Pioneers aren’t easy to find anymore, and I sometimes think that the pioneer-spirit has been lost, but this story is about two pioneers I admire. As I mentioned last week, I am doing a series of stories for the Kodiak Baranov Museum’s “West Side Stories” project. The purpose of this project is to chronicle the history of the people on the west side of Kodiak Island. This tale is about my husband’s parents, Park and Pat Munsey. Park died in 1983, but Pat is still alive and well, and I love to listen to her stories about her early days in Uyak Bay at the home where I now live.
Pat Atkins came to Anchorage from her native West Virginia after she graduated from nursing school. She intended to return home after a short visit with her sister and brother in-law, but she fell in love with Alaska and took a job at the Palmer hospital. Moving to Alaska had been Park’s dream since he was a young boy, and he began his journey north the day he graduated from high school in Laconia, New Hampshire in 1948. After a stint in the army, Park took a job on the Eklutna Lake hydropower project. He was injured during a cave-in while digging a tunnel and was transported to the Palmer hospital, where Pat was his nurse.
The Munseys were married in 1953 and moved to Kodiak, where Pat found employment as a nurse, and Park took a variety of jobs, including working as a packer and guide for Hal Waugh, the first master guide in the state of Alaska. Park and Pat established Munsey’s Bear Camp in 1956, and in 1958, they bought Bill Poland’s hunting camp in Amook Pass in Uyak Bay.
By 1958, the Munseys had four children. Toni was four; Patti, three; Mike, one; and Jeri was only a few months old. Pat had never seen the Amook Pass camp, but she climbed into an airplane with her husband and four children and their most important possessions. Forty minutes later, when the plane touched down on Uyak Bay, the tide was too high to pull up to the beach nearest the camp, so the pilot unloaded the gear and his passengers on the other side of a rocky bluff in a small cove. Daylight began to fade as Pat and Park held Toni’s and Patti’s hands and carried the two smaller children up a steep hill. It was nearly dusk when Pat caught a glimpse of her new home from the top of the hill. She says her first thought was, “What have I done?” In true pioneer fashion, though, she shook off her doubts and worked alongside Park to turn the three-room cabin with no insulation, no electricity, and no running water, into a comfortable home.
I realize every day how lucky I am to call this beautiful bay my home, and I often think about my in-laws’ first trek over that hill. I thank Park for following his dreams to Amook Pass, but more importantly, I thank Pat that as she stood on that hilltop 57 years ago and looked down at the shack that was to be her new home, she didn’t turn and run, but instead, she stayed to work with her husband to carve out a living and raise their family in the wilderness.