Pioneers of Alaska

The Pioneers of Alaska from the Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Palmer, Cordova, Seward and Valdez igloos attended the June 19th dedication ceremony for the new informational kiosk at the McCarthy Cemetery. Photo courtesy Joan Skilbred

A group of 43 people comprised of the Pioneers of Alaska, members of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians, along with McCarthy community members and other visitors, gathered June 19 at the historic McCarthy Cemetery in McCarthy to dedicate a new historical information kiosk recently installed by the Pioneers of Alaska.

The dedication ceremony included the unveiling of the new kiosk, along with a Pioneer memorial service for the four members of the Pioneers of Alaska McCarthy Igloo No. 25, who are buried there. This service was done using the historic original 1920s-era Pioneers of Alaska funeral service.

Work on this project began seven years ago in 2014, and thanks to Pioneer member Erika Miller’s historical research and guidance, the cemetery has been cleared of brush, and there is now information on most of the people buried in this largely forgotten cemetery. Visitors to the historic site will be able to learn from the kiosk about the lives of the hardy men and women who are buried in the McCarthy cemetery, along with the locations of their individual graves.

In addition, the Pioneers of Alaska have collaborated with the National Park Service to install an interpretive kiosk at the Kennecott Cemetery, located about one mile from the Kennecott Mine site. The National Park Service also conducted a special dedication ceremony to commemorate its new cemetery kiosk earlier on the same day. The Pioneers of Alaska funded the project, and a large number its members who traveled from eight communities within the state; Anchorage, Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Palmer, Valdez, Seward, Cordova and Homer.

On June 20, the Pioneers celebrated with a big pot luck dinner and by inducting two new members into the order using the historic pre-1920 Pioneer’s initiation ceremony that takes place around a campfire. It has only been previously performed twice in the past 100 years. McCarthy residents Kenny Smith, son of famed Alaska aviator “Mudhole” Smith, and Patt Garrett, longtime docent of the McCarthy Museum, had to mush on a long journey, fall into a glacial crevasse, and were eventually rescued by the Pioneers of Alaska, led by Grand Igloo 1st Vice President Virgil Campbell.

Afterward, the 80 attendees basked in the summer solstice around the campfire at Clayton’s Dairy-Aire Ranch at McCarthy.

The Pioneers of Alaska formed in 1907 in Nome and currently have 32 active Igloos located in 16 Alaska communities, with a total membership of about 3800 active members. The mission of the Pioneers of Alaska since its inception has been “To unite the pioneers; to preserve the names of all Alaska’s pioneers on its rolls; to collect and preserve the literature and incidents of Alaska’s history; and to promote the best interests of Alaska.”

The Pioneers of Alaska have a rich history in Alaska’s territorial and early statehood days. During the past 114 years of activity, they have many accomplishments and continue to make Alaska “The Great Land” that it is today.

Local historian Joan Skilbred, Pioneers of Alaska McCarthy Solstice Stampede Coordinator, can be reached at skilbred@gci.net.