Pioneer Day: Edna Anderson’s History of the Church in Homer, Alaska

I consider myself the son of a pioneer of sorts (my father and his family appear in this tale below, as does the father of the pop star Jewel). I grew up surrounded by pioneers.  I’ve discussed Edna Anderson before on this blog.  This is her history of our ward.  I’m not sure if there are other histories (a Ward historian was called once, but I don’t know if anything came of it, and the brief section on Homer in the book A Gathering of Saints in Alaska isn’t very good or comprehensive), but when Edna said she would make a copy for anyone who wanted it, I asked for a copy.

Anyway, enough preliminaries – read on if you’re interested in Alaskan pioneers. (I have a few notes on provenance and a few other issues after the history). One note:  She switches between talking about herself in the third and first person, but Edna was not really a writer, which makes all of this more charming and amazing.

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I was asked to write a history of the Homer Branch. In checking I find few records were kept of the dates of the historical events of the church. The history of this special little Branch started before the foundation of this earth.
Our Father saved the American Continent for this last dispensation so the gospel could be restored. For some reason known only to our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ .The most westerly part of North American continent (Alaska) has been saved for a special reason.

In 1947 the Lord inspired Jay Carroll and his wife Arva to come to Alaska. They first come to Fairbanks. Arva was the grand daughter of David Henery Cannon, who was president of the St. George Temple. Arva had spent many hours in the Temple doing baptisms for the dead.

The Lord knew that it would take special people to come to this rugged, unpopulated country, and He was preparing several of these people at this time. The Carrolls were the first. Arva helped get a little branch started in Fairbanks. Then the family moved to Seward. Again Arva helped get a little branch started in Seward. In 1958 the Lord had one more move that the Carrolls had to do. They moved to Homer.

In 1959 Alaska had just became a state. A group of people from New Mexico moved to Homer to see if they could start cattle ranching. This group consisted of the Andersons, Elton and Edna and their four children, Edna and the children were members of the church. Another family were Elvin Lewis’ and his wife Lorene. Lorene was Edna’s sister but not a member of the church. Elvin was an inactive member but was very important to the history of the Homer Branch. Milton Lewis and his wife Dorothy, Jim and Virginia Wilson, Edna and Virginia were sisters also, then there was Edna’s brother Gary Presley and his wife Naomi. In 1959 you could still homestead The Lewises had come to see if Alaska would be good for cattle. They were very excited at what they had seen. They went back to New Mexico and talked the others to come with them. In the spring of 1960 Elvin and Elton hired a plane to fly them over the country. The pilot was Jay Carroll. When he found out that they were from New Mexico he asked if any of them were Mormons? His wife was a mormon and sure would like it if other Mormons moved in. Mean while Arva was trying to find other LDS members.. .She had found some young men who were stationed at a radar station which was north east of Homer. Arva and one of those young men were talking about trying to get group started. Before they had done any thing the man from the station, who was a captain was transferred… Then there were two more LDS young men from Ohlson MT, (the Radar station) They were Bob Colburn and Monty some thing. Bob Colburn had been asked by the Alaskan Canadian Mission president to be the group leader. These two air force boys who were Elders and Arva decided to put a notice in the paper that there would be a meeting the first week in April. Elder Colburn brought a little orgon from the Radar station. The first meeting was in a little quansent hut beside the Elks hall in Homer. At that first meeting there were the two Elders from Ohlson Mt., Arva and part of her children, Edna Anderson and her four children and John Childs and his family. His wife was not a member and none of the children had been baptised. It was a very spiritual meeting.. The group were so grateful to be able to partake of the sacrament again. .But with the summer activities Edna took her children and went across the bay to dig clams for the summer John Childs was a fisherman and went to sea. The two boys from Ohlson Mt. were transferred. The little group fell apart.

When school started Edna took her children one or two times to and had Sunday school at Arvas house The roads were icy and weather bad so the two ladies just had their home Sunday Schools Mean while, back at the ranch The group from New Mexico were. so excited about Alaska and potential for raising cattle they were writing to all of their friends to come up. Elvin Liwis had some friends that he thought were just right for this rugged country So he wrote to his friend Joe Tietjen to persuade him to come try his hand at ranching. (The Lord had been preparing the Tietjens) The spring of 1961 Joe came up. Later that year his brother Tom Tietjen and, his wife Christine and baby came Then Jerry Tietjen and his new wife Nelda. Edna knew some of the Tietjens in New Mexico. She knew that they were members of the LDS church, and hoped that they held the priesthood. The Andersons had three boys and hoped that they would be a good influence to the boys. Not long after Tom and Christine came to Alaska Arva contacted them to see if they wanted to come to her house for Sunday school. Edna.and Christien were the only ones that came. There was no organized branch. Edna had been talking to her sister Lorene, telling her about the Word of Wisdom and that if the Tietjen men had the priesthood they could get a group started with a leader Lorene, not being a member of the church, thought it would be great fun to get the Tietjens to break the Word of Wisdom Joe was the older of the boys and was not married. In the fall of 1961 Ednas sister gleefully told her that her priest holder had broken the Word of Wisdom Edna sat down and wrote a letter to him telling of her concern for her boys, how glad she had been when the Tietjens had come. She reminded him that Satan was always after the special angels and that he had a responsibility to her Sons. Joe had ridden his horse to the mail box. When he read the letter he said it made him furious “How dare that woman write him a letter like that?’ He said that he wadded it up and threw it as far as he could. He got on his horse and started home, still very angry. . After he had ridden a ways he decided he should go back and get the letter. Some one might find it and read it. When he got back to the mailbox hunted in the tall grass.until he found the letter. He opened it and reread it. He said as he started reading it his heart was touched, tears filled his eyes and he knew he had to start being counted. . Soon after this, President Durant from Soldotna. came to Homer and it was organized as a dependent branch of the Soldotna branch. Joe Tietjen was called as Branch president with his brothers as his counselors.. No one in the branch had any leadership training or experienee. But the Branch Presidency were humble, sincere men wanting to do the Lord’s will.

The branch met in the little quantcent hut by the Elks Club again. Not one member of the little branch knew how the line of authority was to be followed or the manner to call auxiliary heads, We met a few times in the Quansent hut then rented the Carpenters hall which was a very small building.
The Wolfe family were baptized 27th of January 1962. . Several other people joined us, Jane Bishop and her children, an old bachelor who was named Wolf but was not kin to the first Wolfes. The Mitchell families moved to Homer. They said they did not know why but they had a burning desire to move to Homer. (The Lords work again). Edna and Ray Mitchell and their six children became a strength to the little branch.
In February, 1963 Homer was made an independent branch. Again Lary Joe Tietjen was called to be Branch President. Joe had converted C.W. Mitchell SO he called him as one of his counselors. I believe Ray Mitchell was his other counselors and Tom Tietjen was called as clerk.

We had out grown our meeting house so we rented an old building called the Paint Pot. It had one large room and three smaller rooms, Sunday school classes were held in the smaller rooms. But they had a problem keeping the roof from leaking. C.W. Mitchell had donated a beautiful organ to the Branch. President Joe Tietjen came to Edna Anderson and said” You are our branch organist” Edna said “I cant I can only pick out a tune with one hand” Joe said” That is fine. We will set you apart and the Lord will help you do the job. Then he walked off. Edna believed him and started playing the organ She still holds this position,  and can play passably.

The little branch grew and the members were trying to start their lives in this wild country. Every thing they did was started with a prayer. The Tietjen brothers decided they were going to keep the Sabbath Day holy. When Sunday came they were in the middle of putting up their hay. Sunday morning the boys and their families left the hay and went to Homer for church. Their non member friends shook their heads and said the Tietjens would loose their hay. Elvin Lewis said he was sure that the Lord would have forgiven them. with so much rain in Alaska. Monday morning there was dark clouds and rain falling. Joe, Tom and Jeny went to their fields and baled hay all day. It rained every where except on the fields they were working on.

People were healed,  live stock were found.  Elton Anderson, Edna’s husband had a milk cow that was sick.. They knew that she was going to die. He told told Jerry Tietjen about the cow. Jerry asked if he could have the cow. Elton said sure but she was almost dead. She could not move. Jerry came out and got the cow in a sitting position and gave her a blessing then he left her with some of Tom’s children watching her and pet her until he went to get a trailer. When Jerry got back with the trailer he got a hold off her tail and he told her to get up. She got up and walked in to the trailer. There could be pages written of wonderful things that happened.

Edna Belnap,  a convert, was the first Relief Society president. Her counselors were Christine Tietjen and Cleo Green. Arva Carroll was the first Primary President. Edna Anderson was MTA President. We had what was called a small MIA. We received all of our lessons from the Alaskan Canadian Mission. Both girls and boys were together. There was Andy and David and Joyce Anderson, Nedra Carroll, Karen and Janette Mitchell and Lynette Abbott that were members of the church, but there was from fifteen to twenty young people that were not members that came. About that time Atz Kilcher who had been coming was baptized.

December 3td 1967 Larry Joe Tietjen was released as Branch President. He was going to go back to New Mexico.. In 1965 Edna Anderson was in Anchorage and found they were having Conference so she went. Mark E. Peterson was presiding. Edna was concerned about her non member husband and talked to Elder Peterson about it. He asked her if there were any Missionaries in Homer. When she said there were none he said don’t worry we will get missionaries down there. Not to long after that, I can’t fmd the exact date missionaries were sent to Homer.
At the time Joe Tietjen was released as Branch president there were missionaries and for four months Missionaries were acting President. Elder Richard Lengren was sustained Dec 3 1967 and released Dec. 31, 1967. Elder Anthony March was sustained President on march 17, 1968 Elder March was released and Elder Dennis Moore was sustained Branch President.

On April, 28 1968 Elder Moore was released and Jerry Tietjen was sustained Branch President, with C.W. Mitchell was first counselor, and Robert Jenn second counselor. While the missionaries were Branch President the branch learned a little about the proper procedures for business of the church. The Tietjen brothers had donated land for a chapel to be built upon. While Joe was Branch President the branch started projects to raise money to build a chapel. Their first effort was a Jr. Rodeo and barbeque. The children of the Kenai Peninsula really liked that project. The first rodeo was in Homer. The next two years they had Jr. Rodeos in Happy Valley. There were many other money raising projects. Bake sales The MIA made candy and sold it door to door. When Jerry Tietjen was Branch President he asked every one to give a weeks wages to the building find. They all did.

In 1968 the chapel was started: All the branch members helped build it. There was a contractor working all the time. In 1969 the partly completed chapel burned to the ground. This was an awful set back to the little branch, but they started again and completed it in the fall of 1969. With the completion of the chapel the Branch began to grow. In 1971 President Jerry Tietjen decided to go to Ricks college. He was released and Robert L Jenn was made Branch President Tom Tietjen first counselor and Terry Seljestad as second counselor. Terry and his wife Nancy and their children had moved down from Anchorage,

The fall of 1971 president Jenn moved away and Terril T. Seljestad was called as Branch President. With Tom Tietjen as first counselor and Dave Hilderbrand as second counselor. I know that each president was chosen by the Lord for what he could give to the branch. The Tietjen brothers brought their complete faith in the Lord., their belief that you could do any thing with the help of the Lord. The missionaries brought order to the branch and inspired the first missionary from Homer to go on a mission. Andy Anderson was the first and then David Parmeater and Clyde Ashcraft. Robert Jenn got the branch to realize that we had to be on time and follow through with our commitments. Terry and Nancy Seljestad made the branch realize that you must fallow the line of authority, and that each person could receive revelation and inspiration for their own particular job. Terry Seljestad was released November 1976 and Jamie Ballentine was sustained Branch Prestdent with Atz Kilcher and Tommy Swatzell as Counselors President Ballentine  got every one committed to reading the scriptures and husbands to give their wives special attention to strengthen their families. Atz Kilcher moved to Anchorage, so President Ballintine called Jerry Alan Anderson to be first counselor May 20 1979 President Ballentine was released and Steven Wolfe called as President with Jerry Anderson and Man Turkington as counselors. The branch has grown from two members in 1959 to over a hundred in 1979. We are in the process of adding to our building.

There has always been a special feeling, a choice spirit. I feel the Lord has special plans for Homer.
President Wolfe is the oldest son of Ed and Neica Wolfe who were the first converts in the little Homer Branch. Tom and Christien Tietjen are the only Tietjens left, but they are still a strength to the branch. They have eight children now.

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[Note on provenance:  I can put anyone interested in verification into contact with members of her family who can verify this.  She often read this in sacrament meeting for Pioneer day talks, so I can get dozens of others to verify this is hers.  I also have the copies she gave me.  On that - I used OCR scanning and then cleaned up the few mistakes, but I left in nearly all of Edna's "mistakes" in grammar, punctuation, etc.  I did clean up a few misspelling if I thought it would be confusing, but otherwise left it untouched.  I do have image files of the paper she gave me.]

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About Ivan W.

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was just shy of 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has five kids and four stepkids.

6 thoughts on “Pioneer Day: Edna Anderson’s History of the Church in Homer, Alaska

  1. I stumbled upon this story while looking for information on when my family was there. My mom, Jerry’s sister and dad went to Alaska not long after. I was born there along with most of my siblings. My family has many memories of this time. I’d never heard the stories that were in this article. Thanks! I’m excited to share them with my children.

  2. It was great to hear these stories. I’m Jerry Tietjen’s daughter. I heard about this from my cousin. I’ve heard most of these stories, but it’s great to hear them from someone else’s perspective. Thanks for posting it.

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