Top:  Noel, Mom Joyce, Jerilynn, and Robin on the Evangel heading toward Ouzinkie in the summer of 1951 (first summer visit). Right: the Evangel leaves Kodiak (probably to berth in Larsen Bay for the winter, mid-50’s) on the route that passes Ouzinkie

Left: The Evangel’s pilot house view of Ouzinkie in the sunset, mid-50’s. Below: The Evangel at the Grimes Packing Company dock, early 1950’s. Later the cannery became the Ouzinkie Packing Company and got a new sign, although all the cannery’s seiners retained their “GPC” prefixes.

Bottom: The Ouzinkie shoreline in the mid-1950’s, from the cannery to the church hill.

Evangel Island Journey 9 - Early Visits to Ouzinkie

The Evangel’s Journeys to Ouzinkie in the 1950’s

By Timothy Smith (revised in 2020)

The EVANGEL Visits Ouzinkie in the 1950’s

A Photo Gallery of Ouzinkie As a Regular Stop 1951-1957

Visits to the Baker Cottage Baptist Mission Orphanage

Author’s Note: Ouzinkie became my home in the fall of 1958, and I went through kindergarten and grade school there. But from  1951-1957, the Evangel visited the village frequently, because during those years there was a Baptist orphanage (“children’s home”) in the village, and the Evangel was an important part of their support team. This article focuses on our frequent visits. The photos include a lot of waterfront and cannery shots, because unlike Larsen Bay, the cannery was destroyed and the waterfront changed forever in the 1964 Tidal Wave, and those photos are now historic.

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, one of the largest spruce trees on Spruce Island!  I also love to visit the village because I think the houses tucked away among the spruce trees are pretty after the shrubs and occasional cottonwoods of Larsen Bay.

It’s only a couple of hours from Afognak south 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. But almost everybody listens to marine band shortwave, so soon 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 Gift  from the Sea” in bright red letters, and we don’t want to be in dock space that may be needed. Dad soon finds out that the cannery is not operating today, so where the Evangel is tied up 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. (Continued below…)

Photo Gallery: The EVANGEL and the Mission in the ‘50’s

Two restored very faded photos show Ouzinkie from the air in the 1950’s. Left: the cannery shows up as a jumble of buildings in the lower center. Right: the center of town, with the Orthodox church top left, the store in the center closest to the dock, and the Baptist Mission’s roof visible in the bottom center left.

Top left: the Evangel enters Ouzinkie harbor in the mid-1950’s.

Bottom left: The cannery buildings make this view of Ouzinkie look almost like someplace in New England in this photo from the early 1950’s.  

Structures from left are the cannery machine shop, the company store (minus its later addition), the superintendent’s house, an old log home with white clapboard siding, the “ways” and ramp for storing fishing boats, and the Holy Nativity Russian Orthodox Church. Only the church remains today, surrounded by tall trees and many new buildings. The Evangel is tied up at the cannery’s oil dock. The Bonnie is behind it, and the Evangel is next to a seiner whose mast is visible.

Baker Cottage Baptist Mission in a 1958 black and white photo (and showing it in the middle of a spruce forest) and in a very faded color photo from the mid-1950’s with kids waving from the front porch. A volleyball net stretches where a road passes today. The addition off of the side of the building was built in the early 1950’s and Rev. Norman Smith (my Dad) was asked to preach at its dedication as a chapel. After the Smith family moved to Ouzinkie in 1958, Dad served as pastor of that little chapel until his death in 1996.

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, not the alders and cottonwoods of Larsen Bay.  There are no trees that are good enough at home, although there are a few that can handle a standard swing.  Here, 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.

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.

Ouzinkie is only two hours away, Evangel time, from the town of Kodiak. But in bad weather it may as well be in another hemisphere. So during stormy weather, especially in the winter, 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! (Continued below…)

The Very Busy Rev. Norman Smith

Rev. Norman Smith at work for Baker Cottage Baptist Mission (children’s home) in the early 1950’s. It is rare to find photos of Dad at work.  Probably Miss Setze took these.

Top left: Dad delivers a new refrigerator around 1952. Top right: Dad (standing on the Evangel’s top deck) helps transport a Baptist official to Ouzinkie, while one of the Mission kids plays “hold my purse.” Right: Dad has just preached at the Mission’s Sunday service, based on his shirt and string tie. He looks tired out!

The Wonderful Old “Fat Tree”

What made Ouzinkie and Baker Cottage such a fun place: the trees! Three portraits of the “Fat Tree” which marked the unofficial boundary of the Mission’s yard. Sadly, today the great tree is gone, and it’s an intersection of two streets. Left: a colorized photo of Baker Cottage and the Fat Tree from the 1960’s. Center: the Fat Tree dominates the trail on this snowy day in 1968 (tinted photo). Right: My older brother Noel at the very top of the Fat tree in the summer of 1952.

Timmy Smith’s First Ouzinkie Connections

The author’s early connections to Ouzinkie and the Mission: Left: Baker Cottage Ouzinkie’s houseparent, Mildred Crowell, came to help us in Larsen Bay after I was born (1953 photo). Most likely we stopped in Ouzinkie right after I was born in Kodiak, on our way to Larsen Bay. Right: my Mom, Joyce Smith, holds me as I enjoy birthday cake on my first birthday, celebrated in Ouzinkie, May 1954. Author’s note: Ouzinkie (and Baker Cottage) became my home in the fall of 1958, and was our family’s home until Mom Joyce passed away in 2006.

Miss Crowell comes out on the front porch of the Mission, 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 many of 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? Sixty years later I will still hate them! She regularly makes toast by laying bread on the surface of the hot oil stove, resulting in all burnt edges all the time, even though once we move to Ouzinkie and use that very stove, we will discover that the oven makes the best toast in the world.  I shouldn’t be so critical; after all, I have eaten many a birthday cake in my honor at this very table! Later I also begin to grasp the incredible dedication of these houseparents, far from home and family, working to give these children a decent place to stay while the kids’ families are in chaos. And although the environment of Baker Cottage is “institutional,” the children have their own beds, meals every day, and a lenient free time policy thanks to the wonderful forest that Baker Cottage was built in.

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. (Continued below…)

The “Indiana Memorial Chapel” at Baker Cottage

The chapel addition to Baker Cottage was paid for and constructed by volunteers from Baptist churches in Indiana, and was called “Indiana Memorial Chapel” while the children’s home was in operation. When my parents began running the ministry as a Christian Center, it was informally named “Ouzinkie Chapel,” and that was Dad’s CB handle for years.

Left: Ouzinkie Chapel in Baker Cottage. The walls, ceiling, chairs, lights, and all but a few decorations remained the same from 1952 to 2006. Right: a Youth Sings hymnal from the Evangel, which we brought with us to Ouzinkie, to Camp Woody, and to the Larsen Bay chapel for many years. Wonder how many miles this copy has on it?

Soon we commence our service with great enthusiasm.  Dad is known for his strong singing voice and talent as a song leader. People just seem to 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 we brought from the boat 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 in late 1950’s Christendom!  Years before anybody knows of “Praise Music” or “Contemporary Christian Music,” the Youth Sings is very modern for its time.  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!”  I didn’t appreciate that song until I agreed with 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’s simply telling a story. It’s hard to tell when he’s reading and when he’s explaining or expanding. 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 Rev. Norman Smith; members of his family will sing number128 as a trio at his memorial service.

Incidentally, as modern as it is, Youth Sings  and the other hymnbooks have terribly antiquified my vocabulary (if there is such a word).  The Church at large still feels that King James English is more spiritual, more appropriate, for church songs, and those are almost the only ones I know. The songs often say ’tis instead of it is.  O’er and o’er replaces over and over.  Not to mention assorted yonders and imparts and burdens and billows 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!  (Continued below…)

The Kids of Baker Cottage and Ouzinkie

Around the time period of this article, 1956 or 57, the “Baker kids” of Baker Cottage Baptist Mission, posed with quite a few village kids and our family for a portrait, most likely after a Vacation Bible School session. Kids will be kids; the official portrait has everyone facing forward and smiling; these two are the run-up to that success, and unpublished. The more I look at these the funnier they get. I left them large so that we could catch all the details.

For both photos: back row left, the tallest person is my brother Noel, and to his right in the white blouse is my sister Jerilynn. The lady with gray hair is Miss Crowell, my Mom, in a green dress, is holding me, and at the far right in a dark dress is Miss Mary Setzekorn. The lady between them is unknown. In the very front row, my sister Robin is in the white blouse and turquoise dress. (So many others I wish I could name)

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 get underway. 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.

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.”  That means Mom and Dad will have a working vacation, for they will visit churches to tell them about the Evangel ministry. I will see my grandparents for the first time, and it will be the first vacation my parents have had in six years. When we come back next spring, the kids will move out of Baker Cottage and on to the three Mission 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!  

We’re Leaving (But We’ll Be Back Soon)

A departure from Ouzinkie, mid-50’s. (From 16mm movie frames)

Top:  Kids from the Mission and the village, and a couple of adults, come to the dock to say goodbye. Left: The kids in the distance, and three of Ouzinkie Packing Corporation’s fishing boats. Right: the Bonnie at the face of the dock, and the kids have run to the end of the dock as the Evangel slowly departs. One cannery worker looks down from the second story doorway. All these buildings and boats are gone now.

Epilogue: When we moved to Ouzinkie, there were many changes in the Smith family. My brother Kelly was born in 1959, and Ouzinkie is his hometown. Noel and Jerilynn were in high school when we moved, and had to live in Kodiak during the school year, so they never got to call Ouzinkie home. Robin left for school a short time later. So for most of my life, Kelly and I (the two Alaska-born Smiths) were the only children at home.

See also the online article “Ouzinkie in the 1960’s – Introduction,” which describes living in the village in the pre-Tidal Wave years.

Right: Noel rowed the Evangel’s skiff and Jerilynn took the photo as the Evangel barreled out of Ouzinkie bay in 1951 on their first summer in Alaska. Dad obviously came back for them!

The next article is “The Evangel Goes to Camp:

Camp Woody Early History”

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