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Then and now: Past Winter Carnivals set high bar for present

Posted: January 9, 2014 - 11:16am
Band members of the Krewe of Gambrinus Social Aid and Pleasure Club march in the 2012 Homer Winter Carnival Parade.  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Band members of the Krewe of Gambrinus Social Aid and Pleasure Club march in the 2012 Homer Winter Carnival Parade.

Editor’s note: With 2014 marking the Homer News’ 50th anniversary, it’s the perfect time to look at Homer’s past. One event that’s been part of Homer winters for more than 50 years is the Homer Winter Carnival.

 

Organizers for this year’s Homer Winter Carnival are using history as a template.

“I heard it began back in the 1940s,” said Ginny Miller, who, along with her husband Dean and Dax Radtke, is heading up an effort to revamp this year’s mid-winter celebration to resemble carnivals of years gone by. “People were out of money and had cabin fever, so they’d hike into town from all around the area and party for a week.”

A one-evening carnival is mentioned in the March 31, 1947, “Homer Homesteader”:

“The carnival that was put on by the (Women’s) Club Friday evening was a great success from the community standpoint. Everyone said they had a good time.”

A longer celebration is described in the “Homer Herald” of Feb. 20, 1958. It included three days of ski racing. Weather was as uncertain then as now.

“Changes in the ski sites may be necessary due to lack of snow,” the article noted. Also changed were jalopy races scheduled on Beluga Lake, but relocated to East Road “due to lack of snow and slippery conditions.”

As a build-up to the 1964 carnival, an invitation for parade entrants was front-page news in the Jan. 28, 1964, Homer News. Five carnival queen candidates were flown to Anchorage to appear at the Fur Rendezvous.

“These beauties serve as wonderful good will ambassadors for Homer,” the paper said. “This trip is only one of the many facets of the Winter Carnival celebration that serves to keep the name of Homer in the public eye.”

The 1964 carnival schedule was filled with car races; a talent show; a barbecue; breakfast sponsored by the high school Girls Athletic Association; a Homer Little Theatre production; snowshoe baseball; ski races with athletes from Soldotna, Girdwood and Anchorage; grade school bowling at Kachemak Bowl; wrestling, the Coronation Ball and a skating party for all ages.

The following week, the Homer News proclaimed the carnival a “success.”

In 1976, an eruption of Augustine made cancelation of the carnival a possibility, but not a reality.

“It may have been the first brown Winter Carnival, but it turned out to be a good one after all, even though several events had to be postponed,” the Homer News said, referring to a dusting of volcanic ash the area received. Canceled were hot rod and snowmachine races.

In 1977, the winning carnival queen was Shelly Edens (now Erickson). Chuck Ryan, the city’s animal control officer, received an award for the most humorous parade float.

Ryan was the target of some good-natured humor during another carnival when Paul Hodgdon impersonated Ryan in the Mr. Homer competition. Wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt and hat, mimicking Ryan’s voice and accompanied by a toy stuffed dog unable to do every trick Hodgdon said it could do, Hodgdon won the audience’s approval. 

“The place went ballistic,” said Hodgdon of the response. “It was standing-room-only.”

Years later, Hodgdon was shopping in Anchorage and, as he passed a family of other shoppers, overheard the son, “That’s Mr. Homer.” Rounding the corner of the aisle, he came face to face with the family.

“We were in Homer about five years ago and you won that contest,” the father said. “It was the best weekend we ever spent.”

In 1978, Erickson passed her reign as queen to Melody Stoltzfus (now Chesley).

“We had to have some kind of talent,” said Chesley. “I was a student of Mary Epperson, playing the piano, and she taught me the song, “Rustles of Spring.”

Among her duties as queen, Chesley made the opening pitch at a snowshoe baseball game and kissed the winner of a wrestling tournament.

Ben and Kate Mitchell, who came to Homer in the 1970s, have fond memories of past carnivals. Ben Mitchell recalled one that included a snowshoe square dance. 

“They had to truck snow down here to make a big enough pad to snowshoe around in,” he said.

Kate Mitchell recalled the year their daughter was among other high school seniors running as queen contestants was the last year of the competition. That year it became a preliminary for the Miss Alaska competition and “the girls were supposed to parade in bathing suits. The class revolted and that was the end of the ‘princess’ competition,” said Mitchell.

This year’s carnival, with the theme “Dancing In the Streets,” and scheduled for Feb. 6-9, won’t include a queen pageant, but resurrects the Mr. Homer competition. It is pulling in participation by nonprofit organizations, each of them benefiting from proceeds of the activity they sponsor. It also involves some friendly competition. 

“NOMAR versus Bayweld might be the competition to watch in the outhouse race,” said Mitchell. 

The scheduling coincides with other activities planned in Homer, such as Regions hockey competition and performances by Lunasa, an Irish instrumental band brought to Homer by the Homer Council on the Arts.

Miller said becoming a grandmother rekindled warm memories of her own childhood in Homer and a commitment to make the Homer Winter Carnival a memorable event for this and future generations.

“You talk to the group of kids that grew up here and have moved back with their families and they all say they love their hometown, but we have to be careful with it,” said Miller. “It’s a treasure.”

For more information about the 2014 Homer Winter Carnival, visit the event on Facebook or contact:

• Dean Miller, 299-4771;

• Dax Radtke,  299-0319.

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