Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Good citizens in training — Animal program has youth facility residents teaching, learning

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Walk. Sit. Heel. Trust. Communicate. Be generous with praise and support. Don’t get frustrated.

The commands were meant to train the dogs Kenai Chief Animal Control Officer Patricia Stringer and her nine new assistants were working with Aug. 22. But the context of the chain-link fence and stark concrete walls of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, where Stringer’s assistant trainers were held in custody, gave the instructions a larger relevance in the trainers’ lives.

“When training a dog to walk on a leash, it’s important to talk to her. If you talk softly and quietly with her, she’ll be fine,” Stringer said.

Stringer’s brown animal control uniform stood out among the sea of blue youth facility garb, and her quick, sure movements in interacting with the dogs highlighted the more reserved, self-conscious approach of the students.

“She actually put her hands on him and praised him for doing a good job. That’s what you should be doing,” Stringer said, offering praise to a trainer who gave positive reinforcement to the dog she was training.

“It’s much better to be where you need to be and doing what you should be doing,” Stringer said in demonstrating how to teach a dog to heel by using treats to keep it walking alongside. “And it works with everything, especially dogs.”

The lesson is a case of better late than never for the youth facility residents. If they had been where they needed to be and did what they needed to do, they wouldn’t have ended up at the detention facility. But if they learn those lessons now, they hopefully won’t have to come back.

The animal interaction program is one of several community partnerships the youth facility is developing, where visitors come in and give training or presentations to the kids. Volunteers from the Kenai Fire Department, Kenai Peninsula Job Center, The LeeShore Center and the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska have all participated.

“I think it’s really important that there’s a connection between kids and the community,” said Joe Mooney, school facilitator at the youth facility. “Oftentimes they don’t feel a connection with their school or social lives.”

Having positive con-nections in place when youths transition out of the juvenile justice system can create a safety net to keep them from winding up back in bad situations. That’s really what it comes down to, Mooney said.

“It’s a troubled situation, not troubled kids. All kids are great when you peel all the layers back,” he said.

The youth facility is a 10-bed detention center for juveniles in criminal trouble. Youths can be housed there temporarily, usually after being taken into custody while they wait to see a judge, or on a longer-term basis during prolonged court processes. Having such a facility in Kenai keeps peninsula juvenile offenders from being sent to Anchorage or having to be placed at Wildwood.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District operates a school in the youth facility, with Mooney and a tutor teaching the multiage population. The goal is to keep students up on their education so they can transition back into mainstream schools.

The purpose of the community presenters, like Stringer with the Kenai Animal Shelter, is to offer lessons of a different kind — job skills, life skills, or a little of both.

This is Stringer’s second year volunteering at the youth facility. She comes in on Fridays, as schedules allow, bringing animals and an assistant from the shelter with her. She’s done presentations on ownership and basic care of all kinds of animals — from rodents to birds and more mainstream dogs and cats.

In August she began a six-week Canine Good Citizen training course. Youth facility students help Stringer train shelter dogs to follow commands like sit and heel, which improves their chances of being adopted. Meanwhile, the training improves the students’ chances of being better adapted to life beyond the youth facility.

“I see it as therapy for the kids, not training for the dogs. Patsy sees it as interaction for the dogs,” Mooney said.

Getting permission to bring dogs, much less ferrets or rats, to the youth facility was a trick in itself, since the state juvenile justice system has strict rules regarding such things. But Steve Kiefer, superintendent of the facility, said he sees it as a positive program.

“A lot of kids have bonds with animals at home. This gives them more tools to strengthen that relationship, and it gives them tools to lower anxiety levels and deal with stress,” he said.

The training prepares the dogs for being pets, and it prepares the students for being better pet owners.

“They’ll have a better idea what it takes, the responsibility to have a pet and know how to take care of it,” Mooney said.

On Aug. 22, at least one student clearly had experience with animals. He was able to take the rowdiest of the three dogs Stringer brought, Kip, and have him sitting, heeling and laying down.

“It just reminds me of being back. It’s fun petting them and playing with them. I haven’t been able to see my dogs for a while,” the student said.

Stringer said she likes to bring two hooligans and one of her own, already-trained dogs for the students to work with.

“So the children can at least work with one animal who is going to be responsive,” Stringer said. She wants them set up for success. “Not that the children can’t do it, they just don’t know how. Because they all have positives, every one of them.”

She could have been referring to the dogs or the students. Probably both, as Stringer often spoke to the kids and dogs with the same tone — firm yet positive, delivering specific, to-the-point instructions, and offering immediate praise for anything done right, all in her crisp English accent.

“Often the children are from difficult backgrounds. If you can get them to open themselves up by teaching them to interact with a dog in a positive manner, you get that communication with them,” Stringer said. “You teach them you can get anything with kindness and reward.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy — life or dog training.

“This is hard,” a student complained as their charge, an Australian shepherd named Trooper, seemed more interested in visiting with Stringer’s dog, Meg, than heeling.

“Of course it’s hard,” Stringer replied. “Everything in life is hard. But once you get it, it’s wonderful.”

Fine wine by design — Winery puts connoisseurs in control of tasteful selections

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Building an inde- pendent business in Alaska can be a matter of finding an unoccupied niche and digging in for the long haul. The niche Rod Matson is looking to excavate is more like the Grand Canyon.

“Anyone who drinks alcohol in any way, shape or form. We’re trying to get everybody,” he said.

Matson, of Kenai, owns and operates Matson’s Winery and Supply on the Kenai Spur Highway by Beaver Loop Road. The shop is an outgrowth of a home brew supply store he started in the same location eight years ago. Three years ago he built a new building to accommodate his newest endeavor — wine-making — and draw in a new clientele.

“I shoot for everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to get the beer people — I have supplies for them — the wine people — you can make it at home or make it here, or you can come in and buy a bottle. Here in Alaska, you gotta do things differently, see who you’re selling to and who you want to sell to and fit into a little niche.”

His brewing supplies include equipment and ingredients for making beer or wine at home. His more recent addition is on-premises wine-making. Customers can buy a kit including the grape juice, yeast, extra flavorings and all the other ingredients needed for wine.

For an added fee, Matson supplies all the equipment and know-how necessary to mix, ferment, monitor, clarify and bottle the wine. Kits make about 23 bottles, which patrons can supply themselves or buy from Matson. The cost of each bottle ends up being about $7 to $9, depending on the kit that’s chosen.

Matson is also working toward federal licensing that will allow him to sell wine he’s made by the bottle. He’ll sell to tourists in the summer or anyone wanting just a bottle or two of original wine, without having to make it themselves or end up with cases of it.

For those who are do-it-yourselfers, Matson’s service includes some appealing perks, including storage, since would-be winemakers don’t have to sacrifice room at home for bulky carboys or fermentation buckets. Nor do they have to clean all that gear once the wine’s done its thing, or worry about how it’s doing every step of the way.

“We trusted him completely. He’s like the wine guru,” said Roxanne Marker. She and her husband, Ed, of Kenai, have made a Riesling and a merlot with Matson. “Any questions we had, he was happy to answer. And he was a lot of fun to do that with.”

The Markers were at Matson’s on Saturday to contemplate their next foray into the world of wine. This time, instead of picking from labels on boxes or descriptions in a catalog, the Markers got to sample what they may take home in bulk in the future.

Matson was having an open house. At a winery, that means open bottles — with a row of more than 20 wines made by customers uncorked and ready for tasting. Red, white, blush, dessert, dinner, light, robust, crisp, fruity, smooth — the options were as varied as the homemade labels customers had affixed to their bottles.

Roxanne Marker does rubber stamps. With Ed creating the text for the label on the computer, she fashioned a moose in the woods motif, complete with the inspiration for the name of the wine — “Moose Nugget Merlot.”

“You get the satisfaction of knowing you actually made this yourself,” Roxanne said. “And you can use it for gifts. It’s a little extra-special thing.”

The Markers got interested in wine through a friend in Colorado who was a wine distributor and gave them high-end bottles to sample. They saw an ad for Matson’s winemaking service and decided to give it a try. With two batches aging at home and plans to start a third soon, they’re happy to not have to buy from the store every time they want a bottle.

“It’s much better,” Roxanne said. “It’s crisper and cleaner tasting to us.”

“For comparable wines, it’s less expensive (than store-bought),” Ed said.

Bill and Lou Wirin, of Soldotna, were at the open house at the invitation of their friend, Merrill Sikorski, who had enticed them with his recent endeavor.

“We got a bottle from Merrill. He said I absolutely could not drink it until next winter,” Lou Wirin said.

Running down the list of options to sample set the Wirins on a path down memory lane, especially with the French, Italian and German offerings.

“We were stationed in Europe for five years and I learned to drink good wines, and I just enjoy them,” Lou said. “I’ve never gotten into making them before, but I may.”

A German ice wine — a super-sweet white dessert wine made from grapes that have endured a frost — sent Lou into a peal of German.

“If you have the accent, that’s 90 percent of it,” Matson said.

Just liking wine is the other requirement of being a connoisseur. Lou had that in spades.

“I’m just a wineaholic,” she said.

Kris Eriksen and Jeff Pfile, of Kenai, have pursued their wine interest around the world, touring vineyards in California, France and, soon, Italy. They were married at home on June 21, and friends from Oklahoma shipped up a few crates of personalized wine specially made for their wedding. Since they still have some of that at home, they were considering a port to round out their collection.

“Then we need to build a wine cellar because we don’t have any place to put more,” Eriksen said.

They flipped through one of Matson’s catalogs and were impressed by the options — Australian, New Zealand, South American, South African, European and American wines.

“They have a lot of good choices. Really, anything you’ve heard of,” Eriksen said.

The problem may be waiting the 45 days for the fermentation process, and the recommended four- to six-month aging period after bottling.

“The question is, can you take it home and not drink it?” Eriksen said.

“That remains to be seen,” Pfile said.

For Matson, his new licensing allows him to indulge in his interest – wine making, and helping anyone interested in wine drinking indulge in theirs.

“It’s a tough job,” Matson said. “My wife has no sympathy for me.”

“Not a drop,” Janet Matson chimed in.

Matson is planning another open house and winetasting this fall. For more information, call 283-3207.

Horses not allowed in town? ‘That’s bull’ — Soldotna man charged up over arrest, night in jail for disorderly conduct

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

“You don’t mess with hillbillies.”

That’s the message Robert D. Sherman has for anyone looking to hassle him over his horse.

Sherman, of Soldotna, regularly rides his 9-year-old registered Morgan mare, Jazzy, three miles into Soldotna from his 80 acres in the Sport Lake area.

After losing his driver’s license this winter on a driving while license suspended or revoked charge stemming from legal wrangling over a lack of insurance and payment for a fender bender, Sherman’s horse has become more than just a pet.

“That’s my mode of transportation,” he said on Aug. 27.

When the 62-year-old hits the road, he does it as Dr. Shoals or the Old West intended – on foot, or on horseback.

“I walk 10 miles every day just to keep my heart pumping,” he said.

In cowboy boots, no less, complete with cowboy hat, plaid shirt, metal belt buckle that looks big enough to throw him off balance, and a cigarette in hand.

The boots he’s worn “all my life,” he said. He grew up in Kentucky, and left his family’s homestead there to come to Alaska in 1991 looking for better financial opportunities.
“I met a gal in Florida. She talked me into a visit and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I stayed and she left. I’ll never leave.”

Sherman retired in February, he said, and keeps busy growing produce for the Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Soldotna Creek Park, taking care of his animals (along with Jazzy, he has three dogs), and regularly eats breakfast at Central Peninsula Hospital, where he’s gotten to know the staff through his bouts of heart problems.

He says he’s had two stents, four bypasses, three angioplasties and in 2005 had open heart surgery after doctors discovered he’d had a heart attack in 2004.

“But I do real well. God’s been good to me,” he said.

Law enforcement, on the other hand, not so much, he said.

Sherman draws attention — honks, waves, double-takes — when he comes into town, riding or walking Jazzy on city sidewalks or waiting for traffic to clear enough to lead her across the highway. The attention he’s gotten from law enforcement has not been as friendly, he said.

Around noon on Aug. 22, Sherman was arrested at City Hall in Soldotna. He says he stopped by to see the mayor or city manager, but neither was available so he went back outside to leave. While collecting Jazzy from out front, police arrived and arrested him.Sherman says the officer arrested him for disturbing the peace because he had his horse in town.

“It’s pretty sad when you can’t ride a horse in a country that’s free,” he said.

Soldotna police tell a different story, that Sherman walked in a back door at City Hall into an employee area with two of his dogs in tow, demanding to see the mayor.

According to a police report, Sherman had been contacted by police about a half hour earlier on Aspen Drive for his horse and two dogs walking in traffic. During that interaction, police report Sherman was cursing, yelling loudly and poked an officer in the chest with his finger. He was given a disorderly conduct warning and released.

After the police were called to City Hall, Sherman was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility.

“That’s bull,” Sherman said. His animals are always in control, he said.

“They all mind me this well,” he said, indicating his dog, Babe a skin-and-bones yellow lump flopped on the ground at his feet. Sherman says he gave her away a year ago but recently took her back when he saw the shape she was in. He says he’s put five to 10 pounds on her since he’s had her back.

“If I holler at them if they’re heading into somebody’s yard, they come right back,” he said. “I don’t believe in beating animals, either. I don’t hurt animals.”

He’s had 12 dogs, Sherman said, but has lost all but three.

“The bears or other animals get them,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of trouble with bears out there.”

Sherman’s horse has also been picked up in Kenai for wandering loose. Animal control officers picked up Jazzy on Aug. 10 after finding her wandering in a neighborhood. Sherman was in town visiting a friend and had tied Jazzy up outside, but she got loose, he said.

Animal control officers notified Sherman that they had his horse, and he came to the shelter to get her.
“It was never any problem for us. He was very cordial. He did everything he was supposed to do,” said Patricia Stringer, chief animal control officer in Kenai.

Stringer said there are only certain areas of the city where raising livestock is allowed, but there’s no law against riding a horse.

“Somebody riding it through town or walking it through town, that’s not an issue,” she said.

Soldotna Police Sgt. Duane Kant said the same is true in Soldotna.

“I think you can ride a horse in town, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

The issue with Sherman wasn’t the horse, Kant said, it was Sherman’s behavior.

At Wildwood, Sherman says he was assaulted by six guards, and one was 500 pounds.
“I’m an old man. I’m 120 pounds soaking wet. That 500-pound guy sat on my back, took the back of my feet and pulled them over my head,” he said.

By the time he was released Aug. 23, he said he was bruised and went to the hospital, but nothing was broken.

Sherman said the guards wouldn’t book him or let his friend bail him out Aug. 22, and he was angry about it.

“I did everything they told me, except shut up. I screamed and hollered all night. That’s why I’m so hoarse still.

“I said, ‘It’s a good thing you’ve got me handcuffed, or I’d kick your a--,’” he said.

Richard Schmitz, a communications assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections, said it’s not uncommon to use multiple officers to restrain someone who is being uncooperative. He didn’t have specific details about Sherman’s situation.

Sherman said he plans to consult a lawyer about the incident.

“I’m a pretty peacefully person, but when somebody rolls on me, I don’t take it. So I’m not very happy, and I’m not done screaming and hollering. I’m an old hillbilly from Kentucky. You don’t mess with hillbillies.”

In the meantime, he’ll keep riding Jazzy wherever he pleases.

“I’ve waved at the cops every time they drove by today,” he said on Aug. 27. “I don’t have a problem with them. I just want them to leave me alone.”

Bear attack teaches deadly lesson — Soldotna man uses pepper spray to halt mauling

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Scott Griebel learned a deadly lesson about being in bear country — take the time to be prepared, because everything can change in a matter of seconds.

Griebel, of Soldotna, and his family — wife, Kelly Keating-Griebel, and daughter, Haylee — were camping at Hidden Lake off Skilak Lake Road on Aug. 8. Their RV was parked in the campground and Griebel decided to take a bike ride on Bernie’s Trail, a three-mile loop connecting with the campground.

As usual, the family’s 8-year-old beagle, Georgia – or Georgie, as they call her — was being her lazy self and didn’t deign to go along. Also as usual, their 6-year-old beagle, Daphney, was ready and raring to go.

Once they were clear of the campground, about a half mile down the trail, Griebel stopped to let Daphney off her leash. She always stayed close and liked the freedom of stopping to sniff, or running ahead a bit and waiting for her people to catch up.

They made it to the end of the trail and turned around. About a third of the way back the trail makes about a 180-degree turn before coming to an overlook of the lake, curving around a pie-slice section of woods, Griebel said. He stopped at the overlook to rest. Daphney stopped to sniff a little way behind him.

“I heard her barking. We were by ourselves up there, so really that could only mean one thing,” Griebel said. “I was yelling for her, and in five to ten seconds the barking changed to yipping.”

Griebel immediately thought it was a bear.

“I had to have walked right by where the bear was. It had to have known I was there and decided it wanted nothing to do with me, but when Daphney came along it was something more familiar and decided to ambush her,” he said.

He broke into a run when he heard the dog’s barking. She was 40 to 50 feet away through the brush over a little mound on the trail. When he cleared the rise he saw an adult black bear, about 300 pounds, standing over the dog.

He pulled out his pepper spray and sprayed the bear from about 15 to 20 feet away. It clearly affected the bear, Griebel said, but not enough to give up the dog. It grabbed Daphney and took off into the woods.

“She was still alive. I think that’s the hardest part for me, because she was still alive and she was in anguish,” he said. “At that point, without even really thinking, I headed off toward the sound.”

Griebel figures he ran about a quarter mile until he lost track of the bear.

“I was just kind of running thoughts through my head of, ‘How far do I go?’ And, ‘What am I going to say going back without the dog?’” he said.

He caught movement through the trees and looked to see the bear standing over Daphney again. This time Griebel got closer before using the pepper spray, less than 10 feet, he figures.

The bear left the dog and within seconds had climbed a 3-foot diameter cottonwood tree. Griebel hit it with the spray again, which made it start rounding the tree toward him. He backed off until it started climbing down, then sprayed it again.

“It started to take its front paws off the tree and slap the tree,” he said. “Cottonwoods when they’re that big are real kind of hollow, so it was a real loud kind of thumping sound.”

The bear started making guttural sounds in its throat. People familiar with bears have since told Griebel it was barking at him, but he described it as a loud coughing sound.

“To be honest, at that point I’m going, ‘Oh, man, this is really stupid,’” he said.

He backed off again and let the bear shimmy down the tree. It started heading for the dog, so he ran up again, even closer yet, and sprayed it from about five feet away, he said.

“Luckily for me it ran away,” he said.

Daphney was breathing in short gasps and had obvious puncture wounds.
“I didn’t have time to sit there and look at her so I scooped her up and started running. I could feel wet on my arm,” he said.

He got to the trail and had to decide whether to head back up the trail the 300 yards to his bike, or keep running the two-plus miles back to camp. He decided the bike would be faster, so he emptied his backpack, put Daphney inside and ran for the bike. By the time he got there, Daphney was gone.

“She just kinda went stiff and arched backwards, and that’s when she went. She just kind of let out her last breath and she was gone,” he said.

Griebel got on his bike and rode back to camp as fast as he could, keeping an eye out for the bear. He didn’t see it again, but when he told a co-worker about the encounter later, Griebel was told of friends who were camping at Hidden Lake that same night who said a bear came out of the woods and chased their dog.

Griebel told the campground host what had happened, and law enforcement came to the campground to interview him about the encounter.

“I’m not an expert on bears, by any means, but a lot of people have alluded to the unpredictableness of black bears. I don’t know enough about them to really know. All I know is it was a horrible interaction I had with it,” he said.

“I had mixed feeling about this. It took a member of our family,” he said. “In reality, the bear was just being a bear, and we were in the woods. And it might have been considered aggressive behavior, but we were two miles from the camp and it was something familiar to it, it just looked like any animal. I don’t know if I can hold fault on the bear.”

But he can learn some valuable lessons from the attack.

First of all, be prepared, because you might react without thinking.

“In retrospect it was a bad decision, likely. It was a stupid thing to do,” he said. “But at the time, you know, the thoughts that run through your mind — you know, she’s your family member, and you don’t know if she’s dead. I couldn’t stand the thought of her being a meal for another animal. All those things rush through your head and you act without thinking too much. Luckily for me it turned out all right, but it easily could have turned out the other way.”

He credits the pepper spray for doing what it’s supposed to do.

“It moved that bear off of a potential meal. For me, that suggests the effectiveness of it.”

He could attest firsthand to the potency of the spray. After he sprayed the bear the first time he ran through the discharge cloud and could feel the burning in his eyes. When he got back to camp the spray had settled on his exposed legs and arms.

“It was just on fire. It was hot,” he said.

Even so, at the end of the encounter the can was nearly empty, which would have left him with nothing to defend himself or Daphne. That prompted Griebel to rethink his stance on guns when in the woods.

“Hiking through the Russian River area I was always kind of leery of everybody carrying firearms. I thought it was more dangerous — all the people with guns — than bears,” he said.

He usually keeps a shotgun at camp but doesn’t take it on bike rides. Now he takes a .44-caliber revolver into the woods as backup for pepper spray, which is still his first line of defense.

“Pepper is always going to be the first thing I use,” he said. “Plus, I don’t really want to kill a bear, I just want to make it not bother me.”

The Griebels have since adopted another beagle, 2-year-old Chloe.

Labor Day weekend was the first time the Griebels had been back out camping in bear country since the attack. They spent the weekend at Russian River. This time, Griebel said he’s learned not to let the dogs off the leash.

“I can’t stress enough how fast it happened. I can’t even guess at a timeline. It just flew by,” he said. “… She was always close, but if they’re not on a leash, they’re not close enough to do anything if a bear decides to do something with them, in my opinion.”

That’s been the hardest part for Griebel — feeling like he could have done more to save Daphne.

“I think it’s getting easier to understand and deal with the event,” he said. “When it first happened it was really hard. The sound is what stuck with me for the first week. The sound of the dog’s anguish and I wasn’t able to help it. I hope she knew that I was with her by the time she stopped breathing.”

Griebel wonders how much worse the situation would have been if he hadn’t had pepper spray with him, and cautions everyone to take precautions when in the woods.

“You might never pull the safety latch off, you may never even touch it. But, man, if you don’t have something, whether it be a noisemaker or whatever, I wouldn’t have had a chance.”

Look past distractions when considering Palin’s new position

Can she? Should she?

Alaskans, and the rest of the world, are moving past the initial shock of Gov. Sarah Palin’s debut as GOP presidential hopeful John McCain’s running mate and on to other issues.

Well, we’re trying to, anyway. It’s been a whirlwind since the announcement, with new developments cropping up daily to feed the frenzy.

The initial reaction had all the depth of analysis of a spit take: “He named Sarah?! From Alaska? Really?”

Just as people started to put some thought into why Alaska’s governor was invited onto the national political scene, and what ramifications the selection has for the presidential race, the country’s jaw dropped again.

Is she qualified... Wait, her daughter’s pregnant!?!

Hopefully, but probably not realistically, this distraction won’t draw attention for long, and the focus can go back to what’s really important in all this: Is McCain-Palin what’s best for the country?

With a selection this colorful, unexpected and controversial, it’s difficult not to be drawn off track. Even Alaskans are chuckling at the prospect of snowmachines parked on the White House lawn.

Palin is doing wonders for Alaska’s image. For once, we’re making headlines for something other than corruption, pork barrel spending or the wacky “Alaskana” stories the media in the Lower 48 likes to use to represent our state, generally involving wild animal high jinks, somebody freezing or ethnic food choices.

Palin proves we’re more than just that. Alaska, and our governor, is a serious political force grappling with issues of relevance to the entire world.

That’s why it’s so important to get over the surprise and consider the real issue: whether Palin is capable and qualified to be vice president.

Her lack of governmental experience dogged her during her gubernatorial run. If McCain has to count her PTA experience as a qualifier for vice presidency, that’s a bad sign.
But she beat that stigma once and proved she can function well enough as governor to get her party to sit up and take notice.

Can she do it again? Would the country benefit if she does?

That remains to be seen.

Guest editorial — Thanks for Ted is long time coming

To re-coin an old phrase: I come not to bury Caesar, but to thank him. Thanking Sen. Ted Stevens is something I never before considered doing, any more than I would have donated money to him. Yet, over the past few days, I’ve done both.

For decades, I thought of the senator as a bully riding roughshod over people like myself who have different values, and as a legislator misusing his official powers to enrich himself, his family and his “friends.” Now, my attitude has mellowed. One reason is disgust with the current feeding frenzy as political sharks vie to replace him in the Senate by riding the coattails of his federal indictments, as though he had already been proven guilty, whereas they are all paragons of virtue. Especially loathsome are the advertisements by a southern carpetbagger with the gall to think that he is more able and ethical than Alaska’s homegrown candidates.

I do not know whether Sen. Stevens ever took bribes – whether he ever traded favors for contributions. Indeed, I suspect he would have supported the oil industry and Veco had he never received the favors for which he has been indicted. Not unreasonably, he apparently believed that the oil industry is the core of Alaska’s economy, and that by helping that industry, he helped all of us. If the industry said “thanks” by giving him gifts, was that critically different than you or me saying “thank you” with a check? Not unless there was quid pro quo.

Another reason for my mellowing toward Sen. Stevens is meeting him recently at Kenai’s Industry Appreciation Day. What I met was not just a politician, but a man – a man as worthy as any other of respect, appreciation and consideration. I was reminded less of how he opposed many things I cherish, than of the great things he has done for Alaska – some of which benefit me. In one way or another, he has probably benefited all of us.

I was reminded, too, that resisting temptation is a battle that everyone faces in one form or another – a battle that few people win every time. Is Ted any different from the rest of us in enjoying appreciation for his efforts? Is he any more inclined than you or I to favor those who show appreciation? Would he have been less tempted by industry had the hundreds of thousands of other Alaskans like you and I regularly said thanks for the benefits he brought us – perhaps by sending him an annual gift of even $5?

So now, at long last, even I am thanking him, with words and with a check to help assure he obtains a fair trial. So, too, I ask all my fellow Alaskans to search your memories and your hearts. Ask yourselves whether his decades of service have ever benefited you in any way. If so, send a check, however tiny, to help assure he is not convicted for any crime he did not commit — and above all to say “Thank you, Ted. Whatever your faults, you have done far more good than harm. Much of what is best about Alaska would not be what it is without you.”

Dr. Stephen Stringham earned his mater of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose and his doctorate degree studying bears. He is the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife.

Time is ripe — Berry season a fruitful chance to head outside

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Harvesting wild berries in Alaska may require you to scramble through bracken, swat away clouds of pesky biting insects, kneel in wet places and look nervously over your shoulder for other critters that enjoy the fruits.

But the folks who annually endure these inconveniences will tell you: The finished product is worth the effort.

Avid pickers haul their harvests home, where, after the cleaning process is complete, they freeze them, can them, crush them, strain them, juice them, dry them, bake them and even ferment them.

Possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of the cooks.

Processing berries into various products comes only after the hard work of finding and picking them. Some people who seldom hike any other time of the year will trundle into the mountains or stumble through thickets into peripheries of swamps just to harvest the wild fruit.

They will march in with berry scoops, sealable containers, plastic pitchers, bowls or buckets, and emerge, berry-burdened but victorious, their brows glistening from their efforts, their fingertips stained red or purple with juice.

And if they are veterans of the berry wars, gliding out from some secret fruity oasis, they will cast glances warily about them, hoping to keep hidden what has, thus far, remained concealed from prying eyes. Perhaps only fishermen and mushroom hunters guard their secret locales so closely.

Where pickers go to pick depends on their targets. Alaska has many tasty varieties of berries — and some not-so-tasty, or even deadly, ones. They grow in a variety of environments, too. Knowing where to go is a major first step toward being successful.

Wild raspberries, for instance, grow to juicy goodness along the margins of woods and fields. They form thorny blankets of brush that can scratch the hands, but are prized for their sweetness and their many uses.

Another favorite, blueberries, come in three main varieties — bog blueberry (considered the tastiest), early blueberry (also known as blue huckleberry) and Alaska blueberry. All of these prefer plenty of moisture, and the early and Alaska varieties prefer coastal areas.

The bog blueberry, as its name implies, prospers in swampy spots and can also be found in abundance in woodlands and mountain tundra. These berries are kissing cousins to the dwarf blueberries, which tend to grow just barely off the ground.

Another popular berry, for its flavor and multiplicity of uses, is the lingonberry or low-bush cranberry. Growing low to the ground, ripe lingonberries are maroon-skinned and firm and can be easily harvested with berry scoops.

Janice Chumley, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office on Kalifornsky Beach Road, said lingonberries may be especially abundant this year.

“I’ve been out in the woods looking and I don’t think it’s a good year for raspberries, but I think it’s going to be a great year for lingonberries,” she said.

Chumley, whose office offers information about berries and their uses, said that being able to correctly identify berries is crucial.

“Don’t eat anything you don’t know what it is,” she said.

Here are some of the central peninsula’s other common berries:

  • Highbush cranberry — abundant sour fruit found in woods and meadows; makes excellent jellies and juices when the seeds are removed.
  • Red currant — juicy and flavorful, found in moist woods, especially along stream channels; also great for jellies and juices when the seeds are removed.
  • Crowberry/Mossberry — considered too seedy by some; found in areas inhabited by lingonberries and also in high tundra; good for jellies, juices and pies.
  • Nagoonberry — looks similar to a raspberry; grows low to the ground often in boggy areas; sweet but seldom found in adequate abundance for harvesting.
  • Cloudberry — like the Nagoonberry, grows low to the ground in swampy places; also sweet and delicious but rarely appearing in large numbers.
  • Salmonberry — its large size and sweet flavor make it a favorite among coastal residents; grows on tall prickly shrubs and may appear red, yellow or orange; used in pies, jellies and jams.
  • Watermelon berry — one of the earliest berries to ripen; grows in moist woody areas, particularly along streams; berries are juicy but somewhat bland and very seedy; can be used in jellies or as filler in recipes featuring other berries.
  • Rose hip — not technically a berry but harvested like one; high in Vitamin C and rich in flavor, this is the fruit of the wild prickly rose and has numerous uses (including jams and teas), although removing the seeds is recommended because the hairs surrounding them are known to irritate the intestines.
  • Northern commandra — this round orange berry grows on a small stately plant in wooded areas and is considered inedible.
  • Bunchberry — also known as ground dogwood, it grows in the company of lingonberries and its edibility has been questioned.
  • Baneberry — extremely poisonous; the red or all-white berries of this tall shrub grow out from a single stalk near the top.
  • Elderberry — another tall stately plant growing in the woods; red berries contains seeds that are toxic; most cooks remove the seeds; used in juices and wines.

Bears come out to play — Hockey fans don’t have to wait much longer for Junior A action

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Summer hibernation is over. The Brown Bears are back.

The central Kenai Peninsula’s own Junior A hockey team was on the ice for a skills competition Saturday with fans in the bleachers to see how the team is shaping up this year.

There are a lot of changes as the Brown Bears embark on their second season. The Bears themselves have many new faces. The roster isn’t finalized yet, but so far there are still five Alaskans in the running to make the team — Matt Sutherland, Jed McGlasson and Kegan Kiel, all of Kenai, Brad Fusaro, of Soldotna, and Matt Bennett, of Anchorage.
Brown Bears General Manager Nate Kiel said hundreds of skaters tried out for the team this year, compared to 150 last year.

“We had a huge improvement in the total number of players trying out and in quality,” Kiel said. “They’re coming out of high-level programs.”

Tanner Waterbury, a 2008 Soldotna High School graduate, was in the crowd with his dad, Rocky Waterbury, watching the Brown Bears weave through the skills competition — an obstacle course relay, skate race, elimination shootout, agility course, accuracy shooting, hardest shot and breakaway challenge, followed by a green vs. white scrimmage. Tanner is planning to attend the University of Puget Sound, Wa., and play for the Loggers. He tried out for the Brown Bears, so he had a firsthand look at what their strengths and weaknesses may be this year.

“I think they’ll be a high-offense team,” he said. “… They’re all pretty quick and they’ve got pretty good hands. They might struggle defensively. And they’ve got two new goalies, so I don’t know how the goaltending will work out.”

A new coaching staff is at the helm. Head coach Brent Agrusa came to the Brown Bears by way of the Hampton Roads Whalers hockey program in Chesapeake, Va., where his was the only undefeated Junior team in the country during his first year with the Junior B program there. In 2007, Agrusa posted another impressive season, with 12 of his players moving on to NCAA schools.

Players were in Soldotna for training camp Aug. 19 to 23. Coach Agrusa has kept them moving since, with stretching at 6 a.m., ice time from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and team meetings and three different dry-land training sessions after that. Players also are expected to work or take classes in the community from 4 to 4:30 p.m.

“There’s very little time for play for the Brown Bears,” Kiel said. “The coach expects them to be dedicated and down to work. That’s why they’re here.”

Jon Marshall, head of security for the Brown Bears, and Kacey Marshall, a volunteer coordinator, predicted the new coaching staff and their work ethic will propel the Brown Bears to success this season.

“They’re doing a lot of heavy-duty conditioning this year,” Jon Marshall said.
Even though games don’t start until mid-September, the Marshalls were happy to be rinkside in their Brown Bears sweaters Saturday in anticipation of the season.

“I think it’s great, for sure,” Jon Marshall said. “I think for kids playing hockey around here, it gives them something to shoot for.”

The Brown Bears give adults something, too — an opportunity to watch live, quality hockey.

“It’s about time,” said Morgan Burdick, of Sterling.

“We need something like that down here,” his wife, Mary Burdick, said. “When your kids are grown and don’t play high school sports anymore, it’s a nice thing to come watch hockey.”

The Burdicks were Skyview hockey parents until 2003.

“When you’re hockey parents, it’s like you live here,” Mary Burdick said. “… But we missed it. We went out to see some high school games, but it’s not the same.”

They’ve already bought their Brown Bears season tickets.

“We’re their number one fans,” Morgan said.

Perhaps the biggest change for the Brown Bears isn’t even visible on the ice. The program switched to nonprofit status. Barry Schoenly founded the team in the midst of a battle with cancer. That experience made Schoenly want to ensure the future of the program by getting the local community involved, Kiel said.

Thus, the Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation was born.

“It’s not just entertainment on the ice, but the things we bring to the community in terms of service projects,” Kiel said. “It’s been a real successful venture. The Brown Bears are really the vehicle that helps carry out its mission of helping deliver programs that will help our youth develop mentally and physically.”

Upcoming events include a cancer awareness week with health programs planned for kids, and a military awareness week in recognition of the armed forces. Brown Bears also do service projects for the cities, churches, the Boys and Girls Club, schools, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and other organizations.

Much of the nonprofit’s funding comes in the form of corporate sponsorships, and nearly 30 local businesses and community members have signed up for Founders sponsorships.
“As soon as we went nonprofit … it just really took off at that point, with the business side. They want to support this for kids,” Kiel said.

Fans are another source of vital support, through their cheering in the stands and tickets at the door.

“Support this program by buying a season ticket, if nothing else. We’d love to have that support because we need more of it. We’re not there yet,” Kiel said.

With the nonprofit’s finances finding its footing, the Brown Bears will take it from there.

“I think we’ll do well,” Kiel said. “Based on the talent pool we have here this year and the coaching staff we’re bringing in, I feel really good about it.”

The Brown Bears ended last season with a 12-38-8 record, the worst in the North American Hockey League. Kiel said he thinks that works in the team’s favor.

“We’re entering our sophomore season here. I don’t think anyone expects anything out of the Brown Bears except the Brown Bears.”

A Meet the Brown Bears event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 13 in the conference room at the Soldotna Sports Center, with steak dinner and opportunities to photograph and meet the players. Tickets are $15. A green vs. white hockey game will be played at 7:30 p.m. Admission to the game is free.

Games begin Sept. 17. The first game at Soldotna Sports Center is Oct. 3 vs. the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Season tickets sell for $219. Call 262-PUCK for more information.

The winners of the skills competition are as follows:
Fastest skater, Kyle Clay; hardest shot, Rob Michalka; shot accuracy, Pat Sullivan; agility course, Jed McGlasson; and breakaway, Gary Astalos.

Arts and Entertainment week of Sept. 3

  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Bill Heath on display through September.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Kathy Matta on display through September.
  • Kaladi Brothers Kobuk Street in Soldotna has paintings by Melinda Hershberger on display through September.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has Peninsula Art Guild’s annual Harvest Art Exhibition on display through September. The art will be auctioned to the public Sept. 27.
  • Already Read Books In Kenai has a display of artwork by local artists, curated by Natasha Ala, on display through September.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has artwork on display through September.

  • Kenai Peninsula College Kenai River Campus will hold its annual community barbecue to kick off the school year and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new skywalk and renovated science labs from 4 to 7 p.m. in front of the Goodrich and McLane buildings. A special announcement will be made at 5:30 p.m., with the ribbon cutting following. Door prizes will be awarded.
  • First Thursday events include an opening reception for a local art exhibition at Already Read Books in Kenai from 5 to 7 p.m., an opening reception for the Harvest Art Exhibition at the Kenai Fine Arts Center from 6 to 8 p.m., an opening reception for an art show with live music by Linda Thune at the Funky Monkey in Kenai at 6 p.m., open mic night at Veronica’s in Kenai at 6:30 p.m., a bluegrass jam at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna at 6:30 p.m., and an opening reception for painter Melinda Hershberger at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna.
  • The Kenai Writers Group will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room at the Kenai Community Library.

  • A closing reception for “Alaskan Light: Mystery Revealed” summer art show will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The theme and curator for the 2009 summer show also will be announced.
  • Irish folk singer Fiona Molloy will perform at 8 p.m. at The Crossing in Soldotna. Tickets are $15, available at Sweeney’s. Proceeds benefit the Kenai Peninsula Literacy Program.

  • A contra dance with live music from San Francisco band The Hillbillies from Mars will be held from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds. The band will give a music workshop from 4 to 6 p.m., and there will be a potluck dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Admission for the workshop is $15 per person, and the dance is $10. Tent camping will be available.

  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch has live music Saturday night.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has rock covers and originals by The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has acoustic music by Emily Grossman on Friday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has live music by Turk, Gypsy and Randy on Friday night and acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has acoustic music by Adam and Sonny at 10 p.m. Wednesdays and music by Turk, Gypsy and Randy at 10 p.m. Saturday night.
  • Mykel’s in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers around 7 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has rock covers by 9-Spine at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and accoustic music by Dan Spencer and Robb Justice at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at the J-Bar-B in Kasilof.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has “Guitar Hero” at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has pool night at 9 p.m. Fridays.

Cheechako worthy of newsie’s talents

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

For 58-year-old Mable Smith, 1961 was the year of a fortuitous intersection — when fledgling ambition (to be a real journalist) crossed paths with fledgling opportunity (a still wet-behind-the-ears peninsula newspaper).

For Smith, it was the beginning of a time that her daughter-in-law, Betty Smith of Soldotna, would later call “unquestionably the best of her life.”

The previous decade had been rough on Mable. In 1950 in Oklahoma, her husband died in a heavy-equipment accident, leaving Smith in dire financial straits and requiring her, at the age of 47, to earn a living on her own.

She had begun, but never completed, journalism training at the University of Oklahoma in the 1920s, so she sought newspaper work, and found a job in 1951 on a weekly paper that started her out at $18 a week.

Over time, her strong work ethic and attention to detail raised her salary to $65 a week. Then she moved on to other weekly and daily newspapers in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

But she was frustrated, according to Betty Smith, “with being stuck with society, or ‘light’ news.” Mable knew she could do better than that. She wanted to cover real news — government, politics, controversy.

She moved to Alaska in 1958 to be closer to her son’s family, which had homesteaded in the Soldotna area. At first she lived in Anchorage, working in a library. In 1961 she applied for a peninsula homestead of her own and planned for the move south.

As luck would have it, another opportunity was hatching for her only a few miles away in Kenai.

On Friday, Oct. 30, 1959, in a concrete-block building near the bluff on Main Street, Loren and Dorothy Stewart launched the central peninsula’s first newspaper, The Kenai Peninsula Cheechako, later to become The Cheechako News.

Under the masthead of Volume 1, Number 1, was a subheading: “News From the Oil Center of Alaska.” Beneath that were two articles bearing large headlines concerning the progress under way since the Swanson River oil discovery in 1957 and the recent arrival of statehood: “Gas Service in Kenai by 1960 Is Possibility” and “Soldotna Bank Open For Business.”

Also on the front page that day was a quarter-page advertisement for Archer’s grocery store and filling station in Kenai and a photograph of a young girl, with a caption that offered a free three-month Cheechako subscription to the first person to correctly identify her.

Inside was Loren Stewart’s first editorial, which, in contrast to the progressive themes on page one, began this way: “The Kenai Peninsula Cheechako is one ‘voice in the wilderness’ that would have liked to have seen the Territory remain as it was.”
Stewart’s opening salvo was, essentially, a lament for things past and passing, but its ending was more upbeat. He noted the inevitability of progress, and said that, once it arrived, few would desire to return to the way things once were. He mentioned paved roads and electricity among the benefits of progress.

Loren and Dorothy Stewart’s little 10-cent weekly paper, wrought on a linotype machine that assembled lines of copy from a molten lead alloy, brought a steady diet of community information and news to the central peninsula. No longer did area residents have to rely solely on word-of-mouth or the limited radio broadcasts available from Anchorage.

From the Kenai office, and, after 1961, from the office in Ridgeway, the Stewarts and their small, dedicated staff made a difference in the lives of peninsula residents. For Smith, The Cheechako News was an opportunity to make a difference, too.

Before Smith came down to the peninsula to live, she came down to visit. During that visit she interviewed with Loren Stewart, who offered her a job — a chance, at last, to be a real reporter, and a chance to cover hard news.

It was exactly what she had been waiting for. There was just one minor problem: “She had to learn to drive before she could come to the homestead,” said Betty Smith. Mable’s hard-won new career would require her to drive back and forth to work.

“She took driving lessons in Anchorage, but she was never a very comfortable driver,” Betty said. “I don’t think she ever got out of second gear. I think the only person slower was Mae Ciechanski.”

It was said that Mable and Mae could drive down a dry gravel road and never raise dust.
Still, Smith was fast enough to pursue the news. A few years later, she was named editor of the Cheechako, and her name (as Mable “Scoop” Smith) was given top billing in a list of employees.

But Smith expected more. In a 1965 letter to the Alaska Press Women, she said she felt restricted by “limited staff,” and added that she had “no time to rewrite or polish, (and the) material often shows it — never satisfied with it.”

Yule Chaffin, Alaska nonfiction author and member of the Alaska Press Women, read Smith’s letter in 1965 and disagreed: “I am constantly amazed at the amount of informative material that Mable gathers for her paper — and in spite of what she says, I find it well written.”

Smith was certainly dedicated.

“She left early (for work) and came home late,” Betty Smith said. “I can remember Loren finally forcing her to go home from work when she was so sick that she could hardly hold her head up, but she was still going to get that paper out.”

Under the leadership of Smith and the Stewarts, the Cheechako was in its heyday throughout the 1960s and into the early ’70s, when competition from Anchorage dailies and the Peninsula Clarion began to spell its doom.

When Smith retired in 1974, Betty Smith said of her newspaper tenure, “Those years allowed her to do work she loved and attain a position in a society that recognized and appreciated her as an individual.”

Smith died of a heart-related ailment three years later.

The end of her beloved Cheechako News was also at hand.

Katherine Parker, who joined the paper in the early 1970s, said that the Stewarts sold the Cheechako shortly after its 25th anniversary in 1984. The new owners brought in computers for the first time and renamed the paper The Soldotna Sun, but it closed up shop suddenly in March 1986.

“I remember I was really shocked when I came back — we’d been in Hawaii — and here they were all getting prepared to close everything down,” Parker said.

Mable Smith and The Cheechako News had found each other and prospered. And suddenly both of them were gone. But they had each left an indelible mark on the history of the Kenai Peninsula.

Luck o’ the central peninsula — Irish folk singer sets eyes smiling

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Audience members wondering what Irish folk singer Fiona Molloy will perform Friday in Soldotna may be surprised to know it’s as much up to them as it is to her.

Molloy said she doesn’t bother with a set list for performances because it inevitably ends up out the window before the concert is through. She prefers to listen to her listeners and take cues from them.

“I try to judge what the reaction from the audience is,” she said. “I do a couple standards just to get people humming or singing along and get them into things, and take it from there.”

Molloy has plenty of directions she could travel, from her previously released CDs to her in-progress new album, which is an international collection of folk songs in French, German and Spanish. But she never strays too far from her roots.

“I usually stay pretty close to the Irish and folk music,” she said.

Molloy was born in Northern Ireland, and was part of the women’s peace movement there. She moved to London, then New York.

“I walked off the plane in JFK and said, ‘This is where I should be.’ I spent the next seven years proving to American immigration that they should keep me here.”

Molloy lived in New York for 23 years and moved to Wisconsin seven years ago, where she lives with her husband, Walter. She plays all over the country and on cruises that bring her in contact with people from beyond the Lower 48. She was playing with Seamus Kennedy — a name well-known to Irish music fans in Alaska for his many visits north — on a Caribbean cruise last year when she met Pat and Mark Ryan, of Anchorage. Pat’s brother owns Chilkoot Charlie’s, in Anchorage, and asked if Molloy would be willing to come perform. That sent the local Irish phone tree into action, which resulted in Mike Sweeney setting up a concert at The Crossing in Soldotna.

At this point in Molloy’s career, she picks and chooses performance destinations.

“We’re pretty settled in life. We tend to take bookings where we want to go,” she said.
Alaska was an easy choice.

“I think Alaska is amazing, beautiful and friendly. I wish I could spend months here, although since I work October through April in Key West and Marco Island (Fla.), I might like to miss the winter months,” she said.

Last year’s Alaska performances were in September. The fall weather didn’t temper the warm reception she received.

“It was terrific. There were really, really good audiences. I felt really good about the performances,” she said. “I judge performances by how people respond to them and how many people come up to talk to me afterward. In Soldotna, in particular, some of them lined up to see me.”

Some of the questions regarded when Seamus Kennedy might make another appearance on the central Kenai Peninsula, but since Molloy has known him for 30 years, she didn’t mind giving updates on her friend, she said.

All in all, with moose sightings, a distant bear viewing and up-close view of the Kenai River, Molloy was ready to commit to a return trip.

Plus, she didn’t get a chance to sample any smoked salmon last time, which was a disappointment, she said.

“I was just sort of praying they would ask me back again this year, and they did,” she said. “Everybody was just great. They’re lovely people up there, just friendly and outgoing, and when they discover you’re not from there, they try to go out of their way to tell you where to go. It was a great time.”

The performance is a fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Literacy Program. Sweeney, with the help of community sponsors, has been raising money for the organization by bringing Irish musicians to town for more than 10 years now.

Proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the program, which then provides grants to local elementary schools, like Kalifornsky Beach, Redoubt and Soldotna elementary schools, to buy reading materials or otherwise support literacy.

“There are a lot of good causes out there, but my wife is a first-grade teacher. She loves teaching reading. That is the big thing in first grade, if you can get your kids to read your first year, it makes life a lot easier, and that’s been an important thing,” Sweeney said. His wife, Gloria Sweeney, teaches at K-Beach Elementary.

Tickets are $15, available in advance at Sweeney’s. The performance is at 8 p.m. Friday at The Crossing. The next fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Literacy Program will be in February, when Seamus Kennedy will perform.