Story last updated at 3:14 p.m. Thursday, September 26, 2002

Early homesteader Vega Pratt dies at 87
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photos courtesy of Maren Bennett
Vega Pratt, above, was known for her adventurous spirit and love of the outdoors, often going on hunting and trapping trips.  
The faded old photos of Vega Pratt's childhood may no longer be crystal-clear, but they cannot hide her often devilish grin or her love of the outdoors, characteristics family and friends say set her apart all her life.

And that's quite a long time, considering that when Vega first arrived on the shores of Homer in 1924, less than a dozen homes stood on the grassy bluffs.

Last Thursday, after 78 years in Homer, she died at the age of 87.

Vega started her long life as Vega Anderson, born in Washington in 1915. In an autobiography she wrote in the early '90s for a book by the Alaska Pioneers of the Lower Kenai Peninsula titled "In Those Days," she tells how her family came to move to Alaska.

"Dad had been troubled with asthma for years and had gone to a number of doctors and taken all kinds of medicine, but nothing helped," she wrote. "Finally, one of them suggested he change climates. Maybe Australia or Alaska. Since he had been to Alaska and knew what the climate was like and realized that he always felt better when he was there, there was no question as to where the family would go. At that time, I was 8 years old."

Vega and her family, including brothers Virgo and Fred, boarded the Alaska Steamship Company ship and spent 10 days traveling to Seldovia. The family lived in the small fishing village for a year before moving to Homer.

photo: news

  Photo courtesy Maren Bennet
Family of the Homer homesteader guess this photo was taken on Vegapis honeymoon, another outdoor adventure, at age 21.  
Vega recalled their first view of Homer.

"As we were getting closer to the land, we noticed how open the land was. Mostly fields of grass that grew 6 feet high in some places, with just a few patches of small trees here and there," she wrote.

The family first set up house in a small log cabin near Bishop's Beach, eventually moving onto their homestead land nearby.

"As there were no modern conveniences in Homer at that time, we lived a very simple life. We lived in a tent first while Dad built a sod house to live in until we got our three-story log house finished. That is where I grew up."

The home Vega writes about is still standing on Kachemak Way, recently restored to show its dovetail log construction by Vega's niece, Maren Bennett.

At that time, Vega recalled, there were only 10 houses in Homer. Three families and a handful of bachelors were Homer's only residents.

"In the winters we skied, skated, played cards and danced. Now and then we'd go for a sleigh ride," she wrote. "If we decided to visit someone, with the short days, it took most of the day just to walk both ways with the darkness coming down so fast. That's why we didn't socialize much. There was always something to do to keep ahead of things. Just existing and getting ready for the next season was enough."

With no running water or electricity, the whole family kept busy working, Vega wrote. Groceries arrived by boat once a month, along with the mail. In the winter, supplies arrived even less frequently.

After attending school in Homer through age 16, Vega began working at area canneries. One summer, while working in Seldovia, she met Sam Pratt, who was living in Kasilof at the time. Vega would later say she knew right away that Sam was her man.

The two were married in 1936, and Vega recalled her wedding in Seldovia clearly.

"I was not dressed in proper attire for a bride, as we were going to have our honeymoon in the Sheep Hills at the head of Kachemak Bay. I wore my tight-legged pants that buttoned up to the knees and out full at the hips like riding britches. That was so they would go into my high-top shoepacs," she wrote. "I had on my blue sweater, as blue is my favorite color."

After an adventurous honeymoon that seemed to set the pace for the remainder of Vega's life, the couple came back to Homer and stayed with Sam's sister, Thelma, and her husband Harris Gordon.

Work on their first home began soon, a home that eventually became one of Homer's largest houses. Located on Pioneer Avenue, the Pratt House, as it is now known, is currently a youth hostel.

Vega and Sam opened an arts and gifts shop, but the shop became more than that, she wrote.

"Since it was close to the school, we had candy, gum, pop, popcorn, school supplies and yarns and needle goods. We carried almost anything in that line like a miniature department store."

In addition, the couple handled Department of Motor Vehicle and Fish and Game licenses for years.

While her husband was involved in many civic organizations and would eventually donate land and paintings to what is now the Pratt Museum, Vega put her energies toward outdoor pursuits, her love of animals and entertaining her niece and nephews.

Vega, true to her pioneer spirit, joined Sam on many activities, including hunting and trapping.

"She was the greatest aunt," Bennett said. "I get my love of the outdoors from her. We were always in the woods or the beach exploring."

Bennett said her aunt was always ready to play and had a youthful exuberance even in her later years.

Vega was famous for her love of Halloween, and every kid in the neighborhood would descend on her house each year. Typically in costume as a witch, she would truly throw herself into the fall holiday. Christmas was similar.

According to Jean Keene, who was Vega's supervisor and friend at Icicle Seafoods for many years, the Homer pioneer was a hard-working, spirited person. Vega worked at Icicle well into her 70s.

"You would never catch her walking," Keene said. "She was always running. She got out and did anything. She was very hands-on."

Keene said while Vega would never hesitate to pitch in on hard work, she also enjoyed a lighter side of life. Music (the danceable kind) and art were passions of Pratt's, and the pioneer was also known for her affinity for the pool table.

"She was a very jovial person," Keene said. "She always kept up great spirits."

Even in her later years, Bennett said, her aunt kept her sense of humor. One day, after exercises at the Friendship Center, a group was told to relax. Vega, who was sitting on the couch, rolled onto the floor. The center staff jumped up, thinking she was hurt, but found Vega laughing. When asked what happened, Vega said she was just doing what the person said -- relaxing.

Along with Bennett, Vega is survived by her nephew, Rick Anderson, and his wife, Marti. She was preceded in death by her husband and brothers.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer-news.com.

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