A hundred legends, a hundred stories
Looking through Chris Lundgren’s “Legendary Locals of Chugiak-Eagle River” is like taking a stroll through Eagle River’s past. So many familiar faces peer out from the pages, face belonging to names such as Ruth Alice Briggs and Bill Lowe, Billie and Vern Moore and Natalie Haskell Brooks, Marianna Koehler and Lee and Barbara Jordan.
The book, published through an imprint of Arcadia Publishing, is a virtual Who’s Who of Chugiak-Eagle River history, offering up a rich tapestry of the early homesteading days. From Rusty Bellringer and the “Knik Arm Courier” to Bill Stephens and the Dari Delite to Pen Lee, Chugiak Elementary School’s cook and known for her baking, the pages are loaded with history, humor and memories.
Sink down inside a chair, open and cover and before long you’ll feel as if you know these people a little bit better, as if you’ve just spent the afternoon drinking tea with them and exchanging stories.
The photographs intensify this feeling. Many are from family albums and some are a little out of focus, a little blurry, which adds to the feeling of familiarity, as if readers are browsing through a relative’s scrapbook. (This Star editor is particularly intrigued by the photograph of Jinny Search Kirk on Page 81.)
The book doesn’t just span the past, however. Present day hometown favorites are sprinkled throughout, with everyone from Chelsea Berry, Anna Fairclough and Ron Lange gracing the pages.
Lundgren, who wrote “The Runner’s World Guide to Running and Pregnancy” back in 2003, was contacted by Arcadia Publishing last year and asked if she’d write a Chugiak-Eagle River version of the popular Legendary Locals series.
“It sort of fell into my lap as I was working on a different project,” she said during a recent interview at the Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society.
She grappled over which locals to include in the volume.
“There were so many,” she said.
She threw word out to the political, business and historical community and soon began making contacts for interviews.
“It was absolutely fascinating,” she said. “I love how classy our community is. People would give me information but would never trash anybody. They were very respectful.”
She also appreciates the cohesiveness of the area.
“The community is over 30,000 so it’s not like it’s this dinky little town,” she said. “Yet there are so many interconnections.”
Lundgren grew up outside of Detroit and moved up to Alaska 17 years ago. She currently lives with her husband and two teenaged sons. A lover of history, she wrote the Alaska Star’s “Remember When” column from 2006-2010 and still enjoys driving around town envisioning how the area might have looked back in homesteading days.
“I love to imagine that,” she said.
The challenge to writing “Legendary Locals” was adhering to the 128 page limit.
“I wondered, was I missing anyone?” she said. “With all of the people I could have interviewed, it could have easily been 300 pages.”
Some of the stories left a lasting impact on her. Stories such as Mark Hufford’s, a paraplegic and hand cyclist who raced the Sadler’s Alaska Challenge each year; he died in 2011 at the age of 40.
And Donna McGladrey, a music teacher who came to Chugiak in 1959 and soon after died in a small plane crash around Dillingham that December; the wreckage wasn’t discovered until June.
“Her photo haunted me,” she said.
Lundgren profiled just over 100 people for the book. She hopes “Legendary Locals” prompts a renewed interest in local history.
“I want people to talk to each other and learn one another’s histories,” she said. “There are so many fascinating stories out there.”
“Legendary Locals” is available at the Bookshelf, Barnes & Noble, Titlewave and Amazon and Arcadia Publishing.