Iceworm festival goes out with a splash

Parade grand marshal Father Killeen is named Cordova Citizen of the Year

The 2017 Cordova Iceworm Festival was laid to rest Feb. 5, becoming another Ghost of Iceworm Past – which was the theme of the 56th annual winter festival.

The last day of the festival, packed with competitive events and the Iceworm Festival parade, dawned with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 30s.

By 10:30 a.m. some 300 onlookers crowded on to floats in the small boat harbor to cheer on their favorite teams during the annual survival suit races.

Bob Behrends, who directed this year’s races, acts as historian for the competition.

“This year we had a great turnout at the survival suit race, with nine teams participating,” Behrends said. “We had a lot of new, young teams participate, which was good to see, as we encourage all ages of Cordovans to join in.

“The survival suit race is about marine safety,” he said. “As Cordovans, we’re all on the water for work or play, and we need to know how to put on our survival suits in the event we have to use them.”


Behrends said the race, for which he has records dating back to 1982, requires multiple efforts on the part of numerous volunteers.

“Special thanks goes to Scott Vorrath of the Polar Star for providing his boat for staging the event, Gayle Groff for her excellent announcing skills, to the Miss Iceworm candidates for judging the artistic impression portion of the event, to Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Eagle Enterprises, LFS, ACE Hardware, USCG, CFAB, Alaska Commercial and Anchor Auto and Marine for providing prizes, the ambulance crew and harbor employees, the U.S. Forest Service for organizational space, CEC for storage space, the Iceworm Swim Team for stopwatches, and of course the brave teams, and audience, for showing up and participating,” he said.

Dana Smyke, Troy Tirrell, Torie Baker, Rob Eckley and Jeff Thelen assisted Behrends in pulling off another successful race.

By 1 p.m., the crowd had migrated to line up on both sides of Main Street, in anticipation of the Iceworm Festival parade.

Floats of all shapes and sizes were led by Grand Marshal Father Tom Killeen, of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

The Children’s Pallas childcare had a brightly decorated float full of children, parents, siblings and staff. The Everyday Explorers’ Early Learning Center’s crew of little explorers and their family members and teachers were next in line, waving flags and cheering, followed by the Boy Scouts, the CHS Robotics Teams, Cordova Telephone, Copper Valley Wireless, the Pioneer Igloo float, Shoreside Petroleum, Girl Scouts, Cordova Community Medical Center and others. Many parade participants tossed candy and toys to onlookers.

The parade stretched on, and the crowd was beginning to grow impatient as the wait continued, when suddenly, the guest of honor arrived. The giant Cordova Iceworm, powered by the legs and arms of local kids, finally came wriggling down Main Street, accompanied by Keystone Cop Butch West and Baby Iceworm.
Following the parade, folks headed up to the Pioneer Igloo for free ice-cream and out to the Powder House for the infamous Suck ‘n Shuck oyster-eating competition.

Vivian Kennedy, daughter of Powder House owners Gary and Libbie Graham, said the fiercely competitive Shuck ‘n Suck is one of her favorite events.

“I competed in doubles with my oyster sucking partner Scott Vorrath. He was a greenhorn to the event,” Kennedy said. “One dozen oysters. Fastest time wins, two groups at a time. No time for hot sauce or beer! Saltwater, shells, and oyster bits were flying! The contestants could put sea otters to shame.”

Contestant Ron Horton was hung up on a final oyster and ended up putting two holes in the plastic table trying to stab it open, she said. “Mark Carrol swooped it up, cracked it open and slurped it down for the final oyster shuck ‘n suck of the evening.”

In the singles round, Carrol was under a minute in his time, when he threw his hands up, only to later realize that an oyster had snuck past him that round.

In fact, Carrol had two oysters sneak past him during his matches, requiring him to start over for the matches to count.

“So, he did another re-do. All-in all, Mark ended up shucking four different times; twice for doubles and twice for singles, and since in the singles match he was also the sucker, he downed 24 oysters that day,” Kennedy said. “We had some sneaky oysters this year.”

The Powder House ordered 25 dozen oysters from Jakolof Bay Oyster Company in Homer, as local oysters weren’t available, but hopes to have Jim Aguiar’s oysters from Simpson Bay back next year. The 15 dozen oysters remaining after the competition sold out quickly, said Libbie Graham.

Activities continued well into the evening, highlighted by the Iceworm Fireworks Extravaganza at 8 p.m, and live entertainment, karaoke and dancing provided after that at several local establishments.

A highlight of this year’s Iceworm Festival was the Variety Show at the Cordova High School gymnasium was packed near to capacity, as residents flocked to the school to witness the array of talented children and adults who performed Feb. 3.

In addition to being grand marshall of the Iceworm Frestival parade, Father Killeen was honored as the Cordova Citizen of the Year.

He was presented with a plaque in the shape of Alaska, crafted by Jacob Peterson, of Peterson Welding, with wood donated by North Star Lumber. Killeen also received a one-year subscription to The Cordova Times, sponsor of the award.

The award came as a surprise to Killeen, 84, the priest at St. Joseph’s since his arrival in Cordova in 2002.

“This is nonsense,” Killeen said, but he smiled widely as he stood onstage to accept the award from Elizabeth Collins, an administrative assistant at Mt. Eccles Elementary School, who nominated him for the honor.

It was a night full of surprises. Cordova High School senior Heidi Wiese was crowned Miss Iceworm Queen toward the evening’s end, joined by first runner up Josi Moffitt, a CHS junior, and second runner up Zoe Russin, a CHS sophomore.

Abigail Allison, also a junior at CHS, was named Miss Congeniality.

Wiese will receive a $2,500 scholarship; Moffitt a $1,000 scholarship and Russin a $500 scholarship, all funded by David and Bootslyn Roemhildt.

Emma Merritt, director of the Miss Iceworm program, said that Miss Iceworm would participate in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous at the end of February. The girls will also be participating in numerous personal and professional development courses over the course of the year, Merritt said.

The Variety Show highlighted a broad array of musical, dance and comedy performers, including master of ceremonies Larry Goodale, the pastor of the Little Chapel Church, who played songs through his nostrils intermittently between acts.

2017 Cordova Iceworm Festival event results


Survival Suit Races

  • First place, team category: Team Little Mermaid’s Heartthrobs with an overall team time of 1:28.86 – Jeremy Donahue, Josh Hernandez, Jake Borst and Van Ryder.
  • Second place, team category: Team Wolverines, with an overall team time of 1:47.78 – Ethan Beckett, Elias Hanson, Andrew Nielson and Tristan Glasen.
  • First place, individual fastest female: Charlotte Westing, 1:28.28.
  • First place, individual fastest male: Jeremy Donahue, 1:02.74.
  • First place, artistic impression: Team Never Nudes
  • Second place, artistic impression: Make America Float Again.

Other teams who participated in the survival suit race were the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore with a team time of 2:22.22 – Mariah Chastain, Katie Salzman, Nick Rhoades and Michael Korpee; team Gulo-Gulo with an overall team time of 2:54.17 – Leo Craig, Talin Jensen, Cody Shawn and Lizandro Rodriguez; team Make America Float Again, with an overall team time of 1:51.65 – Zeke Brown, Mike Towle, Jake Flora and Matt Honkola; team Erin and the Scouts, with an overall team time of 3:44.52 – Erin Ranney, Jacob Ranney, Wyatt Sorenson and Brandon Beckett; team Cordova Iceworms Swim Team, with an overall team time of 2:49.25 – Cole Hanson, Chatham Warga, Floyd Witsoe and Maggie Herschleb; team Never Nudes, with an overall team time of 4:08.95 – Ben Gray, Dan Schmalzer, Lauren Bien and Anne Schaefer; and team Alternative Fast, with an overall team time of 1:56.08 – Stacy Vega, Charlie Russell, Charlotte Westing and Stormy Haught.

Powder House event results

Oyster Shuck ‘n Suck doubles

  • First place – Mark Carrol and Robert Masolini 00:53:88
  • Second place – Rob Campbell and Cathy Long 1:05:91
  • Third place – Vivian Kennedy and Scott Vorrath 1:32:22

Oyster Shuck ‘n Suck singles

  • First place – Rob Campbell 1:23:36
  • Second place – Mark Carrol 1:28:63
  • Third place – Ron Horton 1:36:31

Ping Pong Championships

  • In doubles – first place: Vivian Knopp and Tom Prijatel; second place: Anne Schaefer and Craig Campbell; third place: Mike Justa and Keith Kroll.
  • In singles – Jay Abbott, first place; Anne Schaefer, second place; Aaron Merritt, third place.

Spam Cook-Off:

  • Theresa Carte – Maple bars with SPAM, first place; Angela Butler – SPAM Kimchee, second place.

Chili Cook-Off:

  • Diane Cobb, first place; Amber Wasson, second place; Marilyn Niemi, third place; Mark Frohnapfel, People’s Choice Award.

Wall of Guns winners:

  • Mike Eberhart, Chris Farris, Gary and Libbie Graham.

Cordova Historical Museum’s Iceworm Photo Show

  • Winner, Best of Show: Janice Stitt.
  • Alaska category: David Little, first; Jeff Buchholz, second; Wendy Ranney, third.
  • Cordova category: Janis Stitt, first; Vivian Knopp, second; David Little, third.
  • People category: David Little, first; Wendy Ranney, second; Jeff Buchholz, third.
  • Travel category: Wendy Ranney, first; Julie Reynolds, second; Janet Lebold, third.
  • Animal/Bird category: Jason Shapleigh, first; Jeff Buchholz, second; Janet Lebold, third.
  • Plant category: David Little, first; Wendy Ranney, second; Kristy Andrew, third.

*Event results listed above were provided by each volunteer committee prior to press time.

Vivian Kennedy is the administrative assistant and advertising representative at the Cordova Times.


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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.