put up with two girls who shared an apartment in his building. Thursday the three women gathered flowers and decorated the Presbyterian Church for the wedding. On Friday they were married.
Interior of the Church

The next 18 months were a whirlwind of activity for the young bride. She set up house first in his apartment and later in new quarters at Ladd Field (now Fort Wainwright). She taught music, led a Girl Scout troop, took classes at U. of Alaska, directed a choir in one church, sang in a choir in another, took a river boat trip down the Tanana River and entertained visiting officers who her husband would bring home with little notice.
That life ended abruptly. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, dependents were sent “outside” to Seattle and, six months later Marvin was killed on a mission in his B-17 bomber over the Aleutian Islands. A story of his flying career can be found at Old Seventy.  

Phyllis and her husband on a river trip.

In 2002 Kathy and Steve escorted her folks, Phyllis and Don, back to Alaska visiting Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward. We even found an old friend of Phyllis’ from the Fairbanks era. It was a bittersweet trip but offered an element of closure to both of them as Alaska had played such an important part of their young lives.

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