Island Journey with the Evangel 9: Evangel in Ouzinkie in the 1950s

 

The Evangel Visits Ouzinkie in the 1950s

 

The pilot house window frames Ouzinkie in this late-night arrival from Kodiak in midsummer, 1955.  The cannery is just barely visible as a blue-gray spot in the center right.  I love this picture for the way it captures the feel of traveling on the Evangel at night in the summertime.  And this is always the most exciting part of any voyage: our destination is in sight!

 

The Smith family on their first trip to Ouzinkie, in the summer of 1951.  Left to Right, Noel, Joyce, Jerilynn, Robin.  The family moved to Alaska in 1952 to run the Evangel, and took residence in Larsen Bay.  I joined the Evangel crew when I was born in May of 1953.

 

The Evangel, registration number 31G236, Marine Band radio call signal WB6791, steams into Ouzinkie harbor in 1955.

 

Norman, Joyce and Noel Smith stand on the deck of the Evangel in Ouzinkie in the mid-1950s in this faded slide.

 

It is the spring of 1957. The Smith family and the Evangel spent the winter at Larsen Bay, as we have every year since 1952.  We set out toward the North End as soon as the older kids were out of school and the Evangel was ready. As we pull up anchor at Afognak, I feel a sense of excitement, for the next village on our journey is Ouzinkie.  Possessed of a fine harbor and a picturesque cannery, Ouzinkie has the same beautiful spruce tree forests as Afognak.  But Ouzinkie is special to me, because Baker Cottage, one of four homes of the Kodiak Baptist Mission, is there.  The only one of the orphanages to be built in a village, Baker Cottage is my favorite place to visit, because the kids there have adopted me as one of their own.  They even have a box of toys that they only bring out when I arrive.  And Ouzinkie has great trees to climb, including the Fat Tree just down the trail from the Mission.  I also love to visit the village because I think the way the houses all tuck away among the spruce trees is very pretty.

 

A rare aerial photo of Ouzinkie, from the 1950s.  This faded slide shows the houses tucked amongst the trees, shows five skid shacks near the trail to the dock (I remember only one).  The store also had not had the addition built yet (center building at the end of the dock), and the old school (with the peaked roof to the left of the store) had not yet been torn down. Part of the Baker Cottage roof is in the foreground. 

 

A couple of fishing boats (the white boat is the Fortune, the other may be the Paramount) are at anchor in Ouzinkie with the old bridge in the background.  The house has clothes on the line, and to the right seem to be a pile of crab pots.

 

The harbor in Ouzinkie in the summer of 1957, with the Evangel apparently tied up to the fish elevator.

 

The Evangel ties up at the face of the Grimes Packing Company dock, summer of 1952. By the mid-50s, the cannery was known as Ouzinkie Packing Company.

 

The Evangel is tied up at the Ouzinkie Packing Company oil dock in 1956, while nets dry on the railings of the walkway. (I restored this from a very faded old photo.  The colors are almost perfect here)

 

The Evangel in Ouizinkie in the mid-50s. This photo was taken near the fish elevator on the town side of the main dock.  This view of the old dock facilities at Ouzinkie makes the village look as picturesque as anything in New England.

 

It’s only a couple of hours straight across Marmot Bay and through the Ouzinkie narrows until we tie up at the dock of the Ouzinkie Packing Company.  Dad calls KWA26, the Ouzinkie marine band radio, ship to shore, to inform them of our arrival.  The man’s voice crackling on the old Northern radio in the pilot house says he’ll send somebody up to the Mission to let them know we’re coming.  Everybody listens to marine band shortwave, so everyone in town knows we’ll be docking shortly.  Dad’s clear, assured voice and the Evangel’s call letters, WB6791, are as familiar around the islands as any local fishing boat. 

 

Soon we pass Sourdough Flats and Anderson Beach, and round the point into Ouzinkie harbor. The cannery is quaint and picturesque, not the huge, orderly row of buildings like Larsen Bay’s cannery, but a happy hodgepodge of large corrugated tin buildings and smaller structures of scrounged military clapboard, perched  in various directions in the little bay. We tie up at the oil dock, because no one else is there at the moment.  We’ll ask someone from the cannery, either Hender Toms or Eric Bulmer, where the best place to tie up for the night would be.  Ouzinkie Packing Company is a working cannery, producing case after case of salmon, labeled “CANNED SALMON Our Greatest Food from the Sea” in bright red letters, and we don’t want to be in dock space that may be needed. Shortly after we arrive, Dad talks to someone.  The cannery is not operating today, so where we are will do nicely.  Several of the Mission kids and villagers are there to meet us, and off we go, down the dock and up the trail to the Mission. 

 

Baker Cottage Baptist Mission, Ouzinkie Alaska, as it looked in the 1950s when I used to visit there as a small child.

 

We climb up the stairs to the upstairs hall, and left into the living room.  Mom and Dad sit down at one of the tables and share a cup of tea with the houseparents.  Soon Miss Setzekorn goes to a closet and comes out with a large cardboard box.  Inside it are the toys they always save for my visits.  All of the kids at Baker are older than me, so these are not their toys.  My favorite is a pull toy Buck Rodgers rocket ship with sparkling friction action, which makes a good deal of really cool noise when I race it around the floor.  Pretty soon I notice that the adults in the next room are getting hard of hearing, so I carefully put the toys back in the box.  Could it be I’m actually getting too old for that sort of thing?  Besides, it’s nice out, and everyone else is outside playing. So I waste no further time heading out to play with my friends in the beautiful spring sunshine. 

 

I run down the front steps, past the chapel and around the corner to the merry-go-round tree.  A rope has been tied near the top of the tree, and all of the lower branches have been trimmed, leaving a tall pole.  The end of the rope has a loop in it, and you sit in the loop, run as fast as you can, and soar around the tree.  If you’re good enough, you have enough momentum to wrap yourself around the tree and climb up the trunk.  Then you sort of run along the trunk to unwind yourself.  The merry-go-round swing is great fun, and is another reason why I love Ouzinkie.  Such a swing requires the tall, straight spruce trees that Ouzinkie has.  There are no trees that are good enough at home in Larsen Bay, although there are a few that can handle a standard swing.  There’s even a steel-framed swing set in the backyard of Baker Cottage, up near the garden, but the merry-go-round has my full attention.

 

My brother Noel is just a speck at the top of the Fat Tree.  Unfortunately, there’s a street intersection now where this magnificent tree used to stand.  The trees to the left and right in this slide are much closer to the camera; in actuality, the Fat Tree towered above all its neighbors.  For a photo taken from the top of the Fat Tree in the mid-60s, see “1965-1974: Ouzinkie Rebuilt” article.

 

The merry-go-round tree stands next to the chapel of Baker Cottage.  We usually sat in the loop and ran as fast as we could to get airborne.  Here, my sister Jerilynn tries out the swing in 1967, in the same place it had been in the early 1950s.  Behind her is the trail to the store, with the Fat Tree in the distance.

 

I glance back at the chapel, just a few feet away from my swirling swing.  Dad and Mom will be leading a service there tonight.  Baker Cottage is the only building of the Kodiak Baptist Mission that has a chapel, and that’s because it is a self-contained mission station as well as an orphanage.  Dad preached the dedication service for the chapel when it was built in 1952, and has been a regular visitor since then.  Mom even worked as a houseparent here the summer of 1951, the year before the Smith family moved north forever.  Mary Setzekorn and Mildred Crowell are the houseparents now, and I have known both of them since I was an infant.  When I was born in 1953, Ouzinkie was probably the first stop I made after I was released from the hospital and joined the Evangel’s crew.

 

Another rare shot of Ouzinkie from the air, taken before the Tidal Wave destroyed the dock and cannery that are visible in the middle of this faded color photo.

 

Ouzinkie is only two hours away, Evangel time, from the town of Kodiak, but in bad weather it may as well be on another planet, so for some parts of the year, the town is completely isolated for weeks on end.  In his capacity as the captain of the Evangel and an ordained minister (and a male), Rev. Norman Smith has been called upon through the years to do a lot of the extra work required to keep an orphanage running in a remote village.  He has hauled freight, repaired the furnace, replaced the refrigerator, brought Baptist officials, taken village kids to the hospital, and of course, preached at a good many services in Baker’s little chapel.  I get the feeling from Miss “Setze” and Miss Crowell that when the Evangel pulls in, the reinforcements have arrived!

 

Rev. Norman Smith, captain of the Evangel, watches as a visitor disembarks at the dock in Ouzinkie.  A couple of Mission kids are on hand to help with the baggage.  (from a Mildred Crowell slide)

 

Norman Smith delivers the new refrigerator for Baker Cottage, early 1950s.

 

Rev. Norman Smith rests for a moment at the piano in the living room of Baker Cottage.  He was often called to officiate at special services there, as well as being the primary source of transportation as the captain of the Evangel.

 

Miss Crowell comes out on the front porch, ringing a large handbell, calling the kids to supper.  The village kids who have been playing all scurry off to their own dinners.  We will see them later tonight at the worship service.  We all crowd around the two big blue tables in Baker Cottage’s dining room, and steaming serving bowls appear, and Dad gives the blessing.  Amen! Time to eat!  My childish enthusiasm is dampened considerably when I see what we are eating.  Whatever else the wonderful ladies who run Baker may be, they are not cooks, at least not tonight!  A stew made of cooked dry lima beans, bits of carrot and miniscule pieces of ham steams before me, and I know the rules: I must eat everything on my plate!  I will realize later that the institutional attitude toward food and eating comes more from the fact that the current adult generation lived through the Great Depression than from some misplaced religiosity, but none of that helps me at this moment!  I struggle through my meal, managing to finish with a minimum of grumbling.  My memory is vivid now: Baker Cottage, for all its fun things to do, is not my favorite place to eat!  Miss Crowell, bless her heart, once served lime Jell-o with lima beans in it (what is it with her and lima beans, anyway?  Forty-five years later I will still hate them) and she regularly makes toast by laying bread on the surface of the hot oil stove, resulting in all burnt edges all the time.  I shouldn’t be so critical; after all, I have eaten many a birthday cake in my honor at this very table!

 

Mildred Crowell, Baptist missionary in Ouzinkie at Baker Cottage for many years, is shown here walking through the beach grass toward our shack in Larsen Bay in 1956, before we moved to Ouzinkie. 

 

The older kids busy themselves with their chores, and soon all the tables are washed, the dishes are clean, dry and stacked in their cupboards, and we all head down the narrow stairs to the basement for the service.  There has been a nearly continuous banging as the basement door opens and shuts, and by the time we are downstairs, the little chapel is nearly full.  The basement has one or two high, barred windows, and a dull, coal-dust dinginess to it, for to the right of the basement stairs is the sometimes temperamental coal furnace.  But to the left of the stairs is the new chapel, light and airy and cozy, with six bright windows and golden brown wood paneling that comes halfway up the white walls. 

 

Soon we commence our service with great enthusiasm.  Dad is famous for his strong singing voice and talent as a song leader.  People want to join in when he leads the singing.  Mom is the best organ or piano player the village has ever heard.  She plays the little pump organ with amazing skill, pumping the bellows with two huge foot petals while playing a totally different rhythm on the keys!  Dad and Mom have brought the new Youth Sings songbooks from the boat, which contain some of the most entertaining Christian music any of us have ever heard.  Years before anybody knows of “Praise Music” or “Contemporary Christian Music,” the Youth Sings is very modern!  We’ve only had the books for a few months, and already they are the only hymnbooks we use on the Evangel or at Camp Woody.  I have memorized most of the pages already:  Page 18 is “Do Lord;” page 36 is “He Lives” (and nobody can hit the high note at the end of the chorus like my Dad Norman Smith!); page 95 is “Safe am I;” page 111 is “This World is Not My Home.”  Dad sings a solo, which brings tears to the eyes of many of the adults, but is so direct that it simply makes me cringe until much later in my life: Page 55. “I’m in Love with Jesus – He’s the Lover of My Soul!” 

 

A survivor:  here is a real, genuine Youth Sings songbook from my collection, with the Evangel stencil still visible, showing the grime of the ages.  I wonder how many miles it has on it?

 

There are more songs. No one is in a hurry, and the Evangel crew is most likely the most exciting thing to hit town in weeks! The singing is loud and enthusiastic, and then Rev. Norm Smith (as he is known) speaks.  Once in a while, Dad tells a couple of stories of life on the Evangel, close calls and answered prayers. But when he does, he never lets the focus drift to himself or even the boat.  Tonight he tells the Bible story of the wise man and the foolish man.  We sang the song earlier, complete with hand motions that the kids love.  I say he tells the story, because that is what happens when he opens the Bible.  He might have a newfangled Revised Standard Version instead of a King James, but either way, when he reads Scripture, he always sounds like he just wrote it.  It’s all very low key, very hard to misunderstand, and perfect for his audience.  We sing one more song, just before the Benediction: “Living for Jesus,” number 75 in the book.  My sister Jerilynn, possessor of a sweet soprano voice, does one of her incredibly high harmonies on the chorus, “…I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne, my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone!”  Another of Dad’s favorite closing numbers, 128 in Youth Sings, is “Now I Belong to Jesus.”  Years and years later, many of these same friends will gather in the same chapel and say goodbye to Norman Smith; Jerilynn, Kelly and Tim will sing number 128 as a trio at his memorial service.

 

Incidentally, as modern as it is, Youth Sings has terribly antiquified my vocabulary (if there is such a word).  The songs often say ’tis instead of it isO’er and o’er replaces over and over.  Not to mention assorted yonders and imparts and burdens and such.  But it’s just common vernacular to me, as a preacher’s kid, and believe it or not, it’s not that hard for people to understand.  The songs are a couple of notches clearer to grasp for most people than the high church hymns of yore, and one hundred percent more understandable than the High Church Russian being used in the Orthodox churches at the time, a language which only the elderly understand. I am not at first aware of its effect on my vocabulary.  But one day around 1959, Jerilynn brings me a Camden story record with Shirley Temple narrating Bambi on one side and a batch of (probably annoying) children’s songs on the reverse.  One of them is called “The Giraffe is Laughing,” and one line goes, “now he’s laughing more and more!”  Later I run around the house singing “now he’s laughing o’er and o’er,” and I wonder why my sister Jerilynn is busy stifling a few chuckles of her own.  I gradually learn that not all songs use the sanctified vocabulary I am used to!

 

After we say the Benediction, there’s still some time before we head to the boat to sleep.  I play around outside for awhile with the Baker kids, trying to grasp the fine art of volleyball in the little court in the front yard.  My job seems mostly to run down the steep side hill and retrieve the ball from the salmonberry bushes across the lower trail.  I will be tired tonight!  Miss Crowell rings the bell again: it is bedtime for the youngest Baker kids.  But not before we sit around the big blue tables for some hot cocoa and graham crackers.  This is much better than supper was, thank you very much! 

 

Some of the Baker Mission kids wave for an unknown photographer, in this faded photo from the 1950s (photographer unknown).  The volleyball net is clearly visible in what is now a street.

 

The Smith family eventually strolls down the trail to the dock, down the long ladder to the deck, and into the Evangel for sleep.  We stay the night in the Evangel at the Ouzinkie dock, for there is some repair work that the houseparents want Dad to do before we leave.  It is fairly late when I wake up (I told you I was tired!).  The bright sunlight of yesterday has given way to more typical spring weather: low clouds and light drizzle.  Dad bounds into the pilot house ready to leave; he got up early as usual, and has already done his repair work at the cottage.  He brings a couple of boxes of things that need to be taken to the Baptist Mission in Kodiak, and a couple of the older boys bring another box or two down the ladder.  Soon everything is stowed, and we are ready to leave.  But not before we notice that just about everybody from Baker Cottage is on the dock above, ready to wave us goodbye.  I go out on the deck and watch as they race along the walkway from the oil dock to the main cannery, then reappear at the face of the dock as we pass, waving and yelling energetically.  Ouzinkie is a fun place to visit, as always, and I will be happy to return anytime.

 

Waving goodbye: Mildred Crowell and some of the Ouzinkie kids come down to the oil dock to wave us goodbye in this 16mm frame from the mid-50s.

 

A few frames later, the Evangel heads away from the dock, with the kids still waving in the distance.

The village of Ouzinkie in Evangel’s wake, summer of 1957.

 

Ouzinkie harbor as it looked in 1951, the first year Rev. Norman Smith ran the Evangel.  The Paramount and the Oregon Wolf are the cannery’s tenders, painted white with black hulls.

 

The Evangel leaves Ouzinkie as Noel rows the skiff in this apparently posed shot from the early 1950s.  I say it was posed, because obviously we did not leave Noel, the photographer (who was probably kid sister Jerilynn) nor the skiff behind!

 

My desire to return to Ouzinkie is about to be granted in a decisive way.  At the end of this summer season, we all will fly down to Washington State to be near our relatives. It is something my parents call “Deputation.”  I will see my grandparents for the first time, and it will be the first vacation my parents have had in six years. Mom and Dad will have a working vacation, for they will visit churches to tell them about the Evangel ministry.  When we come back next spring, the kids will move out of Baker Cottage and on to the cottages in Kodiak, and Ouzinkie will become our new home.  As strange as it will be to leave Larsen Bay, the only home I’ve ever known, the prospect of living in Ouzinkie sounds great to me!  (For more on my first impressions of Ouzinkie as a home village, see “Ouzinkie in the 1960s Introduction,” which describes living in the village in the pre-Tidal Wave years.)

 

The Evangel nears Spruce Cape as it heads home to Ouzinkie from Kodiak in this spectacular wintry photo from 1960.  The little window to the right was in my little compartment to the rear of the pilot house.  When I outgrew it, I moved to a bunk which stretched across the entire rear of the pilot house, a couple of feet above the double mattress where my parents slept, and my brother Kelly moved into the little side bunk. Kelly joined the crew of the Evangel in 1959, a year after we moved to Ouzinkie.  The Evangel was based in Ouzinkie from the spring of 1958 to the end of the summer in 1964.

 

The Evangel is tied between the seiners at the oil dock, at home in Ouzinkie.  This slide was taken in the winter of 1960 - 61.  The outside boat is the Cape Cheerful.  For more photos from this angle, see the amazing sequence taken by the storekeeper during the first wave of the Tsunami in “Tidal Wave Memories.”  In the early 1960s, Evangel had a mooring buoy in the harbor.  The boat had its own little adventure in the Tidal Wave, as described in that article.

 

Author’s Postscript:  One day in the early 1970s, after we had lived in Baker Cottage for over a decade, I got curious to look around in the attic over the chapel in Baker Cottage.  I crawled in through Dad’s office, and off to one side, under a pile of old Sunday School materials, I found a cardboard box.  Inside were the toys the Mission always saved for me to play with when I was visiting!  I immediately put them to good use, taking them upstairs for use by the kindergarten kids.  So maybe you’ve played with them, too!

 

Next stop: The Evangel Goes to Camp!(The Evangel goes camping at Long Island and at Camp Woody in the 1950s and 60s)

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com) This article and website is © 2005 Timothy L. Smith, Tanignak Productions, 14282 Tuolumne Court, Fontana, California, 92336 (909) 428 3472. Images unless otherwise listed are from the collection of Rev. Norman L. Smith or the Timothy L. Smith collection. This material may be used for non-commercial purposes, with attribution. Please email me with any specific requests. You are welcome to link to this site.

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